from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Another Look at Nixon 

In the light of the revelation of the role of Mark Felt as "Deep Throat, perhaps it is time for a complete reevaluation of the presidency of Richard Nixon.  James Carroll, an op-ed writer for the Boston Globe, offers a partial glimpse in his column today, June 14, entitled Nixon's madman strategy.

Here are the first and last two sentences of Carroll's opening paragraph:

''I CALL IT the madman theory, Bob," Richard Nixon said to Robert Haldeman. . . .Various published tapes have put on display his vulgarity, pettiness, and prejudice and his regular drunkenness. But what has generated insufficient alarm is Nixon's insane flirtation with the actual use of nuclear weapons.

Here's the just the start of the paragraph which describes Nixon's "madman" actions:

From Oct. 10, 1969, through the rest of the month the US military was ordered to full global war readiness alert, without any provocation, and with no explanation to US commanders as to the alert's purpose. Nuclear armed fighter planes were dispersed to civilian airports, missile countdown procedures were initiated, missile-bearing submarines were dispersed, long-range bombers were launched, targeting was begun. On Oct. 27, in the climactic action designed to make it seem the madman was loose, the Strategic Air Command was ordered to dispatch B-52 bombers, loaded with thermonuclear weapons, toward the Soviet Union.

Here's part of the reason that what he did was incredibly risky:

Unbeknownst to Nixon, his ''madman" gamble coincided with a border dispute simmering just then between China and the Soviet Union. The two communist rivals were themselves approaching war footing, and Moscow already had reasons to be wary of America's tilt toward Beijing. Thus, when signals of an American nuclear countdown were picked up, Moscow would have had every reason to assume that the United States was preparing to attack in support of Beijing, perhaps launching a preemption of Moscow's own contemplated attack against China. The Soviets could have seen the American threat not as ''irrational," as Nixon intended, but as consistent with a reasonable strategic purpose.

A connection (?) between the two leaders:

Presumably, Nixon wanted a frightened Moscow to convince a frightened Hanoi to change its behavior in Paris as a way of heading off Washington's insanity. Rational Russians would save the world from crazy Americans. Come again?

If Leonid Brezhnev, that is, behaved as Richard Nixon did in October of 1969, the world would have been plunged into nuclear horror.  

Carroll's conclusion:

Watergate is a reminder of the primal fact that US presidents are flawed human beings. Because he presides over a nuclear arsenal, this otherwise common fact of the human condition makes each president like every leader of the nuclear-armed nations a threat to the Earth. The ''madman theory" proves the point: Nuclear weapons themselves are mad and must be abolished.

As usual, I suggest you go to the link above the fold and read the entire piece.  Let me offer a few brief comments of my own, and then also point you at two other op-ed pieces in today's Globe.

I'm not sure which is worse, Nixon's deliberate silence to appear as a a madman, or the policies of this administration, which has made public statements designed to imply both that we are willing to make a first use of nuclear weapons and that we are willing to use force in any circumstance we so choose whether or not it agrees with international law, agreements we have signed, or represents an action truly designed to protect American security.  Clearly we have an administration now that believes it should be the world's sole power able to bully others and is willing to use its current sole superpower status to preserve its ability to be an international bully.  For whatever faults he may have had, at the same time Nixon was playing the "madman" he was in the midst of a presidency in which he had made an attempt to lessen tensions with the Soviet Union  --  after all, it is under his presidency that SALT I was negotiated and the arms race was at least slowed: we no longer sought to outpace the USSR as we both attempted to end the madness of MAD (mutual assured destruction).  

Above I mentioned that there were two other op-eds in the Boston Globe worthy of a read.  The first, by Joan Vennochi, is entitled To a son who wants to serve , inspired by a recent conversation with her 16 year old, in which she explores the conflicting issues of opposition to the war, the parent's desire to keep the child safe, and the need for citizens willing to sacrifice themselves if a country is to remain free.

The other piece is by the peerless Tom Oliphant, entitled Promoting democracy, in which he explores a recent report on human rights prodcued by a group co-chaired by Madeline Albright and Vin Weber.  Let me offer the concluding 3 short paragraphs to give you a sense:

The classic example, the report shows, may be occurring in Egypt. Beginning last year, when Mubarak visited Bush in Texas, the United States pushed him hard to open up his country's election process. Sure enough, Mubarak took steps to permit opposition candidates to emerge in his own reelection campaign. However, the report underlines how the fine print of the new rules excludes important elements of Egypt's civic life and was completed before thugs mobilized by Mubarak's political organization beat up opposition activists while Laura Bush was in the country praising the country's ''progress."

Promoting democracy, the report shows, will require opening the doors to organizations that are Islamist but nonviolent. The tragedies that unfolded in Iran 25 years ago and in Algeria more than a decade ago should not be excuses for a cynical view that democracy is automatically destabilizing. Nor can the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute be an excuse for inaction.

At its best, human rights is grubby, detailed work. What the Weber-Albright report demonstrates is that the United States is doing right, but that an effective effort to promote democracy has to be both bigger and smarter. The report will help the process in the Middle East. It would be nice if it also helped the process here as well.

NOTE  -- I think these three pieces are related, which is why I put my remarks about Vennochi and Oliphant in this diary.  Ultimately the actions taken by a president may well require the sacrifice of people willing to die if necessary for this nation, and thus it is relevant to connect Vennochi's piece to the one by Carroll.   And our continued support of strongman non-democratic governments which may be friendly to us now runs the risk of continuing to create enmity against this nation -- we saw it after the fall of the Shah, to cite just one example.

I couldn't sleep, so I did my online exploration of the Globe early this morning.  This diary is the result.

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