Monday, April 15, 2013

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 7

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.

My 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.

So what 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. 

Essentially, Voorhis 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 in Vietnam.

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.

Voorhis 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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