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Interview with Gerald R. Ford, 1982

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Summary
Gerald R. Ford had been president of the United States for nine months when in 1975, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the North Vietnamese, effectively ending US military involvement in Vietnam. He frames the closing of the war in terms of diplomacy—both between the United States and the South Vietnam and between the executive branch and Congress. He also recalls the decisions necessary to an orderly evacuation of South Vietnam, consisting not just of American soldiers and materials but thousands of South Vietnamese considered to be targets of the advancing North Vietnamese. Lastly, he links failures in US policy toward Vietnam with those toward Cambodia.
Topics
United States--History, Military--20th century, United States--Foreign relations--Vietnam, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Cambodia, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Peace, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976), War--Economic aspects, Ambassadors, Bombing, Aerial Vietnam, Cambodia--History--Civil War, 1970-1975, Capitulations, Military, Economic assistance--Vietnam, Executive power, Atrocities, United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989, International relations, Military assistance, American, Evacuation of civilians, Pilots and pilotage, Politics and war, Presidents--Messages, United States--Armed Forces
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Transcript

Impractical and unconstitutional limits on executive power

VIETNAM
Gerald Ford
SR #471
Tape 1 Side 1
This is the WGBH film project Vietnam project- the head of Sound Roll #471 corresponding to the head of Camera Roll #2470. This is the 29th of April, 1982; we're in Palm Springs interviewing President Gerald Ford. Digital slate will be the slating system.
Digital slate 101 will be the first slate up. One bloop is a head slate and two is a tail slate.
Ford:
If there'd been...Oh.
Interviewer:
Just one second. And you look at me. Go ahead.
Ford:
If Watergate had not occurred, I still believe that there would have been Congressional action to preclude the kind of military support which was necessary to help South Vietnam. Watergate may have had an impact, but there was still this tremendous anti-Vietnam war reaction that was reflected in the Congress, so there would have been a cut off of the bombing; there would have been a stopping of most of the aid to Vietnam even if Watergate had not occurred.
Interviewer:
Very good. Stop please. What am I hearing?
(beep)
Ford:
I was very fortunate to be in the Congress when the War Powers Resolution was approved in the House and Senate and when it was approved over the veto of President Nixon. I vigorously opposed the War Powers Resolution because I thought it was impractical on the one hand and unconstitutional on the other.
I found it to be impractical when I was President because, at the time of the actions when we were trying to evacuate Americans and Vietnamese from Vietnam, we tried to consult with the Congress, and we found in this very critical time we couldn't find members of Congress - they were spread out all over the world; some were overseas in Europe, some were overseas in the Pacific, some were spread out all over the United States.
You can't consult with Congressional leaders in a responsible, orderly way if they're not around. And that was tragically the case in this one instance that I personally experienced.
Furthermore, under our republic we have three coordinate, co-equal branches of government. The Constitution says the President shall be Commander in Chief. He has to run the military operation.
You can't have 535 members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, trying to run a military operation involving the national security of the United States. And, in addition, the President, by implication if not directly, is put in charge of foreign policy in the United States.
You can't have all the members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, trying to decide what a President or a country ought to do on a crucial foreign policy issue. It just doesn't work.
I think the War Powers Resolution is a clear-cut illustration of the Congress encroaching, overreaching, beyond the constitutional limits set by our forefathers.
Interviewer:
What did you do when you couldn't find enough Congressmen to consult?
Ford:
(chuckles) We did the best we could...
Interviewer:
Could you start at the beginning and say, "When we couldn't find the people...?"
Ford:
When we couldn't find the members of Congress because they were either in recess or they were away for the weekend, I don't recall which, I had three or four members of my staff calling them. We found they were all over the world or all over the United States; it was a totally impractical situation.
It happened in my case, I know, and it could happen at a crucial moment in America's history so the resolution is not an effective, practical, responsible way for the United States to conduct its foreign policy or its military policy.
Interviewer:
Good. Cut. I do hear...
(beep)
Ford:
I was opposed to the...what? Oh, I'm sorry...I was opposed to the Congressional action cutting off the President's authority to continue the bombing in Cambodia. I also vigorously opposed the War Powers Resolution.
I was in the Congress at the time, I thought it was an encroachment on the responsibilities of the President as Commander in Chief, and I was totally consistent in that attitude when I went down to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and opposed the War Powers Resolution because it was impractical on the one hand and, I think, unconstitutional on the other.
I still believe today that Congress ought to either repeal the War Powers Resolution or significantly modify it in order to make it a piece of legislation that is practical, on the one hand, and constitutional, on the other.

The possibility of continued military support for South Vietnam

(beep)
Ford:
Almost immediately after becoming President...
Interviewer:
Do you want me to...please start again...sorry, we'll start over.
Ford:
Okay...all right. Almost immediately after becoming President in August of 1974, I wrote the heads of state or the heads of government of all of our allies, including President Thieu of Vietnam. In the particular case of the letter to President Thieu, I reaffirmed US support for the South Vietnamese in a very general way, but I specifically indicated that I, as President, would carry out the policy of my predecessors involving South Vietnam.
That meant continuing to ask Congress for the necessary economic and military assistance which Congress, of course, has to approve. It was a general letter reaffirming our support but specifically indicating that we would continue to give economic, as well as military assistance to the South Vietnamese in their struggle against the North Vietnamese.
Interviewer:
You knew Congress's mood at this time...were you concerned that you wouldn't be able to deliver, given their reluctance to give anything else to the South Vietnamese?
Ford:
I fully recognized at the time that Congress was becoming more and more adverse to any economic and military assistance to South Vietnam. But as long as I felt it was right for our country to support the South Vietnamese in this struggle, I shouldn't predicate my decision on what Congress would or wouldn't do.
You have to, as President, decide what you think is right and then proceed and hope that you can convince the members of the House and Senate that they should agree. I took that position because I thought it was correct, and I was hoping that we would be able to convince the Congress that they should equally support this effort to help an ally, South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
You didn't think that it, you maybe would have, could have said to the South Vietnamese "We're having trouble with the Congress." How aware do you think they were of the possibility that there might not be...?
Ford:
I'm sure that the South Vietnamese government knew very well of the problems that my predecessor had had, and as a matter of fact, President Johnson had begun to have with getting economic aid and assistance for South Vietnam. But Presidents can't base their decisions on what is good or bad for a country on what Congress may or may not do. A President has to act on his own best judgment and expect the Congress to respond.
Interviewer:
I think we've run out of film.

Martin's optimism regarding South Vietnam's survival

We're now going to a...the next camera roll, which is 2471...Slate 105 is up.
(beep)
Interviewer:
...about the situation in South Vietnam and its ability to survive.
Ford:
At all times, Ambassador Martin was optimistic. He was absolutely convinced that the South Vietnamese, if given adequate support economically and militarily, would be able to prevail, would be able to carry out their part of the bargain that was negotiated at the Paris Accords in 19...January of 1973. Ambassador Martin was absolutely convinced that with our support ah...South Vietnamese attitudes and positions would prevail.
Interviewer:
Did you share his view? Were you getting other reports that suggested that that was overly optimistic?
Ford:
There were obviously people both in our government and outside who didn't share Ambassador Martin's point of view, but I couldn't help but believe with sound, substantial, consistent US support, the odds were that the South Vietnamese could prevail and could carry out their part of the bargain that was negotiated and resulted in the Paris Accords.
I, obviously, recognized there was a possibility it might fail, but the odds, in my opinion, were that with our backing of sufficient magnitude, President Thieu and his government would be able to sustain themselves.
Interviewer:
Were you ever troubled by the accusations that no matter how much we gave them, they weren't going to be able to hold up, that they couldn't deliver...?
Ford:
Excuse me just a minute...Jay, what...
Interviewer:
...they would steal, they were corrupt, all of those things, I mean that no matter how much we poured into there, they would never succeed.
Ford:
There were these critics who were always the prophets of doom and gloom, who were alleging this and alleging that, undercutting any optimistic view as to the sustainability of the South Vietnamese government.
Obviously, you read about those comments, or you heard them, but in my position, I had to look at it from the point of view of what I felt was the best interest of the United States, which was that the South Vietnamese had to prevail against the Communist North Vietnamese. So you had to be cognizant of one, but you had to act on what you thought was the best judgment on the other side.
Interviewer:
I'll go right on to the next, which is Ambassador Martin himself...we'd just like to get this from you in the program...never said it was an open ended commitment. He said if we give them three years they'll be able to stand on their own. Did you share that commitment?
Ford:
I basically agreed with the assessment of Ambassador Martin. I must say he was probably more optimistic than even myself and I'd been very supportive of the US position in Vietnam under Kennedy, under Johnson, under Nixon. I thought it was the best gamble, and I still believe that when you look through the pages of history, it was the best gamble if our country had carried out what I thought was the proper policies.

Cutting back on assistance to South Vietnam

Interviewer:
You requested an additional 300 million dollars... and again how did you think you were going to get it through Congress?
(beep)
Interviewer:
And that that was viewed as a test to the North Vietnamese going forward.
Ford:
Well, if you go back just a bit, in fiscal year 1975, I asked Congress to approve a billion 400 million dollars in military and economic aid for South Vietnam. Congress, in its authorization, cut that to a billion dollars and then only funded half, or 700 million dollars, so Congress would only go halfway and wouldn't put up the needed funds that I thought was essential to carry out the proper program for the United States to sustain the South Vietnamese.
When we came to the spring of 1975, the situation was becoming extremely serious. The South Vietnamese unilaterally had pulled back, which I thought was a mistake, but they were concerned with the lack of support in the Congress.
Even under those circumstances, after I dispatched General Weyand to South Vietnam and he came back and recommended a certain military aid program, I thought that that would give the South Vietnamese the necessary assurance that they should stand firm against the aggression of the North Vietnamese.
Unfortunately, the situation had so disintegrated that even my request for the money was not adequate to keep the South Vietnamese government viable and in a position to be effective.
Interviewer:
Let’s go back a little bit, though, before the disintigration, before there was a pullback. In January, there was a probe, a test and I think out intelligence showed that for the...
Ford:
(coughs)
Interviewer:
Ah, we have to...I think we'd better stop so that we can...
(beep)
Interviewer:
...we'll think of using it in the film, not in January but when the pullback starts...If you could talk about Thieu’s decision to pull back, in terms of the denial of the January request.
Ford:
All right...In the late winter or early spring, President Thieu decided to pull back and to regroup his forces in and around Saigon. I'm sure his decision at that time was predicated on his feeling that the Congress was not adequately responding to my request for additional military and economic assistance, which I had requested of the House and Senate in January of 1975.
The combination of the failure of the Congress to respond on the one hand and Thieu's decision to pull back probably led to the near panic that developed in South Vietnam in March and April of 1975.
Interviewer:
Good. Okay...
We're now going onto Camera Roll 2472; Slate 108 is up next. (beep)
Ford:
(coughs) There was nothing in the letter that I sent to President Thieu in 1974, shortly after I became President, that should have given him any indication that I would resume the B-52 bombings of North Vietnam.
My letter to him was a general reassurance that my administration would follow the basic policies of my predecessors, going from Kennedy through Nixon, of supporting the South Vietnamese in their efforts to keep South Vietnam independent of the North Vietnamese.
Interviewer:
Was there ever any direct request from the South Vietnamese for bombing assistance? Were there any attempts by us through the Ambassador or otherwise to make clear that the bombing was finished?
Ford:
I believe that the South Vietnamese government should have known the Congress would not have approved a resumption of B-52 bombing, and there was nothing from my administration to the South Vietnamese government that would have given them any indication that we were going to resume the bombing of North Vietnam.
Interviewer:
What do you think, how do you think they interpreted it then? Do, do you...nevertheless do you think that they expected it? Or that, that the phrase "react vigorously" or whatever meant something else? What was their hope, simply economic, do you think?
Ford:
The South Vietnamese probably hoped that we would undertake a broad scale, major military operation, including the bombing, but that was not a practical expectation from the environment that existed in the United States at that time.
Interviewer:
Let's stop.

The logistics of a successful evacuation

(beep)
Ford:
In the oval office...sure. In the oval office, I was confronted with the request of Secretary of Defense Schlesinger that we expedite the evacuation of all Americans, military and civilian. On the other hand, I was confronted with the attitude of Ambassador Martin that we should delay the evacuation of Americans from South Vietnam.
I made the decision that we should slow down the evacuation of all Americans, military as well as civilians, although we did then decide to bring out the military earlier than the civilians, but we kept the civilians in Saigon as long as possible, bearing in mind their safety and our policy, because if we had done it earlier, as some wanted it, it could have created a very bad, very panicky situation.
There was a fear on the part of a hundred or two hundred thousand South Vietnamese who had been staunch supporters of the United States, that if we pulled out prematurely...and abandoned them, they would have been the cruel victims of the North Vietnamese.
So in order to play square with the South Vietnamese, who had been helpful and supportive of the United States over a long period of time, we had to coordinate our evacuation of our own military, our own civilians, and as many South Vietnamese US supporters as we possibly could.
Interviewer:
Why didn't you make a decision to go full scale full speed ahead with the South Vietnamese who wanted to get out, as well as the Americans?
Ford:
Evacuation is not an easy military operation, particularly when the enemy is literally surrounding the airport from which you are trying to fly aircraft in and out to evacuate both Americans and Vietnamese supporters.
It was an operation that involved getting as many as we could as safely as we could, and it had to be a phased operation; if it was done ah, prematurely in a helter skelter way, we would have lost many, many more Americans, as well as South Vietnamese, so we tried to do it in a phased way, in a responsible way, and still not generate the kind of anti-Americanism that might have prevailed if we had just pulled up stakes and walked off and left our South Vietnamese supporters to the fate of the North Vietnamese.

The prospects for a negotiated settlement

(beep)
Ford:
I was always hopeful that there could be a negotiated settlement, even at that late date in March and April of 1975. After all, the North Vietnamese had agreed in the Paris Accords that they would withdraw their 160,000 North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam.
And even though they had violated the Paris Accords and moved in 300,000 more North Vietnamese into South Vietnam, I was still optimistic that they would keep their word; the North Vietnamese would abide by the Paris Accords, and we could have a final negotiated settlement.
Unfortunately, the circumstances overcame any optimism that I had and we ended up with the tragic evacuations in Phnom Penh and in Saigon.
Interviewer:
Stop please.
(beep)
Ford:
Well, I was always optimistic we could eventually achieve a negotiated settlement, despite the North Vietnamese consistent violation of the Paris Accords where they sent in 300,000 fresh military personnel and didn't withdraw their 160,000 military personnel that were in South Vietnamese...South Vietnam.
Now, unfortunately, the optimism that I had was overcome by the tremendous North Vietnamese military presence in South Vietnam and the withdrawal of the South Vietnamese forces to the area surrounding Saigon.
Interviewer:
What specific contacts were there that led you to continue to be hopeful about a negotiated settlement?
Ford:
It was the...yeah...I was hopeful that there could be a negotiated settlement. Secretary Kissinger had contacts. Graham Martin, our ambassador, was always optimistic. It was a combination of information that came to me in the oval office that convinced me I ought to be optimistic.

U.S. obligation to not abandon South Vietnamese

FORD
SR #472
Tape 1, Side 2
Ford:
I felt a very, very serious obligation as President, and I think the American...let's start again.
I felt a very strong peronal obligation as President, and I felt the American people had an obligation to try to rescue the one hundred and twenty or thirty thousand Vietnamese who had strongly supported the American cause over a long period of time, and I formed a task group under Ambassador Dean Brown to coordinate our total US effort. One, to evacuate the Vietnamese and secondly to see that they were able to come to the United States, the country they had supported against the North Vietnamese.
I ran into a considerable amount of ah, opposition in the Congress. I was very upset with the attitude of the Congress; I thought they were backing off of an obligation we had to help those who had helped us, and I think I said at a press conference or otherwise, I was damned mad that Congress, or many in the Congress, ah...acting, ah, like chickens - failing to stand up for those who had fought with us over a long period of time.
(beep)
Ford:
As President, I felt a very strong obligation, and I felt the American people felt a deep responsibility to help the South Vietnamese who had fought with us over a long period of time against the North Vietnamese, and, therefore, I strongly urged our government to help in the evacuation of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty thousand South Vietnamese who wanted to get out from under what might happen to them when the North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam.
I formed a task group under Ambassador Dean Brown to coordinate the evacuation and the entry of these South Vietnamese to the United States. I ran into some opposition among some members of the Congress and I was very upset and irritated by their attitude.
As a matter of fact, I think I said at a press conference that I was damned mad at their point of view, abandoning 100,000 South Vietnamese who had staunchly stood with the United States through thick and thin.
I didn't like the idea of some members of Congress willing to cut and run and abandon people who had stood with American GIs in battle and elsewhere, and therefore I spoke my mind and said I thought the Congress, or some members of Congress, were very, very wrong in not wanting to help those who had helped us.
Interviewer:
Keep rolling. General Weyand came back, Dr. Kissinger came down here to Palm Springs, and you had a very important meeting. Could you talk about General Weyand's report and what you three concluded at that meeting?
Ford:
Well, in early April, I sent General Weyand to make an on-the-spot evaluation of the situation in South Vietnam and asked him to come back and make a specific recommendation to me as to what we could do to try and achieve a stalemate which would lead to, hopefully, a negotiated settlement.
General Weyand came back and recommended 722 million dollars in additional military aid and assistance, primarily ammunition, to make sure that the South Vietnamese would have adequate military hardware to create the stalemate.
I subscribed or agreed to General Weyand's assessment and I made a subsequent recommendation to the Congress for that military assistance.

Ford's speech at Tulane following the evacuation

Interviewer:
Subsequently, also you gave a speech at Tulane in which you said you think that Vietnam was a war that is finished?
Ford:
Well that speech in Tulane was made after the evacuation of Saigon, the evacuation of Phnom Penh. It was sort of writing the final chapter after we had totally withdrawn all of our civilians and all of our American military personnel. The tragedy...
Interviewer:
I don't think that's right.
(beep)
Ford:
The speech at Tulane University came after we had been forced to evacuate our personnel from Phnom Penh on April 17th, and it was at a time when the situation was disintegrating in Saigon, which eventually led to the evacuation of all US personnel from Saigon.
The speech I made at Tulane was a clear-cut statement that for all intents and purposes we were finished in Vietnam and that it was a tragedy from my point of view; it was an unfortunate ah, long-term development that had started, ah following the end of World War II, which began with the first military personnel going in April of 1972...I'm sorry, ah, let's take that again...
Interviewer:
We're out of film anyway. Yeah...
Now starting the head of Camera Roll 2475; 115 is the next slate up. (beep)
Ford:
The speech that I made at Tulane came a few days after we had been forced to evacuate our Americans from Phnom Penh and it came a few days prior to the final evacuation of our American forces in Saigon.
It was perfectly obvious that ah, our involvement in Vietnam was finished, even though we, I think, made a mistake in not pursuing other policies over the long period of time from our first involvement in the 1950s, with President Kennedy's commitment of 15,000 US military personnel in April of 1962, and President Johnson's commitment of up to 500,000 over the period of his Presidency.
Even though we had failed to be successful, the time had come, and that's what I said at Tulane, that that chapter had to be finished and ah, our national interest required that we focus our efforts and our resources and our interests elsewhere throughout the globe.

The evacuation of the embassy in Saigon

(beep)
Ford:
I had made the decision that we should postpone the evacuation as long as we possibly could because I thought we owed it to the South Vietnamese who had supported us, and I honestly felt that we could get all our military personnel out and all of our civilian personnel out even by delaying a few days.
When the final decision came that we could no longer evacuate by fixed wing aircraft, that we had to evacuate by helicopter from the Embassy compound, it wasn't an easy decision, but it was the right decision because it maximized our evacuation capabilities for both Americans and Vietnamese; as a matter of fact, if my memory is correct, in that relatively short period of time, we were able by helicopter to evacuate something over 6,000 Americans as well as Vietnamese.
It was a dramatic demonstration of US capability to face up to a tough crisis and be successful but it wasn't easy to get the periodic reports as to what was going on because it was a tough military decision and a tough military operation - that's a lot of people to move from a compound with the enemy surrounding the Embassy and to move those people to American aircraft carriers off the coast of South Vietnamese, South Vietnam.
As I sat there and got these periodic reports of the tremendous and very successful effort under the worst circumstances, I couldn't help but, number one, be proud that we were doing it so well, but sad that we were forced to capitulate to the North Vietnamese under these very tragic circumstances.
Interviewer:
Did you speak directly to Ambassador Martin during that time, by phone?
Ford:
I don't recall whether I had a personal conversation with him - I was certainly in contact with him through the ah, State Department and through the special communication capabilities we had, but I was kept up to date on a almost minute by minute basis of what was happening, what was transpiring at the Embassy and in the compound.
It was a, it was a sad and tragic period in America's history; on the other hand, you couldn't help but be very proud of those pilots and others who were conducting the evacuation literally saving the lives of 6,000 people who had stood with us as Vietnamese and the remaining Americans who were staying on their posts representing our country under those very unfortunate circumstances.
Interviewer:
Did it take a direct order from you to get Ambassador Martin to leave because he wanted to keep it up as long as he could, even at the...? If you could mention his name...
Ford:
As I recollect, Ambassador Martin wanted to stay to the very, very last minute, if not longer. I finally told Secretary of State Kissinger that I was ordering Ambassador Martin to return and to leave his post in Saigon.

The loss of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge

(beep)
Ford:
There was no doubt in my mind that the situation in Cambodia was extremely difficult, hazardous from the point of view of the United States. The Khmer Rouge were very formidable militarily, but they had a reputation of being true murderers in the most outrageous sense. But we had to deal with reality.
Many of us said that if the Khmer Rouge ever came into control, anybody who opposed them was ah, a likely target for execution. Of course, that happened, but we couldn't convince a lot of people in the United States that ah, it was better to support the existing government than to capitulate to the Khmer Rouge.
Interviewer:
Keep rolling. In January of '75 you asked Congress for over 200 million in aid for Cambodia. Why did it not get authorized?
Ford:
It was not authorized...oh. The aid for Cambodia that I requested was not authorized because a majority in the Congress didn't believe that the Khmer Rouge would be the murderers that they turned out to be.
There was some feeling in the Congress that the Khmer Rouge were going to be nice people. They turned out to be the worst executioners in the history of current mankind.
It's tragic, as you look back, that we were not able to have a stable government in Cambodia that would have been able to thwart the efforts of the Khmer Rouge to come in and take over. As you look at the subsequent record of what the Khmer Rouge did, once they came into control, it's unbelievable the murders, the executions, the results of their action is one of the most unbelievable and one of the most tragic histories of this century.
Interviewer:
I'd like to get the last...okay.
We're now going to 2476; 117 is up.
(beep)
Interviewer:
...what could have been done?
Ford:
I believed then and I believe today that the aid request that I made to the Congress had been approved in early 1975. There was a chance that a stable, responsible government would have continued in Cambodia and that we could have avoided the Khmer Rouge taking over with all the dire consequences that resulted thereafter.
Interviewer:
What could have been done with that aid that would have made the difference?
Ford:
Well, the combination of military and economic assistance would have ah, stabilized or we thought it would have stabilized the existing government and that would have prevented a Khmer Rouge takeover.
Interviewer:
Keep rolling. When did you consider it too late? When did you give up?
Ford:
I can't remember the precise date.
Interviewer:
April 10th address to Congress you asked for 722 million for South Vietnam, and you said that the situation in Cambodia was tragic.
It's too long.
Let's stop.
(beep)
Ford:
There's no doubt in my mind that the Congress backed off of what would have been good policy and as a result an ally, Cambodia, was lost to our side of this struggle against the North Vietnamese in the Cambodia, I mean the Vietnamese peninsula.
The Khmer Rouge were all a part of that Communist effort, whether it was North Vietnamese or the Khmer Rouge, and when the Congress refused to give any further aid and assistance, it meant that Cambodia was inevitably to be lost to the Khmer Rouge.

The Mayaguez crisis in the context of Siagon's fall

Interviewer:
Keep rolling. What was the relationship between the fall of Saigon and the Mayaguez incident? It was a testing of the US as a fallen giant.
Ford:
As President, I would have reacted precisely the same way if the Cambodian government had seized an American merchant vessel and American merchant seamen, if there had been no fall of Saigon...let me do it again.
Interviewer:
You should mention the Mayaguez.
Ford:
All right. I would have made the same decision involving the Mayaguez whether we had not had the fall of Saigon and the fall of Phnom Penh. The Cambodian government seized an American merchant vessel, the Mayaguez, and American merchant seamen in violation of international law and as an act of piracy.
I would have made the decision regardless of what the circumstances had been previously in Saigon and Phnom Penh.
Interviewer:
What was the impact of the fall of Saigon on American prestige and on our ability to conduct foreign policy during the rest of your presidency?
Ford:
There was certainly an initial adverse impact on the capability...
Interviewer:
Start over mentioning the fall of Saigon.
Ford:
The fall of Saigon initially had some adverse impact on the conduct of American foreign policy on a global basis. But we very quickly reassured our allies and we very quickly warned our adversaries that the fall of Saigon would not undercut American capability to carry out our responsibilities.
So we recovered very rapidly, and the Mayaguez incident gave me, as President, and the American people an opportunity to say we will not ah, be ah, undercut or handicapped ah, by what happened in the Vietnamese peninsula.

Lessons of Vietnam

Interviewer:
Finally, looking back, what were the lessons of Vietnam?
Ford:
The lessons of Vietnam, I think, are the following: Number one, the United States has to make a firm decision that it will act in its best interests, of course, predicating its decision on sound legal grounds and sound moral grounds.
Secondly, the United States, in the future, must make a thorough analysis of all of the options, including the worst option, so that we are not caught ah, without seeing what the most unfortunate circumstances might be. We've got to look at any challenge from the best to the worst and be fully prepared to meet whatever the contingencies might be.
And thirdly, in any future challenge we have to make sure that the American people are fully informed to the best capability that a President has. A President has to be candid, he has to be forthright, he cannot hide anything - the good and the bad - from the American people. In that way, I really believe that ah, the American people, if they know the facts, will be supportive in a decision to act in the best interests of the United States.
Interviewer:
Thank you very much.
Coming up will be room tone to cover the whole previous interview.
(inaudible)
That's the end of the recording for this roll. Please store this tails out to minimize print through.
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