“Politicians neither love nor hate. Interest, not sentiment governs them.”
Richard Nixon’s second term as president ended over two years early with his resignation on August 9, 1974. Someday, when President Reagan’s papers and telephone logs are made public, I think they will reveal that Nixon completed his presidential term in the second Reagan administration as the vicar of US foreign policy. After all, one of Reagan’s best friends, Senator Paul Laxalt, anointed Nixon as the Republican Party’s one and only “elder statesman.”
A reading of Nixon’s latest book on foreign policy prescriptions plus his earlier post-1974 writings leads me to believe that in Reagan’s second term, the voice was the voice of Reagan but the hands were the hands of Nixon.
How do I know that Nixon, the Sage of Saddle River, NJ, is Reagan’s foreign policy Solomon? Because of the reverential, vatic pages in Nixon’s book on the necessity for and benefits of annual US-USSR summits. For Ronald Rea gan, who began his term of office in 1981 very much against communist imperialism, to have become almost overnight a sforzando summiteer Geneva, Reykjavik, Washington, Moscow arid, Gorbachev willing, one more summit before January 20, 1989—cries out for an explanation. We know what happened to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. We don’t yet know what happened to Ronald of Washington on the apostolic road be tween Geneva and Moscow.
In fairness, Nixon takes a much harder view of Gorbachev than Reagan does. In fact, says Nixon, Gorbachev’s accession “represents the beginning of a dangerous, challenging new stage of the struggle between the superpowers.” Paradoxically, just because Gorbachev is “a far more formidable adversary . . . it also opens up greater possibilities for peace.” Yet if Gorbachev’s reforms succeed and Soviet foreign policy remains unchanged, then Gorbachev will “have more re sources with which to strengthen and expand the Soviet empire.” Does President Nixon think Soviet foreign policy will or can change? Go figure.
The first term Reagan would never have bought Nixon’s ideas on any thing. After all, Nixon has never been a conservative, either in office or out. That is why Newsweek could praise him (in 1986) for having “left a legacy of solid achievement.” It is a legacy invisible to the naked conservative eye. In 1974, the Bulletin of the National Review said it was ironic that many American conservatives had harnessed themselves “into tandem with one who is not and has never been a conservative in either theory or practice.” Under his presidency, for the first time in the nation’s peacetime history, federal wage and price controls were introduced. His fiscal and monetary policies drove the inflation rate to its then highest peacetime level. He proposed a $20 billion guaranteed income welfare plan and a $30 billion national health insurance plan. He agreed to the expulsion from the UN of Nationalist China, and then signed a treaty with Communist China, and finally, under SALT I he accepted an inferiority in strategic arms vis-à-vis the USSR and agreed to an illusory détente which crashed while he was still in office. So much for “détente plus deterrence.”
What about the future? Nixon writes:
Our aspirations are in direct conflict. America wants peace; the Soviet Union wants the world. Our foreign policy respects the freedom of other countries; theirs tries to destroy it. We seek peace as an end in itself; they seek peace only if it serves their ends. The Soviets pursue those ends unscrupulously, by all means short of all-out war. For the Soviets, peace is a continuation of war by other means.
The Soviet Union is, he says, “an inherently aggressive power because its totalitarian system cannot survive with out expanding. The Soviet system of internal repression is the root cause of its aggressive foreign policy.”
What remains unclear is why the US should negotiate with a country which, to quote Nixon again, is guilty of “diplomatic treachery” and therefore cannot be expected to live by the bilateral rules of détente. Doesn’t negotiation imply an essential condition of mutual trust? If the house crapshooter won’t allow an on-site inspection of the dice, why would anyone want to risk his capital?
Nixon still insists that negotiations are essential, for the following reasons:
* He rejects a school of thought which argues that the less we negotiate with Moscow, the better for our side. He concedes that the Soviets exploit negotiations as a way of achieving their victory without war; while “too often we use negotiations only to achieve peace with out victory.” Nixon doesn’t spell out what he means by “peace without victory”; we are only in the presence of a piety.
* A president who opposed negotiations per se would be opposed by Congress and a large sector of the American people. That doesn’t prevent Nixon from savaging Reykjavik: “no summit since Yalta has threatened Western interests so much as the two days at Reykjavik.” Reagan must have nodded off while Nixon was talking.
* Even with communists, statecraft and negotiations can make a “positive difference.” As proof, Nixon offers his successful dealings with China. He defines “statecraft” as the capacity to integrate all our capabilities-military power, economic clout, covert action, propaganda, and diplomacy.
* Without summits, NATO would fall apart because Western Europe fears nuclear war far more than Soviet expansionism. Nixon takes a crack at Reagan’s onetime “belligerent rhetoric about the Soviets” which, coupled with Gorbachev’s brilliant public relations “peace” campaign, have contributed to the NATO crisis.
* A reduction in East-West tensions, says Nixon, divides the East more than the West. While confrontation makes a dictatorship stronger, contact and negotiation can weaken it. The Nixon administration’s use of the word “détente” is, to my mind, one of the great deceptions in American foreign policy, and alas, President Reagan’s second term has become a new testing ground for Nixon’s old foreign policy. Détente was actually a euphemism for Cold War, a term which Nixon and Henry Kissinger eschewed early on.
Détente meant cooperation between the two superpowers, according to the Nixon-Brezhnev declaration of May 1972. That paper charged the two countries with a “special responsibility . . . to do everything in their power so that conflicts or situations will not arise which would increase international tensions.” A document outlining 12 “basic principles of relations” between the US and the USSR was agreed upon as a code of conduct.
At the first opportunity, the Soviet Union violated those principles in the events leading up to the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The Soviets knew the surprise Arab attack was coming at least four days before it happened on October 6. Not only did they not warn the US what was coming, they attempted to widen the war by transporting Moroccan troops to the front. Three days after the Arab attack on Israel, Brezhnev, President Nixon’s partner in an agreement “to do everything in their power so that conflicts or situations will not arise which would increase international tensions,” sent Algeria (and a day later all Arab countries) a message saying that “Syria and Egypt must not remain alone in their fight against a perfidious enemy.”
Brezhnev gave a speech in Moscow the day before sending that message, in which he expressed the hope that the Arab aggression against Israel wouldn’t disturb “détente.” Well, it didn’t, even though on October 25, 1973, President Nixon ordered a Grade Three nuclear alert and even though Brezhnev made it clear that he was prepared to send in Red Army airborne divisions to rescue the encircled Egyptian Third Army unless the Israelis withdrew.
In 1972 Nixon characterized détente as “the new foundation [which] has been laid for a new relationship be tween the two most powerful nations in the world.” Today he writes: “Diplomatic treachery, military intimidation, and aggression by proxy are standard operating procedures for the Kremlin leaders.” What Nixon fails to answer is how come he didn’t appreciate the perversity of Soviet communism in 1972? Why did he and Secretary of State Kissinger. stake their political careers on détente? Why did he discourage intelligence estimates which stressed the Soviet threat? Kissinger went so far in his appeasement of the Soviets as to forbid the Voice of America to broad cast a reading of The Gulag Archipelago on the VOA Russian language pro gram.
Perhaps Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has the answer. In 1980 he described what he called the “Kissinger syndrome.” It pertains, he said, to “individuals [who], while holding high office pursue a policy of appeasement and capitulation . . . but immediately upon retirement the scales fall from their eyes and they begin to advocate firmness and resolution.”
If only Reagan had listened to his own instincts, instead of listening to the advice of a failed president. Leonid Brezhnev had good reason to boast at a meeting of Communist Parties in Prague in 1973, at the height of the Nixon-Kissinger détente policy:
We have been able to achieve more in a short time with détente than was done for years pursuing a confrontation policy with NATO. . . . Trust us, Comrades, for by 1985, as a consequence of what we are now achieving with détente . . . we will be able to extend our will wherever we need to.
Joseph Stalin was able to win prestigious recruits worldwide to his Stock holm “Peace” Campaign. The names which in 1948 and 1949 graced the Stockholm peace petitions were world famous. Khrushchev enlisted his “peace” battalions in the West despite the 1956 Hungarian massacre, the Berlin Wall, and the missiles of October. Brezhnev proclaimed “peace” despite the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Andropov sent dissidents to psychiatric hospitals and shot down a civilian Kore an airliner, but to the US media he was known to be a lover of Scotch, the tango, and American novels.
Now we have Mikhail Gorbachev and Raisa and her American Express Gold Card. Chernobyl, what’s that? Nici, Danilov frame-up? Forgotten. Watch the great détente drama in the Kremlin between the forces of light and glasnost and the forces of darkness and black reaction, between the superhawks like Ligachev and the superdoves like Yeltsin and hardheaded detentists like Gorbachev. What a script, what a plot. Guess who’s going to win? The magic of détente is that with it you can do anything -even make a wilderness and call it peace.
[1999: Victory Without War, by Richard Nixon; New York: Simon & Schuster]