Q: Mr. President, you had some public advice today and yesterday about how critics of the war should conduct themselves. Do you have any public advice for Mr. Haldeman?
A: I have answered the question. Anything further?
—Nixon’s press conference of February 10
Treason has always been the spécialité of Nixon cookery. It was served up piping hot in his first campaign for Congress against Helen Gahagan Douglas. After the Republican return to power in 1953, Nixon launched the “twenty years of treason” campaign against the Democrats, with the assistance of J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Herbert Brownell. Two decades of epochal social reform and a world victory over Fascism were thus smeared as “aid and comfort,” presumably to the enemies Nixon is about to meet in Peking and Moscow. The old tactic reappeared when his White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, charged that critics of Nixon’s new eight-point peace plan were “consciously” giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Explicitly or implicitly treason has suddenly become a major theme of Administration oratory as the air war escalates in Indochina and Nixon runs for re-election on the charge that the Democrats block peace by encouraging the enemy to continue the war.
The Democrats are not guilty of treason. What they are guilty of is running a divided and ill-organized campaign. They have been outfoxed and outmaneuvered. The new peace plan produced by Nixon and Dr. Kissinger is as subtle and complicated as a champion chess game. Not only is the board crowded but the American public have been allowed to see only the pieces and only the moves Nixon wants them to see. The Democrats were silly to let themselves be trapped into instant comment after the Nixon speech because it hid more than it disclosed of last year’s secret negotiations. The antiwar candidates have yet to understand and make the public understand just how tricky the proposals are.
To start with, the Nixon plan does not set “a date certain” for withdrawal. Indeed the so-called eight-point peace plan unveiled on January 25 is vaguer on withdrawal than were the proposals tabled privately at the Paris talks on October 11. All the Administration spokesmen have insisted that the former is “essentially” the same as the latter. But the October 11 proposal differed in a number of respects; among them it would have reduced the negotiating time and offered a shorter and more precise withdrawal promise.
On October 11 the other side was told that if they accepted the US proposal as a “statement of principles” to govern negotiations and signed it by December 1, 1971, then we would withdraw all troops from South Vietnam within seven months or no later than July 1, 1972, “except for a small number of personnel needed for technical advice, logistics and observance of the cease-fire.” The cease-fire was to cover all Indochina and to begin on the signing of the peace agreement. In six months …