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Democrat Endorsed Cambodia Invasion

President Richard M. Nixon, shown with then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford in 1973, spoke to Sen. John Stennis (D) five days before the incursion.
President Richard M. Nixon, shown with then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford in 1973, spoke to Sen. John Stennis (D) five days before the incursion. (United Press International)
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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Five days before U.S. and South Vietnamese troops made their surprise move into Cambodia on April 29, 1970, then-President Richard M. Nixon got the approval of the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee for that action, according for documents released yesterday by the Nixon library.

The unexpected U.S. incursion into Cambodia came as a surprise to the American public, most members of Congress and the new Cambodian government. What followed were a series of public demonstrations in Washington and later Kent State University in Ohio, which, in turn, expanded opposition to the war.

In an April 24, 1970, telephone conversation with Sen. John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), who was then chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Nixon said the administration was going to provide arms to the Cambodian government to prevent its overthrow by a pro-communist element, and continue secret B-52 bombing raids, "which only you and Senator Russell know about." Richard Russell (D-Ga.) was the former committee chairman.

"We are not going to get involved in a war in Cambodia," Nixon reassured Stennis. "We are going to do what is necessary to help save our men in South Vietnam. They can't have those sanctuaries there" that North Vietnam maintained.

Stennis replied, "I will be with you. . . . I commend you for what you are doing."

Several days earlier, in a memo to then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, CIA Director Richard Helms proposed a plan to covertly deliver thousands of AK-47s and other military equipment to the Cambodian government with help from Indonesia.

Yesterday, about 30,000 pages of documents were opened to the public at the National Archives facility in College Park and the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif., part of a staggered declassification of papers and tapes from the Nixon years.

The memos and tapes shed light on fateful moments of Nixon's second term, the Associated Press reported, among them a peace deal with North Vietnam, sea changes in domestic and foreign policy, and management of the Cold War.

They also give insights into a well-known characteristic of Nixon and his aides -- a hair-trigger sensitivity to political rivals and quick resort to machinations against them.

A 1972 meeting between Nixon and his chief of staff produced an informal directive to "destroy" Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton, according to scribbled notes among the documents released yesterday that referred to Eagleton as a "pip-squeak."

In a 1969 memo, Nixon's staff assistant describes placing the movements of the Kennedys under observation in Massachusetts after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy drove off a bridge in an accident that drowned his female companion.

The materials show Nixon as sharp-witted, crude, manipulative and sometimes surprisingly liberal in comparison with mainstream Republicans today. In one letter, he solidly endorses the Equal Rights Amendment, saying that for 20 years "I have not altered my belief that equal rights for women warrant a constitutional guarantee." The amendment failed.

The library posted online more than 150 hours of tape recordings. The tapes cover January and February 1973, spanning Nixon's second inauguration, the peace deal with Hanoi, and the trial and conviction of burglars whose break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex precipitated the coverup that wrecked Nixon's presidency. He resigned in August 1974 under threat of being forced out by Congress.


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