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“When It Is a Matter of Principle It Really Means Do It Their Way” March 10 to April 15, 1975 The spring of 1975 will not go down in history as a high point for American foreign relations. In Southeast Asia especially, the consequences of a generation of failed diplomacy came to a head, as Cambodia crumbled into chaos and South Vietnam fell to Communism . These events pushed Washington’s global policy to the fore of Bush’s thinking. He began to reconsider the tropes and truisms that had dominated his country’s foreign policy throughout the Cold War, in particular the reality of the domino theory. The notion that Communist states would of their very nature expand into neighboring countries had been widely disputed among America ’s foreign policy elite by the mid-1970s, but the events of these months made Bush reconsider. “The domino theory is alive and well,” he wrote in his journal— though it was not the knee-jerk tumbling of nations predicted by many Cold War hawks of earlier decades. On the contrary, Bush’s domino theory, as expressed in this chapter and the next, was more subtle and sophisticated—and quite revealing of the way he believed international relations functioned. For Bush, the real danger of nations falling to Communism was the effect their loss as allies might have on American credibility, and in turn on the way other nations then embroiled in the Cold War fight might hedge their bets, deciding to mend relations with Moscow and Beijing on the chance that Washington’s word was no longer to be fully valued. 193  C H A P T E R F I V E “As Cambodia weakens,” he wrote, “[and] as North Vietnam makes gains, many of our allies are compelled to move toward the PRC.” This fear of Washington’s crumbling credibility connected directly to his continuing anguish over Beijing’s harsh anti-American rhetoric, discussed yet again in these entries. If Washington did not stand up for its principles, if it did not rebuke such public attacks in the political arena while rebuffing Communist assaults against its allies, Bush lamented, then its position of leadership within the international community would ultimately be questioned , and the free world would truly be put at risk. Bush’s frustrations with Washington’s foreign policy combined with his ongoing disappointment with China’s leaders—who still largely refused to meet him halfway in his plan to improve personal contacts as a means of fostering better relations—to prompt him for the first time in his diary to consider directly his future after the presidential election of 1976. As the notes to this text suggest, Bush had considered his political future almost from the moment he arrived in Beijing. Friends and political allies frequently wanted to learn of his plans, as had Henry Kissinger during his own visit to China the previous November. But until this point, Bush had seemed, at least in the reflections he offered his diary, content with his political lot despite his evident ambition. By late March 1975, however, after half a year at the USLO, his frustrations began to bubble over, leading to a belief that “I should be planning a private life starting in ’76,” and also to withering attacks on China’s leadership . “The Chinese can be tough,” he recorded during these weeks. “They talk about principle. Their principles. And when it is a matter of principle it really means do it their way.” Later he remarked , “They are polite, they are strong, but they always talk about principle. And when they don’t want to give an answer they just obfuscate and sit there. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world.” These frustrations mounted in the early spring of 1975, though the weeks were not without their highlights. Bush hosted Speaker of the House Carl Albert and House Minority Leader John Rhodes, C H A P T E R F I V E 194 and his reaction to Albert’s unconventional style of diplomacy— and its potential effect on their Chinese hosts—is particularly noteworthy. So too is Bush’s critique of his own State Department, first for his nagging fear that the USLO was not the department’s first priority, despite China’s importance, and second because of its now-overt campaign against his frequent visitors and guests. The early spring of 1975 would prove daunting for Bush. He still clearly enjoyed his work and...


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MARC Record
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