- Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969
This is a collection of articles by seventeen historians that were first presented at a conference at Ohio State University in December 2006 focusing on how U.S. foreign policy fared under the pressures of the late 1960s and 1970s. The contributors include long-established scholars (Fredrik Logevall, Robert Schulzinger, Francis Gavin) as well as more recent analysts of the Nixon administration's policies (Jeremi Suri, Michael Cotey Morgan) plus some non-American scholars (Robert Bothwell, Jussi Hanhimäki, Margaret MacMillan). Almost all of the authors make use of primary sources in their analyses, and several use archives outside the United States.
In a secretly recorded April 1973 conversation with presidential assistant John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon commented: "Whatever legacy we have, hell it isn't going to be in getting a cesspool for Winnetka." Nixon was partly correct and partly wrong: Foreign policy affected his legacy, but Watergate did too. His friend Clare Booth Luce once said that Nixon's legacy would be summarized succinctly: "He went to China." Nixon himself thought that he would be remembered for two things: the opening to China and Watergate, which he called "that silly, silly thing." The contributors to the volume, particularly David Greenberg, highlight the "cesspool" not of Winnetka but of Watergate: "To understand his foreign policy, one has to understand the man who brought us Watergate" (p. 46). Dominic Sandbrook notes that Watergate had a threefold impact: on the institution of the presidency, the fall of South Vietnam, and the demise of détente.
But the cesspool of Watergate is not the only underside of the Nixon administration that is evident in this book. Nixon comes across as profane, prejudiced, cynical, paranoid and power hungry. This image of Nixon will not surprise anyone who has looked through the Nixon papers at the U.S. National Archives or the recently transferred collections at the Nixon Library, but it will perhaps be eye-opening to non-specialists. Consider, for example, how Nixon summed up South Asia: "The Pakistanis are straightforward—and sometimes extremely stupid. The Indians are more devious, sometimes so smart that we fall for their line" (p. 251).
Although Henry Kissinger is not the main focus of the book, his image is not helped by it because he comes across as sycophantic and reflects Nixon's prejudices. Unlike Robert Dallek's outstanding study of the complex relationship between the two men, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), this volume does not shed much light on one of the more curious relationships of recent American politics.
The book contains chapters on several frequently analyzed subjects, including U.S. grand strategy, the selling of détente, and U.S. policy toward Vietnam, China, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jussi Hanhimäki contends that the Nixon-Kissinger grand design "was not a revolutionary shift from earlier policies" and that its central objective was the containment of Soviet power and influence. Other contributors in [End Page 164] the volume, however, note that the Nixon-Kissinger strategy was based on a tripolar rather than a bipolar view of the international system.
Some of the contributors venture down less well-traveled paths and discuss the Nixon-Kissinger policies toward Canada, Ostpolitik, the Helsinki Final Act, South Asia, Latin America, and the economic shocks of August 1971. Perhaps one reason that many analysts have not focused on some of these topics was Nixon's lack of attention: "Latin America," he said, "doesn't matter. People don't give one damn about Latin America. The only thing that matters in the world is Japan, China, Russia, and Europe" (p. 269).
The major criticism that I have of the book is the absence of a conclusion. Despite the amount of attention devoted to the Nixon-Kissinger policies and the hundreds of articles and books devoted to the subject, this volume offers a fresh perspective, and it would have been helpful to include a conclusion that would summarize the major...