Long-time rumors about presidential candidate Nixon conspiring to delay the ending of the Vietnam War were recently confirmed.
A year ago, historian and journalist John A Farrell wrote in the New York Times:
fA newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, [Nixon’s] closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks [President Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion], which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.
We must now weigh apparently criminal behavior that, given the human lives at stake and the decade of carnage that followed in Southeast Asia, may be more reprehensible than anything Nixon did in Watergate.
Nixon had entered the fall campaign with a lead over Humphrey, but the gap was closing that October. Henry A. Kissinger, then an outside Republican adviser, had called, alerting Nixon that a deal was in the works: If Johnson would halt all bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviets pledged to have Hanoi engage in constructive talks to end a war that had already claimed 30,000 American lives.
But Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.
“! Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon’s orders. “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”
Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.
Here are some screenshots from Haldeman’s notes in Nixon’s presidential library:
Nixon also sought help from Chiang Kai-shek, the president of Taiwan. [He was considered somewhat of an enemy of the United States; the CIA considered assassinating him.] And he ordered Haldeman to have his vice-presidential candidate, Spiro T. Agnew, threaten the C.I.A. director, Richard Helms. Helms’s hopes of keeping his job under Nixon depended on his pliancy, Agnew was to say. “Tell him we want the truth — or he hasn’t got the job,” Nixon said.
Nixon had cause to lie. His actions appear to violate federal law, which prohibits private citizens from trying to “defeat the measures of the United States.” His lawyers fought throughout Nixon’s life to keep the records of the 1968 campaign private. The broad outline of “the Chennault affair” would dribble out over the years. But the lack of evidence of Nixon’s direct involvement gave pause to historians and afforded his loyalists a defense.
Time has yielded Nixon’s secrets. Haldeman’s notes were opened quietly at the presidential library in 2007, where I came upon them in my research for a biography of the former president.
When Johnson got word of Nixon’s meddling, he ordered the F.B.I. to track Chennault’s movements. She “contacted Vietnam Ambassador Bui Diem,” one report from the surveillance noted, “and advised him that she had received a message from her boss … to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was … ‘Hold on. We are gonna win. … Please tell your boss to hold on.’ ”
In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”
“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.
Johnson’s closest aides urged him to unmask Nixon’s actions. But on a Nov. 4 conference call, they concluded that they could not go public because, among other factors, they lacked the “absolute proof,” as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford put it, of Nixon’s direct involvement.
Nixon was elected president the next day.
The BBC’s 2013 report adds details:
Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone calls provide a fresh insight ….
By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.
In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.
Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.
So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.
He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.
Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.
This is treason: contacting foreign leaders, including enemies of the United States, in order to thwart official U.S. policies and prolong war.
(There is also some rather intriguing circumstantial evidence that presidential candidate Ronald Reagan convinced the Iranians not to release American hostages until after the election … to make rival candidate Jimmy Carter look weak.)
That is in sharp distinction to the common practice of presidential candidates contacting foreign leaders for normal diplomatic purposes.
On the other hand, what type of foreign contacts did candidate Trump have with Russia?
The only thing which has proven so far is that Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael “Flynn asked Russia’s ambassador to refrain from escalating the situation regarding the U.S. sanctions on Russia” and “Flynn asked Russia’s ambassador to delay a vote on pending UN Security Council resolution on Israel”.
The first request would promote peace between two nuclear superpowers by delaying an escalating round of sanctions from spiraling out of control.
The second didn’t succeed … Russia ignored the Trump administration’s request, and voted to condemn Israeli settlements.
Such actions pale in comparison to what Nixon (and perhaps Reagan) did.