With a different Congress, we could impeach a dead man:
President Richard Nixon believed that years of aerial bombing in Southeast Asia to pressure North Vietnam achieved “zilch” even as he publicly declared it was effective and ordered more bombing while running for reelection in 1972, according to a handwritten note from Nixon disclosed in a new book by Bob Woodward.
Nixon’s note to Henry Kissinger, then his national security adviser, on Jan. 3, 1972, was written sideways across a top-secret memo updating the president on war developments. Nixon wrote: “K. We have had 10 years of total control of the air in Laos and V.Nam. The result = Zilch. There is something wrong with the strategy or the Air Force.”
On Jan. 2, 1972, in the CBS television interview, Rather asked Nixon, “On everyone’s mind is the resumption of the widespread bombing of North Vietnam. Can you assess the military benefits of that?” Nixon reiterated what he had often said about the bombing, that it was “very, very effective,” and added, “I think that effectiveness will be demonstrated by the statement I am now going to make.” Nixon then announced that he would soon bring home more troops — virtually removing any U.S. combat force in Vietnam.
The next day, writing his private thoughts to Kissinger, Nixon added, “There is something wrong with the strategy or the Air Force. I want a ‘bark-off’ study — no snow job — on my desk in two weeks as to what the reason for the failure is.” Nixon added that “otherwise continued air operations make no sense in Cambodia, Laos, etc. after we complete withdrawal — Shake them up!!” Nixon underlined the last words twice.
Woodward said he could find no evidence that the study was ever carried out.
These revelations should surprise no one except the president’s few living defendants. Rare is the historical personage about whom the worst his enemies suspected was true, and that these same enemies found their imaginative capacities stretched to their limit.
A certain cable channel loves Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard’s adaptation of a stage play that treats certain admissions in the 1977 interviews as if Nixon had shared the formula for Coke. “Humanizing” Nixon with pathos turns him even nastier, which is why no fiction can, pardon the expression, do him justice if it weren’t a documentary based on the record:
Another time, also in the White House, Nixon dropped by a birthday party for Paul Keyes, a comedy writer and Nixon friend who had helped on the 1968 campaign. When Nixon entered the room, there was an unnatural hush. No one offered a handshake or a glass of wine. Nixon seemed at a loss. Keyes was wearing a solid green blazer. “Ah, ah, ah . . . uh,” Nixon muttered, according to Woodward’s account. “Then Nixon pointed down at the carpet, a worn, faded maroon. He spoke in a deep but barely audible voice. ‘Green coat . . . red rug . . . Christmas colors.’ He then wheeled around and strode out of the room to the Oval Office.”
Green coat. Red rug. Merry Christmas, Dick.