zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Nixon vs. The Neoconservatives?

Nixon vs. The Neoconservatives?


Some interesting, if oddly interpreted, background at HNN on Fritz Kraemer, the influential hardliner and  intellectual mentor of Henry Kissinger and Al Haig, and Kraemer’s influence in American foreign policy:

Luke A. Nichter: Who Was Fritz Kraemer? And Why We Should Care.

Whether Vietnam, Iraq, or now Afghanistan, wars come and go, but the real battle is a philosophic one between two sects of conservatives. In The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons from Nixon to Obama, authors Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman challenge readers to examine the role of a little-known Pentagon figure named Fritz G.A. Kraemer. Colodny and Shachtman argue that Kraemer was the leading intellectual behind what became known as the neo-conservative movement, witnessed by the fact that Kraemer influenced so many high-ranking conservative figures over the course of  six decades.….This meeting was probably the only one to have occurred during the Nixon presidency in which Nixon and Kissinger permitted a rigorous debate, in the Oval Office no less, over the merits of not just Vietnam policy, but Nixon foreign policy more generally. Kraemer knew the issues well enough that both Nixon and Kissinger were forced to defend themselves to someone who represented an increasingly disenchanted sect of conservatives. Kraemer believed, as other conservatives did, that the conduct of Nixon foreign policy had became tainted by short-term political considerations, and that politicians had acted as a restraining influence on military leaders who believed they were capable of achieving a military victory.. 

The Nixon Quartet

….At the heart of the dance was a fundamental philosophic difference between Kraemer’s ideologically purist, militarist, anti-diplomacy stance, and Nixon’s quintessential pragmatic stance.  Kissinger and Haig were caught between these antipodal poles.  Kraemer had “discovered” Kissinger in 1944 at Camp Claiborne, had superseded his goal of becoming an accountant and readied him intellectually for Harvard.  As Kissinger would later acknowledge, “Kraemer shaped my reading and thinking, influenced my choice of college, awakened my interest in political philosophy and history, inspired both my undergraduate and graduate theses and became an integral and indispensable part of my life.”  In the Pentagon in 1961, Kraemer had similarly discovered Haig, and recommended him for greater responsibilities in the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.  At the moment of entering the White House in 1969, both Kissinger and Haig subscribed largely to Kraemer’s tenets.…..There’s much more to the story of this quartet, including Haig’s efforts to push Nixon up the plank toward resignation, and how those who detested Nixon’s foreign policies became the neocons in the Ford and Carter years, when they continued and magnified their efforts to undermine those presidents’ Nixonian foreign policies.

The two articles have a lot of interesting snippets of information but I am finding the ideological spin to be strange. The neoconservatives moved from the Left to the Right, starting roughly in this period, but they would not be identifiably so until the mid to late 1970’s. Nor are most of the conservative figures like Alexander Haig in the neoconservative group. When Haig was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, his relationship with the administration’s actual neoconservatives like Jeanne Kirkpatrick was very poor ( they were also poor with the administration’s moderates). The authors, in my view, are also overestimating Kraemer’s influence on Richard Nixon, who entered office with a firm vision of his foreign policy objectives.

Nevertheless, of serious interest to the Nixon scholar.

13 Responses to “Nixon vs. The Neoconservatives?”

  1. J. Scott Says:

    Zen, Looks like an interesting read. President Reagan observed of Al Haig: "It’s amazing how sound he can be on complex international matters but how utterly paranoid with regard to the people he must work with." (The Reagan Diaries, Monday, June 14, 1983, page 88) Haig has always been an odd fit with respect to labels and I would have assessed him a pragmatist before reading this post.

  2. zen Says:

    hi Scott,

    Paranoia was an occupational hazard of the Nixon White House, which was run by Haldeman on a very cut-throat, zero-defects, basis. The only way to escape the pressure cooker of Haldeman’s regime was to intrigue for Nixon’s personal favor – which we see with Dean, Colson, Kissinger, Haig etc. carving out some elbow room. Even then, Haldeman still kept tabs on everyone, especially Kissinger, either on his own initiative or at Nixon’s express orders. 
  3. J. Scott Says:

    Based on my readings of the Nixon White House, I would add that Haldeman’s management style fit nicely with the paranoia of his boss. Nixon was a brilliant man, but his paranoia destroyed his presidency. 

  4. democratic core Says:

    Is Tom Shachtman related to (son?) Max Shachtman, who was a major Trotskyist, and one of the intellectual founders of neo-conservatism?  Shachtman was very influential with George Meaney, then head of the AFL-CIO, who in turn had a big influence on Scoop Jackson, who was the conduit for bringing neo-conservatism into mainstream politics.

  5. zen Says:
    Hi DC,

    Great question – to which I do not know the answer.  I do know ( as of a few hours ago) though that Tom Shachtman is the father of Noah Shachtman of WIRED – it would a neat trifecta if you are correct.

    I’m going to have to read this book.  My dim recollection of Steinfels’ The Neoconservatives is that Kraemer was not prominently mentioned. Generally, the people considered to be the intellectual godfathers or source  of neoconservatism are Irving Kristol, Albert Wohlstetter, Norman Podhoretz, Rheinhold Niebhur, Leo Strauss and so on, so I’m interested in how they make the case.
  6. Lexington Green Says:

    There is a whole chapter on Kraemer in Peter Drucker’s memoir Adventures of a Bystander.

  7. zen Says:

    Nice add, Lex. Just ordered Forty Years… from Amazon.

  8. Tom Shachtman Says:

    Please take a look at the whole book, THE FORTY YEARS WAR, before coming to conclusions about the influence of Kraemer and just when the neocons, started.  We’ve uncovered a lot about Kraemer that has not been known before, and also about the origin of the neocons.  The group began to form, we contend, in opposition to Nxon’s foreign policies, even before they had a name, disliking what they saw as his cozying up to the USSR and to Red China, and his attempts to get out of the Vietnam War.   They helped stymie Gerald Ford’s tries at continuing Nixonian policies even before they were separately identified as neocons during the Carter years.

  9. zen Says:

    Hi Tom,
    Welcome!. I ordered it so I will be giving it a close read. Your teaser article at HNN was very intriguing to me – you’re right, his treatment of Kraemer was unusual. Nixon did a lot of expounding/monologuing in the transcripts I’ve read of his conversations, using his aides as sounding boards. There’s not many instances where there’s a back-and-forth that I can think of offhand – except, and we usually get this secondhand, with foreign leaders like DeGaulle whom Nixon had a high regard.
    Your subject seems like quite a character, sort of an eminence grise – I look forward to reading your book!

  10. Joseph Fouche Says:

    How would the world have changed if Henry Kissinger had spent the last 50 years preparing tax returns?

  11. The Evil Accountant, Herr Holstein, and Kraemer’s Dilemma « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

    […] links to two articles on one Fritz Gustave Anton Kraemer, a sort of American Friedrich von Holstein who […]

  12. PurpleSlog Says:

    "similarly discovered Haig"

    Haig had been an aide to the very politically connected McArthur at least in 1950, so I think he was already somewhat connected.

  13. zen Says:

    Ooooh, nice catch PS! Envious. 🙂

Switch to our mobile site