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Review :: War and Militarism
Nixon and Kissinger: Megalomania and Eliminating Dissent
12 Dec 2007
All the rules and procedures for formulating foreign- and security policy were annulled between 1969 and 1974. Nixon and Kissinger ignored the spirit and letter of the law in using foreign policy for their personal ambitions.

On the Two Partners in Power

By Bernd Greiner

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 44, 10/25/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Bernd Greiner, a German historian, reviews Robert Dallek’s “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” Harper Collins, New York 2007.]

Despite many crimes in office and his forced resignation, Richard Nixon still has the reputation of a visionary politician. Only whether the “opening to China,” the détente policy toward the USSR and the mitigation of the Middle East conflict after the Yom Kipper war should be ascribed to him is disputed. On this background, the new book by Robert Dallek is a sensation. Conclusions supported by new source material alone were not enough for the most noted biography of an American president. He raises the question whether a democracy can afford a foreign policy in the style of Nixon and Kissinger without being damaged in its substance.

All the rules and procedures for formulating foreign- and security policy were annulled between 1969 and 1974 according to Dallek’s analysis. Nixon and Kissinger were certainly not the only ones who exploited the enormous powers of the White House. Dallek spoke often about similar Machiavellian temptations in his studies on Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. But up to then the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense along with experts and advisors in Congress had not been excluded from all plans and decisions.

Dallek lets the general public judge the hermetic screening of the innermost circle and the inner life of the two protagonists who saw mostly “bastards,” “idiots,” “traitors,” or “bullies” at work in their environment. He judged the consequences uncompromisingly. Nixon and Kissinger ignored the spirit and letter of the law in using foreign policy for their individual ambitions and their own interests or state interests. They repressed or faded over far-sighted reason by emotions and vanities and inglorious image cultivation to the detriment of real political necessities.

Dallek cited incontrovertible evidence in the example of Vietnam. As the president admitted, the truce negotiated in 1973 could have been finalized with the same conditions at the start of 1969. However knowing defeat was inevitable, Nixon and Kissinger let four years lapse because they didn’t want to appear in history books as losers. Instead a time-buffer was set between the withdrawal of US troops and the foreseeable collapse of the Saigon regime to charge the South Vietnamese with responsibility for the disaster. For that reason, the air war against North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was escalated. Countless civilians were killed. As many GIs were killed under Nixon as before 1969. At the end, the greed for personal prestige led to a further destabilization of the region, symbolized in the mass murders of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge.

In the policy toward Latin America and India, Dallek sees an egomaniac demonstration of severity and inflexibility and a careless relation with long-term interests. Even up to today the coup plans against a democratically elected president partly engineered and partly encouraged by Washington even before Salvador Allende’s installation in office causes rejection of Washington’s policy far beyond Chile.

New Delhi’s strategic partnership with Russia may have been caused by the decision made by Kissinger and Nixon to side with Pakistan in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. As Dallek shows, this decision had nothing to do with sovereign crisis management. Quite the contrary. To the People’s Republic of China, the White House signaled its approval for a Chinese military intervention against India – an irresponsible act that aimed only at the symbolic punishment of the hated Indira Gandhi of India.

The questions that Dallek raised about the undeniable successes of the Nixon administration may provoke the greatest discussions. Wasn’t the crisis potential of the détente policy toward the USSR and the People’s Republic of China due to an excessively personalized foreign policy since Kissinger and Nixon did not seek long-term support in the bureaucracy and Congress for their “grand design”? Wasn’t the much-praised “shuttle diplomacy” during and after the Yom Kipper War pursued under constitutionally-tainted presuppositions? Shaken by the Watergate scandal, Nixon was unable to act for weeks, according to Dallek. The successor to the vice-president dismissed because of the same scandal was not yet sworn into office. Appealing to the 25th Amendment to the US constitution, Henry Kissinger could have ensured that the presidential authority be temporarily assumed by the highest-ranking member of Congress. Instead he used the stage to recommend himself as the future Secretary of State. In a difficult international crisis, all the decisions were made by men who had never faced a democratic election.
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