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Nixon’s Plan to Save the World

Open Secret: The Kissinger-Nixon Doctrine in Asia

edited by Virginia Brodine, edited by Mark Selden
Harper and Row, 218 pp., $1.50 (paper)

War Without End: American Planning for the Next Vietnams

by Michael Klare
Knopf, 450 pp., $2.95 (paper)

Army in Anguish

by Haynes Johnson, by George C. Wilson
Pocket Books, 192 pp., $1.25

Richard Nixon once remarked that the nation did not really need a president to conduct its domestic business. And indeed, it is not as the man who cleaned the air, made the streets safe, balanced the budget, found enough jobs, or made Americans feel better about their country that Nixon has sought re-election and a place in history, but as the architect of a new “structure of peace” designed to last a generation. This promised generation of peace is to come from a radically revised vision of the world, a modernized military strategy, and an updated political rhetoric. All reflect the official lessons of the Vietnam war.

There is a new map of the world in the White House which bears little resemblance to the one that McGeorge Bundy and Walt Rostow once used. In the official US world view the Soviet Union and China are no longer centers of an international conspiracy. They have become nation states. The Soviet Union, according to the Nixon-Kissinger analysis, is not primarily interested in promoting the world communist conspiracy or committing “indirect aggression” by subverting free world nations, but is absorbed with problems of securing its borders, building its economy, controlling its own population. China is far more interested in what is happening in China than in the politics of any other place. Nixon’s gamble that the Soviet Union and China would put up with the humiliation of the Haiphong blockade to protect possible profitable trade relations with the United States was based on a nonideological reading of Soviet and Chinese motives unknown in the Kennedy-Johnson era.

Nixon is now prepared to accept the overwhelming historical evidence that the Soviet Union has consistently sold out revolutionary movements. Soviet leaders, contrary to the official view in the Dean Rusk era, are not primarily in business to humiliate the United States. With a judicious mixture of tough talk, ostentatious display of military power, and attractive economic concessions, one can make them offers they can’t refuse.

Nixon has become the first President since Franklin Roosevelt to recognize the Russian revolution of 1917 and to accept the Soviet Union as a fixture of international politics that will neither “mellow” (in George Kennan’s sense) nor collapse, and he is the first President ever to recognize the Chinese revolution of 1949. His generation of peace, as he has said, calls for “a strong healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other….” In effect the President has offered the Soviet Union something like the junior partnership in world management that Stalin sought after World War II. He is offering an agreement among great nations not to push each other too far and to conduct their continuing rivalry within mutually advantageous rules of combat, such as the SALT agreements, which forbid exactly those weapons both sides would prefer not to build.

In arranging the new relationship with the Soviet Union Nixon has adopted several notions promoted in the early 1960s by critics of the cold war. He has appeared on Soviet television, and as part of an election-year pitch he has tried to evoke sympathy from American viewers for the “little Tanyas” of Russia. He has made an agreement regulating the access rights to Berlin—no one talks any more about who will die for whom over Berlin. The world’s most expensive ritual, the preparations for the great ground war with the Soviets in Europe, continues, but the deployments in the center of Europe are being brought more into line with the actual expectations of the two sides. Indeed, agreements for “thinning out” or “balancing” military forces in Europe can be expected within the next two years. Although the Soviet Union is growing more powerful in staking out interests far from its own territory, the principal problems among the NATO nations during the 1970s increasingly concern the Russians less and the Americans more.

The United States is abandoning the familiar ground rules of the cold war because it can no longer afford them. The new issues in Europe, as indeed almost everywhere else, will be economic rather than military, and the competition will involve former allies more than erstwhile ideological enemies. Conflicts over such crucial matters as monetary policy, scarce resources, and new markets make the largely irrational military confrontation of the past too expensive a luxury. John Connally has already served notice upon the “free world partners” that the US does not intend to share most of the big decisions of world economic management and that it will use shock, surprise, maneuver, and threats to get its own way. The competitive struggles between the United States and its fully recovered European protégés are growing much more intense, and the new look in US foreign policy is in large part based on this reality.

On the new White House map the “Third World” looks even newer. During the Kennedy days the number one official fear was of the “war of national liberation,” identified as the Kremlin’s secret weapon. This preoccupation with counterinsurgency reflected the anxiety of the Kennedy Administration that Cuba and Vietnam were models for the revolutionary transformation of the former colonial world. Guerrilla leaders, incredibly, were seen as Kremlin or Maoist agents, as Mao himself was once seen as Stalin’s agent.

Under Nixon the worry about insurgency is by no means diminished. But the Sino-Soviet dispute, the willingness of both communist powers, in spite of dozens of sharply worded notes, to “stand idly by” while their ally is subjected to the heaviest bombardment in history, the hunting down of Che Guevara and the crushing of guerrilla movements in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America have made possible a new, more relaxed view of how to handle the Third World. Vietnam and Cuba, it now seems, were historical exceptions. The two billion people who live in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are not, Che Guevara and Lyndon Johnson notwithstanding, about to rise up and take our wealth from us. They are hungry, divided, and vulnerable, and all the more so because the US-Soviet detente makes it much harder for small countries to play one giant off against another.

Small nations, even those as dependent upon the Soviet Union for material aid as Egypt was, have demonstrated, nevertheless, a strong impulse to resist Soviet domination. The split in the communist world, with Russia and China each accusing the other of having formed a cabal with the United States, has helped to convince Nixon that the ideological attraction of communism for the poorer nations is waning. Most Asian, African, and Latin American governments are in the hands of military dictatorships, rightist regimes, or technocratic modernizers, all eager for US military aid, loans, and private capital. Many of the “unstable,” “romantic” revolutionary leaders who used to upset Walt Rostow so much—Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah—are gone, replaced by men prepared to serve as pillars for Nixon’s “structure of peace.”

It is a totally different picture of the world from the one Nixon presented to the American people during his nine previous electoral campaigns. Accordingly, it calls for a different military strategy. The Nixon Doctrine contains some important new elements, but as Virginia Brodine and Mark Selden point out in their revealing commentary, Open Secret: The Kissinger-Nixon Doctrine in Asia, it is mainly an attempt to update traditional US counterinsurgency thinking. The authors find the basic elements of Nixon’s new policy as it applies to Southeast Asia scattered throughout his speeches and articles written during the Eisenhower and Pepsi-Cola years: The United States is a Pacific power and cannot accept a defeat anywhere in the Orient—since the Pacific, as he warned the Executives Club of New York in 1965, would then become a “Red Sea” and the dominoes would fall. In 1967, in an article in Foreign Affairs, he outlined the premises of his thinking on Asia:

I am not arguing that the day is past when the United States would respond militarily to communist threats in the less stable parts of the world, or that a unilateral response to a unilateral request for help is out of the question. But other nations must recognize that the role of the United States as world policeman is likely to be limited in the future.

The reliance on what the Pentagon calls “indigenous troops” is of course the cornerstone of the new “low profile” policy. Asian soldiers, according to Pentagon statistics, cost only one-fifteenth of what is spent for their American counterparts, and neither they nor their parents vote in US elections. As John Dower, a contributor to Open Secret, points out, Vietnamization is a very old dream. A National Security Council policy statement of early 1952, released as part of the Pentagon Papers, calls for the development of “indigenous armed forces [in Indochina] which will eventually be capable of maintaining internal security without assistance from French units.” It has been conventional wisdom in the Pentagon since 1951 that the United States should not fight a major land war in Asia. The most prominent military critics of the Vietnam war, General James Gavin and Matthew Ridgway, were members of the “never again club” who remembered that Korea was the wrong war in the wrong place.

The Nixon Doctrine explicitly expresses the view that other nations, rather than a US expeditionary force, should do the fighting to protect US “vital interests” on their territory. That, of course, has always been our preference. In the same way, the United States has always indicated its readiness to send such a force if the indigenous troops are incapable of fighting on their own. Melvin Laird told the House Armed Services Committee in March, 1971, that “when required and appropriate,” US help “could include ground combat support.” Following the first Nixon State of the World message on February 18, 1970, Max Frankel reported in The New York Times that “Mr. Nixon’s aides concede…that there is nothing in his new doctrine that excludes a Dominican-style intervention in defense of vital interests.”

There is nothing either in Nixon’s rhetoric or in his practice to suggest that the United States has adopted a less imperial definition of its “vital interests.” The principal threat in Asia, according to Laird, is still “internal insurgency supported by external assistance.” The United States will keep all its treaty commitments to some forty-two governments to protect them where necessary from their own people. Even “political agitation” has been identified in Department of Defense documents as a military threat requiring a counterinsurgency response. Although certain minor bases have been phased out and forces in such forward battle stations as Korea have been thinned out, the Administration has abandoned no major outposts of American power, and indeed has even staked out new “vital interests” in two critical areas: the Indian Ocean and southern Africa.

Although the Nixon Administration no longer believes that all insurgencies are masterminded in the Kremlin, and no longer conjures up LBJ’s picture of successful Asian revolutionaries sweeping under the Golden Gate Bridge in sampans and junks, it obviously does believe that “stability,” which is the prize of statecraft, is jeopardized by guerrilla movements throughout the world. The situation in the Philippines is serious enough for the Marcos government to impose martial law, shut down the press, and arrest liberals. Insurgents in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos have controlled important territory for years, and the Cambodian rebels continue to gain ground. There are almost 3,000 highly organized guerrillas in the Dhofar area of Oman. In the Portuguese territories in Africa, according to the private estimate of a UN expert, about one-fourth of Angola is administered by the rebels and about two-thirds of the rural area of Guiné Bissau is in the hands of the liberation movement.1 In view of America’s continuing counterrevolutionary commitment and the possibility that guerrilla activity around the world may continue to grow, how can the United States hope to avoid future Vietnams?

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    The rise of international terrorism—hijackings, kidnappings, bombings by mail—poses a new and quite different threat to the “generation of peace.” The new terrorism, unlike the traditional assassinations of people in power in guerrilla wars, holds no promise of overturning governments or enlisting popular support. It stems not from revolutionary politics but from a politics of desperation. It is designed solely to dramatize political grievances for which there are no apparent solutions, not even revolutionary ones. The new terrorism is a poor instrument for toppling authority, for the killing of the innocent has the opposite effect. Its purpose, one must surmise, is to serve notice on the powerful nations that they will not be allowed to enjoy their control over events.

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