Nixon's Foreign Policy

richard m. nixon as a U.S. President AP

Europe is "irrelevant," throwing U.S. weight around in the Caribbean and Latin America is a given, and Americans who oppose him are "confused and frustrated."

So say former President Richard Nixon and his closest confidant, Henry Kissinger, in papers released Monday by the National Archives. Only China's absolutist leaders seemed to win their unmitigated praise.

"We speak to no other country as frankly and openly as we do to you," Kissinger tells Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung in February 1973, a year after Nixon's breakthrough visit to that country.

The latest batch of Nixon papers to reach the public — nearly 110,000 pages — cover mostly national security issues.

They reveal Nixon and Kissinger as a mutually admiring pair whose views of the world veered from dark and pessimistic to clear-eyed and sympathetic — sometimes in the same meeting, sometimes in the same sentence.

Nixon and Kissinger closely cultivate and frequently consult with the United States' NATO allies, assuaging their early 1970s concerns about Soviet expansionism and stroking the egos of European leaders.

"We feel that you should take an active role in world affairs," Nixon tells British Prime Minister Edward Heath in a December 1971 meeting.

Just over a year later, Kissinger offhandedly dismisses the entire continent in a remark to Mao:

"What Europe thinks (of the Soviet Union) I am not able to judge. They cannot do anything anyway. They are basically irrelevant."

Elected governments in Latin America and the Caribbean are similarly dismissed. In his meeting with Heath, Nixon hopes to keep leftists from power in the Bahamas once it declares independence in Britain, and boasts that U.S. ally Brazil rigged the election in Uruguay to keep leftists out.

In Chile, he says: "The left is in trouble. There are forces at work which we are not discouraging." Not long after, Gen. Augusto Pinochet ousted Salvador Allende in a bloody CIA-assisted coup, and instituted a repressive regime that lasted until the late 1980s.

The admiration Nixon and Kissinger feel for one another emerges time and again. Nixon tells Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai that his national security adviser is a "philosopher;" Kissinger can't resist dropping references to the "eloquence" of his boss in otherwise dry minutes.

The frustration felt by other aides is often palpable. In a September 1972 meeting to discuss the consequences of a Palestinian terror attack at the Munich Olympics, Secretary of State William Rogers pleads with Kissinger to keep him informed.

Nixon veers from knowledgeable insights to dark philosophical ramblings in the same breath.

In his 1971 meeting with Heath, he sizes up the Soviets as "bargaining for everything they can get" in arms limitation talks, and accurately predicts they will sign on. The sentence doesn't finish, though, before he complains that "the media, the so-called intellectuals are against us." He calls his perceived political enemies "confused and frustrated." Kissinger chimes in, calling them "bankrupt."

No such nuisances dog the Chinese leaders. Nixon expresses unfettered admiration of Chinese power.

"We hope we have no necessity of facing you in battle," he tells Zhou after hearing tales of the Communist conquest of the country.

At times, the Chinese trump even the Nixon administration's domestic allies. Kissinger tells Mao that a trade bill that would allow Nixon executive powers to "raise and lower" tariffs is actually a "trick" that will dupe Congress into letting the president lower tariffs, something the Chinese keenly want.

Nixon and Kissinger relish their meetings with the Chinese as philosophical summits, and when Zhou recites a poem praising men who climb "perilous peaks," Nixon exclaims, "That's beautiful!"

A year later, Kissinger seems wounded when Mao mocks their differences as so much show business.

"You say, away with you Communists; we say, away with you imperialists," Mao says, laughing.

"I think both of us must be true to our principles," is Kissinger's sour reply.

Mao appears to be distracted by a political challenge mounted at the time by his wife, Jiang Qing, one of the architects of the Cultural Revolution that devastated China.

"What we have in excess is women," Mao says, discussing trade imbalances. "So if you want, we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands. Let them go to your place. They will create disasters. That way you can lessen our burden."

A Chinese female interpreter rebukes her leader — "If the minutes of this meeting were made public it would incur the public wrath on behalf of half the population," she says. Mao apologizes.

By Ron Kampeas
  • Lloyd Vries

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