The tapes and cables confirm the general outlines of what President Nixon told Rose Mary Woods about the events leading up to the December bombing decision. In November and December 1972, Henry Kissinger had repeatedly recommended launching a major bombing campaign against North Vietnam to a hesitant President. In December, it was Kissinger who pushed for "bombing the bejesus" out of the North Vietnamese during a six-month air campaign. In light of this evidence, President Nixon's frustration at news accounts in early 1973 that he had pushed a reluctant Kissinger into bombing Hanoi makes sense.
The tapes do suggest that by February 1973, President Nixon had perhaps forgotten (or did not wish to remember) that he had once formally endorsed Henry Kissinger's October 26 "peace is at hand" statement. The President, in conversations with his close political advisor Charles Colson, revealed that he had wanted the American public to get an optimistic assessment of the talks on the eve of the election and that his national security advisor's performance had been helpful in deflecting attention from the White House's Watergate problem. Only in the maelstrom of criticism that followed the December Bombings did the President appreciate the unintended consequences of that campaign effort. Not only had it mislead the public about the closeness of a political settlement, but it made Kissinger appear to be the greater advocate of a diplomatic solution. In the wake of the January breakthrough, when the media began discussing the possibility that Kissinger might win a Nobel Peace Prize, the reality of what actually had happened was especially galling to President Nixon.
Although they must be supplemented by the documentary record, the tapes are a powerful tool in reconstructing the decision-making behind the December 1972 bombing campaign. The October and December 14 conversations, in particular, provide strong evidence of how the decision came to be made. In light of the sources that you have just examined, you might wish to consider the following questions: