Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tim Weiner

Tim Weiner's new book is One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.

From his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

TERRY GROSS: Tim Weiner, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So Nixon's deceit about the war in Vietnam begins before he's even elected. He tried to discourage South Vietnam from agreeing to a peace deal before the election 'cause Nixon - well, what did Nixon tell South Vietnam about that? This is when he was running against Hubert Humphrey.

TIM WEINER: In the summer and fall of 1968, Richard Nixon, working through his campaign manager and future attorney general, John Mitchell, and a mystery woman, whose real name was Anna Chennault but who was known to one and all as the Dragon Lady and had a suite in the Watergate Hotel complex, went to the ambassador of South Vietnam and said tell your boss the President of South Vietnam and said, tell your boss, the president of South Vietnam, President Thieu, don't cut a deal with the Democrats. We are going to win, and we will cut you a better deal. We will make sure that you, President Thieu, survive. There will be no coalition government. Do not agree to a peace deal. Wait for us. And, in fact, Nixon got word through to President Thieu through these intermediaries. President Johnson knew this because the FBI and the National Security Agency, respectively, had bugged the embassy of South Vietnam in Washington and the presidential palace in Saigon, and they knew about these backchannel communications. And when Johnson found out on the eve of the 1968 election, which his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was running against Richard Nixon, whom he had hated ever since they were both in the Senate in the early 1950s, he went ballistic.

Here was the problem - the evidence that was gathered that Nixon was sabotaging the peace talks had all been gathered through the surveillance powers of the NSA and the FBI. You couldn't reveal it. On the other hand, what Nixon and his accomplices were doing was a violation of law called the Logan Act. You can't be a private citizen doing diplomatic negotiations with another country. And Johnson and his men gathered and said, what are we going to do about this? And they couldn't reveal the evidence. It was too secret. But Johnson knew, and he called Nixon - and he called him and he said, you better not do this. And Nixon said, I would never do that. But he did.

GROSS: Did Nixon actually scuttle a plan - a peace plan that might have succeeded? Was there the real possibility of peace?

WEINER: I'm going to quote Phil Habib, who was a senior State Department official at the Paris peace talks and who continued to serve loyally under Richard Nixon. Quote, "The deal was cooked, and then something happened. Somebody got to Thieu, President Thieu, of South Vietnam. Somebody got to Thieu on behalf of Nixon and said, don't agree, don't come to Paris." And Habib said, "I'm convinced that if Humphrey had won the election, the war would've been over much sooner." And, in fact, the peace deal that Nixon finally cut was no better than the one that could've been cut in October 1968.

GROSS: There were so many lives lost in the interim.

WEINER: There were roughly 25,000 American soldiers killed in the interim. There were at least 10 times that number...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue