In my latest reading of The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973), former Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis criticizes President Richard Nixon's foreign policy.
impression is that, usually, people consider foreign policy to be
President Richard Nixon's main strength. After all, did not Nixon open
up U.S. relations with Communist China? What's more, Nixon seemed to
have considered himself somewhat of an expert on foreign policy, for
that was an interest of his throughout his political career, plus he
wrote books about foreign policy after he left office.
were Voorhis' problems with Nixon's foreign policy? Essentially,
Voorhis argues that Nixon has alienated a number of other countries,
helps out dictatorships, and blocks out congressional input on foreign
policy (which Voorhis deems to be in violation of the U.S.
Constitution). Voorhis also says that Nixon wanted to get rid
of the leftist Salvador Allende of Chile, and that the "Result of this
was to give private investors----not to say exploiters----free rein in
the continent" (page 207). (Nixon, on pages 606-607 of volume 1 of his
memoirs, says that he opposed Allende because Allende was making Chile
into a base for Communist Cuba, as a way to export Communism to other
countries. While Nixon says that he told the CIA to provide
funds for Allende's political opponents in an election, as the Communist
countries were funding Allende, he does not acknowledge that his
Administration played a role in the coup that toppled Allende. Rather,
Nixon simply narrates that the coup occurred amidst economic hardship,
strikes, and poor administration in Chile.)
Voorhis lists more
than one example of how President Nixon has alienated other countries:
Nixon tells foreign leaders one thing but does something else, Nixon's
tariffs and devaluation of the dollar have hurt other countries
economically, Nixon sides with the intimidating country of Brazil while
disregarding a number of other countries in South America, etc. But
Voorhis is especially critical of what many have heralded as Nixon's
signature achievement: his visit to Red China and his normalization of
relations with that country. Voorhis is not particularly opposed to
normalizing relations with Red China, but he does not care for how Nixon
went about doing it.
narrates, Nixon visited Red China with a lot of fanfare, to make himself
look good and to benefit himself politically. But Nixon did not tell
too many people beforehand about his plans regarding Red China. He kept
it a secret from Congress and from the U.S.'s foreign friends, so
Nixon's policy came as a surprise to many people! The result, according
to Voorhis, was not good. Friends of the U.S., who were
afraid of China, wondered to what extent the U.S. was still their
friend. Japan, which supported the U.S. policy of backing Taiwan, was
left holding the bag when Nixon visited Red China and essentially
endorsed scaling back U.S. support for Taiwan. Moreover, Voorhis does
not think that Nixon's visit to China accomplished that much in terms of
the Vietnam War, for China re-affirmed its support for the Communists
A question that I have is when Nixon decided
that it would be a good idea to normalize relations with Red China.
According to Voorhis, Nixon by doing so was violating what he said as a
Presidential candidate in 1968. But Nixon in volume 1 of his
memoirs narrates that, even prior to 1968, he was contemplating that it
might be a good idea for the U.S. to rethink its approach to Red China,
on account of Red China's power and influence. Nixon even talks about a Foreign Affairs article that he wrote on that topic, prior to the 1968 election! This quotes
Nixon as saying in that article that "There is no place on this small
planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in
angry isolation." Maybe Nixon talked out of both sides of his mouth, or there was a degree of flexibility and nuance in his position.
critiques President Nixon's approach to India and Pakistan. Voorhis
laments that the U.S. under Nixon has not cultivated a relationship with
India, a democracy, preferring instead to assist the dictatorship in
Pakistan. According to Voorhis, when Mujibur Rahman won an election in
East Pakistan, that did not particularly please Pakistani dictator Yahya
Khan, who imprisoned Rahman and slaughtered East Pakistanis, with
American weapons. Indira Gandhi of India plead with the U.S. to
cease its supply of arms to Yahya Khan, and she also requested help on
account of the numerous East Pakistani refugees who were flowing into
India. But, Voorhis narrates, Nixon did not heed her requests. Nixon
then announced that he was trying to normalize relations with Red China,
a country that "threatened India more than once" (page 210). India
soon thereafter signed a mutual security-pact with the Soviet Union.
Due to the problem of East Pakistani refugees in India and the West
Pakistani killing of East Pakistanis, India invaded East Pakistan and
"was welcomed by the people as liberators" (page 210). East
Bengal became independent of Pakistan, resulting in a new country,
Bangladesh. Nixon said that he would "cut off economic aid to India"
(Voorhis' words), sent warships, and may have even sought to persuade
the Soviet Union to get India under control. But Voorhis
apparently deemed that to be unnecessary, for India soon after
Bangladesh's independence presented a truce to Pakistan, which Pakistan
accepted. Regarding Bangladesh, the U.S. and Red China did not
attend the first President of Bangladesh's inauguration, whereas other
governments did show up.
Nixon tells the story a bit differently in volume 1 of his memoirs, on pages 650-658.
Nixon narrates that he asked Mrs. Gandhi not to exacerbate the tensions
within Pakistan, and she assured him that she would not. Then, with
support from the Soviets, she went on to attack East Pakistan, and to
develop "contingency plans for attacking West Pakistan as well" (page
651). Nixon regarded her attack as an act of aggression, and he states
that Yahya Khan "had agreed to move his troops away from the border if
India would do the same, but she would not make a similar commitment"
(page 651). Nixon felt that he had to help Pakistan to reassure
other countries "within the reach of Soviet influence" that they could
depend on the U.S. (page 653). Nixon provided assistance to Pakistan, but he also talked with the Soviet Union. The
plan was for the Soviets to pressure India to "accept a cease-fire",
and the Indians would accept a settlement thinking that the Soviets
might deprive them of aid and support (page 657). Yahya Khan surrendered, and Pakistan agreed to the Indian offer of a cease-fire on the western front. On
page 657, Nixon says: "By using diplomatic signals and
behind-the-scenes pressures we had been able to save West Pakistan from
the imminent threat of Indian aggression and domination. We had also
once again avoided a major confrontation with the Soviet Union."
I should mention a few other details in Nixon's account.
First, while Voorhis seems to maintain that Nixon was against East
Bengal becoming an independent country, Nixon says the opposite.
Nixon said that he pressured Yahya Khan to be "more moderate and
conciliatory" when East Pakistan was becoming independent, and that he
considered East Pakistan's independence to be inevitable (page 651). Second,
Voorhis appears to paint a picture of the U.S. alienating India and
driving her into the arms of the Soviet Union, but, again, Nixon
presents a different picture. According to Nixon, India claimed
neutrality and received aid from the United States, yet she "had
gradually become aligned with the Soviets and received substantial
economic and military aid from Moscow" (page 651). And, third,
Nixon on page 652 said that he thought that one motivation for the
Soviets' support for India's invasion of Pakistan was that the Soviets
wanted to demonstrate to the world that they were the number one
"Communist power", especially after "the much heralded Sino-American
rapprochement" (page 652). While Nixon probably thought that,
overall, the U.S.-Red Chinese rapprochement was a good idea, he presents
a time when it may have had a negative consequence.
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