Saturday, March 30, 2013

RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Volume 2: 14

For my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs, I'll use as my starting-point something that Nixon says on page 418:

"In the year between the first and second Soviet Summits, a fusion of forces from opposite ends of the political spectrum had resulted in a curious coalition...On the one side the liberals and the American Zionists had decided that now was the time to challenge the Soviet Union's highly restrictive immigration policies, particularly with respect to Soviet Jews.  On the other side were the conservatives, who had traditionally opposed d[e]tente because it challenged their ideological opposition to contacts with Communist countries.  My request in April 1973 for congressional authority to grant most-favored-nation trade status to the Soviet Union became the rallying point for both groups: the liberals wanted MFN legislation to be conditioned on eased emigration policies; the conservatives wanted MFN defeated on the principle that d[e]tente was bad by definition."

Here are two items:

1.  Nixon's rationale was that more good could be accomplished if the U.S. had a relationship of dialogue with the Soviet Union than if the U.S. were on the outside looking in, throwing stones.  Nixon feared that "public pressure" on the Soviet Union would make it more "intransigent", and he doubted that the U.S. refusing to grant MFN trade status to the Soviet Union would ameliorate the U.S.S.R.'s "brutally repressive nature" (page 419).  From 1971-1973, Nixon notes, the number of Soviet Jews who were permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union jumped from 15,000 to 35,000, and Nixon attributes this to his Administration's dialogue with Soviet leaders.  In March 1973, after all, a Soviet leader assured Henry Kissinger that the U.S.S.R. had removed the requirement that Jews desiring to emigrate repay "state educational expenses", requiring them instead merely to pay a "nominal fee" (page 419).  But, in December 1973, the U.S. House passed a bill prohibiting MFN for the U.S.S.R. due to its "restrictive emigration policies" (page 419).  Nixon expressed to a Soviet official his hope that this would not poison U.S. relations with the U.S.S.R.  But, according to Nixon, the bill resulted in ill consequences, for "the number of Jews allowed to emigrate declined from 35,000 in 1973 to 13,200 in 1975" (page 420).

Do I agree with Nixon's stance on this issue?  I can see his point that more can be accomplished within a relationship than outside of it.  At the same time, I grew up reading right-wing literature that had quite a different point-of-view.  It contended that U.S. aid to the Soviet Union both propped up the failed Soviet system, and also provided the U.S.S.R. with the material to develop further its military capacity.  According to this story, the U.S.S.R. then supplied the arms that it developed to the U.S.'s enemies in Vietnam.

2.  Nixon's conflation of American Zionists with liberals intrigued me, especially since, nowadays, it is the right-wing in the United States that tends to be hawkish on Israel, whereas the left-wing seems to have more sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.  Nixon talks more about Israel in the first volume of his memoirs, on pages 590-600.  I found his discussion there to be interesting, but I did not get around to blogging about it.  I'll do some of that here.

Nixon recognized that the Middle East was relevant to the Cold War, for the Soviet Union was supporting Arabs.  Within Nixon's Administration, there was some difference of opinion about what the U.S. should do.  Secretary of State William Rogers was for developing relationships with the Arabs, and he was also supportive of Israel returning the Arab territories that it was occupying, "in exchange for Arab assurances of Israel's territorial integrity" (page 593).  Henry Kissinger (who, according to Nixon, had a personality conflict with Rogers) did not care for Rogers' plan, for he thought that it "encouraged the extremist elements among the Arabs, gratuitously offended the Israelis, and earned the contempt of the Soviets, who saw it as playing na[i]vely into their hands" (Nixon's words on page 593).

At least in what Nixon narrates on pages 590-600, Nixon appears to have leaned more towards Rogers' position.  For one, Nixon did not want a situation in which the U.S.S.R. would support the Arabs, whereas the U.S. would support Israeli victories, for that could end up drawing both into the Middle East "against [their] wills" and their "national interests".  Nixon preferred to cultivate relationships with the Arabs to undermine Soviet influence in the Middle East.  Second, Nixon gave to Rogers and his Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs the responsibility for the Administration's Middle East policy, one reason being that Nixon feared that "Kissinger's Jewish background would put [Kissinger] at a disadvantage during the delicate initial negotiations for the reopening of diplomatic relations with the Arab states" (page 591).  Nixon reminded Kissinger that Kissinger would have enough other stuff on his plate: Vietnam, SALT, the Soviet Union, Europe, and Japan.  Third, while Nixon realized that Rogers' plan would most likely not be implemented because Israel would never accept it, Nixon still wanted to reassure the Arabs that he was open to their position on the occupied territories, as well as "a compromise settlement of the conflicting claims" (page 593).

Nixon decided to postpone delivering Phantom jets to Israel, for two reasons.  First, Arabs were pressuring the Soviets to increase their military aid to their Arab clients, to surpass the military aid that the U.S. was giving to Israel.  Nixon wanted to slow down that arms race without "tipping the fragile military balance in the region", and he thought that he could do so by postponing the provision of Phantom jets to Israel, since Israel was already strong militarily (page 594).  Second, Nixon hoped that his move would "renew diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Syria" (page 595).  Nixon had to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that the U.S. would stand with Israel in a crisis, for she wrote to him that "It is true that our pilots are very good, but they can be good only when they have planes" (Meir, as quoted on page 595).  Nixon himself expressed his support for Israel in a memorandum to Kissinger, as Nixon called Israel "the only state in the Mideast which is pro-freedom and an effective opponent to Soviet expansion" (page 596).

Nixon laments on page 595 that parts of the American Jewish community, Congress, the media, and "intellectual and cultural circles" equate not being sufficiently pro-Israel with anti-Semitism.  Nixon deemed it ironic that senators who desired more military aid to Israel were also against U.S. efforts to protect South Vietnam from Communism.  Nixon wrote to Kissinger that Israel should not trust American liberals (the doves) as a source of steady support, for, in the end, they are "peace at any price people", who will "cut and run", even from Israel, when "the chips are down" (page 596).  Nixon wrote that Israel's true friends were people like William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and himself, who were not for cutting and running!

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