Book sheds light on Nixon's 'Kissinger Presidency'; Nixon: Newspapers 'a bunch of sluts'
An American historian discusses in a new book how in 1973 then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger "took control" of the White House from a president who was his rival as often as his ally.
In next month's Vanity Fair, Robert Dallek illustrates how President Richard Nixon "was losing his epic power struggle with Henry Kissinger," a thesis drawn out in his upcoming book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. He describes the two similarly as "paranoid and insecure, deceitful and manipulative, ruthless and strangely vulnerable."
Dallek bases his argument on a new analysis of Nixon administration archives -- what he calls a "real-time rendering of events often at variance with official portrayals" -- which includes diary entries, transcripts, tapes, records and official papers. "Henry Kissinger never wanted the 20,000 pages of his telephone transcripts made public," writes Dallek, "not while he was alive, at any rate. And for good reason."
The historian highlights "moments of high drama" and depicts Kissinger as "a man whose growing power derived from Nixon's deepening incapacity." Dallek also discusses how the archives "reveal Kissinger's troubling personality and methods across a broad front."
Calling him a "prima donna," Dallek explains how Nixon didn't anticipate how much Kissinger, whom he sometimes referred to as "K," "would be envious and high-strung -- a maintenance project of the first order." In one taped conversation, Nixon said, "Henry's personality problem is just too goddamn difficult for us to deal [with]..."
On Vietnam, Dallek writes that Kissinger and Nixon privately concluded that the war was unwinnable. "In Saigon the tendency is to fight the war to victory," Dallek quotes Nixon in a 1969 phone call to Kissinger. "But you and I know it won't happen -- it is impossible." Yet Kissinger and Nixon sought to label Democrats criticizing the progress of the war as being from "the party of surrender," writes Dallek.
The 83-year-old Kissinger seems to have no qualms in making a losing assessment of the war in Iraq, telling The Associated Press yesterday that "the problems in Iraq are more complex than that conflict, and military victory is no longer possible."
As for Vietnam, "Nixon wanted to plan the removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 1971," Dallek continues, "but Kissinger cautioned that, if North Vietnam then de-stabilized Saigon during the following year, events could have an adverse effect on the president's campaign." Kissinger "apparently had nothing to say about the American lives that would be lost by deliberately prolonging the war," Dallek notes ruefully.
One particularly caustic episode that Dallek recounts had to do with the Pentagon Papers. "Kissinger was deeply unsettled by the revelation ... that the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War had been given to The New York Times by a former adviser to Kissinger on Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg." Kissinger feared being "tarred by association," suggests Dallek. The Secretary of State said of Ellsberg, "That son-of-a-bitch. I know him well. He is completely nuts."
As for the Times, Nixon and Kissinger "were determined to come down hard," reveals Dallek. "Goddamn newspapers -- they're a bunch of sluts," Nixon said. Later, Nixon said, "I don't give a goddamn about repression, do you?" "No," Kissinger replied, according to Dallek.
"It is ironic," the historian surmises in reflection, how the Nixon administration "produced the richest trove of presidential records in history, making [it] more transparent in retrospect than any before or since," despite its notorious secrecy -- which Dallek says "was unsurpassed... until the current one."
Excerpts from the Vanity Fair article, available in full at this link, follow...
Nixon confided to Haldeman, according to the unpublished diaries, that he was "quite shocked" at how Kissinger had "ranted and raved" at Alexander Haig during a 1971 phone conversation, telling Haig that he "had handled everything wrong," and calling U.N. ambassador George H. W. Bush "an idiot." Nixon believed that something more serious was going on, and it is known that he once mused to Ehrlichman that Kissinger might need psychiatric help. The subject of Kissinger's stability came up again in 1972. Having read The Will to Live, by Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, his former psychotherapist, Nixon recommended it to Haldeman as providing a road map to what Nixon, according to Haldeman's unpublished diary notes, called "K's suicidal complex."
Nixon's deep antipathy toward Jews is well known, and he took a strange satisfaction in having Kissinger in his inner circle, where he could periodically taunt him. Nixon told Haldeman and Ehrlichman, according to the transcript of a conversation, that "anybody who is Jewish cannot handle" Middle Eastern policy. Henry might be "as fair as he can possibly be, [but] he can't help but be affected by it. Put yourself in his position. Good God ... his people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! Five—five million of them popped into big ovens! How the hell's he feel about all this?"
In April of 1971, after months of secret exchanges facilitated by Pakistan, the government of Communist China indicated its willingness to receive a special envoy from the United States. Soon after getting this message, Nixon and Kissinger agreed on a positive response. They now went back and forth over which administration official should make the first trip to Beijing. Kissinger badly wanted the assignment, but Nixon wasn't ready to offer it, and seemed to take perverse pleasure in toying with him, raising the names of other people as possible envoys.
Kissinger's demands for influence and attention incensed Nixon, who occasionally talked about firing him. Watergate made this impossible. Nixon's need to use Kissinger and foreign policy to counter threats of impeachment made Kissinger an indispensable figure in a collapsing administration. The balance of power shifted massively and irrevocably.