zenpundit.com » nixon

Archive for the ‘nixon’ Category

A Century of Nixon and the Nixonian Century

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States of America and the only man to resign that office would was born one hundred years ago.  His life spanned from the Great War, included service in the Second World War and saw the end of the Cold War – an American victory to which Nixon substantially contributed with the deft statesmanship that was his greatest strength. Nixon stood for national office five times and was on the winning ticket in four of them, a political record matched in American history only by Franklin Roosevelt, a record that includes re-election by the second greatest landslide in history. A triumph that was undone by the paranoia, insecurity and bitterness that ate away at him and led Nixon to betray his oath to uphold the Constitution and forced him out of the Oval Office in disgrace.

So numerous and far-reaching were Nixon’s actions that we can justly say, for good and ill, that a century of Richard Nixon may have helped usher in a Nixonian century.

Richard Nixon named four justices to the Supreme Court, shifting the judicial branch in a more conservative direction, built upon by later Republican presidents; he created the EPA and the first affirmative action program, cut the dollar from it’s last tie to the gold standard,  declared war on drugs, ended the draft and began the All-Volunteer Force and began the movement to decentralize power from Washington bureaucracies to the states.

Some of these policies were ultimately disasters and some were a great success, but domestic policy (in contrast to politics) was never more than an irritating chore to Richard Nixon, one he frequently delegated to Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Nixon’s true, all-consuming passion – from his first days as a freshman member of Congress to his grim final moments “alone in the White House” to a winter street in Moscow as an elder statesman – was foreign affairs. It was on the world stage that Nixon yearned to not just be “in the arena” but win the game.

Sometimes he did.

Richard Nixon, an inveterate poker player, came into office in 1969 with a bad hand and too few chips on the table. The Nixon administration were the victors in a three-way presidential race inherited a losing war in Vietnam begun by the Democratic “Best and the Brightest” that had savagely divided the American people like no other conflict since the Civil War. Richard Nixon in partnership with Henry Kissinger managed to accomplish, by design and improvisation, a restructuring of American relations and the world order. They blunted a potential nuclear war between Communist China and the USSR, opened up detente with the Soviet Union, negotiated the first SALT and ABM treaty with the Soviets, unilaterally initiated the international monetary regime of floating currencies. In the Mideast, Nixon saw critical American support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War  as an opportunity to move toward a future general Arab-Israeli peace negotiation, that later came to pass in the Camp David Accords during the Carter administration.:

TO:        Secretary Kissinger

FROM:  The President

  1. I have just written a note to Brezhnev emphasizing to him that you speak with my full authority and the commitments you may make in the course of your discussions with him have my complete support.  I also told him that you would be conveying to him my strong commitment to devote my personal efforts toward bringing a lasting peace to the area.
  2. I believe that, beyond a doubt, we are now facing the best opportunity we have had in 15 years to build a lasting peace in the Middle East.  I am convinced that history will hold us responsible if we let this opportunity slip by.
  3. The current Israeli successes at Suez must not deflect us from going all out to achieve a just settlement now.  There is no reason to believe that Israel will not win this war now, as it has won all the previous ones, but you and I know that, in the long run the Israelis will not be able to stand the continuing attrition which, in the absence of a settlement, they will be destined to suffer.
  4. It is therefore even in Israel’s best interests for us to use whatever pressures may be required in order to gain acceptance of a settlement which is reasonable and which we can ask the Soviets to press on the Arabs. [….]

And torturous secret negotiations with Hanoi in Paris led to the painful but necessary American withdrawal from the Vietnam while Nixon’s greatest and most far-reaching triumph was opening relations with Communist China:

While some would argue that China’s opening to the world was inevitable, an isolated China at Mao’s death might have seen power pass into the hands of the Gang of Four, with terrible consequences for the Chinese people. It remains Richard Nixon who changed the strategic geopolitical balance at a time of acute weakness for the United States and set forces in motion that have transformed China and have only yet begun to shake the world.

Nixon’s most important achievements in foreign affairs came at the price of managing his administration first through secrecy, then guile then machiavellian intrigue against even his closest associates and finally with a resentful, angry, ill-will that seemed to consume Nixon and turn every “win” sour:

….At eleven o’clock in the morning, Nixon met with his staff in the Roosevelt Room. To many in the room he seemed oddly cool and quietly angry as he thanked them all for their loyalty and said something few of them understood. He said that he had been reading Robert Blake’sDisraeli and was struck by his description a century ago of William Gladstone’s ministers as “exhausted volcanoes” – and then mumbled something about embers that once shot sparks into the sky.

“I believe men exhaust themselves in government without realizing it” the president said “You are my first team, but today we start fresh for the next four years. We need new blood, fresh ideas. Change is important…..Bob, you take over.”

Nixon left then, turning the meeting over to Haldeman. The men and women of the White House stood to applaud his exit, then sat down. The chief explained what Nixon’s words meant: a reorganization of the administration. He told them that they were expected to deliver letters of resignation before the end of the day, then passed out photocopied forms requiring them to list all official documents in their possession. “These must be in by November 10,” he said. “This should accompany your pro forma letter of resignation to be effective at the pleasure of the President”. They were stunned. Speechless. Were they being fired? Haldeman said they would know within a month whether or not they could remain. At noon, the same drama was played out with the entire Cabinet, with Haldeman again passing out the forms. 

The man who had campaigned in 1968 as the smiling “New Nixon” did not want a chief of staff anymore. Nixon craved a “Lord High Executioner” who would keep underlings at bay and reporters and Congressmen away.

H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s tirelessly faithful right hand man, obliged, even as he struggled in a losing battle to keep Nixon’s dark side and worst impulses under wraps, tabling orders he deemed vindictive, politically unwise or crazy from being carried out until Nixon had calmed down and had time to reflect. Most of the time Nixon sheepishly thanked Haldeman, but Nixon found other willing hands in Colson, Liddy, Hunt and others. It is probable that Nixon himself approved of the Watergate break-in, but even if he had not done so specifically in that instance, he consented to abuses of power and an illegal apparatus with which to carry them out. The most malign proposal toward American democracy during the Nixon administration, known as “The Huston Plan“, was rejected even by J. Edgar Hoover, was later partially revived during the writing of The Patriot Act. An authoritarian trend that will haunt us for a long time to come.

If Richard Nixon is the father of the multipolar world and contributed greatly to the defeat of Communist totalitarianism, he also laid the foundations of the Creepy-state here at home through Watergate, which damaged the faith of Americans in their government and tarnished democracy. This is as much a part of Nixon’s legacy as Detente or China. Nixon had badly needed the free and absolute pardon that he received from Gerald Ford.

Richard Nixon managed a final comeback as an elder statesman, dispensing often wise geopolitical advice at private dinners where, in his early eighties, Nixon held forth at length, speaking without notes, on the dynamics of how the world really worked, at least through the prism of brutal realpolitik which he saw it. He lived to see the husband of the woman who once sought his prosecution, solicit his counsel in the Oval Office. His funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners and four former presidents of the United States. To the very end, Richard Nixon never gave up. We can’t take that away from him.

Let history judge.

A Tale of Two Victories and Two Falls

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

My co-blogger Charles Cameron is fond of his “DoubleQuotes” postings that feature frequently uncomfortable juxtapositions designed to prod thinking. Here’s a wordier one from me:

….Planning for a second term has been under way for months, with Lew and Pete Rouse, the counselor to the president and Obama’s internal management guru, preparing lists of possible promotions and nominations. The staff process has been gossiped about by the staff, but details have been kept secret, even from insiders.

“They haven’t even made calls. People haven’t been asked,” said a Democrat familiar with the situation. “They’re more targets than they are potential nominees.”

Now, officials will start to cement their departure dates, and aides will sound out colleagues about possible new roles. Among the top current officials expected to go: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood might not be far behind — or may even beat them out the door.

There’s also a growing list of people the administration is looking to find spots for: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick most of all, as well as former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and outgoing North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad.

Obama has overseen one of the most stable cabinets in history — the only departures have been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Gary Locke and John Bryson from Commerce. But what’s about to happen amounts to an almost full-scale second transition: 

 

….At eleven o’clock in the morning, Nixon met with his staff in the Roosevelt Room. To many in the room he seemed oddly cool and quietly angry as he thanked them all for their loyalty and said something few of them understood. He said that he had been reading Robert Blake’s Disraeli and was struck by his description a century ago of William Gladstone’s ministers as “exhausted volcanoes” – and then mumbled something about embers that once shot sparks into the sky.

“I believe men exhaust themselves in government without realizing it” the president said “You are my first team, but today we start fresh for the next four years. We need new blood, fresh ideas. Change is important…..Bob, you take over.”

Nixon left then, turning the meeting over to Haldeman. The men and women of the White House stood to applaud his exit, then sat down. The chief explained what Nixon’s words meant: a reorganization of the administration. He told them that they were expected to deliver letters of resignation before the end of the day, then passed out photocopied forms requiring them to list all official documents in their possession. “These must be in by November 10,” he said. “This should accompany your pro forma letter of resignation to be effective at the pleasure of the President”. They were stunned. Speechless. Were they being fired? Haldeman said they would know within a month whether or not they could remain. At noon, the same drama was played out with the entire Cabinet, with Haldeman again passing out the forms.

Ironically, one of the many Cabinet secretaries Nixon ignominiously fired in his bid to centralize power in his White House staff was his former 1968 primary rival, HUD Secretary George Romney, father of 2012 Republican nominee, Governor Mitt Romney.  A blow from which George Romney’s political career never recovered. Nixon’s relationship with Romney had been an acrimonious one, formally polite on the surface with public shows of confidence by Nixon and machiavellian intrigues behind the scenes to undermine Romney and reverse the policies he had been advancing in Nixon’s name.

This latest Cabinet reshuffle to build a “Team without Rivals”, comes in the context of an explosive story, the abrupt resignation Friday of CIA Director General David Petraeus, citing an extramarital affair and accepting responsibility for “extremely poor judgment” and “unacceptable conduct”. The affair, allegedly conducted with his official biographer, came to light during a still not fully explained FBI investigation into unauthorized accessing of Petraeus’ private email account. The resignation of the highly regarded General Petraeus comes just before he was expected to testify before Congress regarding discrepancies and questions in the administrations handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans. It also coincides with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, declining to testify.

It is difficult to say if General Petraeus public career will survive this scandal that he has brought upon himself, an action which stands in jarring contrast to his sterling, some might say superhuman, record of service to America, or if he will, like George Romney, fade away. Certainly, the CIA badly needed to stop the revolving door on the Director’s office and have a strong, visionary, hands-on leader who could reform and invigorate the Agency not merely in terms of covert action but in terms of rebuilding of capacity in deep cover clandestinity and the acquisition of strategic intel. I do not often find myself in agreement with Senator Feinstein but she is correct, this resignation hurts because it is also a significant institutional opportunity cost for the IC. I too wish it had not been accepted  – at one time it wouldn’t have been – but that is the President’s prerogative.

What however are the real issues? What should we be looking for?

Two things: As with Richard Nixon’s second term machinations, with such sweeping changes personnel changes in the offing for the Obama administration, ask yourself as events unfold: “Where is power flowing? And Why?”

If you do you will be in a better position to game out the direction of the next four years, especially in foreign policy and national security.

The White House has attempted to sell a story that the FBI doing a low-level harassment investigation  stumbled upon a security breach and – on their own authority, mind you – tapped the email account of the Director of the CIA and kept him under surveillance and investigated his mistress and, oh, yeah, the President was only informed of this business after the election on Thursday. Wait! And the DNI ( a three star general whose career was primarily intel administration) on his own initiative called the CIA Director ( a four star general and former theater and combatant commander) in on the carpet and fired him told him to resign. Right.

No, what most likely happened was that the minute the special agents realized who was involved in their investigation and the magnitude of the implications, they stopped and informed their superiors and the matter went up the chain to the FBI Director’s desk. The FBI Director, a former prosecutor with a political antennae circumspect enough to be appointed by George W. Bush and have his term be extended by Barack Obama, would have duly informed the Attorney-General of the United States before proceeding further and – I expect – the National Security Adviser, White House Chief of Staff and the DNI. Worst case scenario thinking in terms of national security would have been one driver. Another would be the fear of an all too juicy story leaking and the media catching an unbriefed POTUS unaware on the campaign trail with a blockbuster scandal before the election. How would that have gone over?

I would further expect that we will in the next few days and weeks hear the most salacious contents of the emails between Petraeus and his biographer, leaked by anonymous officials, timed to coincide with difficult days of testimony regarding Benghazi or new appointments to the administration that could, on a slow media day, prove controversial.

Instead of being distracted by prurient nonsense unrelated to the stewardship of the Republic, time would be better spent scrutinizing the host of nominations to come, not as individuals but as “teams” for particular areas of national security and foreign affairs cutting across bureaucracies – ex. arms control, Russian relations, Mideast etc. What commonalities or congruencies emerge?

I suggest this because back when the Obama administration decided on their “pivot” to Asia, the people they selected for second to third tier workday management related to the Asia-Pacific region were all accomplished, decent, honorable public servants, but their greatest common characteristic was a lack of any professional expertise with China. We saw the same personnel gambit with the Bush administration in the run-up to the war with Iraq where the greatest disqualifier for a job with the CPA was familiarity with the Arab world, Islam or Iraq. When you want careful stratagems, you solicit the advice of experts; when you want grand and revolutionary gestures, the wheels of policy are better greased with bold ignorance. There’s a reason Nixon appointed William Rogers Secretary of State – he knew the State Department bureaucracy would largely oppose his foreign policy initiatives and he wanted someone ill-suited and uninformed in charge there who he could more easily manipulate and keep in the dark.

The sixties radicals used to assert “the personal is the political”; in the eighties, Ronald Reagan in staffing his first administration understood that “the personnel are the political” and picked people culled from Heritage and Cato. My intuition is that in the second decade of the 21st century, the inside circle of the Obama administration have discovered that ” the political are the patterns”.

The story unfolding is no longer the “smoking gun” or the compromising jigsaw piece but the entirety of the puzzle.

All the President’s NSCs

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Rei Tang, who I had the pleasure of meeting and breaking bread with at the last Boyd & Beyond Conference, is guest-posting at Rethinking Security on a topic dear to my heart, presidential national security decision making. Mr. Tang nailed it here and I give his post a very strong endorsement as a “must-read”:

Guest Post: Essence of Decision (Part I of III)

“Maximize the President’s optionality.” Spoken in bureaucratese, this is what Thomas Donilon wanted to do as he took over the role of President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. Like most bland things in national security, this phrase is loaded. Graham Allison compares Donilon to Robert F. Kennedy who protected President John F. Kennedy’s options during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It speaks to how the president sees his relationship to the executive branch, his inclinations and limits. It speaks to how the president chooses and trusts his advisers and officers.

For a confident new president who respected national security pragmatists like Jim Jones, Joe Biden, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and Dennis Blair, making national security policy should have been straightforward. Obama and, former NATO supreme allied commander and marine commandant, General Jones created an open and orderly national security policy process—layers of interagency committees teeing up options to the National Security Council. Every department and agency would have a chance to say something. This would lead to good policy. But it ran into problems. In the NSC staff, now the “national security staff,” those who had been through the campaign with Obama had their access to the president downgraded. In the Afghanistan surge decision, the Department of the Defense and the military had boxed in the president. The more open the process, the more policy became stuck in the bureaucracy. In crisis decision-making, which takes up an extraordinary amount of bandwidth and which is politically delicate, bureaucracy can’t be allowed. 

The president came to find out this is not what he wanted. As the president gained experience, what he did want shows in the people who survived and thrived in the administration. They understand politics. Donilon, Panetta, Biden, and McDonough have worked on campaigns and understand the imperative of mitigating Obama’s political problems on national security. They’ve not only put in place the national security policy structure, but they control it—the information, the direction. They’ve expanded the president’s space to make careful, deliberate decisions. And to have “no leaks.”

Read the rest here.

It is interesting that in coming into office, President Obama, a deliberative and elite academic lawyer by education and temperament, set up a formal, Sherman Adams-ish NSC process befitting President Eisenhower and instead gravitated to a looser, more “politicized-personalized” model favored by Presidents Kennedy and (to a lesser extent) Nixon. This evolution suited Mr. Obama’s much grubbier, bareknuckles experience from his early days as a cog in Chicago’s Democratic Daley Machine, where politics is king and the ur-Rules are “Don’t back no losers” and “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent”.

A president always gets the NSC he wants but very seldom the NSC his office deserves. A corollary to this is that a totally dysfunctional NSC is no bar to having foreign policy success. During the Nixon administration, when Henry Kissinger was National Security Adviser, the machiavellian NSC decision process with the various principals was less in need of an orderly manager than a competent psychiatrist ( and this was, at times, seriously considered!); yet the co-dependent partnership between Nixon and Kissinger yielded numerous strokes of brilliance and strategic coup d’oeil in foreign policy.

The statutory requirements of the NSC are skeletal, which permits every POTUS flesh out the system he desires by selection of personnel and the initial executive orders issued to guide the business and interagency work of the NSC.  A president who feels uncomfortable with picking qualified “outsiders” -i.e. academic stars (Kissinger, Brzezinski) will have an NSC that is going to rely heavily upon foreign service officers, military officers and IC personnel “on loan” or after retirement from their perspective departments and agencies.  This will not be an NSC that will be apt to challenge bureaucratic conventional wisdom when preparing option papers,  but at it’s best this kind of NSC can be an honest broker and competent enforcer of presidential decisions because the staff is wise to bureaucratic tricks to stymie or delay administration policy. Eisenhower and Bush I were extremely comfortable with NSCs staffed by “professionals” and demanded very close working relationships with and between principals (SECSTATE, SECDEFENSE etc.).

An NSC dominated by gifted outsiders and political loyalists offers the opportunity for more creative and effective exercise of presidential prerogatives in foreign policy.  The president will have more options and a more critically thorough vetting of policy proposals from State, Defense and the IC.  As a result, because the NSC is trying to be both policy advocate as well as referee, the interagency friction and malicious leaking against bureaucratic rivals is apt to be very high – as was seen during the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations ( the last administration saw six NSC advisers in eight years, a factor of instability that added to the friction).

In either case, presidents sometimes attempt to “operationalize” policy that is particularly important to them from the NSC, which is not really designed or budgeted for such tasks. This has had mixed results, historically, with successes like the China Opening, bringing into custody the Achille Lauro highjackers and the operation to kill Osama bin Laden as well as political debacles like Iran-Contra or the secret invasion of Cambodia. The need to work through other bureaucracies makes the NSC doing “end runs” risky and vulnerable to hostile leaks and critical Congressional reaction (particularly if oversight had been circumvented).

To understand a president’s NSC is to comprehend how the administration really works.

SUGGESTED READINGS:

Brown, Cody. The National Security Council: A Legal History of the President’s Most Powerful Advisers. Project on National Security Reform/Center for the Study of the Presidency. 1020 19th Street, NW, Suite 250. Washington, DC. 2008.

Cramer, Drew & Mullins, Grant. “Lessons Learned from Prior Attempts at National Security Reform“. The Project on National Security Reform, Overarching Issues Working Group, College of William & Mary

Daalder, Ivo H. In the Shadow of the Oval Office: Profiles of the National Security Advisers and the Presidents They Served–From JFK to George W. Bush. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY. 2009

Federation of Atomic Scientists. “History of the National Security Council 1947-1997″. http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/NSChistory.htm

Dalleck, Robert. Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Harper Perennial. New York, NY. 2007

Gates, Robert. From the Shadows. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY. 1996.

Kissinger, Henry. White House Years. Simon & Schuster. New York, NY. 2011.

Menges, Constantine. Inside the National Security Council. Touchstone Books. 1989.

Wikistrat: Barnett on US National Military Strategy

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett on the new US National Military Strategy:

To subscribe to WIKISTRAT for their bulletins, interactive futurist simulation models and client-specific analytical services, go here.

Tom did a very nice job with this piece, particularly his reference to the historically underexamined but diplomatically significant Nixon Doctrine. He’s right. The strategic shift is a radical departure from the previous Bush era and is closely following the mammoth budgetary requests of our high tech services that are gearing up, along with industry lobbyists, to battle for every last dollar of a shrinking defense pie ( one reason I recently asked,  Is COIN Dead?). 

However, the military strategy should be driving acquisitions rather than being a shopping list transformed into a strategy ( see Shape the Future Force section) considering we are in at least two wars, perhaps three depending on how you count, from which we have yet to bring to a satisfactory resolution. That there is a shift here is not bad per se – East Asia is certainly far more significant to American security than is Afghanistan but that shift is so heavily laden with major economic and diplomatic variables, which, frankly, are of much greater longitudinal importance than military operational planning or short term force structure.

Nixon the Liberal

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Dr. Chet Richards argues the case.


Switch to our mobile site