Why Nixon Won His Moscow Gamble

Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev
Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev; drawing by David Levine


To speak plainly, the chief running dogs of US imperialism now seem to be Brezhnev and Chou En-lai. This is how it must look from Hanoi. Ignominious as Hitler’s appeasers were in the Thirties, he was never dined as an honored guest in Paris, London, or Washington while he bombed Guernica and destroyed the Spanish Republic.

Nixon has won his gamble. He has mined North Vietnam’s harbors and stepped up the bombing of Hanoi, Haiphong, and the supply roads leading into China, with no more than toothless protest from either of Hanoi’s great allies. The Soviet Union did not call off the summit, or even postpone it, nor did Peking call a halt to its rapprochement with Washington.

Quietly but unmistakably Nixon has made the Soviet Union look like “a pitiful helpless giant” on the eve of the Moscow summit, as he did China on the eve of the one in Peking. On the eve of the Peking meeting, the US Air Force, from December 26 to 30, made 1,000 massive strikes against North Vietnam, by far the heaviest since the bombing halt of November; 1968, on the excuse that this was necessary to stop a huge build-up of supplies for an invasion of Cambodia and South Vietnam.1 The Soviet Foreign Ministry on December 28 protested these bombings and jeered at the Chinese for keeping “silent, evidently not wishing in any way to darken President Nixon’s forth-coming visit to Peking.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 29 then expressed “utmost indignation.” Nixon reached Peking on February 22 with guns blazing; there were sixty-seven “protective reaction” raids on the North in January and February of this year as compared with 108 in all of 1971 (the December raids were “specials” not counted in the “protective reaction” category). But they did not cool Nixon’s welcome from Mao.

Nixon gambled that the Soviet Union, too, would swallow almost any bitter pill rather than give up a summit. Nixon went to Moscow without giving the Kremlin the slightest shred of a face-saver. The story that there had been a secret understanding in advance of the mining was laid to rest by Kissinger in Salzburg. The mines could have been timed to deactivate on Nixon’s arrival in Moscow, and a story leaked to the Pentagon reporter of the New York Times a few days earlier said that they had been; this also turned out to be untrue. The bombing could have been suspended during Nixon’s talks in Moscow.

Nixon must have been encouraged to go on bombing by the way the Russians tried to hush up the news of US attacks on their freighters. The first disclosure that a Soviet freighter was sunk in the April 15 air raids on Haiphong came not from Moscow but from Washington. Buried in a dispatch in the New York Times, May…

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