In a blog post that I wrote on Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record, I speculated about what Richard Nixon would have thought about President Bill Clinton's policies in Somalia, Bosnia, and Serbia. In a post that I wrote on Richard Nixon's 1992 book, Seize the Moment, I wondered what Nixon's stance would have been on President George W. Bush's war in Iraq.
In reading Nixon's 1994 book, Beyond Peace,
I see that Nixon was actually alive when Clinton was pursuing
strategies in Somalia, Bosnia, and Serbia. On Somalia, Nixon pretty
much thought what I speculated that he thought: he believed that U.S.
intervention into Somalia was a mistake, but that America's withdrawal
from the country conveyed weakness.
On Bosnia and Serbia, I was
right that Nixon believed that the region was important to U.S.
interests, presumably enough to justify American intervention. But what
I learned in Beyond Peace was that Nixon considered Clinton's policies in that region to be a mistake. Nixon says on pages 153-154:
the beginning of the war [in the former Yugoslavia] there have been
excesses on both sides, but the cycle of violence began as a result of
Serbian aggression against other former Yugoslavian
republics----aggression for which the United States and its allies have
consistently and repeatedly failed to exact a price. As early as 1991,
along with a number of other observers, I called upon the United Nations
to lift the embargo against the victims of Serbian aggression. The
United States, the United Nations, and the European Community
vacillated, equivocated, orated, condemned, and ultimately did nothing
to counter effectively the Serbian onslaught...It is unfortunate that
the United States did not take action in this protracted struggle until
it was forced to do so by a public reaction to bloody images on
Essentially, Nixon says that Clinton, the UN, and the
European Community were dithering in response to the Serbian aggression
against the former Yugoslavian republics. Nixon's criticisms remind me
of former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick's critique of U.S. policies
on the region in her 2007 book, Making War to Keep Peace. And they also call to my mind the movie The Special Relationship,
which is about President Bill Clinton's relationship with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair. In this movie, Blair publicly challenges Clinton
to take more action on Kosovo, in a time when President Clinton is
Nixon says on page 154 that the West would have intervened
sooner to help Sarajevo had the people of Sarajevo been primarily Christian or Jewish,
and his implication appears to be that the West was slow to act because
of Sarajevo's large Muslim population. In a time when elements of the
right-wing have become frighteningly Islamophobic, in terms of
condemning moderate Muslims and lumping them together with radical ones,
this 1994 statement by Nixon makes me proud of him (whether or not it
is entirely fair).
What puzzles me, though, is Nixon's statement
on pages 154-155: "The siege of Sarajevo can have a redeeming character
only if the West learns two things as a result. The first is that
enlightened peoples cannot be selective about condemning aggression and
genocide...The other lesson is that because we are the last remaining
superpower, no crisis is irrelevant to our interests. If the United
States had been willing to lead, a number of steps short of the
commitment of ground forces----for instance, revoking the arms
embargo----could have been taken early in the Bosnian crisis to blunt
Serbian aggression. Our failure to do so tarnished our reputation as an
evenhanded player on the international stage and contributed to an
image promoted by extreme Muslim fundamentalists that the West is
callous to the fate of Muslim nations but protective of Christian and
It's not that Nixon's sentiment by itself puzzles
me: of course the United States should be concerned about genocide.
But it puzzles me in light of what Nixon wrote in Seize the Moment, and even in Beyond Peace.
Nixon appears to maintain that the U.S. should be selective about when
it will intervene militarily----that it should do so only when its own
interests are involved. Saying that the U.S. should intervene to stop
genocide (if that is what Nixon is suggesting on page 154) strikes me as
a departure from that. And, when he says that "no crisis is irrelevant
to our interests", that makes me wonder if that's a blank check for us
to interfere militarily anywhere there is a crisis.
Now onto the issue of the Iraq War under George W. Bush. What would Nixon have thought about that? On page 121 of Seize the Moment,
Nixon criticizes German firms for being "the principal contractors for
Saddam Hussein's network of hardened command bunkers." That makes me
think that, had Nixon been alive when Germany was refusing to back up
the U.S. on the Iraq War, Nixon would have joined the conservative
voices who argued that Germany was doing this on account of the business
that it was doing with Iraq. But would Nixon have supported the U.S.
overthrowing Saddam Hussein and undertaking the task of
nation-building? I don't know. Nixon in Beyond Peace seems to
support regime change in Iraq, but here's the strategy that he
advocates: "We should actively support the main opposition to Saddam,
the Iraqi National Congress, as it seeks to force Baghdad to open up its
political system. We should offer Jordan increased economic incentives
and a major role in the Arab-Israeli peace process as encouragement to
turn off the spigot of trade until Saddam Hussein falls from power."
That's different from the U.S. directly overthrowing Saddam. But, as I
said in my last post on Beyond Peace, Nixon was open to changing his mind when he felt that situations changed.