To give the foreign policy views of Richard M. Nixon the serious treatment both they and he deserve, one must first dispose of this awful little polemic of a book he has written.
"The Real War" argues that the United States and the Soviet Union have been fighting "World War III" since Russian forces permitted the Nazis to crush Polish resistance of the country during the closing days of World War II.
Since then, Mr. Nixon claims, the Soviets have been pressing for complete domination of the world, by "peaceful" means if possible, by military means if necessary. No conflict anywhere can be considered outside the context of the US-Soviet battle.No action of the Soviet Union, however neutral or innocent on its face, is undertaken for any purpose other than furtherance of its ultimate goal.
Moreover, according to Mr. Nixon, the Soviets are winning. We are falling behind in both strategic and conventional weaponsry. Our economy -- the true engine for our ability to compete -- drags. "Trendy" liberal elitists, with their fetish for human rights, democratic regimes, and gentlemanly codes of international behaviour have caused us to abandon allies, embarrass friends, and deprive ourselves of such essential weapons as the CIA and its covert capabilities.
The remedies Mr. Nixon urges are familiar. Spend more for arms. Deliver weapons to friends abroad without handwringing. Help allies crush internal resistance, which invariably benefits the Soviet Union. Don't otherwise, meddle in the internal affairs of allied governments. Resist Soviet encroachments wherever they occur. Link good relations with Moscow in one area to good behavior by Moscow elsewhere. Unleash the CIA. Let the economy flourish. Subordinate social programs to military needs. And, most of all, summon the will to hang tough until "victory" -- whatever that may be -- is achieved.
Whatever may be said for Mr. Nixon's stark thesis, his book does little to support it. "The Real War" is too replete with crass oversimplifications, misstatements of fact, and sloppy technique to be taken seriously.
We are told, for example, that the US connived in the overthrow if not the assasination of Ngo Dinh Diem, just as he was about to win the war in Vietnam. In fact, President Kennedy's frustration with Diem grew out of the fact that he was losingm the war, indeed that he was on the verge of seeking accord with Hanoi when he was overthrown in 1963.
Mr. Nixon is no more careful in discussing later Vietnam actions. He justifies the December 1972 bombing of Hanoi because "the continued to balk at our minimum terms" for peace. In fact, the so-caled "Christmas bombing" had more to do with the racalcitrance of South Vietnam's President Thieu than with Hanoi, something Mr. Nixon has acknowledged in other, more candid moments.
Mr. Nixon also perpetuates what has become one of the dominant myths of recent years when he suggest taht, when in 1975 the CIA suddenly doubled its estimate of Soviet military expenditures during the 1970-75 period, this somehow meant that previously we had been seriously understimating Russianmilitary capabilities. "Thanks in part to this intelligence blunder, we will find ourselves looking down the nuclear barrel in the mid-1980s," Mr. Nixon writes.
This is pure nonsense. The changed CIA estimate resulted, according to a major 1977 study by the Joint Economic Committee, from a "lack of understanding of the price inflation in the USSR and a change in pricing policy that occurred in 1967." Indeed, the CIA specifically state taht its revised figures indicated no increased Soviet capability, only higher prices being placed on the same packaged of weapons.
Throughout, Mr. Nixon asks the reader to take the most startling information on faith. Lengthy quotes go unattributed. At one point, the former President quotes Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev as telling Somalian President Siad Barre , "Our aim is to gain control of the two great treasure houses on which the West depends -- the energy treasure house of the Persian Gulf and the minieral treasure house of Central and Souther Africa." But Mr. Nixon's aptly titled "Selected Source notes" toward the end of the book provide no clue as to the source of Brezhnev's alleged words. The reader is left to wonder whether Mr. Nixon's taping system was not even more pervasive than suspected.
What is interesting about the foreign policy Mr. Nixon now endorses is that it is quite clearly not the one he practiced as President of the United States. Detente, as the former President now urges, may very well have assumed continuing arms competition with the Soviets as well as political and even military confrontation in areas tangential to the core of each other's "organic" concerns.
But it also assumed the legitimacym of each superpower, the inviolability of its vital spheres of interest -- Western Europe, Japan, and perhaps Israel on the part of the US, the Warsaw Pact nations on behalf of the Soviets -- and the unthinkability of a strategic nuclear confrontation in this era of overkill.
To define that kind of relationship as "World War III" is to define the term so broadly as to render it meaningless. Indeed, both Mr. Nixon and his former secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who today so loudly bemoan the alleged (and largely imagined) "strategic inferiority" of the US, were only a few short years ago demeaning the significance of nuclear weapons beyond the crudest notions of parity. And the same two men who today deem "linkage" essential were yesterday cautioning us that arms control of agreements were not favors to be bestowed upon the Russians for good behavior elsewhere, but accords which on their own were essential to the national security of the United States.
What has happened? Why do these two men now sound so chillingly like the simplistic right-wingers of yesterday?
The answer, I believe, lies in the tragic rejection of detente as President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger practiced it both by the left and the right. The liberals, wearied and guilt-ridden by their Vietnam ordeal, failed to provide successive administrations with the mandate needed to confron Soviet mischief in Africa, Cuba, and elsewhere while paying inordinate deference to any whim associated with a third-world cause, and the more anti-US the better.
The right-wing, meanwhile, saw in every Soviet exploitation of opportunity further proof of their already fervent conviction that detente was dangerous wrongheaded nonsense in the first place.
Wishing to participate meaningfully in public affairs and having no home with the left, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger have moved swiftly back into the right-wing fold.
In what has now become again a sharply polarized debate, a rational foreign policy is the loser. Where the public must choose between one foreign policy establishment that questions the moreal legitimacy of its own vital national interests and another that sees the adversary as evil incarnate, and identifies that sees the adversary as evil incarnate, and identifies its security with MX systems, black bag jobs, and Somozas, the collective well-being is bound to suffer.