tv Conversation with Henry Kissinger CSPAN May 7, 2016 9:09pm-10:27pm EDT
3. the c-span cities tour and visiting cities across the country. >> a conversation with former secretary of state henry kissinger, followed by president obama and the teacher of the year at a white house ceremony earlier this week. and representative john lewis is horpped by the holocaust museum. >> policy makers veterans and activists. he talked about his role during the war and the events that led to the u.s. withdrawal more than 40 years ago. this was held in austin, texas. an hour and 15 minutes.
he pointed out what his absence had been there and that it was a pity that we didn't have an rather than o talk confront each other in that period. in that spirit, he and i worked together when he was chairman of the foreign relations committee and i greatly respect his efforts now and it's very meaningful that this conference would end with his speech by this distinguished leader of america now. now to answer your question.
>> the dominant concern about indoechina and the kennedy administration was the future of laos because they in return received the advice from president eisenhower in the transition that the future of laos might determine the future of vietnam. then as the administration went n, there was a document that he chinese produced by the successor to mao saying the whole world was going to be characterized by the destruction of the cities and the kebbedr
kennedy administration tended to interpret what was going on in indoechina as part of that process. but in those days we only had a few thousand advisers but that umber was increased by about 50,000 in the kennedy administration. of it was not yet a central american policy. inherited a ohnson situation in which the government of vietnam had been overthrown. the north vietnamese had infiltrated regular divisions and not just guerilla forces and lyndon johnson saw he was
the ambassador. well, one of these two people chi minhthe host of ho when he was in paris to negotiate peace and he offered to go to vietnam and call on his acquaintance on behalf of peace for the united states. i called up secretary macnamara to tell him about this. the secretary discussed the matter with president johnson. and amazingly president johnson entrusted a professor at harvard, which was not the favored ncy which most
him. [laughter] > being an intermediary to two frenchmen that no one ever heard of before. d there was a message from minh dent johnson to ho chi under the circumstances to which he wanted to make peace. nd they came back with reply which after six years of negotiations and various administrations we learned was a typical north vietnamese reply that basically, you take the proposal but made it sound as if maybe there was something. so they brought back the reply and i won't go through all the
details. but i was sent back with another essage and none of this effort did i ever see a vietnamese negotiator. there were two frenchmen. it has been known for about a ee months and then after while we realized that they were stalling. but i mention this only to show the dedication of president johnson who achieved an admirable negotiated peace from the very beginning. president nixon had the problem of how he inherited the war. already 500-plus thousand troops
in vietnam and he had the same issue as president johnson, how do you end this war. and how do you withdraw these troops without leaving it to a collapse of the whole structure and our aleyes telling us the collapse. you can ask me questions about individual decisions. and president ford was president in the very last days of the war. but at the very end when the war -- when it was obvious and we were talking only about the
vacuation of the last batch of civilians that were stuck at the airport in sigeon and i called and i calledaigon, them and said we have to permit he evacuation of saigon and if you read that phone conversation between him and me, he realized hat we have to leave, but he wanted to squeeze out another 12 hours to see whether we could rescue a few more people. so all the presidents were haunted in their way. each of them were dedicated to finding a peaceful solution. each of them had the dilemma of
how you relate american honor to the ending of the war and that was the dilemma. there was nobody who wanted war. there was nobody who wanted to escalate the war. they all wanted peace. but the question was under what conditions can you do that thout turning over the millions who in reliance on the word of previous presidents had committed themselves. >> doctor, let me go back to john f. kennedy. there is widespread speculation had he not been assassinated, he would have reverse course and withdrawn troops from vietnam. anything you saw from president kennedy that over time he would have withdrawn our support for he war in vietnam?
>> i never seen the slightest evidence of this. it is possible to say that he would have done this, but all the moves of the kennedy administration while kennedy was alive were in the direction of increasing our commitment and not diminishing it. all based on the belief that if than as a simpler problem it turned out to be. i have never seen a piece of paper and -- that would indicate this and all of the chief advisers of president kennedy, who were taken over by president johnson when he became president
were unanimous in both presidencies in supporting the cause that was adopted until things got very difficult and then, of course, divisions appeared. ut i have never seen them -- i know of no evidence that president kennedy would have done this. >> lyndon johnson was a domestic policy sage. he knew how to get deals done and knew instincttively what to do. many who think he was out of depth in terms of foreign policy. hat is your view of johnson in terms of a foreign policy president? >> president johnson was saddled with the war from the first day in office. what can't really judge
tendencies oflicy the president who was swallowed up in a way by the war in vietnam. without any question, johnson as a master in knowing the nuances of domestic policy and he did not know the foreign leaders as well as he did the con ing againsties. so it didn't come as naturally to him as domestic policy. on the foreign policy issues , er than the war in vietnam he had a good relationship with our allies and our enemies, he
was very eager to come to some agreement with the soviet union. but everything was so overlaid by the war in vietnam, i thought president johnson was a formidable individual of in some ways, it was a personal tragedy that he spent so much of his life to achieve that office in order to be excelled to do things that had been his major focus. but i thought he was a strong great respect lt and affection. >> has long been alleged that richard nixon's campaign in 1968 tampered with the peace process emissary to
withhold negotiations because they felt they might get a better deal from a future president nixon. >> i have no personal knowledge whether that contact actually took place in the way it has been alleged, but assuming that the story is essentially correct , i do not believe that it had been -- that whatever nixon did had any of the consequences that have been alleged. you have to remember this aspect of our relationship with the et in a most, the vietnamese and vietnamese allies will were
in desperate situations. ey needed our help as an essential component. so when a peace process was going on, they had a tendency to agree to put forward on the theory that the north vietnamese would reject it. we experienced what nixon then experienced four years later, that when the point came actually to undertake the negotiations that day would have to assume responsibility for the outcome. then the south vietnamese leaders felt it necessary to demonstrate to their own people that they had been forced by the
united states to do this. debate aboutrted a omething that i'm sure president johnson and i know president nixon in our period thought it had already been settled. one of the key issues was actually to sit down at the table and then, of course produce the necessity for the south vietnamese to sit down at the same table with the people who had been fighting to verthrow from the south of vietnamese communist side and so when that issue arose as a consequence of the negotiation,
e president started a debate about the way the negotiation could even start. we faced exactly the same thing in for years later. with the north vietnamese, without the south vietnamese had agreed to each of the terms when we had discussed them. but then when they were actually put forward, we went through six weeks of controversy about nuances. that would have happened whether nixon wrote his note or not. secondly, some delay between the
announcement in the sitting down was, in my opinion, inevitable. but there's one other thing to remember. it's often alleged that peace could have been made if somehow they had all sat at the same table. it was absolutely no chance of this whatsoever. because on november 3, two days after these announcements were made, the vietnamese made changes that they never changed for the rest of the johnson administration and the rest of the next administration, which were united states had to withdraw totally, and former coalition government noted by communists before any negotiation could take place, about anything else.
so the johnson administration officials, at that time was of the position of the north vietnamese had to withdraw before any withdrawal of american troops could even take place. those conditions were maintained for the rest of the johnson administration. and they were the principal obstacle to the failure of the negotiations in the next administration, until the vietnamese were defeated in the sequel to the tet offensive, where johnson mentioned, because the one thing that the next administration would not concede, it said that we would overthrow and allied governments
that had supported the united states in reliance on promises made by a other presidents. and as soon as the north vietnamese agreed that the existing government could stay, which was at the very end of the nixon administration, a settlement was achieved. i mention it only because america should not torture itself on the view that it could have had a settlement earlier, if their president had been more willing. they could not have had settlements except for just selling out, which no one would have supported. mark: bob halderman, president
nixon's chief of staff, said in a 1978 television interview that nixon had no intention of quickly pulling out of vietnam. he aimed to explore the rivalry between china and the soviet union to improve relations. vietnam was an expedient where america's bona fide intentions and motives were being acted out. nixon believed that america had to negotiate from strength to prove its willingness to fight, vietnam became that place. how do you respond to that? is that characterize, and view, nixon's position on the war? dr. kissinger: it characterizes part of nixon position on the war. this can be interpreted by professional critics of nixon to mean that he fought so that he could do some other things. that was not what he thought.
he thought that if america is credited by abandoning its commitments in vietnam, he could not do the bigger things that were needed in order to make the war in vietnam fit into a global perspective. and so in the sense that he said this is not only about vietnam, it's about trying to create a world order in which the amounts can no longer occur, in that sense, it is correct. mark: you say in your book, "ending the vietnam war," that the dominoes theory was real. the domino effect would have played out. what would have been the consequences of not waging a fight in vietnam? dr. kissinger: look, the problem
of any foreign policy is that you have to make a commitment on the basis of assessment. you cannot prove true when you make them. they depend on a judgment, and you can always come up with a counterfactual argument. a person who has a great influence on our thinking, and i believe also some extent, on president johnson's thinking was the prime minister from singapore. one of the great men i have met. he inherited a sand bar with a per capita income of $60. and turned it in 20 years to a significant country with a per capita income of $55,000 without any natural resources, based on
the dedication and quality of its population. he was convinced, and so were many others, that if the amount collapsed, at the time that president kennedy and johnson made vacancies, that the whole south asia would be engulfed, and that the same thing within half an in indonesia, malaysia, and he maintained that opinion until his death. and he was not a cold war in the abstract, he was a judge of what it took to keep his little country security. -- secure.
mark: do you agree? dr. kissinger: i agree with that. i think that the presidents who made the major decisions had a reason for making them. mark: in his 2015 book, the last of the presidents men, bob woodward writes of january 1972 memo that you wrote to nixon updating him on the military situation in laos. president nixon wrote a handwritten note on that same memo, which read k, meaning kissinger, we have had 10 years of total control in the air in laos and vietnam. the result equals village. -- zilch. there is something wrong with the strategy or the air force. and yet, that before, that before coming in a cbs interview
with dan rather, residence and set up the bombing, the results of been very, very effective. i think their effectiveness will be demonstrated. publicly, president nixon as saying the bombing is effective, privately to you he is saying that they have done zilch. dr. kissinger: he wasn't saying -- one of the curses of modern is collected and treated as if it were a legal document. here are these presidents, on 18 hours a day. they are under constant pressure. they write a note to their advisors and frustration that it's still going on. and next and had a way of exaggerating his comments. i can tell you here that woodward called me up with this. he said what to do do when he
received it? i said i did nothing. he couldn't believe it. why would i do nothing? because i have worked with president nixon for 10 years. or eight years. and when you got a message like this, i have a tendency after a while to wait to see whether they would be a follow-up. and if you think about it, this would be the normal way -- on the worst assessment of the air
campaign, you cannot possibly say that it achieves nothing. you can say it may not have achieved everything that he wanted, and that you have to break it down into the biggest components were. i think probably nixon might have slightly exaggerated what he said publicly. and he surely exaggerated his frustration in a handwritten notes, probably late at night. i think one ought to analyze these documents that are floating around from that point of view. i mean, what was the context in which the comment was made? mark: nixon is a very enigmatic person.
you write often that he would say one thing and mean another. you had to judge when he was saying -- dr. kissinger: he didn't mean another. i had a very clear idea of what he wanted. you have to understand it, you cannot survive security advisor, you have only one constituent, and that the president of the united states. and you must be absolutely straight with him. and the most important thing is security advisor can do, and must do, is to tell the president the options he has. sometimes he has to save the president from ill considered first moves.
and if you abuse that, utility, [indiscernible] and nixon, it's now generally known, hated personal confrontations. and so, therefore, in face-to-face confrontations, it was like it was possible that he expressed himself ambiguously. but, if you in any written excerpts, you can absolutely rely on what he was saying. if you look at his record, he knew he was a very strong president. sticking to his basic convictions. and he took in or mostly difficult decisions, and there
was no ambiguity about them. but it was better to discuss them with him in writing, then as a face-to-face conversation. and one will find in going through the archives, which are now available, that most of the key decisions when i was security advisor were based on memoranda, and not on conversations. the conversations played a very important role in creating the mood, and establishing the general context. but when a precise decision was needed, it was best to do it in writing. which i think is a good way anyway, in relations with these presidents. mr. mark: tom johnson mentioned your
commitment to the peace process, and the fact that you, in 1973, along with your north vietnamese counterpart, won the nobel peace prize. there are many who alleged you are a war criminal due to the systematic carpet bombing of laos and cambodia. why was that bombing necessary to our strategy in winning the war? dr. kissinger: well, my now, and in my 90's. i've heard this. i think the word war criminal should be thrown around in domestic debates. it's a shameful reflection on the people who use it. let us look -- what was the situation? first, there was no carpet bombing.
that is absolute nonsense. the situation was as follows. in the johnson administration, the north vietnamese moved four divisions into the border areas the vietnam and cambodia. on cambodian soil. an established base areas from which they launched attacks into vietnam, and the divisions were put there in opposition to the cambodian government. the cambodian government told them that if we bombed those areas and didn't kill any cambodians, they would close their eyes to it.
the lbj administration decided not to do this, because we were already under pressure, domestically. and for other reasons that don johnson may know better than i do. but then, when nixon came in, they can have already before he assumed office sent a message to the north vietnamese that he was eager to resume negotiations. in the third week of the nexen presidency, they started an offensive in which every week, up to 500 americans were killed. and many of these attacks, more than half of these attacks came from the areas that were
occupied by those four divisions inside cambodian territory. and after we had suffered 1500 casualties, nearly as many as we suffered in 10 years of war in afghanistan, nixon ordered an attack on the base areas within five miles of the vietnamese border, which were essentially unpopulated. so when the phrase carpet bombing is used, it is, i think, probably much less than what the
obama administration has done in similar base areas in pakistan, which i think is sanctified, and and i believe what was done in cambodia was justified. when we eventually wiped out the base areas, the casualties went down by 80%. and so those were the decisions are in and i would bet that sooner or later, any presidents would have had to do it. because this is one that if you fight and permit base areas from which the killing units are sustained, then you are in an absolutely hopeless position.
i was security advisor, i strongly favored it. but i had just come in. it does not matter, i was certainly strongly supportive of it. it was correct. it was in the american interest in the civilian casualties from this bombing along the five mill street was justified. we have to ask ourselves another thing. the argument against doing it was that cambodia was a neutral country. but a country that has four divisions on its soil is not
actually a neutral country. and the leader of cambodia told the johnson administration that he would in a way, welcome this bombing, when we actually did it , there were press inquiries, and he told them in a press conference, i don't know what goes on in the part of my country in which no cambodians live, and which is occupied by the vietnamese. if any cambodians killed,, i will protest. he never protested. mark: towards the end of his life, robert mcnamara stood on the stage after publishing a book and expressed regret over
the war, and how it was waged. he said the war was futile, and that his conduct was wrong, terribly wrong. have you any regrets on any of the actions you took in vietnam? dr. kissinger: no. you always make tactical mistakes. i believe that the american president, and those of us who worked with him, were acting on their best judgment. at the time. and i think that mistakes were made, in the cause of discussion the vietnam war, one should
discuss how one can learn from these. i'm proud of the service, and i must say, bob mcnamara was a really good friend of mine. i have huge regard for him. but one should not tell -- it's cheap to me cap -- it's cheap to me, after hundreds are dead after was decisions. mark: what is the biggest lesson we can draw from the war?
dr. kissinger: the biggest lesson is not just from the war in vietnam it. the dilemma of american foreign-policy in general is we have left behind two great oceans. the lucky part of the country has lived in the center part of the country, where the consciousness of foreign dangers inherently could not develop in the same way it had to in asia and europe, where peoples are being pressed together. therefore, americans have a tendency to think that peace is the normal condition among people, among countries. and when there is war, or when there is instability, it is sort of an accident. sort of unusual, would you can
remedy by one set of actions. after which you can go back to a condition of great stability. but most deep international conflicts are caused by circumstances which have a long time to develop. we have been involved in five wars since world war ii. which we, in effect, lost. we ended each of these wars with a wide public consensus. it was an 80% support for everyone of these initial actions. but then, after some time, the people say we have to end it. you need an extra case and strategy. well, the best extrication strategy is just to get out.
but you can also call that defeat. so, if you enter a war, you should not do it for objectives that you can sustain. and if you cannot describe objectives that you can sustain, you shouldn't enter it. secondly, you have to distinguish -- you, as a country, between those things you will do only if you have allies, and those you must do because your national security requires it. regardless of whether you have
allies or not. so, you have to make that distinction. and we have to learn that this applies to almost all the ministrations. not to get into these conflicts unless you can describe and aim the you are willing to sustain. unless you are willing in the extreme to sustain it alone, or to know when you have to end it, those are lessons in how to learn also from vietnam. we also have to learn to moderate our domestic debate. because in the course of the vietnam war, what started as a reasonable debate about whether we were engaged in the process that we could master was transformed into an attack on
the moral quality of american leadership. and when one teachers -- one teachers the people that is basically patriotic for 20 years, that they are criminals and fools, then you can get a political debate becomes more and more violent. and we suffer from it in some of our current political debates. that is one lesson we should draw from the vietnam war. it also means we should moderate the argument, but make them deeper. mark: based on that view, how would you assess the war in iraq? dr. kissinger: the war in iraq? well, i want to be clear, i
supported -- i had in mind different kind of war. i thought we would withdraw after saddam. more of a bush one type of war. we failed to make in iraq, and maybe in syria, that we failed to make this analysis, which goes back to my original point. we look at these countries as if they were one unit. and then we see a ruler that is oppressive, and we say let's get rid of this ruler. and the people of iraq with people of syria have a democratic government. and can restore stability. but what has happened in iraq and syria was at the end of world war i, the european victors organized a group of
and a majority of shias. in each case, the american president said let's get rid of the top guy, and we will have stability. but getting rid of the top guy produces a conflict among the various minority groups, who are then fighting for preeminence. and so we have to learn that when we get in to nationbuilding in such a war, we have to engage in nationbuilding. and so, i think we did not understand the complexities of nationbuilding as a general proposition. that's how i would assess the war in iraq, we got into something deeper then we
assessed at the beginning. mr. mark: kissinger has graciously excepted to take a few questions from the audience. i will ask you another question, as you would like to ask questions, i asked that you two up on either side of the aisle. i asked that you ensure that your question is in fact a question in a statement, and that you be as brief as possible in asking that question. kissinger, it's impossible to ignore the election as it plays out. you said in a 2014 interview with scott simon of national public radio that you think hillary clinton would make a good president, but you intended to support the republican nominee. dr. kissinger: i'm not going to get into the -- [laughter] into
the -- [laughter] [applause] mark: is it fair to say that 2014 was a long time ago. are you inclined to support whoever the republican party nominates? [laughter] dr. kissinger: i have not made an announcement. mark: fair enough. dr. kissinger: if you were kind enough to say, i could send it. i wanted to give the audience a chance. mark: i must say to his credit he called me several weeks ago and said, i want to take questions from the audience. i will take any questions they
offer. i asked that you ask the question briefly and in a civil matter. audience member: when the court was signed in laos in 1962, they counted on the vietnamese to honor the neutralization in laos which did not happen and they did not acknowledge that that accord was broken. you had an expectation of the moving troops out of laos and that did not happen as expected by the negotiators. dr. kissinger: you are quite right. audience member: how do we -- dr. kissinger: you can say, at least until recently, the north
vietnamese controlled the record for breaking agreements. [laughter] dr. kissinger: the 1962 agreement on laos, if you generalize it now, the president was convinced that laos was like vietnam, important to the united states. they wanted to keep laos from falling to the north the enemies -- vietnamese. and they did recommend to the incoming administration, that they should make an issue of laos and it was implied that they would favor the usa, some american troops to achieve this. laos is a complex country in order to achieve this objective.
the kennedy administration was not willing to put in forces, but, as a result there was a neutralization agreement and that was broken by the north the emmys -- bievietnamese almost vietnamese almost immediately. and it took laos into a supply phase and most of the roots -- r outes went through laos. in 1972, when the nexen -- nixon administration made a trip there, we had made a habit of violating the agreements.
we were faced with near certainty that the congress would vote an end to the war, no matter what action would be taken. secondly, we believed that the provisions of the vietnam agreement, if we could enforce them, would also protect the other two countries. we thought that the south vietnam ease forces could withstand all attacks and we would have enforced them if there was an all-out attack. then watergate destroyed that possibility.
and then congress legislated against any attempt. so, we will not know what might have happened, but you are right . by the time these agreements were made in 1972, the american -- had disintegrated, to a point and it goes back to a point i made earlier -- if we and -- neend the wars, we must make sure that part of the responsibility of the administration is sustaining the domestic side. and opponents must understand,
if they achieve objectives by undermining government, then of course, no strategy can sustain. mark: yes? audience member: i am with the vietnamese americans, it is widely agreed that you wanted to take over the -- islands in 1974. even the south china sea situation and into pacific ocean, what advice would you give president obama and secretary kerry? dr. kissinger: i am not sure i understood the question. it was a situation where we
agreed in 1974 that -- mr. mark: can you restate the question? audience member: it was understood that the u.s. and the security advisor had arranged so that china could take over the parasol island in 1974, so that we would not lose that area to russia. today, what would use it just us do on behalf of the national security of the u.s. and given all the attacking that china is doing on the u.s. there, and you think that you would side with mao, in all that time, was responsible for the 50,000 deaths of american soldiers? dr. kissinger: for the benefit of the two or three who may not
issue. the chinese claimed these islands because hundreds of years ago, a chinese angler through a line at the pacific and he said everything on that side belongs to china. so, and they had already been claimed. the vietnamese also claimed these islands. and the american position, with respect to the islands, has been consistently that we do not take a position of the sovereignty of these islands. in 1974, in the midst of watergate, in the middle east, i can assure you that these islands were not for most on our minds.
hanoient you signed with in 1973. andears ago you forced, that you would send troops to defeat thetion to north vietnamese. but you did nothing. the result is the communist took hanoi. you should answer the question. what will we learn from the vietnam war that we would never the tray our allies. thank you very much. i have great: sympathy for these questions from the vietnamese. thathave a right to think
throughromised support a number of administrations, including the one i served. vietnam was collapsing. convincepossible to countries to pass any additional funds. 1975. there were 35 other nations that agreementson to the when it was made in 1973. we appealed to all of them. they were not willing to act. it was one of the saddest moments of my life. the date ofo were
the evacuation of saigon, one of the saddest moments of my life with the dedication of the vietnamese, the dedication of those people who served. i have sympathy for your question. i hope no other american leader asked similarts question. the failure was simply vision in our country. we could have the managed it without that. mark: yes.
is that working now? after the tet offensive, after lbj refusing to run again, after walter cronkite, there was peace with honor as striving, yet it cost tens of thousands of casualties. would it have been better to skip the honor, getting out earlier? given the fact that peace with honor took such a toll in terms of human life would it have been better to withdraw? is that fair? audience member: the invasion of cambodia, the extended time of the soldiers, 69, 70.
perhaps we should have withdrawn. mark: thank you. if you look at political debate, -- if you looke at the position of the democratic party at that time, nobody in 1969 and 70 recommended unilateral withdrawal. that the position of the johnson thenistration was that vietnamese troops had to withdraw first. six months after that, american
withdrawals would start. withdrawal of american forces, in the middle declaring we couldn't stand the consequences of the war, i don't know anybody who recommended it at that time. three years later we were increments of withdrawals. there were few casualties. there were casualties. if you lose a war, you cannot say what it would have achieved asia was notheast
it may be a contributing factor to the opening to china. it was a better ending. >> i do not blame you or the administration. perhaps the fault is not an in the stars by an ourselves. audience member: i may not agree with you always but you are an interesting individual and influenced our world in many ways. the war on drugs was issued under nexen. we have more people in prison. 70% of prisoners are nonviolent. you think the war on drugs was
worth it and you think it should be continued in the 21st century and we should continue it or look at it as a failure? or was it a victory? and do you think about it how it has affected the last 40 years? mark: the domestic policy matter. it was underer: nixon. i don't think any statement i can make on the war on drugs -- [laughter] [applause] dr. kessinger: i want to make one other point. directed atons are the american audience. i have great sympathy for the vietnamese who are in this audience. of course, their perspective has
to be different. , not because of any action the administration in , but itwas involved in is an historic tragedy that america found itself so divided and could not solve its domestic debates. so that it could come out of the war within itself. that was more compatible. it had entered -- mark: you have major mark on history. what will history say about henry kissinger?
dr. kessinger: i have no obsession about this. of beinge good fortune able to come to the united most, many of the people i knew were killed in germany. i have always been deeply and iul to this country know what it represents to the peace of the world. i have been lucky, it being able to execute my concerns as my profession. involved in what i'm doing in order to get history
about me. is an extensive record. people, although i must say , the way the mass of material that is produced in the internet , i'm not sure whether you can say history will come to a fair judgment anyway. that is not my concern. i tried to do the best i could. that is all i can say. mark: that is all anyone can say. [applause] mark: we are not only grateful to you for being our honored