The Cambodian incursion revisited.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Cambodian history (Analysis)
United States foreign relations (History)
United States foreign relations (Analysis)
Cambodian foreign relations (History)
Cambodian foreign relations (Analysis)
Author: Drivas, Peter G.
Pub Date: 09/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Fall-Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 3-4
Topic: Event Name: Cambodia Invasion, 1970
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Cambodia; United States Geographic Code: 9CAMB Cambodia; 1USA United States
Accession Number: 279722813
Full Text: Introduction and Literature Review

On May 4, 1970, hundreds of students congregated on Kent State University's Commons, a popular campus meeting spot, to protest the United States' recent invasion of Cambodia. When the students failed to comply with an order to disperse and instead responded with rocks and shouts of "pigs off campus," Ohio National Guard troops, called in to quell the demonstration, advanced toward the students, firing canisters of tear gas that drove them beyond a hill overlooking the Commons. What happened next remains unclear forty years later, but when the dust settled four students--Allison Krause, Sandra Lee Scheuer, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, and William K. Schroeder--had been fatally shot by the Guardsmen. The Chicago Tribune described the incident as a "scene of unreality ... [one would] expect to see in Viet Nam ... not at a school." (1) The situation was not helped when White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler read a tone-deaf statement from President Richard M. Nixon that bemoaned the consequences when "dissent turns to violence." (2) Less than two weeks later, James Earl Green and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs were killed by police during antiwar protests at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Across the country, from the University of Maryland at College Park to Illinois State, and from Columbia University to Williams College, campus disturbances were reported, and thousands converged on Washington for a major protest on May 9. The Nixon administration's ten-day-old invasion of Cambodia had reinvigorated the Vietnam protest movement. (3)

The fallout from the decision to invade Cambodia extended to the halls of government as well. Two hundred and fifty State Department employees signed a statement condemning the invasion. Peace Corps workers seized the organization's headquarters and flew Viet Cong colors from its flagpole. (4) A number of cabinet secretaries expressed their disapproval with the decision to invade Cambodia; Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel dissented publicly. (5) In the U.S. Senate, John Sherman Cooper (R-KY) and Frank Church (D-ID) introduced an amendment to a military appropriations bill which would cut off funding for any American combat forces operating in Cambodia or Laos after June 30, and bar any bombing of Cambodia that Congress had not approved. Looking back on these events in his memoir, The White House Years, Henry Kissinger, then Nixon's National Security Advisor, wrote that in the weeks following the Cambodian incursion "the very fabric of government was falling apart." (6)

The Cambodian incursion shook the foundations of American democracy to its very core. The repercussions from the decision to invade, which included Kent State, the Cooper-Church Amendment, and a rash of resignations from the National Security Council, speak to how unexpected and, in some ways, unprecedented the invasion was at the time. In the four decades since the tragic events of early May 1970, the Cambodian invasion may have faded from memory, but it remains controversial. Its causes, legality, and its domestic and military consequences remain much debated in the scholarly literature of the Vietnam War, as well as in the memoirs of key government officials, most notably those of Nixon and Kissinger. Many questions regarding the Cambodian invasion remain unresolved. The military historian John M. Shaw writes that:

This study has grown out of a concern over the gap in the literature regarding this controversial topic that this author shares with Shaw. While some authors have explored the run-up to the operation, the scholarly discussion has paid more attention to what happened after the invasion than the circumstances in Cambodia in March and April 1970 that influenced the decision to undertake it. As a result, scholarly treatments of the invasion often focus on the leadership styles and beliefs of Nixon and Kissinger. These studies attribute the genesis of the invasion to the psychological flaws of these two widely-disdained, complicated figures. (8) Other works emphasize the role the military in pushing for a foray into Cambodia as early as the mid-1960s. (9)

This study stresses the radically changed circumstances in Cambodia in early 1970 as the key to understanding the decision to invade that country. Following the March 1970 overthrow of Cambodia's head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, 'the nature of Communist infiltration intensified. This newly precarious political and military situation in Cambodia was exacerbated by declining U.S. troop numbers in South Vietnam and the Nixon administration's desire to extract a favorable settlement from North Vietnam without conceding the survival of a non-Communist South Vietnam, and the attendant military pressure to achieve this goal necessitated. These factors led military and intelligence analysts, together with administration officials, to realize the utility of an invasion to eliminate the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army (VC/NVA) sanctuaries along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia. Such circumstances, not irrational paranoia or some other psychological issue of either Kissinger or Nixon, would prove decisive in the president's decision to invade Cambodia in late April 1970.

To be sure, the personalities of decision-makers should not be discounted. There is no denying that personality, character, and ideology are of great importance in explaining the introduction of U.S. combat troops in Cambodia, and this study will feature some discussion of these factors. However, it seeks to shift the focus away from Nixon and Kissinger's much-discussed and speculated-upon proclivities and neuroses toward the changing political and military circumstances in Cambodia in March and April 1970. It also places a new emphasis on the strategic framework Nixon and Kissinger applied to Vietnam, and the ways in which the decision to invade Cambodia proved to be rational within that framework. (10) In brief, the coup, along with the Communist push against the new government in Phnom Penh, not only seriously threatened Cambodia's neutrality, but also presented the Nixon administration with its best opportunity to neutralize VC/NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia, which had been a constant source of frustration for the United States throughout the war. Furthermore, the opportunity and the threat presented by the coup was not one which only Nixon and a small group of advisors recognized; it was endorsed by elements in the military, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the White House, and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

This does not mean that this study will serve as an apology for the Nixon administration or Nixon himself. Nor will it be a particularly vehement defense against those who criticize the invasion on the grounds that it violated international law or the tragic outcomes it produced both in the United States and Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Rather, it is response to a collection of scholarship and some important works of investigative journalism which have misdiagnosed, or at least partially misunderstood, how the United States found itself in Cambodia. One school of authors, which includes Robert Dallek, Seymour Hersh, and William Shawcross, who have expressed their disapproval of the invasion take issue with the way the Nixon administration seemed to play fast-and-loose with the neutrality and sovereignty of Cambodia, as well as its broader strategic approach toward Vietnam. (11) These authors accuse the Nixon administration of rushing through a secretive and flawed decision-making process leading to an invasion that "had almost nothing to do with the realities of Cambodia." (12) Without the flawed leadership of Nixon and Kissinger, they argue, the military campaign would likely never have taken place. In fact, according to Shawcross, an invasion of Cambodia was a feature of Nixon's foreign policy long before the coup, and would have occurred regardless of the situation on the ground. (13) Each of these authors emphasize Nixon's drinking problems and psychological state, and Kissinger's obsession with shaping military or political policy to explain the Cambodian incursion.

Others, including Shaw, James Willbanks, and Lewis Sorley, place greater emphasis on the Nixon administration's consideration of its own goals, and on the military's perception of the situation in Vietnam, rather than the personal flaws of the key players involved in the decision-making process that resulted in the invasion of Cambodia. These authors point to the United States' ongoing, seemingly at-odds efforts to withdraw from South Vietnam while maintaining a commitment to Vietnamization in the hope of stabilizing Saigon, and the pressures these efforts placed on Washington and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) as the major factors that explain the Cambodian invasion. (14) While this school of thought is valuable in its emphasis on the run-up to the invasion as opposed to its consequences, it consists almost entirely of military histories, and therefore does not provide a comprehensive narrative and analysis of the goings-on in the Nixon administration before the invasion.

Kenton Clymer and Craig Etcheson stand mostly outside of this dichotomy. Their treatments of the invasion are more equivocal and are framed as part of a larger narrative of U.S.-Khmer relations. While Clymer sees the invasion as a deliberate and conscious exercise of presidential power by an "anxious" Nixon, he notes the role the military played in pushing for action, as well as the uncertainty engendered by the constant fluctuation in U.S-Cambodian relations even after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1969. (15) Etcheson focuses on what he calls the "Kissinger-Shawcross controversy," and ultimately finds flaws with both sides. While he agrees that the decision to invade was a rushed one, Etcheson does not concur with Shawcross's overriding argument that American action was the decisive factor in the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Instead, he points to internal factors in Cambodia to explain the Communist takeover of that country. (16)

This study leans toward the latter school of thought, arguing that the determining factor in the decision-making process surrounding the Cambodian incursion was not some flaw in the character of Nixon, Kissinger, or any other figure involved in the decision-making process. Nor was the decision to invade Cambodia an outcome of groupthink that might have resulted from what some have characterized as Nixon's closed and secretive group of advisors. Rather, it stemmed from a careful weighing of options within the White House, which determined that, in light of recent political and military developments in Cambodia and South Vietnam, the consequences of the incursion were mitigated by the potential benefits it would have as a boon to the new pro-Western Cambodian government and the process of Vietnamization. In short, it is viewed as a decisive strike against North Vietnam's capability to make war on its southern neighbor.

Cambodia, the United States and the Possibility of an Invasion before the Coup

Before discussing the events of March and April 1970, it is important to understand the role Cambodia played in American thinking about Vietnam both before and during the first year of the Nixon administration. (17) Throughout the 1960s, the VC/NVA made use of Cambodian territory to support their effort to topple the government of South Vietnam. This should not have come as a surprise to American policymakers. As Edward G. Lansdale, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's Deputy Assistant for Special Operations, noted as early as 1961, "one of the cardinal principles of guerilla warfare is to have bases on the border," and the Viet Cong, increasingly pushed out of South Vietnam by U.S. efforts there, made use of this time-tested insurgent tactic. (18) However, while it would not have been difficult to predict that Communist forces would at some point make use of Cambodia for sanctuary and support, two factors blocked joint U.S.-South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) efforts to prevent this. First, during the early 1960s the extent of Communist infiltration in Cambodia remained unclear. While it was obvious to most that the VC/NVA were present in the northeast region of Cambodia to some degree, it is not until 1965 when State Department, CIA, and White House documents begin to indicate that major political and military policymakers considered the extent of Communist access to, and the volume of supplies being transported through Cambodia to be a significant problem. (19) It appears that the daunting political costs, and the fact that, legally speaking, Cambodia remained neutral in the conflict in Vietnam, meant that little or nothing could be done militarily--arguments against action still outweighed those in favor.

The second factor was Cambodia's government and its strained relations with the United States. While there was some dissent, the majority of American decision-makers viewed Sihanouk as childish and naive--difficult to deal with and harder still to predict. (20) Even those with a more favorable view of Sihanouk and his objectives acknowledged that his goal of preserving Cambodia's neutrality was on some level problematic for the United States as it sought to maintain good relations with Cambodia's pro-Western neighbors and win the war in Vietnam. (21) The suspicion and unease with which the two countries regarded one another, culminating in a rupture in diplomatic relations in May 1965, made the United States even less likely to cross the Cambodian-South Vietnamese border in order to take out Communist infrastructure. Such a move would have further upset already troubled U.S.-Cambodian relations, and, on some level, aided the Sihanouk government of whose support the United States could not be sure. Consequently, in lieu of decisive action against VC/NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations opted for sporadic, limited cross-border air and ground raids, and a vague hope of finding a diplomatic solution, (22) It would require a change in one of these two circumstances--the extent of VC/NVA infiltration, or the nature of the Cambodian government--to make decisive military action more feasible.

In 1969 the Nixon White House adopted a two-track strategy toward Cambodia, which featured bombing and improved diplomatic relations. This dual strategy was driven by three interconnected factors: the administration's belief that the war should not be abandoned as a lost cause; a desire to improve the chances for victory and stability in South Vietnam; and a need to respond to the realities on the ground in Cambodia, most notably the continued presence of VC/NVA forces near the border. (23) Prior to the Cambodian coup of March 18, 1970, when Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, the Nixon administration looked to accomplish its goals not through large-scale ground operations across the border, but by reinstating and improving relations with Sihanouk and undertaking the secret MENU bombing campaign. (24) While the former strategy proved quite effective and stands as evidence of the Nixon administration's commitment to the status quo in Cambodia minus the sanctuaries in 1969, the latter approach outgrew its usefulness as it failed to significantly reduce or eliminate the Communist presence in Cambodia. Thus, while Communist infiltration in Cambodia emerged as a growing concern during the first year of Nixon's presidency, a significant commitment of U.S. forces against VC/NVA bases and supply routes was not regarded as a strong possibility before the coup, and was certainly not an overriding temptation for Nixon himself. This changed in the wake of Sihanouk's overthrow as the political and military situation in Cambodia became more desperate, and the potential benefits of an American invasion of that country became clearer.

The Administration Reacts to the Coup

The coup that overthrew Sihanouk constituted a major turning point in U.S.-Cambodian relations, and, more importantly, the build-up to an invasion. (25) However, it did not lead to the immediate use of U.S. forces in Cambodian territory. Instead, it set off a deliberate and, at times, heated and contentious decision-making process. The decision to invade Cambodia ultimately resulted from this process. Major military action against VC/NVA forces in Cambodia involving U.S. ground forces was not a legitimate option prior to the coup, as evidenced by the drawn-out nature of the decision to commence the MENU bombing campaign, and the concerted effort of the White House to improve relations with Cambodia. Perhaps the best evidence against the argument that the president, his national security advisor, and others rushed to invade Cambodia, however, is the fact that despite the March 18 coup, the Nixon administration did not move inexorably toward an invasion. In fact, progress remained slow, as the administration weighed its options and pursued a policy of watchful waiting while assessing developments in Cambodia. It took more than a month after the coup before Nixon decided to invade Cambodia. Ultimately, both the deteriorating situation in Cambodia and circumstances in South Vietnam influenced that decision. The administration was motivated partially by calls for help from Cambodia and reports of the instability of its new leadership, and in part by pressure stemming from American troop withdrawal announcements and stalemated peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese. While one cannot fully disregard the psychologies of the decision-makers, attention to these two motivating factors provides a better understanding of why the invasion occurred.

The weeks between the coup and the invasion were characterized first by a more casual approach to Cambodia, namely, letting the situation play out while gathering intelligence on recent developments. Only later did the Nixon administration begin to act precipitously, as the military situation in Cambodia became desperate and the unviable nature of ARVN-only attempts to neutralize the sanctuaries became more apparent. The decision to invade was a difficult one, which took into consideration pro and con arguments from the military, CIA, State and Defense Departments, as well as input from the Cambodian and South Vietnamese governments. While the choice to invade was ultimately Nixon's, and while it was unpopular with some of his advisors and much of the country, it was not one made solely by a paranoid leader with a chip on his shoulder. Rather, it came after weeks of debate influenced by desperate calls for help from Cambodia, and endorsements for large-scale action from key military officials. The Cambodian invasion, then, is not a prime example of Nixon's flawed leadership or Kissinger's overbearing ambition, as some would have it. (26) Rather, it was a largely rational gamble in response to a difficult set of circumstances and pressures.

In the wake of Sihanouk's ouster, the main task facing the White House, CIA, and the State and Defense Departments was to ascertain what exactly had happened in Phnom Perth and why. Writing to Nixon on March 17, several hours before the end of Sihanouk's reign, Kissinger speculated that "Lon Nol and Sirik Matak were probably reflecting strong nationalistic feelings in Cambodia," and noted that Sirik Matak, himself a member of Cambodia's large royal family, had long been a political enemy of the Prince. Kissinger wondered whether the coup was the result of collusion between the three men but concluded that regardless of whether or not that was the case, anti-Vietnamese sentiment was reaching a fever pitch in Cambodia, and that recent political developments there were one of its byproducts. (27) Over the next few days, a consensus began to form around this analysis as more key decision-makers concluded that the coup was legitimate, and that it was largely a result of dissatisfaction with the degree of VC/NVA infiltration in Cambodia, which had exacerbated centuries of friction between the Khmer people and their Vietnamese neighbors. At a March 19 Washington Special Action Group (WSAG) meeting, CIA official Thomas Karamessines confirmed the strength of anti-Communist sentiment in Cambodia, and a CIA memorandum identified VC/NVA presence in Cambodia as a major factor in the coup, although it placed greater emphasis on general disaffection with Sihanouk's authoritarian leadership style. (28)

While the unexpected nature and timing of Sihanouk's overthrow caught the Nixon administration off guard, once a consensus was reached on the reasoning behind the coup, the more vexing issue of what effect it ought to have on American policy in Southeast Asia came to the fore. Just hours after the coup, Secretary of State William Rogers told Kissinger that he believed that recent developments may "be fortunate in some ways," in terms of improving Cambodian-South Vietnamese relations, which remained ruptured. (29) Indeed, the following day word came from Saigon that South Vietnam's President Nguyen Van Thieu was pleased with developments, and hoped that improved diplomatic relations and increased military cooperation along the border would soon follow Sihanouk's removal from power. (30) With these possibilities in mind, and perhaps encouraged by Kissinger's March 19 assessment that Cambodia would now begin to address the problem of Communist infiltration more seriously, Nixon's "immediate inclination" was to throw the full weight of American power behind the new government. (31) However, prudence and caution prevailed. After all, Lon Nol and Matak, upon taking power, had reaffirmed Cambodia's official policy of neutrality, and the details of their foreign policy with regard to the United States and both sides in Vietnam remained unknown. (32) While the CIA concluded that, irrespective of the details, "life [was] going to be less easy for [the VC/NVA] in Cambodia" than it had been, CIA Director Richard Helms, along with Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, and U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, urged restraint at this point. (33) Considering that there was no guarantee that Lon Nol's government would survive, Communist powers might suspect that Nixon had instigated the coup if the White House immediately supported the new government. Moreover, it remained unclear whether Cambodia's new leadership even wanted this support, and with it, increased conflict with the VC/NVA at this time. Thus, there was little reason to move precipitously. (34) It was best to let the situation play out before committing to an answer to the key question, as posed in the briefing paper for the March 19 WSAG meeting: "[D]oes the presumably more pro-Western orientation of Lon Nol make up for the assumption that Sihanouk's departure may lead to increased instability?" (35)

In the days immediately following the coup, the United States seemed reluctant to endorse the new government. On March 20, Kissinger counseled Nixon to avoid making strong commitments either way on the issue when speaking publicly. (36) Considering that Lon Nol's survival and Sihanouk's permanent exile were far from certain, to do so may not have been wise. Doubts as to the utility of an endorsement of the new Cambodian government, both from the United States and South Vietnam, continued for several days. (37) However, when Sihanouk declared war on the new government on March 20 by calling for a "sacred struggle," a clear message was sent as to the viability and neutrality of a government with Sihanouk at its head, should he return to power. (38) As a consequence, a clearer commitment toward supporting the new Cambodian government began to emerge, especially within the White House, though this shift did not immediately include the possibility of an invasion. In reply to a request for options for supporting Lon Nol and Matak, Helms sent Kissinger a memo on March 22 which advocated a two-prong strategy. Publicly, the United States and Cambodia would do all they could to maintain the latter's neutrality. This was in keeping with the official Cambodian position and would maximize "international sympathy." Covertly, the White House would support any Cambodian initiatives against Communist infiltration, and provide economic and political backing to Phnom Perth. Helms made no mention of possible U.S. military action, however. (39)

Through the end of March, events in Cambodia continued to move relatively slowly. Even as the press began to speculate about the possibility of Vietnamese-Cambodian military cooperation along the border, no substantive moves were undertaken by the United States to lend significant support to the new government. (40) This may, in part, have been because the situation in Cambodia did not yet seem particularly dire and was not a priority, as evidenced by Nixon's Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman's March 24 diary entry: "Poor K[issinger]. No one will pay any attention to his wars." (41) If anything, it seemed for the time being that the Cambodians themselves may have had the situation under relative control. As Kissinger reported to Nixon on March 27, the Central Office for Vietnam (COSVN), the overall command of the communist effort in South Vietnam, had allegedly ordered VC troops stationed in Cambodia to lay low, and transport supply surpluses across the border into South Vietnam, lest they be captured by Cambodian troops.42 While such confidence in Cambodia's armed forces may have been unwarranted, it suggests one reason why a decisive military move to support Lon Nol was not yet on the table: Amidst the confusion over what had happened in Cambodia, the Nixon administration preferred to await developments. At this point, there was not much cause for concern. (43)

During the last days of March, the National Security Council (NSC) tried to decipher Hanoi's assessment of recent developments in Cambodia. In a series of memoranda, culminating with one from Kissinger to Nixon on April 1, NSC staffers identified four main options for North Vietnam in Cambodia. These ranged from what Kissinger would later call "our nightmare," a concerted military campaign against Phnom Penh with the goal of reinstalling Sihanouk, to an effort to work with the new government, aiming for a more modest objective of an agreement that would allow the VC/NVA continued use of Cambodia's northeast region. (44) Ultimately, the NSC concluded that the VC/NVA seemed to be working at a level below the nightmare scenario, using its troops in Cambodia against the new government, but engaging in open combat rarely, instead hoping to foment dissension which might result in the outbreak of a "people's war." (45)

While the situation in Cambodia required attention, it had yet to develop into a cause for great concern that necessitated action. Indeed, when Laird took issue with the president's decision to temporarily call off cross-border operations by the South Vietnamese Army, Nixon informed his secretary of defense that he preferred to monitor developments in Cambodia before reinstating such operations, and only acquiesced after Laird assured him of the operations' low-level nature. (46) Nixon also told Laird that he might order ground operations against the sanctuaries, but only if "Hanoi goes all out against the Cambodians." (47) Meanwhile, Rogers reminded embassy officials in Phnom Penh that the United States continued to respect Cambodia's borders. While field commanders had a degree of autonomy in providing for the protection of their troops, U.S. forces needed to continue its recognition of Cambodia's neutrality. (48)

Even as it became clear that the administration was not eager to commit troops across the border, a memorandum addressed to Kissinger from Deputy National Security Advisor Alexander Haig on April 3 showed that the military had begun to consider that possibility. MACV leadership had outlined two possible scenarios for dealing with the Cambodian sanctuary issue, both requiring U.S. involvement, rather than ARVN-only operations, to ensure success. While MACV's report allowed for some variability in the degree of the American contribution, "the implication is that U.S. involvement is essential to the success of all these operations." In fact, the option which Haig deemed most promising required "a preponderance of U.S. participation." While it is not surprising that the military would be more amenable to significant cross-border operations, the administration's response to these suggestions underscores the fact that the military's assessment of the situation at the time was out of sync with that of the civilian leadership. Kissinger, in responding to these options, asked that MACV put together alternative proposals which would involve only South Vietnamese forces. (49) Similarly, the next day, Laird advised Nixon that, considering the still-"obscure" nature of the political situation in Cambodia, any military action across the border should "be limited and tightly controlled." (50) Thus, through the first week in April the administration maintained a generally cautious attitude toward military involvement in Cambodia. (51)

Kissinger's next meeting with the North Vietnamese peace delegation in Paris, which took place on April 4, might have provided an opportunity to address the issues surrounding Cambodia, but this negotiating session came nowhere near doing so. North Vietnam's chief negotiator, Le Duc Tho, insisted that the United States had underwritten the coup in an effort to turn Cambodia into a "neo-colony," and vowed to bring that country into the larger Indochinese people's movement. (52) He went so far as to state North Vietnam's intention to bring an end to the new regime: "[S]o long as the Lon Nol-Matak government remains in Cambodia, then the Cambodian question cannot be settled. This policy of yours will fail. Our position on Laos and Cambodia is clear." (53) In response to these charges and threats, Kissinger accused the North Vietnamese of expanding the conflict into Cambodia by using the country as a supply route and base. "Who has troops in Cambodia," he asked? "Not the US. I am impressed again with the linguistic ability of the people of the Indochinese peninsula. We discovered that the Pathet Lao speak Vietnamese, and now we find the same phenomenon in Cambodia." (54)

While Kissinger's secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese were often frustrating, this meeting in particular may have made a significant impression on American thinking regarding Cambodia. Le Duc Tho had made it clear that North Vietnam had no intention of allowing the new government to maintain a true neutrality, unless such neutrality allowed for the maintenance of VC/NVA base areas and sanctuaries along the Cambodia-South Vietnam border. North Vietnam had also sided with Sihanouk, and had designs of military action against Phnom Penh. However, even these developments seem to have had little impact in persuading Kissinger of the utility of American military operations in Cambodia. In his report on the meeting to Nixon, Kissinger remained committed against expanding the war, no matter how inadmissible he viewed the possibility of a North Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh. (55)

By April 8, American leaders in Washington had begun to diverge significantly from their counterparts in Saigon on the Cambodian question. Whereas CIA analyst George Carver told Laird that it was not yet imperative for the United States to act beyond "some discreet assistance," the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, and General Creighton Abrams had come to a different conclusion. (56) Writing to Kissinger, they recognized the delicate political nature of the question of cross-border operations, but insisted that "there are some cross-border operations which could be undertaken with military profit." While any operations would rely on South Vietnamese forces on the ground, American air and artillery support would be essential, and the possibility of the use of some U.S. ground forces was not ruled out. To Bunker and Abrams, it seemed that the prudent approach was no longer enough. A clear message of support needed to be sent to Lon Nol, whose situation was becoming desperate. Similarly, the VC/NVA had to understand that should they make a concerted push against the new Cambodian government, their border sanctuaries would be vulnerable, and that American and South Vietnamese troops were prepared to take advantage of this situation. (57) According to Haig, this was "a hard-line view," which, at this time, most in Washington did not share. (58)

The Situation in Cambodia Worsens

The Nixon administration's reluctance to intervene began to change on April 9, when Lon Non, the brother of Lon Nol and a commander in the Cambodian army, met with an American embassy official. Claiming to speak on behalf of his brother and the new Cambodian government, Lon Non offered not a request, but a "semi-official probe ... for U.S. arms aid." Given the new government's plan to expand the army with the aim of repelling potential North Vietnamese offensives, its immediate need for supplies was not insignificant: between 100,000 and 150,000 weapons in the near future, and nearly double that over the long run. A meeting of the 40 Committee the next day included a discussion on the "vague and apparently exaggerated" nature of Lon Non's request. (59) That request would mark a major turning point in the weeks leading up to the invasion. (59) Until then, few in Washington viewed the situation in Cambodia as particularly dire, and fewer still, if any, foresaw the United States committing a significant number of troops across the border in the near future. However, in the weeks that followed calls for help from Cambodia and pessimistic evaluations of the efficacy of ARVN-only operations grew more frequent. These factors, together with North Vietnam's intention of destabilizing the new government, apparent since the April 4 Paris meeting, would set America on the path toward invasion, first by addressing the problem of military aid, then by tackling the issue of direct military action.

Even after the arms request, some American officials thought Cambodia's need for help may have been exaggerated, and that the situation there was not yet desperate. Certainly there was no precipitous move toward direct military support, and no immediate steps to provide supplies were undertaken. While, as Kissinger wrote to Nixon, "the Cambodian government [needed] strengthening," it was best to do this through a proxy. Options to fulfill Cambodia's military needs included French aid, Belgian arms dealers, and captured Communist weapons from South Vietnam. (60) Some in the White House feared that if the United States itself openly supplied weapons, a clear message of American support for the new government would be sent not just to the Cambodians, but to the VC/NVA. This might provoke retaliation from North Vietnam, possibly in the form of a concerted military effort against Phnom Penh. (61) To avoid this scenario, WSAG, meeting on April 14, agreed to the delivery of 3,000 captured AK-47'S from South Vietnam, together with medical supplies, to the Cambodian government. (62)

Simultaneously, the CIA put together a report on alternatives for supporting the Cambodian army, most notably the covert delivery by the CIA often 1,000-man "weapons-packs." Helms saw this as the most desirable alternative. (63) At a meeting on April 15, Nixon indicated his support for this option. Perhaps more importantly, he instructed Helms to "get the word out abroad," presumably to North Vietnam and its allies, that "the U.S. was prepared to intervene militarily in the event [that] Hanoi initiate[d] direct attacks against Phnom Penh." (64) This is the first indication that Nixon had begun to consider the possibility of something along the lines of an invasion. It should be noted, however, that the president's statement was conditional on North Vietnamese military action, and was intended not as an official plan, but rather as part of an intelligence effort to deter North Vietnam from undertaking a campaign against Phnom Penh specifically. It would be safe to say, as Kissinger later asserted, that in mid-April the overriding opinion in Washington was that the American military should stay out of Cambodia. (65) Nevertheless, the Nixon administration was growing increasingly supportive of the Lon Nol regime. While few could tell at the time, as a result of the weapons request, the situation in Cambodia appeared to take on added seriousness, eventually paving the way for an American invasion of that country. As Nixon had written to Kissinger on the day of Lon Non's request, the time had come for "options other than just 'letting the dust settle.'" (66)

Nixon's statement demonstrated American recognition of the mounting military pressure on the Lon Nol-Matak government. On April 11, Laird estimated that there were 19,000 VC/NVA forces along the border opposite Phnom Penh, opposed by only 2,0004,000 Cambodian combat forces. Both the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Saigon agreed that North Vietnam would not be able to overcome the loss of the sanctuaries. In order to guard against this possibility, it would likely move against the new government quickly. (67) Indeed, Communist attacks against Cambodian towns and military outposts in mid-April became more frequent and successful, and often struck close to Phnom Penh. (68) A CIA agent who had recently visited Cambodia told Kissinger on April 18 that the VC/NVA could take Phnom Penh with relative ease and that the Cambodians were "scared and worried." Morale was reportedly low and the new leadership was "beginning to sound frantic." In the agent's estimation, some gesture of American support had to be made soon to prop up the Cambodian government. While he doubted that the VC/NVA would move decisively against Phnom Penh in the near future, at the very least the North Vietnamese was fast gaining the leverage to strike some sort of deal with the new government which would allow them to keep their sanctuaries. (69) While the VC/NVA may not have been at the gates of Phnom Penh, such reports from Cambodia would certainly have been alarming.

Kissinger's meeting with the CIA agent was one of a series of events which brought home to the Nixon administration the increasingly ominous circumstances facing Lon Nol and Sirik Matak, and the speed with which the White House needed to act to effectively support them. On an April 19 trip to Hawaii to welcome home the Apollo 13 astronauts, Nixon met with Admiral John McCain, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command, to discuss options for Cambodia. McCain reported that the border areas were firmly controlled by the VC/NVA, whose goal was to isolate Phnom Penh. As far as options moving forward, McCain informed the president that South Vietnamese President Thieu was "violently in favor" of cross-border operations, and that an attempt to conclusively destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail running through Cambodia would entail a massive military commitment. (70) Nixon, apparently impressed by McCain's briefing, had him deliver it to Kissinger the next day in California. McCain would later cite the theme of the meetings as "the need for speed in view of the 'precarious situation' in Cambodia." Nixon seemed to grasp this need. In a conversation with Kissinger, Nixon noted that while he did not want McCain to think that he had ordered a joint U.S.-ARVN operation, he wanted to avoid having South Vietnamese forces enter Cambodia alone only to "get the hell kicked out." (71) While clearly no decision had yet been made to commit American forces across the border, the possibility had begun to weigh more heavily on the minds of Nixon and his key advisors.

The turn for the worse in Cambodia became increasingly evident on April 20, when a telegram arrived from the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Lloyd Rives, detailing a recent meeting with Cambodian Chief of Staff General Srey Saman. Saman told the ambassador that Nixon would soon receive a letter from Lon Nol detailing how desperate the situation was becoming, thus making clear that massive American aid was the new government's only remaining hope for survival. (72) While Saman said that Cambodia preferred aid and support over military action, this desire was complicated by the unrealistically large requests for weapons and supplies Lon Nol was planning to make. The Cambodians hoped the United States could help them arm a force of 430,000, which aside from being a significant monetary commitment, would in all likelihood take more time than Cambodia could afford. (73) While the Cambodian government had requested that foreign troops not enter the country, the outlandish size of its aid request, combined with the desperate tone of Saman's meeting with Rives, served as an argument in favor of some sort of military action. If America's ability to offer aid and the pressing nature of the threat to Phnom Penh did not match up with the Cambodian request, some other solution to the problem of a pending Communist attack against Phnom Penh had to be found.

The deteriorating situation in Cambodia took place against the backdrop of developments in South Vietnam, which probably drove home the need to not let the Cambodian situation get out of hand. On April 20, Nixon announced that the U.S. military would redeploy 150,000 troops from South Vietnam within the next year, with 60,000 leaving by the end of 1970. While these withdrawals would likely be well-received by the American public, they raised an issue that would impact for the situation in Cambodia. As the United States continued to withdraw its forces from South Vietnam, thereby weakening its ability to defend and support Thieu's government, whose self-defense capabilities remained largely unknown, what could it do to ensure that the prospects for that government's survival remained strong? Given that the success of Vietnamization remained uncertain, and that the North Vietnamese remained obstinate at the negotiating table, the presence of large sanctuary areas and supply lines just across the border in Cambodia did not bode well for South Vietnam. The Cambodian issue thus became linked to what the Nixon administration could do to help South Vietnam as it reduced America's military presence there. As Kissinger recalls, while the Communist threat to Phnom Penh was itself a cause for great concern, after the withdrawal announcement one of the central issues regarding Cambodia was "whether Vietnamization was to be merely an alibi for an American collapse or a serious strategy designed to achieve an honorable peace." (74) Whatever one's attitude toward the notion of an "honorable peace," it is important to note that the announcement of a major troop withdrawal in the midst of the Cambodian crisis likely served to highlight the urgent need for action. In fact, one could argue that an invasion of Cambodia, while on the surface an expansion of the war, would actually help the United States withdraw from South Vietnam sooner by hopefully removing one of the main threats to the success of Vietnamization.

This may have been on Kissinger's mind on the morning of April 21 when he asked Rogers whether he thought Vietnamization could succeed if Cambodia fell to the VC/ NVA. Disagreeing with Kissinger, Rogers replied that success would still be possible, and that the loss of Cambodia would simply be a "psychological setback." The secretary of state feared that Nixon was not paying enough attention to his advisors on the issue and was "making decisions off the drop of a hat" an accusation echoed by future critics of Nixon's actions in Cambodia. Kissinger agreed with Rogers that this kind of behavior was undesirable, and promised to do what he could to avoid it. (75) Kissinger later spoke with General William Westmoreland, U.S. Army Chief of Staff. Westmoreland's report was less alarming than those offered by McCain or Srey Saman. He maintained that Lon Nol was "capable of holding the country together," and that ARVN-only cross-border operations, accompanied by U.S. air and artillery support, would provide sufficient support to the new government. However, ARVN alone would not be effective in completely eliminating the sanctuaries--this would take significant American participation on the ground. Such an operation, Westmoreland believed, would be "worth it." (76) In a memo issued later that day, the general reaffirmed his position, writing that the administration should "move well beyond" aid-only measures in Cambodia. (77)

The Decision to Invade

The next day, April 22, would be an important one. Nixon ordered every non-essential item on his schedule canceled so that he could focus fully on Cambodia, and began dictating memoranda to Kissinger as early as 5:00 a.m. (78) The first was indicative of Nixon's active mood, and the hectic nature of that day:

Nixon may sound combative here, but his overriding point is difficult to ignore. By now, Cambodia's neutrality existed in name only, more so even than it had throughout the 1960s under Sihanouk. While Lon Nol had thrown his lot in with the United States, Communist forces were firmly entrenched in the northeast, had launched attacks throughout the countryside, and had an estimated strength of ten regiments immediately available to move on Phnom Penh. (80) Furthermore, the solution Nixon presented in this memo was not an American invasion, or any that might be deemed as rash or ill-planned. Rather, he suggested that the administration send career ambassador Robert Murphy to reassure Lon Nol and buy the United States time. (81) While Kissinger disagreed with the idea, and later wrote that the pace of the day's events did not allow the president to implement the order anyway, he continued to receive memos from Nixon throughout the morning. (82) When he met with Nixon later that day, the president told Kissinger that he wanted "to make sure that Cambodia did not go down the drain without doing something.... Everyone always comes into my office with suggestions on how to lose. No one comes in with suggestions on how to win." (83) Nixon had clearly begun to regard Cambodia as an important situation near its breaking point, in need of some sort of decision. (84)

Steps were taken toward this end during an NSC meeting that afternoon. Of particular concern were two base areas in Cambodia--Parrot's Beak, which jutted out into South Vietnamese territory within thirty miles of Saigon, and Fishhook, which was believed to house COSVN. According to Kissinger, opinion at the meeting was split three ways. Rogers and Laird supported doing little beyond current sporadic cross-border operations and military aid. Kissinger wanted South Vietnamese forces to attack the sanctuaries with U.S. air and artillery support. Bunker, Abrams, and the Joint Chiefs recommended that a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese force do whatever was necessary to completely neutralize both base areas. (85)

Nixon's standard operating procedure was to announce his decision in writing after a meeting had taken place, but on this occasion he approved ARVN-only attacks on Parrot's Beak with American air and artillery support (the Kissinger-backed option) during the meeting. Both Laird and Rogers protested even this level of American involvement. (86) According to Kissinger, their protests prompted Vice President Spiro Agnew to speak up:

While Kissinger suspects that Agnew's hard-line position irked the president by showing him to not be the "toughest" person in the room, it ultimately did not alter Nixon's decision. (88) In a National Security Decision Memorandum issued later that day, Nixon took a middle course: South Vietnamese forces would be used on the ground; U.S. air support would be deployed only "on the basis of demonstrated necessity." (89)

This would, of course, not be the last word regarding military action against the sanctuaries. Later that day, Bunker and Abrams warned Kissinger of the consequences of the fall of the Lon Nol-Matak regime, and advised that, in addition to increased ARVN-only operations, the administration should approve "carefully targeted combined US/GVN military operations against high-payoff targets inside Cambodia. One of these might be launched against COSVN headquarters." (90) A CIA memo pointed out that VC/NVA supplies and infrastructure in Cambodia were so widely dispersed as to make occasional, haphazard cross-border operations of little utility. A larger operation at Fishhook designed to destroy COSVN offered a more promising option, both for its logistical disruptiveness and its psychological shock value. (91)

Against these reports, Kissinger received a memo from NSC staffers Roger Morris, Winston Lord, and Anthony Lake, in which they took a strong stand against U.S. military action in Cambodia. They viewed Lon Nol's survival as highly unlikely, and warned that the introduction of any U.S. troops in Cambodia would have a damaging psychological effect at home, run counter to the stated wishes of the Cambodian government, and would not "alter the basic balance [of power]" there, which, they claimed, had turned decisively in favor of the Communists. They advised that, while the White House should do what it could within reason to support Lon Nol, it should also urge him to seek an accommodation with the VC/NVA, allowing them to keep their sanctuaries while permitting MENU bombings and short-term, limited cross-border operations by ARVN to continue. (92) It is difficult to imagine a situation in which North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia would accept these terms. If, as these NSC staffers claimed, the VC/NVA were in a strong enough position that they could at least force some sort of settlement with Lon Nol and not simply look to unseat him, why would they accept an arrangement that allowed the American military to continue harassing their key infrastructure along the border? At best, such a settlement would have been a placeholder, that is, an attempt to buy time until the VC/NVA deemed a final push against the Cambodian government feasible. Certainly it fell far short of the support the new Cambodian government required for survival.


The arguments put forward by Morris, Lord, and Lake seem to have had little effect on Kissinger. In fact, in the days following the NSC meeting, Kissinger began to lean closer toward Agnew's position. It seemed to him that limited ARVN-only operations would not have a decisive effect on North Vietnam's capacity to support its efforts in South Vietnam from across the border. Equally troublesome, it would generate an outspoken domestic and international outcry. So long as that was the case, it made just as much sense to commit fully to neutralizing the base areas and accepting whatever political consequences would come from that decision, which would be great either way. (93)

On April 24, Kissinger met with Nixon, Helms, Deputy CIA Director Robert Cushman, and Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Thomas Moorer to discuss substantively for the first time the prospects for and consequences of a joint U.S.-ARVN campaign in Cambodia. (94) Nixon did not find it necessary to invite Laird and Rogers to the meeting because in his view it was only a military briefing. However, Kissinger recalls that Nixon was simply fed up with both secretaries' department's "bureaucratic foot-dragging," and was determined to keep them outside the decision-making process. (95) While this has been offered as evidence of the rushed and secretive nature of the decision to invade Cambodia, numerous attempts were made to bring both secretaries into the fold in the coming days. Either way, Helms and Moorer both recommended joint action against Fishhook, in addition to the planned South Vietnamese attack on Parrot's Beak. After the meeting, Nixon retired to Camp David to reflect, while Kissinger kept Laird informed of developments. When Laird refused to believe that Moorer and Abrams had recommended sending U.S. ground forces into Cambodia, Kissinger called Moorer and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Earle Wheeler to verify this. Both men reiterated their support for joint U.S.-ARVN action. Laird then suggested that any decision should be held off until Rogers had testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 27, which would allow the secretary of state to accurately report that no American troops were in Cambodia. (96)

Kissinger continued to make telephone calls throughout the afternoon. Shortly after 4 p.m. he spoke to Nixon, and confirmed that, in order to eliminate COSVN, action would have to be taken before the coming rainy season. (97) About an hour later, Kissinger told the president that Wheeler was thrilled with the proposed Parrot's Beak operation--"he never thought he'd live to see the day he could do one of these." Meanwhile, Nixon ordered large-scale tactical air strikes in support of the ARVN-only operation along the border. (98) Then, at 7:30 p.m., Kissinger called Helms to confirm that the CIA Director supported joint operations. Helms replied that "if [Nixon] is prepared for the fallout, then it is the thing to do." They also spoke about the need to bring Rogers and Laird into the decision-making process, and not, in Kissinger's words, "ram it down their throats." Helms ended the conversation by remarking that the attitude and thinking which Nixon seemed to have adopted was not inadvisable or irrational: "[T]he state of mind I saw this morning was just right--keep it and [do not] monkey with it." (99)

In the interest of keeping the cabinet informed, Nixon met with Rogers, Laird, Wheeler, Helms, and Kissinger upon his return from Camp David on Sunday, April 26. (100) Before the meeting, Kissinger wrote Nixon that they could expect significant opposition to the Fishhook operation from both secretaries, and that the president should take care "not to surface the fact that General Wheeler has been conducting intensified planning to implement the attacks." (101) However, much to Kissinger's surprise, both Laird and Rogers did not raise any significant qualms. (102) According to Kissinger's recollection of the meeting, Nixon had already decided to move against Fishhook, making the informational briefings offered by Helms and Wheeler little more than a "charade." (103) Nixon, however, claims that he did not arrive at his decision until that night, after the meeting. (104) This disagreement may explain why Kissinger was so surprised by Laird and Rogers's silence. While we cannot be sure, Nixon's account of when he made the decision could reasonably be closer to the truth than Kissinger's version. If so, then the April 26 meeting was, in fact, an informational one, not a charade--there was no need for strong objections because no decision had yet been reached, let alone issued.

This was decidedly not the case the next day, when Laird and Rogers received Nixon's official decision to proceed with the operation. At a meeting with the president, Kissinger, and Haldeman, the two secretaries aired their grievances. According to Kissinger, the meeting had a "surrealistic quality." Rogers mostly complained about having to deliver testimony to the Senate the next day, while Laird focused on what Kissinger admitted was the issue on which the decision was "most vulnerable," namely, increased American casualties. (105) Laird suggested that the Fishhook operation should be replaced by a more ARVN-driven one into Base Area 704, which would result in fewer American casualties, but it would also be less disruptive to the VC/NVA sanctuary and supply effort. (106) According to Haldeman, the secretary of defense also repeatedly alleged that Abrams opposed a joint U.S.-ARVN operation. Kissinger, who otherwise remained relatively quiet during the meeting, refuted this claim. (107) While these objections were not enough to reverse Nixon's decision, he suspended the order to commence operations for twenty-four hours, allowing Rogers to testify before the Senate without having to address the matter, and giving Kissinger a chance to reconfirm Bunker and Abrams' support for the operation. When Kissinger wired them for their thoughts, he ended by noting that "the question has been raised here whether General Abrams really wants to conduct this operation on its merits, or whether he favors it only because he assumes it represents the president's wishes." (108) While it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Abrams would admit to the latter possibility, his joint reply with Bunker expressed his unequivocal support for the undertaking:

Abrams and Bunker confirmed that Fishhook was a more valuable target than any other, including that suggested by Laird, and promised to make "every effort" to limit casualties. (110)

Nixon would later write that he was not fully committed to the decision that night, and remained unsure until a meeting with Kissinger and Attorney General John Mitchell the next morning, when he and Kissinger produced nearly identical, independently-written lists of the operation's pros and cons. To Nixon, these lists suggested that they had made the right decision. (111) At 10:20 a.m. on April 28, Rogers and Laird arrived at the Oval Office and were informed of the president's final decision. Nixon reminded the secretaries that he "had taken the subject into constant consideration for the past ten days," and had chosen to authorize joint attacks on Fishhook with full knowledge of the intense domestic political fallout which would likely accompany it. (112) Nixon's emphasis on the amount of advisement and evidence he had taken into consideration can easily be verified. In the immediate aftermath of the coup the situation in Cambodia remained unclear, but as circumstances changed arguments in favor of some sort of action against VC/NVA forces in Cambodia began to mount. These circumstances included reports of the increasingly dire military situation in Cambodia from Americans like McCain and Rives, CIA operatives, and Cambodians, notably Lon Non and Srey Saman. This evidence was compounded by the increasing number of pro-Communist public statements by Sihanouk, which made clear how undesirable the alternative of his return to power had become. Military estimates which found that ARVN-only operations would not be effective in eliminating most of the Communist infrastructure in Cambodia served to underscore the necessity of American participation in whatever actions took place. Finally, in the two weeks before the invasion, key military and civilian leaders, including Abrams, McCain, Wheeler, Bunker, Helms, Kissinger, and Agnew, endorsed joint U.S.-ARVN action. All of these factors were compounded by the mounting pressure of troop withdrawals and the coming rainy season, which would make military operations exceedingly difficult.


To label the decision to commit American forces in Cambodia as rash and ill-planned is to ignore the degree of input and endorsements for such action that Nixon received from administration, diplomatic, intelligence, and military officials. It also ignores the fact that the decision to invade was a slow-moving one, not truly considered at all before the Cambodians made clear how desperate their situation had become in early April, and even then it was undertaken only with clear support from the military, CIA, the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, and the president's national security advisor. While some have argued that Rogers and Laird were cut out from the decision-making process, this too is a misrepresentation of that process. Kissinger and Nixon were aware of the objections of both men before the president made the decision to invade Cambodia on April 26. Furthermore, as evidenced by Kissinger and Helms' conversation on April 25, attempts were made to keep both cabinet officials 'in the loop.' Indeed, Rogers' main concern, the possibility that he might have to offer false testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was rectified by the twenty-four hour delay in commencing the operation that Nixon ordered on April 26. Nixon may ultimately have overruled his secretaries of state and defense, but he did not ignore them. Thus, the decision to invade Cambodia was not a paranoid outburst by a combative president, but a deliberate, relatively widely-endorsed attempt to solve the long-standing problem of Communist infiltration in Cambodia, which had been aggravated by the coup and subsequent VC/NVA pressure on Phnom Penh.

Events during March and April 1970 removed any lingering uncertainty about the nature of Communist infiltration in Cambodia and the threat it posed to South Vietnam. Sihanouk's frustrating and unpredictable government was replaced by one which, while still ostensibly neutral, had staked its survival on support from the United States. North Vietnamese pledges to bring 'Cambodia into the wider Indochinese Communist movement, calls for help from the new Cambodian government, and attacks which struck closer to Phnom Penh with each passing day made clear the seriousness of VC/NVA infiltration and the nature of its objective. Furthermore, the continued withdrawal of U.S. troops drove home the impending reality of Vietnamization to the Nixon administration, convincing it to do all that it could to ensure that the governments of Thieu and Lon Nol would survive without a significant American physical presence in Southeast Asia. Uncertainty about both the nature of the Cambodian government and the threat posed by VC/NVA infiltration were no longer obstacles to ordering American troops into Cambodia.

The diplomatic and military record points overwhelmingly to these factors as key considerations that led to the joint U.S.-ARVN incursion into Cambodia, and shows the drawn-out pace of the decision to invade. Evidence of a closed cabal of advisors surrounding an angry and paranoid president is scant, if it exists at all. The same can be said for references to Kissinger's lust for power or American involvement in the coup which unseated Sihanouk. This is not to say that the reasoning behind the invasion was infallible, but rather that there was reasoning behind it--the Cambodian incursion was not an angry outburst born out of paranoia, but a policy decision which sought to rectify a long-standing problem that was endorsed by many key government and military officials.

In addition to attacking the decision-making process which led to the American invasion of Cambodia, some authors, most notably Shawcross, have criticized the MENU campaign and subsequent incursion for contributing to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Though this study did not set out to answer that question, it is an important one to address briefly. Even if U.S. actions drove Communist forces deeper into the Cambodian countryside (though there is evidence that the incursion dealt the VC/NVA a severe setback). (113) to blame the rise of Pol Pot's regime on Nixon and Kissinger is, in some sense, to mistake the forest for the trees. Cambodia was located in a part of the world which gave rise to a number of Communist governments, such as those in Vietnam and Laos, from the 1950s through the 1970s. There is a good chance that a Communist government would have been Cambodia's fate regardless of whether the United States tried to undermine the Communist foothold in the country's northeast region. In other words, American policy could not undo larger sociopolitical trends in the region, as was made abundantly clear in Saigon in 1975.

In The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, Craig Etcheson identifies a number of internal factors which were more central to the rise and brutality of the Khmer Rouge than U.S. military actions in Cambodia. (114) When a regime as monstrous as Pol Pot's arises, it is natural to look for answers, and difficult to accept that no easy ones exist. Ultimately, the Khmer Rouge's rise was mainly a function of its own agency, and its brutality and inhumanity were a function of its own nature, more than either were a function of the decisions of the Nixon White House. That Cambodian lives were lost due to American military action is tragic, and is made even more so by the seemingly aimless, endless nature of the MENU campaign. However, the incursion itself was certainly not endless or aimless--it was over by June 30, 1970. If nothing else, it may have contributed to delaying a communist triumph in both Cambodia and South Vietnam. Perhaps the biggest tragedy, given what the Khmer Rouge was to become, is that American military operations could not remove this threat entirely.

But this study is not intended to offer an analysis of why and how the Khmer Rouge came to power. Rather, it focuses on answering a specific question: Why did the Nixon administration choose to invade Cambodia? As has been shown, VC/NVA infiltration of that country was a vexing problem for American diplomatic, military, and intelligence officials for nearly a decade before the invasion. They were held back from adopting a military solution by uncertainty as to the seriousness of the problem, and the intentions of the Cambodian leadership, especially Sihanouk. When one considers that, in early 1970, the former uncertainty was erased by the Communist push toward Phnom Penh, and the latter concern addressed by the rise of a more pro-U.S. Cambodian regime which actively sought American help, the reasoning behind the invasion becomes clearer. The long-standing problem of VC/NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia, which until then had seemed intractable, could be addressed far more justifiably in the spring of 1970 than it could have been at any previous point in the Vietnam War. Nixon decided to invade Cambodia primarily for this reason.

This study has tried to understand, though not necessarily defend, the reasoning of the important decision-makers that led to the Cambodian incursion. This reasoning arose from years of questions about VC/NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia which yielded few answers. The solution that the Nixon administration sought had not been attempted before, although it had been advocated at different times by the military, CIA, and certain civilian leaders. The decision to invade was not made lightly--it was, in fact, a methodical process which (unlike MENU) took into account input from many facets of the U.S. military-intelligence-diplomatic apparatus. This decision-making process, not the neuroses or flawed leadership styles of Nixon and Kissinger, ultimately determined that changes in circumstances in Cambodia made a joint U.S.-ARVN military operation necessary.

Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia may have been, in his own words, an attempt to "go for the big play," but even then it was a carefully thought-out, rational one. (115) Ultimately it stemmed from the president's conviction, which many in his administration and the military shared, that the war in Vietnam was winnable in 1970. While the Communist presence in Southeast Asia could not be erased, a favorable settlement could at least be achieved. That goal could only be reached by making certain that South Vietnam was not faced with the threat of significant Communist operational support just across the Cambodian border after American forces withdrew from the region. In this sense, the reasoning behind the invasion reflects larger truths about the Nixon administration's approach to the Vietnam War not as a lost cause, but as a vital conflict where the twin pressures to withdraw and to provide for the survival of the Thieu government were great, and were exacerbated by concerns for the United States' credibility. The Cambodian incursion was born out of an attempt to address these pressures simultaneously.

PETER G. DRIVAS received his BA in political science from Williams College in June 2011.


(1) Phillip Caputo, "Kent State is a Scene of Unreality," Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1970, 1.

(2) Richard M. Nixon, "Statement on the Deaths of Four Students at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio," Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971), 411.

(3) Tom Wells, The War within America: Battles over Vietnam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994), 421 ; Melvin Small, Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America's Hearts and Minds (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 2002), 123.

(4) Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979), 514.

(5) E. W. Kenworthy, "Hickel's Advisors Tell Why He Acted," New York Times, May 8, 1970, 1, 17.

(6) Kissinger, White House Years, 513.

(7) John M. Shaw, The Cambodian Campaign." The 1970 Offensive and America's Vietnam War (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005), xi.

(8) See, for example, Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger." Partners in Power (New York: Harper Collins, 2007); Seymour Hirsh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (New York: Summit Books, 1983); William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia (London: Hogarth, 1986).

(9) See, for example, Shaw, The Cambodian Campaign; Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1999); C. Dale Walton, The Myth of Inevitable US. Defeat in Vietnam (Portland, OR: Frank Cass Publishers, 2002).

(10) This article will not feature much analysis of the invasion's military and political outcomes. While this is certainly a worthy question to address, others have studied it, and it has relatively little bearing on the question of why the United States invaded Cambodia in April 1970.

(11) Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger, 198; Hersh, The Price of Power, 185; Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (New York: Verso, 2001), 34-38. Shawcross, Sideshow, 89. See also Asaf Siniver, Nixon, Kissinger and U.S. Foreign Policymaking: The Machinery of Crisis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

(12) Shawcross, Sideshow, 146.

(13) Ibid., 91.

(14) See Shaw, The Cambodian Campaign; Sorely, A Better War; James H. Willbanks, Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2008).

(15) Kenton Clymer, The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000: A Troubled Relationship (New York: Routledge, 2004), II:l 6-28.

(16) See Craig Etcheson, The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).

(17) For a fuller version of my analysis of these issues, see Peter G. Drivas, "Nixon's Big Play: U.S.-Khmer Relations and the American Invasion of Cambodia, Spring 1970," Senior Thesis, Williams College, 2011, 1-75.

(18) Memorandum from the Secretary of Defense's Deputy Assistant for Special Operations (Edward G. Lansdale) to the President's Military Representative (Maxwell Taylor), October 21, 1961, Foreign Relations of the United States [hereafter FRUS], 1961-1963, vol. I, Vietnam, 1961, 414.

(19) Telegram 176043, Telegram 204728, Record Group [hereafter RG] 59, Central Foreign Policy File [hereafter CFPF] 1967-1969, Folder Political Affairs and Relations, US-CAMB 1/1/67, National Archives II, College Park, Maryland [hereafter NAII]; Memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, August 27, 1965, FRUS, 1964-1968, vol. HI, Vietnam, June-December 1965, 36 l; General William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Dell Publishing, 1976), 235. During a meeting with President Johnson on December 5, 1967, General Earle Wheeler stated that "we have known for two years that [Communist forces] have been [in Cambodia]." Secretary of State Dean Rusk added that it had become clear that "there is not a fraction of as much a problem [of communist infiltration] in Laos as there is in Cambodia." See Notes of the President's Meeting with The Vice President (Humphrey), Secretary McNamara, Secretary Rusk, Cyrus Vance, CIA Director Helms, Walt Rostow, George Christian, and Tom Johnson, December 5, 1967, FRUS, 1964-1968, vol. V, Vietnam, 1967, 1097-98; CIA Memorandum from the Deputy Director for Intelligence to the Director of Central Intelligence, "Communist Use of Cambodia to Support the War in South Vietnam," December 16, 1965, CIA Records Search Tool Database [CREST Database, available at NAII]. See also CIA Intelligence Memorandum, "Cambodia and the Viet Cong" Memorandum of 12/28/1965, CREST Database.

(20) Letter to U. Alexis Johnson, March 5, 1962, RG59, Central Decimal File [hereafter CDF] 1960-1963, Box 1751, Folder 751H.00l/1-1260, NAII; CIA Intelligence Memorandum, OCI No. 3519/63, "Sihanouk's Intentions," December 19, 1963, CREST Database; CIA Intelligence Memorandum, "Cambodia's Foreign Policy," December 1, 1965, CREST Database. The first volume of Klymer's The United States and Cambodia paints an effective portrait of the frustrating nature of U.S.-Khmer relations from the perspective of both sides.

(21) Airgram A-604 Memorandum Phnom Penh to Secretary of State, June 12, 1964, RG59, CFPF1964-1966, Box 1969, Folder POL 15-1 Head of State, Executive Branch 4/1/64, NAII; Memorandum, Alfred Bergeson to Thomas J. Hirschfeld, November 6, 1964, RG59, CFPF 1964-1966, Box 1974, Folder Political Affairs and Relations CAMBUS 7/1/64, NAII.

(22) CIA Intelligence Memorandum, "Cambodia and the Vietnamese Communists," 11/16/1967. WEEKA Airgrams from the American Embassy in Phnom Penh to the Department of State during 1964 and 1965 provide an overarching view of the frequency with which minor border violations happened, and the response they aroused from the Cambodian government. See RG59, CFPF 1945-1966, Box 1967, Folders POL 2-1 Joint Weekas 1/1/64, POL 2-1; Joint Weekas 7/1/64, POL 2-1; Joint Weekas 1/1/65, POL 2-1, NAII. For border incidents after the break in relations, see RG59, CFPF 1967-1969, Box 1931, POL 31-1 (entire folder), NAII.

(23) Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War: A History of American Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), 50. While Kissinger may indeed have had a vested interest in overstating the degree of optimism in the administration, this should not fundamentally change the fact that throughout 1969 and 1970 Nixon treated Vietnam not as a lost cause, but as a problem that could still be resolved favorably.

(24) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 59, 68; Minutes of National Security Council Meeting, January 25, 1969, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 37; Memorandum for the President, Resumption of Diplomatic Relations with Cambodia, June 21, 1969, RG59, CFPF 1967-69, Box 1930, Folder Pol. Aft. And Rels, US-CAMB 1/1/69, NAII; Richard M. Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1978), 382; H. R. Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons), 41. MENU refers to a drawn-out, secretive bombing campaign along the Cambodia-South Vietnam border. Beginning in March 1969, it sought to eliminate VC/NVA supply routes and caches in Cambodia. It was immensely controversial not just amongst the handful of administration and military officials who were aware of its existence at the time, but amongst the general public when it came to light in 1973. For further detail, see Shawcross, Sideshow; Arnold Isaacs, Gordon Hardy, MacAlister Brown, Pawns of War: Cambodia and Laos (Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1987).

(25) For accounts of the coup, see Milton Osborne, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 209-16; Clymer, The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000, II:21-25. Also useful is Norodom Sihanouk, My War with the CIA: The Memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk (New York: Pantheon, 1972), 25-30.

(26) See note 11.

(27) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, March, 17, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 684. Kissinger reaffirms this assessment in Ending the Vietnam War, 127.

(28) Minutes of Washington Special Action Group Meeting, March 19, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. V1, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 688; Intelligence Memorandum: Implications for Cambodia of the Move Against Sihanouk, March 19, 1970, CREST Database.

(29) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, March 19, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 705.

(30) Saigon 4116, GVN Reaction to Cambodian Political Crisis, March 20, 1970, RG59, Subject Numeric File [hereafter SNF] 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 3/1/70, NAII.

(31) Nixon, Memoirs, 447.

(32) Minutes of Washington Special Action Group Meeting, March 19, 1970, FRUS, 19691976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 688; Memorandum for Defense/Office of National Estimates, Subject: Cambodia, March 19, 1970, CREST Database; Telegram 39880, Cambodian Political Crisis, March 18, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2154, Folder POL 8 CAMB, NAII.

(33) Intelligence Memorandum: Implications for Cambodia of the Move Against Sihanouk, March 19, 1970, CREST Database; Nixon, Memoirs, 447; Saigon 4116, GVN Reaction to Cambodian Political Crisis, March 20, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 3/1/70, NAII.

(34) Nixon, Memoirs, 447; Minutes of Washington Special Action Group Meeting, March 19, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 688.

(35) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 133.

(36) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, March 20, 1969, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 706.

(37) The American embassy in Cambodia did not send word to the State Department that Lon Nol and Matak seemed "firmly in control" until March 21, and even then, the possibility of a return by Sihanouk was not ruled out. See Phnom Penh 276, Developments in Cambodia, March 21, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155A, Folder POL 16 CAMB 3/20/70, NAIl; Saigon 4384, GVN/Cambodian Relations, March 25, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155A, Folder POL 16 CAMB 3/20/70, NAII.

(38) "Sihanouk Asks 'Sacred Struggle' Regime," Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1970, 6. Sihanouk's account of his conversation with Alexei Kosygin on March 17 seems to concur with this analysis. See Sihanouk, My War with the CIA, 24.

(39) Memorandum from Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), March 23, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1970, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 717.

(40) Saigon 4116, March 21, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 3/1/70, NAII.

(41) Haldeman, Diaries, 143.

(42) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, March 27, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 742.

(43) For a brief assessment of the capabilities of Cambodia's armed forces at the time, see Memorandum for Defense/Office of National Estimates, Subject: Cambodia, March 19, 1970, CREST Database.

(44) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, April 1, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 744.

(45) Ibid.

(46) Memorandum from the Senior Military Assistant (Haig) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 1, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. V1, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 746. These cross-border operations had been thought up jointly by Bunker, Abrams, and Laird. The decision to terminate them actually predated the coup.

(47) Ibid., 747.

(48) Telegram 047940, April 1, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 4/1/70, NAIl.

(49) Memorandum from the Senior Military Assistant (Haig) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 3, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 754.

(50) Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon, April 4, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 763.

(51) On April 1, Kissinger noted in the margins of a memo from Haig that he was skeptical of ARVN's ability to deal with the Cambodian sanctuaries on its own. This may suggest that he was more reconciled to the idea of U.S. participation than were others like Laird or Rogers. However, the fact that two days later Kissinger asked MACV to come up with ARVN-only plans indicates that his skepticism did not override his desire to not see U.S. ground forces involved in Cambodia in early April. See Memorandum from the Senior Military Assistant (Haig) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 1, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, VI:747.

(52) Memorandum of Conversation, April 4, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 783.

(53) Ibid., 787.

(54) Ibid., 788.

(55) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, April 6, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 797.

(56) Memorandum for the Record, Meeting with Secretary Laird, April 7, 1970, CREST Database.

(57) Backchannel Message from the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 8, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 799. At this point, the South Vietnamese had begun cross-border operations, sometimes working with Cambodian armed forces, but these were of short duration and relatively limited in scope, similar to operations which had occurred sporadically throughout the war. See Saigon 4725, April 9, 1970, and Saigon 5043, April 9, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 4/2/70, NAII.

(58) Backchannel Message, Bunker to Kissinger, April 8, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 799.

(59) Ibid., 800. The 40 Committee was a group chaired by Kissinger and charged with overseeing and approving major covert operations. For a brief overview of the committee, see Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, 16-18.

(60) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, April 9, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 803.

(61) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 137.

(62) Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, April 14, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 812.

(63) Delivery of Arms and Ammunition to the Cambodian Government, April 15, 1970, CREST Database. The State Department seems to have been more wary of the implications of granting the Cambodians aid. See Talking Points on Cambodia, April 13, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 4/10/70, NAII.

(64) Memorandum from the Senior Military Assistant (Haig) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 16, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 822.

(65) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 137.

(66) Memorandum, Kissinger to Nixon, April 9, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 803.

(67) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, April 11, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 804.

(68) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 139.

(69) Memorandum of Conversation, April 18, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. V1, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 830.

(70) Editorial Note, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 833.

(71) Ibid., 834.

(72) Telegram from the Staff Secretary of the National Security Council Staff Secretariat (Watts) to Winston Lord of the National Security Council Staff, April 20, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 837.

(73) Ibid., 834.

(74) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 145.

(75) Editorial Note, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 838. These critics include Etcheson, Shawcross, and Siniver.

(76) Ibid., 839.

(77) Memorandum from the Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Westmoreland) to Secretary of Defense Laird, April 21, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, VI:844.

(78) Haldeman, Diaries, 153.

(79) Memorandum from President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 845.

(80) Military Assistance Alternatives for Cambodia A Paper Prepared by the WSAG/ Cambodia Working Group, April 22, 1970, CREST Database.

(81) Memorandum from President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-June 1970, 846.

(82) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 152.

(83) Memorandum from President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 849.

(84) Agnew later told Taiwanese Vice Premier Chiang Ching-Kuo that "President Nixon is giving [the Cambodian] matter most serious consideration, noting that it involves questions of great sensitivity in the United States." Vice Premier Chiang's Comments on the Situation in Cambodia and Sino-Soviet Split; His Talks with U.S. Officials, April 23, 1970, RG59, SNF 1970-73, Box 2155B, Folder POL 27 CAMB 4/20/70, NAII.

(85) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 153. Kissinger's account of the meeting is the most complete one available. No contemporary record exists as Nixon had specified that "there should be no note-taker." See Memorandum from President Nixon to his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 849.

(86) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 154.

(87) Ibid.

(88) Ibid.

(89) National Security Decision Memorandum 56, April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 851.

(90) Backchannel Message from the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VL Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 861; Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 152.

(91) "Possible U.S. Harassment Actions in Cambodia, April 22, 1970," CREST Database.

(92) Memorandum from Roger Morris, Winston Lord and Anthony Lake of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 22, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 857.

(93) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 155.

(94) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, n.d., FRUS 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 867.

(95) Ibid; Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 156.

(96) Editorial Note, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 876-77.

(97) Transcript of Telephone Conversation between President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (Stennis), April 24, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969July 1970, 867.

(98) Transcript of Telephone Conversation between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), April 24, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 884.

(99) Editorial Note, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 869.

(100) Kissinger writes that Agnew was excluded from the meeting because Nixon was "still smarting" from the vice president's surprising hard-line view of four days earlier. Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 157.

(101) Memorandum from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, April 26, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 886.

(102) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 158.

(103) Ibid.

(104) Nixon, Memoirs', 450.

(105) Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, 159; Haldeman, Diaries, 155; Notes of a Meeting, April 27, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 890.

(106) Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon, April 27, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 898.

(107) Haldeman, Diaries, 155.

(108) Backchannel Message from the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker), April 27, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 902.

(109) Backchannel Message from the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to President Nixon, April 27, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 903.

(110) Ibid.

(111) Nixon, Memoirs', 451.

(112) Memorandum of Meeting, April 28, 1970, FRUS, 1969-1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970, 904; Haldeman, Diaries, 156.

(113) See, for example, Shaw, The Cambodian Campaign, 155-70; Walton, The Myth of Inevitable U.S. DeJeat in Vietnam, 75-76.

(114) Etcheson, The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, 97.

(115) William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 103.
only a handful [of scholars] have focused on the Cambodian
   incursion of 1970. Most studies mention it only briefly, describing
   it chiefly within the context of the resulting domestic uproar
   against Nixon's 'widening' of the war.... For one of the biggest
   U.S.-South Vietnamese operations of the war, such dismissive
   treatment is inappropriate. (7)

I think we need a bold move on Cambodia, assuming that I feel the
   way today ... at our [NSC] meeting as I feel this morning to show
   that we stand with Lon Nol.... We have really dropped the ball on
   this one due to the fact that we were taken in by the line that by
   helping him we would destroy his 'neutrality' and give the North
   Vietnamese an excuse to come in. Over and over again we fail to
   learn that the Communists never need an excuse to come in.... They
   are romping in there and the only government in Cambodia in the
   last 25 years that had the guts to take a pro-Western and
   pro-American stand is ready to fall. (79)

[Agnew] thought the whole debate irrelevant. Either the sanctuaries
   were a danger or they were not. If it was worth cleaning them out,
   he did not understand all the pussyfooting about the American role
   or what was accomplished by attacking only one base area. Our task
   was to make Vietnamization succeed. He favored an attack on both
   Fishhook and Parrot's Beak, including American forces. (87)

It is my independent view that these attacks into the enemies
   sanctuaries in Cambodia are the military move to make at this time
   in support of our mission in South Vietnam both in terms of
   security of our own forces and for advancement of the
   Vietnamization program. (109)
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