Politics & Policy

Nixon: Half Way to Mount Rushmore

His full term was amazingly successful.

The latest drop from the interminably repetitive and rather innocuous Nixon Tapes has caused the customary outburst of confected indignation against Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger as anti-Semites, and, in the case of Kissinger, as effectively a self-hating Jew. This is the final spluttering of the Nixon demonology movement and its subcommittee for the smearing of Kissinger. Nearly 40 years after Watergate, it is long past time that the Nixon presidency be seen as the imaginative and generally successful administration that it was. Throughout that time, the myth has been imposed that Nixon was a deranged and morally depraved man who inexplicably outwitted the presidential screening process and was exposed only when Bob Woodward pulled back the president’s White House shower curtain and discovered a cloven foot. For good measure, the Left has gone to unheard-of lengths to debunk Kissinger, one of the country’s greatest secretaries of state.


When Richard Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969, America had 550,000 draftees at the end of the earth in an inadequately explained war; 200 to 400 body bags a week were coming back from Vietnam; there were constant anti-war and race riots; the country was in shock from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; the skyjackings were beginning; and there were no relations with China or the major Arab powers, nor any talks under way with the USSR to de-escalate any aspect of the Cold War.

#ad#Richard Nixon was the first president since Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1848 to be elected to office without his party being in control of either house of the Congress. Despite the fact that the Democrats had plunged the country into Vietnam without any proper authorization, mismanaged the war, and lost control of domestic opinion, they, with the eager complicity of the national media, abandoned their former leaders and became anti-war agitators, and the entire Democratic establishment except Scoop Jackson set out to inflict defeat on the U.S. while Nixon and Kissinger worked with great skill and often courage to extract America from the war while salvaging a non-Communist government in South Vietnam, in obvious conformity with the wishes of most of the people of South Vietnam.

The Democrats failed to prevent Nixon and Kissinger from negotiating out of the Democrats’ war after South Vietnam successfully repulsed the Communists on the ground on their own in April and May 1972. They did this with no American ground support, though with heavy American air support, and after Nixon and Kissinger, with surpassing diplomatic agility, had recruited China and Russia to help pressure North Vietnam into a settlement. After having thus failed to prosecute the war they started, or to force an outright surrender from the succeeding Republican administration, the Democrats and their partisans in the national media approved the administration’s Vietnam peace treaty in the Senate (which was a formality Nixon did not have to seek), in which treaty it was implicit that anticipated North Vietnamese violations would be replied to with U.S. air power as they had been in 1972.

When the North Vietnamese assault came, the Democrats prevented the Nixon and Ford administrations from providing the South Vietnamese any assistance, dooming the mission for which 57,000 Americans had died. This outright betrayal of the South Vietnamese anti-Communists, which condemned millions to gruesome fates in the Cambodian killing fields and among the Boat People on the high seas, and to the insatiable execution squads of the Viet Cong, was covered by, in Napoleon’s phrase, the “lies agreed upon” that Nixon and Kissinger had known all along that a non-Communist Vietnam had no chance of survival and had deliberately sacrificed tens of thousands of American servicemen in order to masquerade as patriots and true-grit Cold Warriors. This was not just a shameful traduction; it was an egregious act of partisan transvestism.

In his one full presidential term, in addition to extracting America undefeated from Vietnam and opening relations with China, Richard Nixon negotiated and signed the greatest arms-control agreement in the history of the world with the Soviet Union, started the peace process in the Middle East, abolished the draft that had so vexed the hordes of supposedly conscientious anti-war demonstrators, ended school segregation while avoiding the court-ordered lunacy of compulsory busing of children all around metropolitan areas in pursuit of “racial balance,” and founded the Environmental Protection Agency.

#page#For all of these reasons, Nixon was reelected in 1972 by the greatest majority of the states (49) since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820, and by the greatest plurality in history (18 million). (He had defeated Hubert Humphrey four years before by only 500,000 votes.) The reason for this immense victory was that his one full term was, next to Lincoln’s and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first and third terms, the most successful in the country’s history, which has remained, these nearly 40 years, one of the most assiduously ignored facts of American history.

Subsequent Democratic leaders — McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry — have all been unrepentant old boys of the anti-war myth-makers’ brotherhood, and the current president, because of his comparative youth, is an alumnus of the red-diaper anti-Vietnam children’s auxiliary. The Democrats evaded the responsibility for getting into Vietnam by magnifying the Watergate nonsense into the destruction of the Nixon presidency, and then the responsibility for defeat there behind Ronald Reagan’s bloodless, bone-crushing victory in the Cold War (against every important tactical ingredient of which, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Democrats had ear-splittingly railed; Reagan redeemed the efforts of earlier Democratic leaders of firmer mettle, such as Roosevelt, Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson).

#ad#To be sure, Watergate was, and was symptomatic of, a tawdry and debased political ethos. There was something seriously amiss in Nixon’s order (fortunately unheeded) to break into the Brookings Institution, and in his assertion in his memoirs that he might not have stopped the break-in at the office of the psychotherapist of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers leaker, if he had known of it in advance. But Brookings was not broken into and Nixon knew nothing of the Ellsberg affair, any more than he had had advance knowledge of the Watergate intrusion.

The only part of the so-called cover-up that is legally questionable is whether money paid to the defendants for their legal and personal expenses was conditional on altered testimony, which has never been clear and would be a close call in a real and fair trial, if one could be had. The so-called smoking gun was in fact a refusal to urge the CIA to tamper with the investigation. Nixon facilitated the work of his enemies by his uncharacteristically bungled handling of the Watergate controversy, but the murderous and even now unrelenting assault on him is pretextual.

Yet this abominable Manichaean fable creeps on, from decade to decade, fueled now only by the gaseous vapors from late-released Watergate tapes. It is scandalous that any market of credence remains for it. Nixon’s political ethics were not inferior to Roosevelt’s, Kennedy’s, or Johnson’s. The latest published comments by Kissinger criticizing the agitators who wanted to tie any de-escalation of the Cold War to increased emigration of Jews from the USSR is surely the last malodorous driblet from this lemon of pseudo-historical defamation.

Except for Harry Truman (who uttered a good deal more vile and frequent anti-Semitic slurs than Nixon did), no American president has done so much for Israel as Nixon, including airlifting it a transfusion of warplanes and other vital materiel during the Yom Kippur War (and in the midst of the greatest crisis of his life) in 1973.

And no secretary of state has been as helpful to Israel as Henry Kissinger. Between them, Nixon and Kissinger increased Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union from about a thousand in 1970 to scores of thousands, and their refusal to mortgage the entire superpower relationship to the public humiliation of the Kremlin over the issue, as the Israeli lobbyists demanded, was quite defensible. Nixon’s impatience with American Jews who ignored his service to Israel and did nothing but complain about all other aspects of his policy is not to be wondered at.

Kissinger’s exasperation with the Israeli lobby, especially when, as he thought, he was speaking in confidence in the president’s office, is also quite understandable. He never forgot he was a fugitive from the Nazi pogroms. These endless defamations designed in part to whitewash the conduct of those who destroyed the Nixon presidency must no longer be indulged. It is a mark of mature societies to assimilate their historical controversies, and in these matters, the United States has yet to do that. Richard Nixon, and especially Henry Kissinger, who had nothing to do with the less salubrious aspects of the administration’s record, deserve that at least. They rendered immense service to America and the West.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

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