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Why America needs the Genius Richard Nixon
James D Evans

To protect the world, America needs to keep a reign on any major changes, but the world is too volatile for this to work

All that maybe required of Genius is the will to declare "I am a Genius". The very idea of Nixon going that far, doing the full Dali thing and openly declaring the supererogatory of his intellect, is probably a tad invective. Still, it is commonly acknowledged by those who make a living from pondering such matters that Richard Milhaus Nixon was one of the most profoundly intellectual of all American Presidents, and what’s more he probably knew it.

Not necessarily the primary requisite for the job, a hindrance possibly, but one could not deny that a certain degree of imaginative thinking has been somewhat lacking amongst the annals of power just lately. Hey Tricky Dicky, what would you have done in the wake of 9/11?

I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have mapped out a hit list of so called rogue nations, entitle it "The Axis of Evil" and then embark on an invasion fest with the pomposity with which Bush and his cronies have. Seriously, the temerity of the Bush administration is truly astounding. Of this I would not care if policy was executed with a degree of imagination or clandestinity, for to deny that a government should not act in it self-interest is as naïve as Americas presumption that Europe was ‘obliged’ to stand behind it when they first presented their case for deposition to the United Nations. Maybe Powell was not so smart insisting they go through the legal channels. After all, Clinton went into Somalia and the Balkans without consulting the UN and nobody batted an eyelid. Rumsfield knew this, yet this does not honour the man.

But this is not the issue. When half the world marched for peace in the lead up to the war it was out of exasperation over American ‘method’, not because anybody gave a damn about the potential death of a couple thousand Ba’ath party soldiers (as long as the civilian casualties are kept to the requisite minimum right?)
Iraq? It might as well have been Cuba. Which is interesting in itself because the last time the USofA was faced with such stern condemnation was during Vietnam. And then public opinion forced a far more pragmatic man than Bush into making his situation far worse. Watergate, the secret bombing, it doesn’t really matter, Nixon’s war effort was doomed from the start. Choose any scapegoat - Kennedy, Lyndon B, the first genuine Democratic Revolution, the Cold war? The fact is Nixon had to withdraw a huge amount of troops and ground support because the electorate demanded it. It was the huge loss of American life that was turning people off the war. Nothing unreasonable about that, but the only way left to go then was secret bombing and the vain hope that the South Vietnamese might somehow get their act together. The blood of 2 million Cambodians on the hands of a generation of hippies.

So what relevance then does the half-paralysed denouement of Richard Nixon’s presidency have today? Forget Vietnam and Watergate for the moment and look at President Nixon’s standing in the world at the time of his near impeachment. The man had visited China, signed treaties with Russia, was of close acquaintance with De Gaulle. Christ, imagine that, the French and American heads of state on best buddy terms. But more importantly he had clout when dealing with countries of polar ideology. Unlike Bush, Nixon never feigned empathy with his foreign adversaries, but instead afforded them self-interest. Bush either doesn’t realise, or doesn’t care, that when dealing with men like Saddam Hussein you have to engage with the issue of ego. By publicly bribing the man you are giving him very little choice but to resist, or at least avoid the direct issue as, ultimately, he did. Every attempt at entreaty is implacably paralysed by some inexorable term or condition. It’s simple playground politics and it is worrying that America seeks to engage with the world on these terms. By making such narrow demands on other countries Bush marginalises himself and this failure to see any way other than ‘the American way’ ( read – the righteous way of "God Almighty") makes American policy, whether he likes it or not, racist by definition.

It was Nixons absence of patronisation that allowed him to open China and embark on a long and relatively successful post-White House career as an emissary and diplomat. It was his good sense to go easy on the Christian rhetoric, save it for winning votes in Texas or Florida. Or the will to go the other way and be ruthless, despite the fact that democracy is supposed to prevent a leader from doing so, it’s achilles’ heel if you will. How can you bargain with a dictator when you are limited by constitutional power and he is not? Nixon found various ways around this, for example his theory of ‘Tri-lateral diplomacy’ (What’s that Donald? Sounds like something you do down the gym.) By linking deals with nations to provisos with others Nixon played three-dimensional chess with world leaders. Letting on to Chairman Mao that you’ve got an appointment with Brezhnev later that month – suddenly Mao gets agitated. He’s getting pally with your enemy. What’s his game?

Forget right and wrong, there’s no such thing anyway, only majority rule. Nixon invents ‘The Nixon Doctrine’ because he knows North Vietnam thinks he’s restricted by public opinion. Of course he is but ‘The Nixon doctrine’ states categorically that no troops will be involved - he’ll just bomb the hell out of Charlie instead, something that he’s already been doing in secret for some time you understand. Of course it’s pretty much totally immoral but then morality is not the concern of foreign policy. And imagine how freaked out the American public must have been when he announced on TV that the bombing of Viet Cong enclaves in Cambodia was "… the Nixon Doctrine in it’s purest from".

What would people do if Prime Minister Blair made such self-gratifying remarks? Once the laughter had subsided they may well consider that Tony had finally gone insane. Nixon had a total Caesar complex but it enabled him to be taken seriously overseas when pursuing his policy of linkage. His enemies knew what he was capable of. Indeed with demilitarisation it could be seen that America was leading the way with compromise, and yet his adversaries, knowing he was doing the opposite would then, at last, learn to fear ‘the mad man Richard Nixon.’
The Genius of that… or at least in the context of the my move/your move games that Bush and, ironically considering his political persuasion, Kennedy have/did make their hallmark.

Even Europe follows a more dialectic approach, free from this puritanical 'End of Days' neuroses that permeates throughout the whole English speaking world. This unnatural Protestant work ethic that seeks to regulate and control our way of thinking, convinced of it’s own precocity. This idea that everyone chases the same utopia. So if you can’t get France and Germany to tow the line, how the hell can you expect the rest of the world to? When you say to a fundamentalist ‘do this or else, it’s for the best’ it’s a statement of persecution. America calls it the War against Terror but really it’s empire default, John Wayne style. John Gaddis pointed out that "Empires can arise by invitation… as well as by the impositions of those who would deny it."* By the mere fact that America has emerged from the post cold war era the worlds strongest power and has sought to maintain, nay, capitalise, on its position without the means of colonisation fits the Lundestad model of the Defensive Empire. That is to say its power is never openly enforced upon other states as it would be within the colonial archetype. But now we see a government that feeds off ultra-Republican think tanks that dictate the world needs to be like this. And what’s more they are quite open about this fact. Yet in being so surely it defeats the whole object?

If people know that America has every intention of maintaining the social and economic status-quo then isn’t the rest of the world more likely to resist it? It’s a Catch 22 in the classic sense. To protect the world, America needs to keep a reign on any major changes, but the world is too volatile for this to work. Nixon would know this. World order is not an equation and sometimes you have to roll with the punches, maybe let things get a little out of control, so you can reclaim the moral high ground in the aftermath and reap the rewards (Like riding a wild animal?). You play the power game and wait for your moment. The current presidency is laying their cards out on the table. There maybe nothing wrong with those cards depending on your point of view, but they are vulgar, pompous arrogant cards, upon them the designs of a New World order where America chooses who cuts the pack. It seems that Bush and Co. are interpreting Nixons maxim too literally, that "When the President does it, that means it not illegal." The thing is Nixon said this after the fact.

(* Taken from "The Emerging Post Revisionist Synthesis on the Origins of the Cold War" –
John Lewis Gaddis.)

© James Evans October 2003

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