A review of 1999: Victory Without War, by Richard Nixon
At the outset let's admit that if this book had been published anonymously, there would be widespread demands that the unknown author run for president. In this election season of paltry pretenders, Nixon looms Gulliver-like above all claimants; he understands the conduct of foreign affairs perhaps as well as any president since Theodore Roosevelt. The Nixonian understanding is especially remarkable for prudence, sobriety, flexibility, and clarity of vision, as this book demonstrates.
But Richard Nixon refuses to be weighed in the scale of the lilliputian claimants and post-Watergate occupants of the chief executive office, so diminished since 1974. "In the past forty years, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of great leaders- Churchill, de Gaulle, Adenauer, de Gasperi, Yoshida, Mao Tse-tung, and Chou En-lai. Gorbachev is in that league. Only a heavyweight should get into the ring with him" (p. 27).
It is to Churchill in particular that Nixon looks for inspiration and comparison. Quotations from Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri, virtually bracket the book (pp. 19 and 321). Moreover, Nixon's design of "integrat[ing] the world's three rising power centers [viz., Western Europe, Japan, and the People's Republic of China] into a broad coalition to deter Soviet aggression and create a stronger world order" (p. 195) invokes Churchill's vision of a grand defensive alliance of European states, including Soviet Russia, for common protection against Nazi Germany's aggressive intentions (vid. esp. "The Choice for Europe," May 9, 1938). Nixon wants to be measured by the standard of great statesmanship. By analyzing this comprehensive book, we will see whether he measures up to that standard.
The former president has certainly concluded that the current president does not measure up. The international failures of the Reagan White House are a major, if subdued, theme of 1999, as the first quotation above suggests. Hoping to avoid shocking his primarily conservative readers, Nixon carefully scatters his criticisms. The depth of his critique comes to sight by reassembling his scattered observations.
The "super-hawks" of Reagan's first term naively tried to isolate the Soviet Union economically and risked a U.S.-Soviet war by refusing to negotiate. Reagan's "bellicose anti-Soviet speeches" frightened our European allies. The Soviet gas pipeline embargo of 1982 was a fiasco which damaged the Western alliance more than it injured the Soviet economy. Politics, not strategy, dictated Reagan's repeal of the grain embargo. The President elevated a mere "applause line" about eliminating all nuclear weapons to the level of presidential policy, and confused public opinion about the real aim of arms talks. Reagan was trapped into the quickie summit at Reykjavik which threatened Western security interests, shocked our Western allies, and almost disarmed America. He has oversold the Strategic Defense Initiative as a "perfect defense" and caused Congress to cut funding for an "unrealistic" goal. The Iran-Contra fiasco became a "debacle" because it was ineptly executed. Gorbachev turned the tables on the United States by unexpectedly accepting Reagan's "zero option" INF proposal, thereby scoring political points with the Europeans and furthering U.S. separation from our NATO allies. Reagan apparently never established a "back-channel" to the Soviet leaders despite the need for unofficial communications to avoid deadlock or conflict. The Reagan administration allowed arms reduction to dominate U.S.-Soviet negotiations without linking cuts to the issue of Soviet global aggression. President Reagan's inability to control his own staff resulted in administration officials encouraging euphoria after Gorbachev's visit to Washington in December 1987. Contrary to President Reagan's assertion, there is no evidence that Gorbachev has changed the U.S.S.R.'s traditional foreign policy goal of global dominance. Some in the administration have tried to "impose our views about abortion" on Red China, which faces overpopulation problems (pp. 44, 58-61, 69-71, 87, 89-90, 109, 168-169, 177, 179, 182, 190-191, 203, 208, 211, 217-218, and 258).
Most stinging of all is Nixon's skepticism concerning Reagan's claim to have restored America's pride, which deserves to be quoted at length:
[N]ational pride not tempered by adversity is sterile. National pride that lacks awareness of our international responsibilities is empty. National pride without the impulse to share that of which we are so proud is selfish. Too often what we have called a restoration of national pride has been no more than complacent, comfortable smugness. Real pride comes not from avoiding the fray but from being in the middle of it, fighting for our principles, our interests, and our friends.
It will take more than a few successful but relatively minor military missions like the invasion of Grenada and the raid on Libya to build lasting new confidence in the United States among Americans and our friends and allies abroad (p. 20).
These are not the only criticisms, and there is praise for some Reagan foreign initiatives as well, but this long bill of particulars adds up to a devastating indictment of our popular conservative president by his unpopular conservative predecessor. Unpopularity (the malicious would say envy) has proven to be Nixon's spur to honesty: he has nothing to lose by calling attention to the foolish and incoherent, supposedly anti-Soviet policy of the Reagan administration.
Nixon repeatedly expresses his preference for a less strident anti-Soviet rhetoric. He argues that Reagan's crusading language cannot be matched with deeds and is therefore misleading and dangerous. The Soviet Union has become so powerful in the last three decades that it can no longer be forced to comply with our wishes.
This is not to say that the "superpower" contest for supremacy will go on forever. A winner will emerge eventually. Nixon's opinion seems to be that the West cannot force the issue because the very meaning of "victory" has been transformed.
Victory in the First World War meant, as Calvin Coolidge once said, "getting the world forever rid of the German idea," but that objective included the disappearance of the defeated German empire as a political entity. Similarly, in World War Two, Churchill and Roosevelt fought to defeat National Socialism as an idea, and consequently the Nazi regime was obliterated. But with respect to the Soviet enemy:
We seek not victory over any other nation or people but the victory of the idea of freedom over the idea of totalitarian dictatorship. . . . We seek victory for the right of all people to be free from political repression. We seek victory over poverty and misery and disease wherever they exist in the world (p. 24; emphasis added).
The victory without war to come by 1999 is the result of prolonged ideological struggle. Nixon's explanation of victory is unpolitical and unpersuasive. Such a victory would be both easier and more difficult than the traditional kind. On the one hand, we need not fight a major war-although limited military actions must not be ruled out. On the other hand, we need to accomplish in eleven years what men of the past have barely dreamt of: the conquest of poverty, disease, even misery; and the defeat, not just of a particular dictatorial ruler or political regime, but of the very idea of totalitarianism. Even granting such a victory were possible, the West is nowhere near possessing the ideological equipment it would need to have confidence in the outcome.
But Nixon cannot intend his description to be taken literally. The West is militarily weak, as he will argue, and is not capable of regaining superiority. The West's strength, however, lies in its technological and scientific progress-progress supported by economic and political freedom that cannot be matched by the Soviet bloc. Nixon argues that the Soviets are regressing economically while the West pulls ahead. The goal of victory without war means that time is on the side of the free world, and that our ability to master the age-old problems of poverty, illness, and so on will become ever more clear and decisive. The Nixon strategy amounts to buying time, via arms negotiations, to forestall a Soviet first strike. Given enough time, the West can pull so far ahead economically that the communist world will have no choice but to give up its totalitarian dream.
The three policy pillars of this strategy are deterrence, competition, and negotiation, to each of which Nixon devotes a chapter. The necessary condition for victory is the establishment of "real peace," a need so critical that Nixon has written an entire book on the subject and returns to it again and again in 1999. The need for "real peace" is so crucial that the chapter which ostensibly treats the issue of military deterrence simply lays the foundation for his subsequent discussion of arms negotiations. Nixon never seriously considers that the purpose of military capability is to fight. He comes close to saying that the reason for having military power is to strengthen our bargaining position with Moscow-as if the whole Pentagon were a bargaining chip in the negotiations game.
One reason Nixon towers above every political player on the American stage today is that, unlike them, he clearly recognizes that the Soviet Union is an offensive power while the United States is defensive. Nixon cannot be accused of believing in simple-minded equivalence, knowing that a Soviet Union with nuclear superiority threatens war while U.S. nuclear superiority guarantees peace. But the United States allowed the Soviets to attain parity and then surpass us. "For the last two decades the Soviet Union has been racing [to build arms], and the United States has not left the starting line" (p. 71). As president for six of those twenty years, Nixon implies that he shares the blame.
Nixon believes that it is impossible for the United States to recover nuclear superiority but quite possible for the Soviet Union to achieve it. That the U.S. possesses the economic resources is not in question (p. 165). But we are at a disadvantage from weak political leadership and popular unwillingness to sacrifice (p. 69). The reader cannot help wondering whether his praise of democracy is merely for narrow rhetorical purposes (cf. pp. 101-2). If democracies are inherently weak in comparison to totalitarian dictatorships, we must ask whether Nixon's program of substituting negotiations for military superiority is the remedy which a great statesman would administer to overcome that weakness.
This is not to deny that Nixon's support for military strength is clear. He favors deploying more MX missiles. And while he scorns the idea that strategic defense weapons can create a perfect "space shield" for the entire population, he nevertheless advocates early construction of the ABM base at Grand Forks, North Dakota, as permitted by his ABM Treaty. He is also prepared to suspend that treaty if we determine that strategic defenses are needed for our national security and the Soviets will not renegotiate (p. 85).
The book's longest chapter consists of sixty pages on the subject of competition with Moscow. Nixon favors selective use of the Reagan doctrine of support for liberation movements within the Soviet empire. He argues-against all conventional opinion today-that the United States must have the will to use its own military power "surgically and selectively in crucial conflicts," and that we will be "routed" by the Soviets if we lack that will (p. 106). Like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Nixon distinguishes authoritarian from totalitarian regimes and calls for supporting the former when a democratic opposition is unavailable which, unfortunately, is frequently the case in Third World nations (pp. 126-27).
If American military forces were to intervene in Nicaragua, for example, Nixon is confident that they would "prevail, and prevail quickly" (p. 133). But he argues that the occupation period would exceed six years since no alternative government exists. If the Arias peace plan fails-events have moved quickly since the book was completed-Nixon recommends using American forces to "quarantine" the Sandinista government to block further shipments of Soviet and Cuban equipment, with the intention not of toppling the government but of preventing it from expanding beyond the national borders. Nixon also calls for "a new version of the Monroe Doctrine" to prohibit Latin American satellites of foreign governments from subverting other Western Hemisphere nations.
The most interesting proposal for competing with the Soviet Union lies in Eastern Europe. Nixon asserts that the communist rulers of nations within the Soviet orbit "have a desperate desire" to be accepted as legitimate and that this is their "central preoccupation." Gorbachev's glasnost will weaken Moscow's hold on these colonies and, unless real reform lakes place, Eastern Europe will inevitably experience a "political earthquake" before the end of this century.
That expectation leads our former president to offer an agenda which is troubling, to say no more. What we must work for is a "Finlandized" string of Eastern European countries aligned with neither the Soviet Union nor the United States. Therefore we cannot assist freedom fighters nor internal movements that would be openly hostile to Moscow. The West must remain militarily strong against the East bloc, yet we must seek to relax tensions with the Kremlin on the ground that this "undermines the rationale for communist governments" (p. 152; cf. p. 217). Trade and cultural exchanges with Eastern Europe should be increased. We must help reform-minded communist leaders with improved economic relations. Nixon cites examples of such "reformers"-Tito, Nagy, Gomulka, Hoxha, Ceaucescu, Dubcek, Gierek, Kadar-all of whom (except possibly the last), to the contrary, demonstrate the hopelessness of any possibility of genuine reform in communist governments. Every one of the nations governed by these "reformers" remains firmly within the Soviet orbit.
More troubling yet is Nixon's call to extend this agenda for reform to the Soviet Union itself, in an effort to encourage "decentralization of power" within that country. He proposes giving most-favored-nation trading status to the Soviets "as our relations improve" (p. 180). He asserts that reform in a totalitarian regime is possible: "While change comes at an excruciatingly slow pace, it does occur-and we must seek to affect the direction it takes" (p. 156). This assertion is given without proof, for indeed none could be adduced.
On the other hand, Nixon also supports the intensification of U.S. radio-and, soon, satellite television-broadcasts to the many national peoples inside the Soviet Union-not to stimulate revolt but to "encourage these peoples to press for their national rights" (p. 158).
It is difficult to see how these tactics can be pursued simultaneously. Either foreign broadcasts will generate demands for political change or they will not. If not, they have no significant value. If they do cause restlessness, tensions with the Kremlin will rise, leading to renewed internal repression all over the empire. Nixon seems to propose opposite strategies to affect the Soviet bloc, but such a foreign policy would lack coherence and effect.
Nixon is at his most self-assured in discussing negotiations with Moscow. "Detente" was the hallmark of the Nixon Presidency, and despite his claim that the expression is now meaningless (p. 62), his prescription remains focused on negotiation based or "a new live-and-let-live relationship with the Soviet Union" (p. 23). Because some conservatives have argued that negotiations with the Soviets are dangerous and that the "process" per se favors the enemy Nixon offers five reasons for continuing talks:
(1) It would be "irresponsible" for the "super powers" not to explore the means to avoid nuclear war.
(2) The American people will not support deterrence or competition without a complementary policy which tries to reduce the risk of nuclear war.
(3) The Western European peoples now fear nuclear warfare more than Soviet aggression, and the NATO alliance will collapse if they conclude that Gorbachev is more committed to peace than the United States.
(4) Shrewd diplomacy can yield positive gain for the West.
(5) The relaxation of tensions in itself helps to divide the Eastern bloc.
Nixon does not meet the following objections to his arguments:
Regarding point (1), the Soviet Union has no sense of "responsibility" to anyone or anything except its ultimate goal of worldwide communist imperium.
(2) Treaties reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons may increase rather than decrease the probability of nuclear conflict.
(3) If Nixon's argument is correct, the NATO alliance has lost its rationale in any case. A great American statesman might instead try to convince Europeans as well as Americans that the best way to assure peace is to be so well armed that the Soviets dare not initiate either nuclear or conventional war.
(4) With no electorate to answer to, the Soviet leadership will never initial any agreement which leaves them relatively weaker than before.
(5) Solzhenitsyn, Shcharansky, and other Soviet dissidents have argued that Moscow increases internal repression during thaws in U.S.-Soviet relations.
Nixon's chapter on negotiating with Moscow is filled with prudent advice and maxims which any president would do well to heed: use unofficial personal presidential representatives as well as official channels; talk secretly but announce agreements openly; link U.S. concessions to Soviet geopolitical restraint; don't try to "charm" Soviet leaders into improving state relations; don't attend sudden, unprepared summits; never negotiate against deadlines; don't make arms control the only subject of negotiation; regularize summit meetings on an annual basis to avoid the exaggerated expectations and implicit deadlines of unscheduled summits.
It is revealing that Nixon relegates to a brief paragraph what might be considered the key to all negotiations between enemies: "It is a geopolitical axiom that you cannot win more at the conference table than you can win on the battlefield" (p. 177). Reflection on this axiom should have led Nixon to put far greater emphasis on the need for increasing our military strength and far less on the futile vision of a "victory without war," via talks, at a time of growing relative U.S. weakness (cf. pp. 68 and 76: The Soviets have "overwhelming superiority" in conventional forces, and for twenty years the U.S. "has been slipping toward nuclear inferiority"). Nixon's own axiom undermines his implicit assumption that the West, which lacks military superiority, can hope to defeat the totalitarian idea-much less a well-armed totalitarian regime-with talks.
A trio of chapters follows on Western Europe, Japan, and Red China respectively. These "rising power centers" should be integrated into a coalition designed to deter Soviet aggression (p. 195). Since Western Europe, Japan, and the United States together produce two thirds of the world's economic wealth, their economic weight combined in "a single geopolitical strategy" would win the Cold War (p. 223). 1999 would be a more valuable book if this Churchillian proposal had been elaborated. Nixon's careful observations about these power centers gain perspective in the light of that strategy.
It must be said that Nixon is one of the strongest proponents of NATO today, when many conservatives are counseling American force reduction or withdrawal (p. 206). Nixon, unlike isolationists on the right and the left, never forgets that "Europe is still the major geopolitical target of the Kremlin" (p. 207). But Europe's morale has been "corroded" by nuclear fear, and the corrosion was worsened by the shock of President Reagan's "nuclear-free fantasy" proposed at Reykjavik.
Nixon takes this opportunity to denounce the "irresponsible" claim of some that nuclear deterrence is "immoral." When nuclear offensive weapons are needed to prevent aggression and avoid surrender, according to Nixon the morality of the goal justifies the use of "the best means practically available" (p. 211.)
It is essential for NATO to strengthen its conventional defenses and integrate its forces rather than relying too heavily on an increasingly uncertain U.S. nuclear deterrent Nixon also advises the Europeans, with their years of world historical experience, to expand their role in defending the West's common global interests, as the French have done to a limited extent. His strictures regarding NATO seem to be designed to increase the Europeans' pride and self-reliance, which can only benefit the cause of freedom.
Nixon frankly states a threat to U.S.-Japanese relations rarely acknowledged openly by political leaders: despite the mutual benefits of trade, many Americans still hold Japan accountable for Pearl Harbor, just as many Japanese resent the American nuclear bombardment and post-war occupation. These resentments, he fears, are being aggravated by "bitter economic disagreements" which threaten to damage the critical bilateral relationship. Nixon argues that Japan is not primarily responsible for the U.S. trade deficit. The Japanese can hardly be blamed for following the path of commercialization laid down by the American occupiers after the war and then "outcompeting" us in electronics.
As with the NATO nations, Nixon advises Japan to assume the responsibilities of the great power it is becoming, especially by developing its conventional military forces to defend itself against Soviet conventional capacities. Japan's non-nuclear military power should be sufficient "to make a Soviet invasion too costly to contemplate" (p. 232).
Nixon's 1980 book, The Real War, called Communist China "the awakening giant." Eight years later, the giant is fully "awakened." Surely Nixon's proudest achievement as President was the opening to mainland China, the very thought of which was off limits to every previous occupant of the White House. Ever since the 1960s, Nixon claims to have believed that the People's Republic of China and the United States had an overriding interest in deterring Soviet aggression. The central problem of this chapter is the effect of China's Marxist-Leninist principles on relations with the United States. Nixon repeatedly denies that "profound philosophic differences," ideology, or lack of shared ideals can be allowed to bar a relationship which should be increasingly close. Indeed we should become a "partner" in the development of that communist state. "Survival," Nixon told Hua Guofeng in 1976, must be the choice over "ideology." Hua agreed (pp. 244 and 246).
Both nations can prosper by economic trade and cooperation, and Red China can be helped to remain independent-"not necessarily pro-Western, but definitely not pro-Soviet" (p. 246). Throughout this chapter Nixon does not deny, but rather emphasizes, that the Chinese leaders do not intend to jettison their communist ideology. Deng Xiaoping wants neither democracy nor capitalism in China. Rather, he wants "a strong China" capable of becoming a "superpower" in the next century. Nixon seems to believe that if China's free-market economic reforms are successful in raising productivity, political reform will be forced as well. That assertion resembles his earlier claim that totalitarian dictatorship in the U.S.S.R. can be transformed.
These claims lack both empirical evidence and theoretical support; they depend ultimately on an internal conviction about, or faith in, the rational process of "history." An American statesman considering Nixon's counsel would have to ask himself whether the United States would be wise to become a partner in the strengthening of a potentially global power ideologically committed, as all Marxist-Leninist regimes must be, to the destruction of the principles of equality and liberty which give America its unique meaning. Even granting that the current "dedicated communist" Chinese leaders are friendly to the U.S., what rationale is there for supposing that the next generation will never return to the fold of their ideological Soviet soulmates, especially in the light of Gorbachev's newfound economic and political flexibility? We will have done worse than sell them the rope to hang us-we will have shown them how to make the rope and built for them their first rope factory!
Nixon is well aware that U.S. officials since Franklin Roosevelt's administration have been deluded by Stalin and his successors into believing that fundamental political reforms were taking place in the Soviet regime (ch. 2, especially pp. 29-30 and 44). Is it to be expected that the Marxist-Leninist successors to Mao, the disciple of Stalin, ruling a land with an ancient reputation for diplomatic cleverness, do not know how to delude the relentlessly optimistic American leaders?
Nixon seems to deny the great difference between a temporary wartime alliance like that against Hitler and a long term partnership of regimes holding hostile principles. He fails to see the true threat such a partnership poses to the commitment of a democratic people to the principles of freedom.
The last chapter of 1999 rises above the rest. The former nine chapters concern action we must take to meet the challenge of creating a "safer, more fret, and more prosperous" twenty-first century (p. 323). The final chapter is an instruction to America's political leaders on how to inspire Americans to want to meet that challenge. If 1999 is Nixon's most comprehensive statement of his "lifetime of study and on-the-job training in foreign policy" (p. 323), his last chapter represents his deepest reflections on the political principles which should animate a proper U.S. foreign policy. This chapter at once demonstrates his superiority to his lilliputian peers and the confusion and error in his ultimate views which prove to be responsible for his mistaken advice in treating with Marxist regimes.
The study of "our history" reveals what is special about America. Unlike many "superficial observers," Nixon understands that the Founders, who talked about "a new order of the ages," based their Constitution on a combination of ideas derived from Judeo-Christian, classical, and medieval principles as well as from John Locke. The framers were not Utopians; they drew their "idealism" and "pragmatism" from old ideas in order to produce "a new idea, superior to any one or to the sum of its parts." So far as this goes, Nixon's reading of the Founders accords with common sense and indeed can be verified by simply reviewing the thought and writings of that generation.
But Nixon says more. If the decisive question for every regime is its purpose or final end, then, according to our former president, the Founders accepted the position of the modern political philosophers that the end of the political order is liberation from fear- particularly fear of violent death. They applied in practice Spinoza's statement that "the last end of the state is . . . to set free each man from fear . . ." (although there are few if any mentions of Spinoza or his ally, Hobbes, in the Founder's writings). They were concerned to balance equality with liberty. The practical men who wrote our Constitution leavened their "conservatism" with "compassion"; they believed in "moral and spiritual values" and would have been "appalled" by the selfish materialism prevalent in capitalist countries today. But mightn't we ask whether the generation which described natural rights as "self-evident truths," about which reasonable and educated men could not disagree, would not be far more appalled to learn that American presidents degrade those truths at the heart of the American democratic experiment to the level of mere tastes, or value judgments?
In his depreciation of human virtues and political principles into "moral and spiritual values," Nixon draws the inevitable conclusion implied by the premises of modern thinkers such as Spinoza who made radical freedom the end of the political order. Moreover, since radical freedom is the final end of regimes based on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, Nixon has entangled the purposes of our regime with those of our communist enemies. In this light it is clear why he and Hua could sincerely agree on the choice of "survival" over "ideology."
"American idealism," Nixon believes, is the core of our foreign policy. The fact that Americans do not know how to act with "the cold cynicism of Old World Realpolitik is both a great strength and a great weakness. Perhaps Nixon's deepest insight-but one which does not, unfortunately, sustain the arguments of the book-is to recognize that our national interest can be served only "when we believe that what we do is right" (p. 306). He evidently considers it to be his task to move U.S. foreign policy closer to the Realpolitik of the Old World . . . presumably without the Old World's cynicism. On this showing,Realpolitik need not be inconsistent with moral principle. The United States has no choice but to remain committed "to be an active force for good in the world" in order to "keep faith with its founding principles" (p. 309). What, then, is thatgood to which we must be committed? Evidently it must be something other than affirmation of our "values."
1999 both opens and concludes with a nearly unqualified praise of progress in technology and science-especially in the fields of medicine, electronics, computerization, and space exploration. In step with the advance of science has come the almost universal triumph of the democratic idea. We face two resulting problems. First, the "mindless" opposition of the adversaries of technological progress must be overcome. Second, politics must be made to keep pace with material progress; otherwise we might find ourselves faced with "total destruction" by the instruments of progress. Remaking the political world, however, cannot mean imposing our "values" on other peoples. But Nixon claims to reject the "intellectually sterile doctrine of moral relativism" on the ground that "we deeply believe in our values" (p. 314). He seems to have confused the intensity of subjective conviction with the reasoned defense of moral truth.
Our philosophical ideas rest on "our faith." But communism is also "a faith," although a "false faith" or "antifaith" (pp. 316-317). According to Nixon, no final answer to "the search for meaning in life" can ever be found, either in "the classics" or "in religion." He is certain, however, that materialism can be ruled out.
These final reflections have more depth than we are likely to find among the politicians of our age, yet they fall far short of that Brobdingnagian statesman of the last generation and Nixon's model, Churchill. He, too, explored the question of technological and scientific progress, most extensively in a sequence of three essays in Thoughts and Adventures (1932). There we find Churchill predicting nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, guided missiles, bacteriological warfare, genetic engineering, and "electromagnetic waves" similar to lasers. But Churchill had more reservations about the benefits and dangers of technology than Nixon. While admitting that a reversal of the advance of modern science would be "the catastrophe of unimaginable horror," Churchill almost says that technological progress has been driven by the impulse to war.
Churchill thought that the developments in biological science clearly presented the possibility that Soviet Russia, undeterred by anything in communist philosophy, might try to breed entire human races of great physical power but stunted mental capacity whose single fixed idea would be "to obey the Communist State." The laws of Christian civilization, Churchill thought, would bar the West from attempting similar experiments.
Churchill's long forebodings on science and technology conclude, however, that progress will prove to be a blessing if-but only if-subordinated to the eternal human questions, the answers to which "bring comfort to [man's] soul." The questions he has in mind include "Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Whither are we going?" Although he expressed great concern over possible biological manipulation of the mind and body of man, Churchill insisted that human nature is constant-"more constant than ant nature," as he put it. The movements of history, accordingly, merely underline the fixity of the nature of man.
Nixon disparages nature as a standard for moral or political actions. His three mentions of words denoting "nature" turn on the same lesson: that "conflict" is natural to man. The condition of perfect peace is a human impossibility. Like Churchill's conclusion that "the story of the human race is War," Nixon's opinion about the naturalness of conflict is healthy and essential to prudent statesmanship; but that opinion does not exhaust the significance of nature for morality or politics-witness the Declaration of Independence. Nature, according to the founders of our country, is the source of men's equal rights and political power as well as the basis of conflict.
Nixon, unlike Churchill and America's founders, appeals to history for guidance, it is not insignificant that, near his conclusion, Nixon quotes two of the most important historicists, Engels (apparently attributing to him Marx's eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, at p. 292) and Nietzsche (on "the last man," at p. 318), and then feels compelled to disavow the former's "philosophy" and the latter's "nihilism." At times Nixon seems almost obsessed with the desire to "make history." The book may even be described as a long argument proving that "history" is on the side of America and our idea of freedom. History is an imperative, we might say, because it is the means of distancing mankind from the natural condition of conflict. Given his Hobbesian world view, it is no surprise that Nixon's highest concern is the negotiation of treaties-i.e., social contracts between nations naturally in conflict. Nixon shares with Hobbes and Locke the fundamental proposition that real or temporary peace is necessary and possible, whereas perfect or permanent peace is neither.
One could say that Nixon pushes his understanding of foreign affairs as far as prudence without theoretical insight will allow. Nixon's one great weakness is his lack of interest in the particular principles which root regimes, a shortcoming which keeps reappearing. He demonstrates little grasp, for instance, of the reasons the Japanese resist the American penetration of their way of life to depths beyond crass commercialism. He is mystified by the unending India-Pakistan hostility in the face of widespread poverty and Soviet regional expansionism, never so much as mentioning the profound religious conflict which caused the separation in the 1940s. His observations on the Arab-Israeli conflict suffer from the same narrowness. And while he appreciates the significance of Moslem fundamentalism for the Ayatollah Khomeini's "revolution . . . against modern, Western values," Nixon cannot adequately oppose that revolution since democracy, like Islam and communism, is also merely "a faith."
On the showing of this book, Nixon's lifetime project has been the separation of ideals or rhetoric, on the one hand, from hard interests, on the other. Ideals such as democracy or communism divide nations; hard interests such as peace unite them. This separation appears, in Nixon's project, as tough-minded realism. Nixon never ceases to heap scorn on soft-headed liberals and pacifists who would choose to surrender rather than fight to defend freedom. But by treating the principles of democracy as rhetoric or mere "values," Nixon himself has surrendered the surest ground on which to resist. For when the West, the Soviet Union, and Red China can all agree that, despite their differing "values," they have a common interest in keeping peace, then peace-and not freedom or democracy or capitalism-has unavoidably become the most important principle of the community's life, as the pacifists have always maintained. As night follows day, Nixon's tough-minded realism opens the door to the left's softheadedness.
Nixon gives an account of his speech to a joint Congressional session upon returning from his "highly successful summit meeting in 1972" in Moscow. He told the Congress that a process had begun which might lead to a "lasting peace." But he warned that the Soviet leaders remained committed to an "ideology" which is hostile to "some of America's basic values." With that warning, he tried to prevent peace euphoria, yet the Congress and the media succumbed: "My words proved to be inadequate" (p. 189).
Because of his determination to separate peace and prosperity from "values" and "ideology," or interests from principles, his words for all their prudence will remain inadequate to the West's struggle for victory, with or without war.
We would be foolish not to acknowledge Richard Nixon's grasp of the international issues of our day. But knowledge and wisdom are different qualities. It seems that Churchill was right to doubt that excellent statesmanship could survive the mass effects of modern life in the absence of deep reflection on the problem of human nature.