Friday, August 23, 2013

Nixon Reconsidered 7

I have two items for my blog post today about Joan Hoff's Nixon Reconsidered.

1.  My first item will concern whether the United States should intervene in other countries.  Hoff has a section in her book, "THIRD WORLD MISTAKES", in which she is quite critical of how President Richard Nixon approached the Third World.  Overall, she seems to be arguing, he saw it through the prism of the Cold War.  Hoff discusses the Nixon Administration's treatment of Chile, which was headed by the Marxist President Salvador Allende, who would be overthrown in a coup.  While Hoff does not believe that there is evidence that the CIA or Nixon Administration "played any direct role in the assassination of President Salvador Allende," she does acknowledge that they "did everything possible to destabilize his government" (page 249), by funding Allende's political opponents, for example.  One who was opposed to such features of President Nixon's foreign policy was Secretary of State William Rogers, who would later say that the U.S. giving contributions to foreign elections is a bad idea.  One reason, according to Rogers, was that the U.S. doesn't get its "money's worth" in doing so.  Second, Rogers said, it is embarrassing to the countries and undermines their trust in the U.S.  And third, it contradicts the U.S.'s rhetoric about non-intervention and allowing "countries to determine their own future" (Rogers' words on page 251).  Some have characterized Rogers as not particularly bright, but I do believe that his critique of the Nixon Administration's policy in Chile is quite insightful.  I can still see Nixon's perspective----that the Soviets were backing the leftists in Chile, that the U.S. did not want a major Communist power in South America, and that thus the U.S. had to support Allende's opponents.  Still, in my opinion, Rogers does well to highlight downfalls to U.S. intervention in other countries' political systems. 

Hoff herself appears to pursue a rather isolationist route at the end of her chapter on the Vietnam War (even though I seriously doubt that she and Rogers were complete isolationists).  She essentially says that the U.S. government and military officials should apologize for the Vietnam War.  She blames the South Vietnamese, "not the dove-inspired constraints on the U.S. military", for losing the war (page 242).  While Hoff defends Nixon against a number of charges that she considers to be unfounded and unfair, she still apparently retains the opposition to the Vietnam War that she had when she was a New Leftist.

Hoff sometimes seems to praise Richard Nixon's foreign policy, as when she says that detente may deserve some credit for the end of the Cold War.  But, overall, she does not have too many kind words for Nixon's foreign policy.  As I said in my post yesterday, she is critical of the "linkage" element of detente, in which Nixon and Henry Kissinger would link together different issues in dealing with the Soviets, offering concessions in some areas if the Soviets would do what the U.S. wanted in other areas.  Her chapter about the Vietnam War is entitled "VIETNAM: WITHOUT PEACE OR HONOR".  She's against how Nixon approached the Third World.  What exactly does she favor in President Richard Nixon's foreign policy?  She says that his rapprochement with Red China was an accomplishment, but here, her applause strikes me as rather tepid.  One goal behind the rapprochement was to give the U.S. leverage in its relationship with the Soviet Union, and my impression is that Hoff does not believe that it did that.  Hoff's praises of Nixon's domestic policies are quite pronounced, by contrast.  She does note flaws in some of them, such as Nixon allowing the dollar to float, and Nixon believing that the Equal Pay Act could actually bring about equal pay for men and women in the workplace.  But she also believes that Nixon accomplished a significant amount of good in such areas as civil rights, the environment, and the U.S. Government's treatment of Native Americans, and that his proposal to reform welfare was quite groundbreaking.  I don't find that same level of respect in Hoff's book for Nixon's foreign policies.

2.  In my post here, I refer to Stephen Ambrose's claim that Nixon's desire for information about Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O'Brien could have contributed to the atmosphere that led to the break-in at the DNC's headquarters at the Watergate hotel.  Ambrose is not the only one who posits this, for many believe that the burglars were looking for information about O'Brien.  But Hoff does not buy this explanation for the break-in, and her reason is that "the Watergate burglars did not initially bug, nor were they subsequently caught in, O'Brien's office" (page 305).  Hoff goes into other motivations for the break-in that have been proposed, but she appears to be open to the controversial argument in the book, Silent Coup, by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, that the break-in was an attempt to find information about a prostitution ring that was servicing Democratic and Republican politicians.  I'm not sure if, or to what extent, she buys into the aspect of Silent Coup's argument for which John Dean sued its authors for libel: the argument that John Dean was somehow involved in ordering the break-in and trying to cover things up, since (according to the authors) Dean's wife was connected with someone who was prominent in the prostitution ring.  Hoff does, however, say on page 311 that Silent Coup "has surpassed other books about the origins of Watergate" and also "attempts to resolve factual contradictions in the testimony of all the participants about the break-ins and cover-up" (page 311).

David Greenberg in Nixon's Shadow said that Hoff essentially provided scholarly cover for Silent Coup.  There are many who may feel that Silent Coup was a book with a crackpot theory that several Nixon apologists desperately tried to grab onto, perhaps to make Dean a scapegoat for Watergate.  I don't know enough about Watergate to comment.  But I do have to respect Hoff's humble tone in praising Silent Coup, as when she notes that the book attempts to resolve contradictions in testimonies.  There's not a whole lot of pretense in her liking the book for that reason.

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