Sunday, March 31, 2013

RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Volume 2: 15

I have three items for my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs.  They'll focus on foreign policy, whereas my post tomorrow will cover Watergate-related topics, as well as the resignation of Nixon's first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew.

1.  On page 435, Nixon says the following about Vietnam:

"Congress denied first to me, and then to President Ford, the means to enforce the Paris agreement at a time when the North Vietnamese were openly violating it.  Even more devastating and inexcusable, in 1974 Congress began cutting back on military aid for Vietnam at a time when the Soviets were increasing their aid to North Vietnam.  As a result, when the North Vietnamese launched their all-out invasion of the South in the spring of 1975, they had an advantage in arms, and the threat of American action to enforce the agreement removed."

This is Nixon's explanation for how South Vietnam was lost to the Communists, and this line of reasoning has been echoed (on some level) by right-wingers, such as Ann Coulter in her book Treason.  I don't know what the rationale of those who supported cutting off aid to South Vietnam and removing the U.S. obligation to enforce the Paris peace agreement was, but that's why I continue to read: to learn about different sides of a given story.

One thing that interested me was that Nixon said that the Soviet Union was increasing its aid to North Vietnam, whereas, on page 427, Nixon relates that Soviet premier Brezhnev denied to him that the U.S.S.R. was sending "any new Soviet military equipment" to Indochina (Nixon's words).  So Brezhnev was lying during the friendly chats that he and Nixon had?

2.  On page 457, Nixon says the following about military defense:

"In terms of constant dollars, defense spending in 1973 was actually $10 billion less than it had been in 1964 before the Vietnam war began.  The draft had been ended and our defense forces were numerically lower than at any time since before the Korean war.  Yet the Senate was moving to cut overseas troop strength by nearly 25 percent----without demanding any corresponding cuts by the Soviets.  We were winning only narrowly in the congressional appropriations battle for the Trident nuclear submarine and the other important weaponry we needed to give us leverage in SALT."

Again, I don't know what the other side's rationale was.  But this passage is a good example of the frustration of more than one President who has had to deal with a Congress that is dominated by the opposite political party.  I can understand why there are people who would prefer for one person to have power (at least in certain areas), without having to get the permission of so many conflicting interests, for that at least could produce a coherent strategy.

But, according to Greg Mitchell in Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady, Nixon as Senator "introduced a measure to override [President] Truman's authority and restore [General Douglas] MacArthur to power" (pages 252-253).  Whereas Nixon as President was critical of particular times when the Congress tried to limit his foreign policy power, Nixon as Senator (if what Mitchell says is correct) had no problem with limiting President Truman's foreign policy jurisdiction, when Truman did something (namely, fire MacArthur) that Nixon deemed to be unfair, and perhaps even deleterious to America's defeat of Communism.

3.  In my post on Nixon's memoirs yesterday, I talked about Nixon's stance on Israel.  In my latest reading, Nixon discusses this some more.  In October 1973, Syria and Egypt were about to attack Israel.  Nixon realized that the U.S. was in a delicate situation.  Nixon wanted (on some level) to support Israel because she was the victim of aggression and had a special relationship with the United States.  But Nixon also had no desire to alienate Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries, with whom he was trying to cultivate a relationship, and he feared that the Arabs might "try to bring economic pressure to bear on us by declaring an oil embargo" (page 477).  Moreover, Nixon did not want for the situation in the Middle East to become worse.  Nixon suspected that the Soviets were encouraging Egypt and Syria to attack Israel, and he did not want for the Soviets to intervene further into the situation "in any way that would require [the U.S.] to confront them" (page 477).  When Jordan sent a small contingent to assist Syria, General Brent Scowcroft tried to persuade Israel not to expand the war through an attack on Jordan.  And, when Nixon met with Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, even the pro-Israel people there were apprehensive about the possibility that the U.S. could become involved in another Vietnam.

In my latest reading, Nixon said that his strategy was to let Egypt, Syria, and Israel fight it out until they arrived at a stalemate and were ready for a cease-fire.  That, in his opinion, was preferable to trying to enforce on them a cease-fire that they did not want.  But, as the Soviets sent military supplies to Egypt and Syria, so did the U.S. (with Nixon's support) send military supplies to Israel.

I may include an item on the outcome of this conflict in tomorrow's post.  We'll see.

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