Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Thank as always for that wonderful introduction and some of you in this audience have probably heard me say this before but it bears repeating. When I get this kind of nice introduction I always think back to when I got in the Soviet Union a number of years ago from somebody who I like to think had an imperfect command of English. He introduced by me saying Professor Dallek is the author of several distinguished works. They are the kinds of books that once you put them down you can't pick them up again. So not music to the author's ears. I would like to begin these talks with another anecdote, about my son when he was about five-years-old, he said to me one day daddy he said you are a doctor, aren't you? And I said, well yeah, but not like your doctor, not like your pediatrician. He said, well I know that because you are also an historian. I was delighted he could make this distinction in so tender an age. But then he wanted to know, does that mean that you make people in the past feel better? Let's see if I can make Nixon feel any better this evening. I doubt it I doubt it. In 1994-'95 I served as a Professor at Oxford and I was asked to debate a British historian by the name of John Chomley on the BBC about the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship. Chomley is a fierce anti-Churchill, anti-Roosevelt Conservative. He sees them as having destroyed the British Empire. And nothing else was at work except FDR as far as he was concerned. Well, we had a pretty fierce, as the host of this radio show said that was a good punch up between two academics. And we had a pretty fierce battle. And at one point we began talking about who had read more documents and two academics obviously. And he said, why I have read more documents than you ever will about this subject. And I said, you remind me of what Harry Truman said about Richard Nixon, he may have read the constitution but he sure as hell didn't understand it. That debate put me in mind of the fact that history is argument without end. There is always a debate; we don't have authoritative, definitive works on any subject. And yet, in spite of that, we try and answer questions. And we try and get at as much of the truth as we possibly can about the Presidential Administration or any great historical subject. Now the point which I will echo is that when I began this book I didn't know if I were going to be able to really carry it off. I had my doubts because this was an administration that was seen by many people, justifiably, as the most secretive in American Presidential history. Nixon had a reputation, of course, as a tricky Dick and that was in significant part warranted it. And so I went to the archives, where these Nixon materials I held out in on the University of Maryland campus. And I was astonished to find that there was this treasure trove of material which would allow me to have a glimpse at what I thought was the most, as it turns out, transparent administration in American Presidential history. First of all there are all those transcripts. There are now 2,800 hours that are opened, believe me you can't listen to 2,800 hours of of Nixon telephone tapes. They are incredibly difficult to listen to and actually that's the one place where I had help. Somebody helped by transcribing these very difficult conversations. I cannot repeat much of what's in those conversations, the number of four letter words. Nixon's Nixon's vulgarity was really staggering. When I interviewed Henry Kissinger, which I did for this book, I mentioned to him that I am no prude but I was offended by the fact that Nixon would talk about people and institutions in the most crude, vulgar way imaginable. And it's just staggering what you find a President of the United States speaking in that way, so crude, so vulgar. Now there are others, I don't think he was exclusive to this. Lyndon Johnson had a pretty powerful tongue, you see. And one can only imagine the conversations that go on in the current White House. How I wish I were a fly on the wall being able to listen to these current conversations, but we will never have them because Presidents have been cured of taping their conversations by what happened to Richard Nixon. Nixon never thought that these tapes would see the light of day, because his intention was to control them, to reveal those parts that would of course make him look good and of course he was trapped down by Water Gate and as a consequence they have come to hand to historians. There are still 900 hours that remained to be opened, not because the archivists are hiding anything, they are very eager to open these materials. But it is such a burden; it is such a difficult task because they have to vet them for National Security considerations and for privacy concerns. So in time another 900 hours will fall open and that hopefully somebody else will write another book about Nixon and rely on this additional material. Even more revealing to me was the fact that Henry Kissinger left behind 20,000 pages of telephonic transcripts. Now he instructed that this material be locked up in the Library of Congress till five years after he died. He did not want them revealed while he was alive. They Historical Division, the State department which publishes something called FRUS, Foreign Relations of the United States, it's a great diplomatic document series going back to 1869, insisted that he provide these papers, that he opened them because they said they cannot publish an authoritative historical record and series of volumes without this material. And so they will open in the spring, in May actually, of 2003. And it's just, to me it's incredible. I do not understand why Kissinger left these behind, why he didn't sanitize them, why didn't he remove a number of the things that was said. And I will give you be giving you some examples as I talk here. Then there are 800000 pages in National Security Files including Al Haig's what's called these Chron files, very revealing material. And H.R. Bob Haldeman, who was Nixon's Chief of Staff, there is a published diary, but there is a CD ROM version of it with much more detail, much more revealing because when they published this book they didn't want to reveal all the detail. Anyway, I felt blessed. As a historian I was what do they say, in pig heaven, there I was, just able to get at all these masses of documents. What I confronted was what every historian confronts when they take on a big book. I had questions, what you do at is you go at one of these books trying to answer as best you can significant questions. And the major question I confronted was how could it be, that a Presidential Administration, that Richard Nixon who really did have some significant accomplishment failed so miserably? Why was it that he ended up having to resign? Now the successes, China, very wise I think. They understood Nixon initially; Kissinger came as instrument in working to achieve this. They understood that you could not isolate a country of some 800 million people forever. And they felt compelled to drop Nixon's earlier anti-Chinese Communist rhetoric and open the door to a relationship. Secondly, they understood that nuclear weapons were not usable weapons, that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was what they operated by. And that they had to achieve some kind of detente with the Soviet Union. There needed to be an accommodation. And at the same time they needed they believe, to use the opening to China to balance Soviet power. They were practicing classic balance of power diplomacy. And so China, Soviet dÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©tente and then shuttle diplomacy in which Henry Kissinger opened the way to the Camp David Peace Accords that Jimmy Carter would go put into effect. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for Vietnam. And as you will see, he never should have had that prize for that Vietnam. It was, in my estimate, a disgrace. He deserved it for the shuttle diplomacy in which he did highly effective things in relation to the Arab-Israeli relationship. I am not been Pollyannaish; I don't mean to suggest he solved everything, by no means did he. But he did open the way to the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel and that I think has prevented a much larger war in the Middle East than anything seen in recent years. So I come back to my point, here were these accomplishments. Why why did they fail? The answer on the surface, everybody has, is Watergate. He was trapped out by Watergate, by the cover up. But I think Watergate was more the symptom than the cause. The real cause, I think, was the deception which they lived with, which they practiced, which submerged this administration. And it began with the Nixon-Kissinger relationship. Face to face they would praise each other, Kissinger would tell him Mr. President without you this country would be dead. During the Watergate crisis Kissinger pushed this hard as he could to try and preserve Nixon's Presidency. Kissinger was not part of Watergate; he didn't have anything to do with it. But once Nixon was on the griddle he was trying to save him, trying to preserve his Presidential Administration. And he speaks to him in ways that, I would think at this point, might embarrass him. He has talked to Nixon that those bastard traitor Democratic Senators were trying to do you in and he is as supportive as [0:13:05] ____ you see, that was face to face. Behind their backs they could not have been more nasty to each other. To begin with Nixon didn't know Kissinger. When Nixon appointed him as National Security Advisor all he knew was that he was a well known and distinguished Harvard Professor with a track record of famous publications about international relations and nuclear weapons. And Nixon wanted above all, to be in control of Foreign Policy. That's why he appoints William Rogers as Secretary of State. He doesn't think Rogers will have any clout or influence and he was quite right. Rogers was not practiced or and in the least influential in making Foreign policy. He thought he could control Kissinger as well, that he was an academic who would be no match for this very experienced politician Richard Nixon. He should have known about the anecdote that people on the Harvard Campus used to tell about Kissinger. The story goes that one day in the summer Kissinger walked out on the campus, he was teaching a seminar and one of his assistants was sitting, having coffee with a young attractive English woman who was in the seminar. Kissinger went up to them, starts chatting with them and she was very coldl with him, very coldl and he was irritated and said, "Why don't you like me?". And she said, "Because you are fascist". And he said, "A fascist? Why, I was in the invasion of Belgium". And she said, "really, with which army". Nixon quickly learned that Kissinger was driven to gain power. Let me quote from one of these tape conversations. He is talking to H.R. Bob Haldeman and he says Henry's personality problem is just too god damn difficult for us to deal with, god damn it Bob, he is psychopathic about trying to screw Rogers. Haldeman agreed and warned that if Kissinger "wins the battle with Rogers he may not be livable with afterward". Nixon thought he would become "A dictator. Did you know that Henry worries every time I talk in the telephone with anybody? He feels he must be present anytime I see anybody important". Nixon complained that Kissinger had all these NSC discussions about "every god damn little shit ass thing that happens he has too many fucking meeting that go on and on and on about crap". The President talking about his National Security Advisor. Now, he did at this point begin to understand that Kissinger had a stronger drive for control, influence, power as Nixon did. Indeed the joke would make the rounds that one journalist said to Kissinger, "Dr. Kissinger, how do you feel about the fact that the Constitution doesn't allow you as a foreign born person to be President of the United States?" And Kissinger half jokingly said, "Yes, but it says nothing about my being the emperor". It got back to Nixon and he he nodded with understanding. Nixon's resentment of Kissinger was played out in the fact that he would, behind his back call him my dear boy. And he would taunt him as best he could, as much as he could. They would be in a meeting and he says some ugly things about Jews and he turn to Kissinger and say, "Isn't that right Henry, isn't that right?" And Kissinger would say, "Well Mr. President they are Jews and there are Jews." Well they talk about the Middle East and Kissinger would give his opinion and then Nixon would say to the group, the National Security Group, now can we get an American point of view. At no time did that Nixon-Kissinger relationship suffered more tension than during the Yum Kippur War in the fall of 1973. Kissinger Nixon rather by this point is essentially disabled in significant part, disabled by the Watergate crisis. He is in capacitated, not entirely but significantly. And Kissinger is not going to let him control policy. When he gets, Kissinger gets word of the Yum Kippur War at 6 o clock in the morning, he does not speak to Nixon to three hours three hours. And when he speaks to him Nixon asks that Kissinger tell the press that he has been briefing the President every hour about what was going on in the war because he is so defensive about the fact that Henry is running the show. He had talked about firing Kissinger but he couldn't do it because after the opening to China, Kissinger had become so influential, so much of a celebrity you see. And Nixon was so back on his heels over Watergate that he was terribly beholding to Kissinger. Another example, six days into the war, Brent Scowcroft calls up Kissinger's Scowcroft is now Kissinger's Deputy at the National Security Council, calls him up and says, "Henry the British Prime Minister, it's five to eight in the evening just called and he wants to speak to the President in half an hour. And Kissinger says, Brent we can't do it. The President is just loaded. He will have to talk to him in the morning. But I will talk to him this evening. So Kissinger will talk to the Prime Minister. Three weeks later the Israelis had surrounded the Egyptian Third Army in the Sinai Desert and there is supposed to be a truce. But the Soviets claim that the Israelis are violating it, they won't let medicine and food through to the Egyptian Army. They are angling to force its surrender. And the Soviets are determined not to allow that. So they come to Kissinger and say, we are going to send in a Paratroop Brigade and we want you to join us and we will have a joint military exercise and we will both get in there to enforce this ceasefire. Kissinger and now Al Haig who has become Nixon's Chief of Staff after Haldeman leaves over the Watergate Kissinger and Al Haig have a telephone conversation. And Haig says to Kissinger, "You are going to meet about this crisis, where are you meeting?" Kissinger says, "The State Department." Haig says, no no you have got to meet at the President's house, at the White House. Kissinger says "what" and then he says, "Where is the President?" Its 10 to 10 in the evening. "Where is the President?" And Haig says "He is asleep." And Kissinger says, "Should we wake him up?" And Haig says no. Half an hour later they talk again, they don't trust each other. And Haig says "Well did you talk to the President?" And Kissinger says, "No, I don't want him charging around here." They then go forward, seven unelected officials, and they raise the DEFCON the Defense Condition. Only twice during the entire Cold War was the Defense Condition escalated raised the nuclear level. During the Cuban Missile Crisis by Kennedy and the second time was during this Yum Kippur War. The next day, after the Soviets have backed off in the face of this action, Kissinger gets news and the first one he talks to is not Nixon, but to Haig. And Haig says, "Have you talked to the President?" He said, "I will be calling him shortly." And they say we don't want the press to think we cooked this up which of course is what they did. When he calls Nixon, Kissinger says to him, "Mr. President you won again." And Nixon thanks him because what else is he going to do at this point, fire him for having taken his authority away from him and having arbitrarily acted. Now I don't know what was wrong with Nixon at that point, was he drunk, was he on sedatives, they didn't wake him up. I tried to find documents in the archives to demonstrate that there was the least indication that Nixon signed off on this raising of the DEFCON, there is nothing there. I asked the archivist, John Powers to look for me and we came up with nothing. I don't think they ever consulted Nixon, they did this without him. Shuttle Diplomacy, Kissinger travels to the Middle East and to cable back to Haig and Scowcroft in which he says, if you think this information will disturb the President don't show it to him. Nixon was bitter about this. He complained to Scowcroft and there is a famous conversation he has with Gerald Ford the night before he leaves office. And he says to him, Gerald Gerry, you got to keep Henry on. He is central to the conduct of our Foreign Policy and National Security. But every once in a while you got to kick him in the nuts because otherwise he will run away with the power, he said. Well, the resentment was just palpable. Kissinger, to complete this circle, responded by having anger, contempt for Nixon. He had high regard for him and he was greatly appreciative for the fact that Nixon had put him into this position of power as National Security Advisor and then the Secretary of State. But he also had a pretty jaundiced view of him. Behind his back he would call him the meatball mind. He would say, a drunken friend is calling. Marvin Kalb, CBS Diplomatic Correspondent told me that he would never say off the record, Kissinger never say off the record, but he would talk to him and say "Marvin, you don't understand. He is a maniac. The people around him impossible, terrible - you see." I have a conversation a transcript in which Kissinger tells Al Haig, "The President during Watergate has to get out there and give a speech in which he shows himself to be the father of the country, not some raving maniac." This is the way he talks about Nixon. So what you have is this atmosphere of deception, of back biting, of nastiness toward each other. Much worse than that, it seems to me, to give you just two other examples, was the deception that they practiced on the public in relation to Vietnam and to Chili. Vietnam, they knew from the get go that that war was a failure. Nixon said in 1969 to Kissinger, "In Saigon, the tendency is to fight toward the victory. But you and I know it won't happen. It's impossible." They want to put the best possible face on defeat in Vietnam. And so they come up with this idea called Vietnamization. Nixon knows that this is a failure. In 1971 they urged the South Vietnamese to go into layouts to fight the North Vietnamese who are building up their strength there. The North Vietnamese hand the South Vietnamese their head. And Nixon is furious and we have a conversation in which he says to National Security Advisors, cursing them, "God damn it. If only they take a couple of hills, capture a few prisoners." You see. They won't use their Air Force to bomb North Vietnamese trucks because the South Vietnamese say they are moving targets. And Nixon explodes with expletives over the fact that this ridiculous excuse that they won't use the Air Force. So they know that Vietnamization is not working. When they what you see is they ask the Soviets and they ask the Chinese to influence the North Vietnamese to give the United States a decent interval. This is what they are aiming for. They say if, after the war concludes, if there is a year and a half, we are not going to go back in, we won't resume fighting in any way at all. They knew they knew that this could not work very well. Indeed, when they finally make what Nixon calls peace with honor there is a wonderful book by the historian by the name Larry Berman called No Peace No Honor when they make this peace with honor Kissinger in one of these conversations says to Nixon, "You are giving a speech. Please do not say that this peace would be lasting." Don't use the word lasting because he understands that in a year or two it's likely to collapse. When it came to Vietnam let me quote the following conversation that Kissinger had with the Journalist Stewart Alsop. Kissinger just said the President was engaged in a slight of hand performance on Vietnam comparable to de Gaulle's action in ending the Algerian war. Henry called de Gaulle a great illusionist who had staged to retreat from North Africa in a way that made France look more powerful than it actually was. Alsop said "I have compared Nixon to Vietnam to the Wizard of Oz. His great clouds of rhetoric designed to conceal the fact that he has invoked one of the greatest retreats in history." Kissinger agreed, saying the trick is to stage a great retreat and emerge at the other end, still a great power, reasonably cohesive at home. So, why didn't they get out of Vietnam in 1969 which is what I think they should have done. Because in the end what difference they did it make? South Vietnam collapses, they could have spared 23,000 American military lives and countless thousands of Vietnamese lives. They were convinced that American credibility would be severely undermined if we left the war too abruptly with the feeling that this was a failure. The mistake it seems to me is that if they had consulted what other countries, what other governments, what other commentators were saying, they would have found that American credibility was enhanced by not undermined by leaving that Vietnam war. Because the judgment was this is a failed effort and we are investing more and more resources, blood and treasure in a war that is not going anywhere. And the sooner you get out the soon you are going to be able to use those resources to confront adversaries in other parts of the world. Sound familiar? Chili deception, palpable. They argued in public that they did not interfere in Chili. My book is not especially new on this count except in one or two small respects. It has been well documented that they from the minute Allende was elected, to the time he first gained the Presidency which they tried to prevent, and then they tried to topple him by putting in money to support anti Allende journalists, propaganda to fuel political opposition, to supply the Chilean Military with support. They didn't sign off on the coupe d'etat against Allende. They did not sanction Allende's killing although there is controversy. Did he commit suicide, was he killed? They did not sanction this. But listen to this conversation that they have when Allende collapses. "The Chilean thing is getting consolidated and of course the newspapers are bleeding because a pro-communist government has been overthrown", Kissinger told Nixon. Isn't that something Nixon responded? Kissinger then said, "Instead of celebrating while in the Eisenhower period we would be heroes." Nixon interjected, "Well, we didn't. As you know our hand doesn't show on this one." Kissinger responded, "We didn't do it. I mean we helped them, created the congestions as great as possible." "That is right", Nixon said. They denied that they played a role, why leave this conversation behind. So a historian can get at and quote it and quote it to you. Let me conclude by saying something about Presidential deception. It seems to me that it is such a destructive thing in two ways. When Presidents deceive the public, when they mislead them, it is in the end really destructive to their power, to their influence. They lose credibility. George Shultz said, "Trust is the coin of the realm." If you lose the public trust, if you are seen as not credible you can no longer govern. Lyndon Johnson, remember that anecdote Vietnam War, all to other things. How do you know when Lyndon's telling the truth? When he pulls his earlobe, rubs his chin, he is telling the truth. When he begins to move his lips you know he is lying. It was tremendously destructive to his ability to the govern. The day Richard Nixon, in a press conference said, "I am not a crook" was the day his Presidency was over. For a President to have to tell the country I am not a crook is so destructive to their influence. James Madison said that Presidents should tell people not what they want to hear but what they need to know, what in essence will educate them, make them more realistic, thoughtful, about public affairs. But I am afraid Presidents more often than not don't do it. And the consequence of this is that it undermines faith in our institutions. Yesterday CNN asked me to talk about the fact that there are new books out, arguing that there was a conspiracy to kill Jack Kennedy. I don't believe it for a minute. There is also a book of 1612 pages by Vincent Bugliosi; it's an encyclopedia, refuting all these conspiracy ideas. I think he is right. The real question is why are people prompt to these conspiracy theories? 75 percent to 80 percent of the people in the country think there was a conspiracy. I think what generates this is tremendous distrust. They don't trust Presidents, they don't trust people in Congress, they don't trust elected officials public officials, "public servants". Is it any wonder Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, now Iraq, one thing after another which undermines public faith. And I find it so striking as a President's point, that the 2008 election campaign is underway so early in the political season. This, I assure you is unusual in a Presidential election campaign to start this early. And I think what it has to do with is the feeling that the country is almost desperate to move on, to find somebody new who would give the country hope, optimism. When you ask the people in this country who are the greatest presidents in American history, they will tell you Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy and Reagan. Kennedy and Reagan one of the greatest? Kennedy was there for a thousand days, Reagan we don't have the documentary record yet to really penetrate what went on his presidency. What Kennedy and Reagan gave people, compared to all these others who have been there in recent years is I think some hope, some optimism. Ask not what your country can do for you, Reagan, "It's morning in America", the pride is back. People want this. And so I would say, Nixon's legacy for all of the distinguished achievements in Foreign Policy is that he hurt the country badly by the deception in his administration and toward the public on policy matters, on the Watergate cover up. And it will dog his reputation for ever. And he will be I am afraid, somewhere in the bottom line of the Presidential Administrations. So let me stop here, and I am happy to answer questions.