Skip to comments.How Nixon got shot of Munich
Posted on 02/26/2006 10:48:26 PM PST by dervish
September 5, 10:35 P.M. Haig reports to Nixon that all the hostages have been killed. "The Israelis are going to react," he says.
Nixon: "Who are they going to hit though?"
Haig: "Lebanon, though they will find out where based [sic]."
Nixon: "They are capable of it. They have got to hit somebody, don't you think?"
Ten minutes later, Nixon says to Haig: "Hell, what do we care about Lebanon. Think we have to be awfully tough. I want you to run that by a couple of people. Any nation that harbors or gives sanctuary to these international outlaws - we will cut off all economic support. Obviously Lebanon. Jordan's another. Don't know who else we have relations with."
Haig: "We may have some Chinese problem on this."
Nixon: "Screw the Chinese on this one. Be very tough."
At 10:55, Haig phones Rogers and tells him that Nixon plans to call a meeting at 8:30 A.M. the next day. "He has asked you to come over and sit down and see where to go on this. He's threatened to break relations with nations that harbor or give sanctuary to these guerrillas."
Rogers: "He can't do that, especially when we don't know which nations. What we are trying to do tonight, we are trying to get some protection against a JDL [Jewish Defense League] blowup."
Haig: "He always wants to do something. We have to be careful not to do something he will regret."
Five minutes later, Nixon tells Haig over the phone: "I might consider showing our position on this by flying to the Israelis' funeral. Tell them that I am here at the White House getting reports as they come in, and that I am saddened and shocked by this terrible incident and we will comment in the morning."
(Excerpt) Read more at haaretz.com ...
'I talked to Rabin'
September 6, 1972. Morning. Nixon and Kissinger, some of the time in conversation with Rogers and Haig, some of the time with White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, Kissinger's rival in ingratiating himself with Nixon:
Kissinger: "Now, let me say a word about the Israeli situation, Mr. President, because I feel very, very strongly about it. I look at it the way we would look at it if eight Pakistanis killed eight Indians. I think you have been a statesman ... And I don't think we should throw it away in cheap shots. And this thing could easily turn now. My great fear is, World War I started because the Austrians had been frustrated for 15 years, had the archduke assassinated; the Germans and the whole world was outraged. And they thought that for once they would have a free shot, and they were going to settle the Serbian problem once and for all."
Nixon: "The Austrians thought so?"
Kissinger: "I beg your pardon?"
Nixon: "The Austrians thought so?"
Kissinger: "The Austrians thought. Now, my worry is that if we say to the Israelis too much that the ..."
Nixon: "I talked to Rabin last night. He sure hasn't talked that way."
Kissinger: "Well I would really like to talk to Rabin in a formal way today when he comes back."
Nixon: "The thing that I would emphasize to Rabin, I hadn't thought on this, which would be a very good test for the Israelis - I don't know whether they are able to do it or not. Mrs. Meir, and she's the only one that can do it, should call upon the International Olympic Committee to go forward with those games."
Kissinger: "I agree with you."
Nixon: "But the other reason is she can say, 'Well that's what my boys would have wanted.' It will make them look good rather than ... You see, the trouble with the Jews is that they've always played these things in terms of outrage. You've got the Jewish Defense League raising hell and saying we ought to kill every Arab diplomat. What we have to do is enough here, that we're showing an interest. It's my thought that the best thing here is to let Rogers take the lead in the damn thing - rather than me ... We've got to show we care on this one because, you were in this country, well I guess you weren't, you don't really know, Henry, what the Jewish community will do on this. It's going to be the goddamnedist thing you've ever saw. Did you see both papers this morning?"
Nixon: "And you're absolutely right that that can stir it all up into something very, very ... so we've got to show the greatest understanding and sympathy and the rest so that they don't get into the hands of the extremists."
Kissinger: "Mr. President, Haig and I have been on the phone half the night with the Israelis, who wanted us to do the opposite of what you suggested, which is the right thing. They wanted us to appeal to the International Olympic Committee to cancel it [the games]."
Nixon: "They're crazy. But they want to look good, don't they? ... You see, that's exactly ... the reason Mrs. Meir should do it. She's the only one that can. Is that what the terrorists want? They want to make it appear that they've stopped the games. It's like these assholes that tried to stop us running the government."
Kissinger: "I will talk to Rabin because they don't trust Rogers, but they do trust me. But I'll talk to him quietly."
Nixon: "What does Rogers think we should do?"
Kissinger: "Well, Rogers thinks we should declare a national day of mourning. I'm against even that. It's not our day of mourning, Mr. President. It's easy enough now to do a number of grandstanding ... And also, God I am Jewish. I've had 13 members of my family killed. So I can't be insensitive to this. But I think you have to think also of the anti-Semitic woes in this country. If we let our policy be run by the Jewish community ..."
Nixon: "By the radical Jewish community ..."
Kissinger: "By the radical Jewish community and declare a national ..."
Nixon: "You understand what I was talking to Haig about last night was gestures. Let's do some things here. But nothing that would make the Germans too mad and so forth ..."
Kissinger: "What I would favor, Mr. President, is to go to the UN ..."
Kissinger: "Not you. Not physically. To have the United States to go to the UN and see whether we can get some international rules on harboring guerrillas and so forth."
Nixon: "Now, I've called Rabin. I've asked him to call me this morning to get me a report. You know they have the best intelligence. You know he was so good last night ... He says I haven't got all the information."
Kissinger: "I'm really concerned that it's easy enough now there's a lot of emotion for it, but if they take Beirut, which they could, they'll do something."
Nixon: "They mustn't do that ... They can't start a war over this. You think they might?"
Kissinger: "I think they might. They're in the best position they've ever been in. No Russians there. We've got an election campaign. Now I got a promise out of Golda Meir two months ago when you asked me to that they wouldn't take military action. But this is an enormous provocation. And they are emotional. And I don't want them to think that they've got you in their hip pocket."
Nixon: "Well let me say, you have no problems with Rabin. The way he's talking, he's very rational."
Kissinger: "Rabin is the sanest guy. But they ..."
Nixon: "But he has others that are not."
Kissinger: "They have their own election campaign coming up next spring."
Nixon: "Well, you don't start a war over anything like this."
The Jewish swimmer
The continuation of the conversation, according to a memorandum from Haig:
"The president stated that the United States should not agree to drop out of the Olympics and that Israel should remain consistent with the position it announced earlier to see the games through.
"Secretary Rogers stated that all had agreed on this stand the day before since it would be a terrible slap at the Germans to precipitously withdraw. It appeared that the Germans were in deep difficulty already for their handling of the situation at the NATO air base.
"Rogers said: 'Perhaps we should send some of our athletes such as the U.S. swimmer who is of Jewish descent [Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz].' Dr. Kissinger stated that no resolution would be likely to pass. The question is how to posture ourselves. The resolution should talk about rules of conduct of those who sponsor radicals who operate across international borders. It is probable that the Peoples' Republic of China would veto ...
"Rogers stated that it would be impossible to get any kind of action. Kissinger stated that this was true, but it would serve as a deterrent to Israeli action ... Rogers stated that another advantage of the tragedy was that it will again underline the need for an overall settlement.
"The president commented that it was ironic that the German government found itself in the position of protecting Israeli athletes ... The president stated that he did not think the flag at half-mast was a good idea. Kissinger agreed. Rogers said that we would just do this in public buildings. The president stated maybe just the White House."
After Rogers and Haig leave the Oval Office, the conversation between Nixon and Kissinger continues:
Nixon: "I want to get him [Rogers] off of the other thing. As you know, he wants to have a long talk with me this morning, and [unclear] ... I don't want to get into the Russian thing, so let him do this thing."
Kissinger: "Oh, no, no ..."
Nixon: "[Unclear] Let him be the lead horse."
Kissinger: "Oh, God. The only thing I want - the Israelis distrust him so much they wouldn't do a thing without checking with us anyway ... I don't think he should go to Tel Aviv for the funeral even if he should engineer an invitation."
Nixon: "Bill? Oh, shit no."
Kissinger: "Yeah, but they might want him. That might give them some visible American support, and that would embroil us with the Arabs."
Nixon: "Listen, let me tell you something. My view - this incident blows any chance at [a peace agreement]."
Kissinger: "You are 100 percent right."
Nixon: "But the point is, let's let Bill be out in front. Your idea of going to the UN, he finally got the point ... And it will be great for him and it will be great for us." Kissinger: "Above all, it will be good for you, Mr. President ... Because if he goes up to the UN, he will be doing something concrete. Of course, nothing will come out. Nothing ever comes out. But we could make a lot of statesman-like speeches about curbing terrorism."
Nixon instructs Kissinger to get Rabin on the phone, and says: "Would you tell him that ... let me put it this way: Tell him, 'Look, Mr. Ambassador, the president wants to get Rogers on the right side of this issue.' And second, tell him it will be good to put the goddamn UN on the spot. We want to put them on the spot on this issue, because we think we got them by the balls here. For him to urge Rogers to go to the UN. Would you tell him the president would like for him to do that? ...
"Also, tell Rabin that I consider it very statesmanlike, Mrs. Meir's statement. Would he please convey that to her. Particularly with regard to going forward with the games. That I had independently reached that conclusion, but did not want, of course, to suggest it. But I think that's exactly the kind of thing that will make tremendous points in the world by not trying to knock off the games. That's what the athletes would have wanted. Third point is that now that they're in this good position, don't blow it. Tell him, 'Don't blow it.' [Unclear] You've got to remember that the president is their friend. Now we've got some world opinion for them. But don't ... these things can turn very fast."
Kissinger: "You're right."
Nixon: "I don't want them to go conquer Beirut. I don't mind them going in and knocking off a few camps, but even that's bad right now."
Kissinger: "I think ..."
Nixon: "They would be very well to be the injured, play the injured martyr."
Kissinger: "But if we can get to the UN within the next 24 hours. Now this statement here will hold us for 24 hours."
Nixon: "What statement?"
Kissinger: "Well, where we say we've consulted with other governments. Frankly, I wouldn't consult because if you do it, they'll say no. And if we go ..."
Nixon: "All right." (Turns to Bob Haldeman.) "You see, Bob, of course nobody understands what the president is trying to do here. I'm trying to get Bill doing something! As I told you last night on the phone, Bob, rather than farting around whether Henry sees [British Prime Minister Edward] Heath, or [West German Chancellor Willy] Brandt, or some other. Now Brandt may pose a problem at this point."
Haldeman: "The UN thing is an ideal thing."
Nixon: "Let's talk a little about lowering the flag. What I'm concerned about is that you can be sure as hell that [New York City Mayor John] Lindsay [a former Nixon rival in the race for the Republican nomination] is going to lower the flag, Congress is going to call for lowering the flag ... Here's the point. [Unclear] Why don't you order the flag when some Irish nationalists get killed?"
Kissinger: "That's right. What will Irishmen say if you didn't lower it when the school children got killed in Belfast ..."
Nixon: "That's right. It really hits the point that the flag ought to be low all the time."
Haldeman: "You didn't lower it when the guys [from the Japanese Red Army, which launched a terror attack on Lod Airport in May 1972] went in the airport and shot up the people."
Nixon: "Well, it's the Olympics. The Olympics, they're international and all that business. Suppose, for example, somebody went in and machine-gunned the UN and killed six Arabs there."
Kissinger: "My instinct is - sure, right now you'll get a lot of indignation. But whether more people won't feel that this is the president of all the people ... "
Nixon: "Going too far?"
Kissinger: "But Bob would have a better judgment than I."
Nixon: "Yeah. Now the idea of the church thing appeals to me if I do it my way. My way would be I call upon all Americans to go to church and a moment of silence. But I think, in my way, I quietly slip out of this damn door ..."
Kissinger: "That doesn't bother me. "
Nixon: "... and pick maybe that little church across the way without ... any notice of it. I just walk round, sit in the church for five minutes and walk out. Get my point? That's my moment of silence."
Kissinger: "That I think, that has meaning. That has human compassion. You show where you stand, but you don't involve the presidency of the United States in an official act."
Setback for the Arab cause
The Rogers-Rabin conversation, from a telegram from the Department of State to the U.S. Embassy in Israel (GOI is bureaucratic jargon for "government of Israel" and USG is "United States government"):
"Rabin then turned to question of cancelation of Olympic Games. He described GOI position carefully: Israeli view in view of what had happened at Olympic Games was that games should not continue. GOI did not want to turn and present request to others to withdraw from Olympic Games, but if U.S. team would have cut its presence there, Israel would have welcomed this. Therefore, this was way Israel was putting it officially. All other formulations of Israeli position on this matter USG might have heard were irrelevant ... What Rabin was expressing was GOI feeling rather than firm operational request. Secretary [Rogers] commented on idiotic and insane nature of atrocity at Munich. Games had been going so well and now one result was that Arab cause in eyes of world had suffered setback. Perhaps one day those who died would be considered martyrs in cause of peace.
"Rabin said notion he sensed in some media comment was that Munich incident would stimulate efforts for peace. Israel believed there was need for peace, but assumption that atrocities should bring new political initiatives only plays into hand of those who commit atrocities .... Rabin said that feeling in Israel was if there were groups like this in Arab world, who could guarantee to Israel once there was political statement, that Israel would not be in worse position? At present Arab options were limited because of military positions Israel held, but imagine if there were terrorist incidents like this after an interim agreement. What would happen?
"Secretary [Rogers] asked if Rabin knew where terrorists had been based. Rabin replied in negative, commenting this was problem in which security services could have done better."
"Eleven members of the Israeli delegation to the Munich Olympics were murdered by people belonging to the Black September organization, or killed in a failed rescue attempt, on September 5, 1972. The Israeli reaction has already fueled scores of articles, books and recently Steven Spielberg's film "Munich" as well. One angle of the story remains vague: the politics and diplomacy in the wake of the terror attack.
Now the missing information has been supplied, thanks to the declassification last summer of secret documents from U.S. President Richard Nixon's administration. Some verbatim excerpts from these documents provide a rare lesson in personal and international relations, with the help of an American team then headed by President Nixon, Secretary of State William Rogers, his rival - and ultimately successor - National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, and Kissinger's deputy, General Alexander Haig.
No Hollywood producer would hire a screenwriter who dared imagine dialogue of the sort that was recorded for posterity at the White House, between the fear-ridden and crude-talking Nixon, and the obsequious and manipulative Kissinger, using the same recording system that toppled Nixon two years later. Two-and-a-half months after the burglary of the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building, two months before the elections, Nixon had a large lead over Democratic candidate George McGovern, but Nixon was not certain of his victory. The day after the Munich event, what worried him most were the possible reactions: a war of vengeance started by Israel and Jewish voters being pushed into the arms of their traditional patron, the Democratic Party.
The president's most important Jewish supporter in Washington was Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. "
Why just this one?
Interesting, thanks for posting.
Man, he knew how to lay it on thick, didn't he?
"The day after the Munich event, what worried him most were the possible reactions: a war of vengeance started by Israel and Jewish voters being pushed into the arms of their traditional patron, the Democratic Party."
Well - from these transcriptions at least - nothing jumped out at me about Nixon fearing that Jewish voters would leave the party. Obviously he was interested in the general looks of "politicing" though. (I liked the part about going to church for 5 minutes!)
Nixon used the "China Card" to triangulate between North Vietnam and the Soviets. I needed to refresh my memory on the whole idea and came across the following interesting article. It was written by a Marine that was assigned to oversee transcriptions of some of the Nixon tapes.
I'll read this tonight
Real simple: The one person you can depend on is yourself. Israel knows that, and the US knows it, too. The US also knows if they don't do something in the event of Iran's nukes, Israel certainly will.
But, I still do not trust them.
Warning! This is a high-volume ping list.
Interesting article. The resemblance to Iraq, in the media's treatment, is unsettling.
What suprised me in this segment is the huge influence of Kissinger. Nixon did a complete turnaround from his original take based on a few words from Kissinger on Pakistan/India and the origins of WW1.
Kissinger is the more interesting character in this segment. He is the one making policy.
I think therein lies a key and essential difference between conservatives and liberals. Libs always seem to believe in the common good of all man, conservatives know better.
Great post. BUMP!
"fear-ridden and crude-talking Nixon"
Respectfully, I have to agree with geopyg that I see nothing in any of this that suggests Nixon was "fear-ridden". As far as the "Crude-talking Nixon" is concerned, I think you'd find that in any conversations with a U.S. president, the only one in the room who ever uses Glengarry Glen Ross lingo is the president. This sort of 'jock talk' is almost a requirement of the president's job [certainly in the case of Truman, JFK and most especially LBJ], partly to show that the P is in charge [no one else in such presidential exchanges ever uses such language of course, in deference to P's office], but partly also, I think, presidents use such language in order to make those around the P feel they can can speak as freely as they want -- although rarely do any of the staff people ever resort to the sort of language they likely use when conversing with their own personal staffs in the P's absence. In my opinion, Kissinger isn't making policy. Nixon is just letting him speak, as a Jew, for what Kissinger believes is the best course of action, and Nixon, in basic agreement with K anyway, is doing his best to seem accommodating.
I seem to recall from some book on Nixon that he was given to initial gut responses (aren't we all?) and would verbalize them (and then caught on tape of course.) In my foggy memory there was something where they were going to make the guy that released the "Pentagon Papers" look really bad. Goofy stuff, like drug him and dress him up in women's clothing or something really off the wall like that. Probably was talking with aides like some of the posts get going on FR! ("If there's a subway bombing in New York we put underwear on Saddam's head and nuke Mecca!")
Haig aludes to that in this tape where he says "He always wants to do something" talking about his threat "to break relations with nations that harbor or give sanctuary to these guerrillas."
And then Haig gets a call 5 minutes later from Nixon talking about a more measured first step - going to the funeral.
Reading another thread on the "Golden Mosque" bombing it is interesting the same thing is going on to a degree (as is most foreign relations).
Nixon didn't want a strong Israeli response (after his knee-jerk reaction of "what do we care about Lebanon?" and "screw the Chinese". It sounded like he thought a large Israeli strike would give the arabs an excuse to strike back, and then leading who knows where in the global scheme.
I imagine the fears of our folks in Iraq is the Shittes using the Golden Mosque as an excuse to go on the rampage against the Sunnis. With our guys in the thick of it would be bad. And as much as it would be nice to just back off aways and let them fight it out among themselves and come back in and pick up the pieces - not sure how welcome we would be after abandoning them to the wolves - again.
And I imagine if we left then Iran would be "willing" to take our spot to help the Shittes.
From the last article I read it sounds like the rhetoric from both the Sunnis and the Shiites is calming down - so that's good I guess. (No Civil War this week for the Media and Liberals :(.
One of the greatest tragedies of Nixon's resignation was that the best hopes for establishing a Middle East in which Israel had the inviolate status of a 51st U.S. state were lost. Just a couple of months before he resigned, Nixon was paraded through the streets of Cairo in an open car to the cheers of millions of Egyptians in spite of his having single-handedly reversed the tide of the Yom Kippur war in Israel's favour only 7 months earlier when he over-ruled both Kissinger and Schlessinger by supplying Israel with the necessary military ordnance (and in Rabin's words, "Saving Israel from destruction in its hour of greatest need"). The Carter administration carried through on Nixon's breakthrough by getting a peace treaty between Israel & Egypt, but Nixon would have gone much further than that and avoided the sort of Arab sectarian divisions that now look irreversible.
If there is one thing Nixon was not, it was "fear-ridden". The man was prepared to undertake risky policies that succeeded in important goals. According to Richard Reeves' biography, Kissinger was derisive of the chances of ever achieving an opening to China. When Haldeman told him Nixon was serious about forging an opening to China, Dr, K. replied "Fat Chance", and told his own staff that Nixon had taken leave of reality. Likewise, in the case of the Yom Kippur War, Nixon knew full well he was risking his presidency if an Arab Oil Boycott materialized when he aided Israel by sending them "everything that flies" and putting the U.S. on a nuclear alert in the Yom Kippur War -- which Kissinger & Schlessinger were fearful of doing. Nixon thought it was a price worth paying for Israel's survival and for the maintenance of U.S. stature vis-avis the U.S.S.R. at a time of nuclear parity.
I recall as if it were just yesterday when I watched Nixon give his resignation speech. He hung tough. As one of our local columnists wrote, "President Richard Nixon had really never looked better." Much is made of the fact that Nixon was devastated shortly before and shortly after that speech, but he looked positively great when he gave it. As Churchill's physician, Lord Moran, said of his most celebrated patient, what had impressed him most about the great man was that he had bouts of shivering anxiety shortly before most of his best 'moments' -- something Moran regarded as the best index of true courage (as opposed to 'dumb insensitivity').
Great post. Thanks.
Confirms my dislike of Kissinger.
Thanks for the history lesson on Nixon and the Middle East. I've read a bit and knew of his dealings with China and the Soviets but didn't realize he had made such great gains in the Middle East.
My thoughts exactly.