Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kissinger Presidency

by Robert Dallek

(note by Jeffrey Robbins: I would encourage you to use hyperlink to read all four pages of the article, an interesting look into the likely power of Cabinets in relation to Presidential post itself. Below is paste of page 1 only...)

Battered by Watergate in 1973, President Nixon was losing his epic power struggle with Henry Kissinger. Then the Middle East exploded. In an excerpt from his new book, using freshly opened archives, the author describes how the secretary of state took control.
by Robert Dallek May 2007
Excerpted from Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, by Robert Dallek, to be published this month by HarperCollins Publishers; © 2007 by the author.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, 1972. Rauchwetter/dba/Landov. Enlarge this photo.
Henry Kissinger never wanted the 20,000 pages of his telephone transcripts made public—not while he was alive, at any rate. And for good reason. It was Kissinger's practice while he served as Richard M. Nixon's national-security adviser and, later, as his secretary of state to have assistants listen in on dead-key extensions and make verbatim transcripts. The result is a record of conversations and decision-making rivaled only by the Nixon tapes—and a real-time rendering of events often at variance with official portrayals. It is ironic: Nixon and Kissinger presided over an administration that was unsurpassed (until the current one) in its secrecy, and yet produced the richest trove of presidential records in history, making the Nixon White House more transparent in retrospect than any before or since.
During the past four years I have sifted through much of the Nixon administration's recently opened archives: all of those Kissinger telephone transcripts, for instance, along with the unpublished portions of the diaries of Nixon's first chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman; hundreds of hours of newly available Nixon tapes; and the national-security records (which total close to a million pages) that include Kissinger's private office files and the previously unread papers of Alexander M. Haig Jr., who was Kissinger's deputy at the National Security Council and then took Haldeman's place as chief of staff. Put it all together and an intimate picture emerges of the complex relationship between Nixon and Kissinger, men who were allies but also rivals—paranoid and insecure, deceitful and manipulative, ruthless and strangely vulnerable.
Nixon is dead, but Henry Kissinger remains very much a man in public life. In recent years, President George W. Bush has consulted him for advice on the Iraq war, which Kissinger has supported. Since 2001, Kissinger has, according to Bob Woodward's State of Denial, met with the president every other month, and with Vice President Dick Cheney every month, and he has advised President Bush that "victory … is the only meaningful exit strategy" for Iraq. So it is a good moment to visit the newly available documents and transcripts for the fresh detail they provide. They show Kissinger at moments of high drama—for instance, during the Yom Kippur War, when he made decisions of utmost gravity while keeping Nixon at arm's length. They show a man whose growing power derived from Nixon's deepening incapacity. And they reveal Kissinger's troubling personality and methods across a broad front.
The Prima Donna. Nixon did not anticipate the extent to which Kissinger, whom he barely knew when he appointed him national-security adviser, in 1969, would be envious and high-strung—a maintenance project of the first order. Nixon had a running conversation with Haldeman about "the K problem," as Haldeman noted in his diaries. Nixon complained in one taped conversation with the chief of staff: "Henry's personality problem is just too goddamn difficult for us to deal [with].… Goddamn it, Bob, he's psychopathic about trying to screw [Secretary of State William] Rogers." Haldeman feared that if Kissinger "wins the battle with Rogers" he might not be "livable with afterwards." Nixon agreed that he would "be a dictator." "Did you know that Henry worries every time I talk on the phone with anybody?" he told Haldeman and domestic counselor John Ehrlichman in another taped conversation. "His feeling is that he must be present every time I see anybody important."
Vietnam. Using language that has a painfully contemporary echo, Kissinger and Nixon very quickly came to private conclusions about Vietnam that they never revealed publicly and denied entertaining. "In Saigon the tendency is to fight the war to victory," Nixon told Kissinger, according to the transcript of a 1969 phone conversation. "But you and I know it won't happen—it is impossible." Even so, according to Haldeman's unpublished diaries, Nixon later urged that Democratic critics making this same point should be labeled "the party of surrender." When someone told Kissinger that Nixon could not be re-elected, because of Vietnam, he disputed it and added, according to a memo of a conversation, that "anytime we want to get out of Vietnam we can," and that "we will get out of Vietnam before the [1972] election." Nixon wanted to plan the removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 1971, but Kissinger cautioned that, if North Vietnam then de-stabilized Saigon during the following year, events could have an adverse effect on the president's campaign. According to Haldeman's diaries, Kissinger advocated a pullout in the fall of 1972, "so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election." He apparently had nothing to say about the American lives that would be lost by deliberately prolonging the war. Just before a peace treaty was signed, Kissinger in a phone conversation advised Nixon against stating that this was a "lasting peace or guaranteed peace because this thing is almost certain to blow up sooner or later."
The Pentagon Papers. Kissinger was deeply unsettled by the revelation, in June of 1971, that the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War had been given to The New York Times by a former adviser to Kissinger on Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg. Would Kissinger be tarred by association? When he saw Nixon, according to a taped conversation, Kissinger said of Ellsberg, "That son-of-a-bitch. I know him well. He is completely nuts.… He always seemed a little bit unbalanced." As for The New York Times, Nixon and Kissinger were determined to come down hard. "Goddamn newspapers—they're a bunch of sluts," Nixon said. In another taped conversation, two weeks later, he said, "I don't give a goddamn about repression, do you?" "No," Kissinger replied.
Mental Health. Nixon confided to Haldeman, according to the unpublished diaries, that he was "quite shocked" at how Kissinger had "ranted and raved" at Alexander Haig during a 1971 phone conversation, telling Haig that he "had handled everything wrong," and calling U.N. ambassador George H. W. Bush "an idiot." Nixon believed that something more serious was going on, and it is known that he once mused to Ehrlichman that Kissinger might need psychiatric help. The subject of Kissinger's stability came up again in 1972. Having read The Will to Live, by Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, his former psychotherapist, Nixon recommended it to Haldeman as providing a road map to what Nixon, according to Haldeman's unpublished diary notes, called "K's suicidal complex." Haldeman went on: "He also wants to be sure I make extensive memoranda about K's mental processes and so on, for his file."

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