I’m still reading Richard Nixon’s 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America’s Challenge in a One-Superpower World. I have five items for today. Like yesterday’s post, my post today will comment on quotations from Nixon’s book. I’ll be using those quotations as starting-points to discuss Nixon’s broader arguments.
1. On page 52, Nixon contrasts Mikhail Gorbachev with Boris Yeltsin, who were prominent political figures in Russia:
“Yeltsin’s views had grown, evolving to deal with the deepening Soviet crisis while Gorbachev’s remained in the quagmire of Marxism-Leninism. Before the failed coup, Yeltsin had totally repudiated communism, while Gorbachev had not. Yeltsin supported private ownership of enterprises and land, while Gorbachev had not. Yeltsin supported immediate independence for the Baltic states, while Gorbachev did not. Yeltsin called for cutting off all aid to Cuba, Afghanistan, and other Soviet clients in the underdeveloped world, while Gorbachev did not. Yeltsin wanted to make major cuts in spending on the Soviet military, while Gorbachev did not. Yeltsin won office in a fully free election, while Gorbachev did not. Immediately after the coup, Yeltsin spoke of a bold democratic revolution, while Gorbachev spoke timidly of reforming the Communist party.”
I grew up when the Cold War was drawing to a close. At the time, I was one of those right-wingers who thought that the Russians could still not be trusted. I believed that Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika were a ruse designed to lull the United States to sleep, so that the U.S. would disarm and the Russians would take us over. In my mind, Communism had not truly collapsed, and it was still a threat to the free world.
What’s surprising to me is that Nixon in this book actually overlaps with my views at the time. No, Nixon didn’t regard Glasnost and Perestroika as a ruse. And yes, unlike me, Nixon believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was real. But he still did not think that it was a time for America to be complacent. As Nixon noted in this book, Gorbachev was still a dedicated Communist, who was providing assistance to other Communist countries; Gorbachev was still cultivating the powerful Soviet military; Gorbachev still did not want to let go of the Baltic states; and Gorbachev was increasing Russian influence in the Pacific, which included an attempt to heal the rift between Russia and Communist China.
At the time, I pointed to the sorts of things that Nixon mentions to argue that Russia was still a threat (only, in contrast to Nixon, the right-wing books, articles, and magazines that I read did not think that there was a real rift between the Soviet Union and Communist China). But Nixon places these things in a different context than the right-wing literature that I read: for Nixon, Russia was doing these things in a state of desperation, while it was standing on its last leg. Communism in Russia truly was collapsing.
I recently read Monica Crowley’s Nixon Off the Record, which is about Crowley’s time working for Nixon during the 1990’s. What Nixon harps on continually in that book is the importance of the U.S. providing aid to post-Soviet Russia, so that her economy would get off the ground and she wouldn’t be taken over by Communist hard-liners who would be all too happy to exploit the Russians’ economic desperation. That sort of scenario, for Nixon, could lead to another Cold War. In Seize the Moment, Nixon expresses more nuance to his view on foreign aid to Russia. Nixon does not think that a whole lot of foreign aid should go to Russia when Gorbachev is still in charge because that would only be supporting a failed Communist system. Rather, Nixon wants aid to go to Russia when she is committed to democracy and free enterprise, something that he thought would occur under Yeltsin (even if Yeltsin banned Communist Party activity in Russia). What happened after Nixon wrote this book, however, was that wealth under Yeltsin got concentrated into the hands of a few.
2. On page 152, Nixon says that countries in the 1990’s were afraid of the possibility of a strong Germany and Japan:
“A resurgent Japanese military would cause great regional apprehensions. Historical memories from World War II have not vanished. Despite forty-five years of peaceful policies, the fear in Asia of Japan as a major military power dwarfs European concerns about a united Germany.”
I grew up in an offshoot of the Herbert W. Armstrong religious movement. For years, Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted predicted that Germany would reunite and become a revived Nazi dictatorship, which would be a significant part of the Beast power in Revelation 13, as well as the aggressive Assyrian in the Book of Isaiah. When the Berlin wall came tumbling down and Europe was on the road to becoming a United States of Europe, Garner Ted Armstrong essentially said that he told us so!
Nowadays, at least as far as I can see, Germany does not look as if it will be a powerful Nazi dictatorship anytime soon—-and this is more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall. But, reading Nixon’s 1992 book, I learned that there were more people than Armstrongites in the early 1990’s who feared a united Germany and a United States of Europe. As Nixon says, there were lingering memories about the times when Germany was a powerful and an aggressive nation, and countries in Europe did not know what a newly united Germany—-with a sizable economy—-would do. Regarding a United States of Europe, there were apprehensions that this could be a formidable economic force.
What did Nixon propose that the U.S. should do about a united Germany? On page 137, Nixon essentially says that the United States should provide the “political cover” that Germany needs for a “more active…foreign policy.” For Nixon, if the U.S. helps Germany to become more active in the world, other countries would not fear Germany as much, for they’d see that we’re okay with Germany. It sounds to me like “the friend of my friend is my friend.”
3. On page 129, Nixon talks about a possible role for Eastern European countries in NATO:
“As Europe’s only time-tested security structure, NATO should seek to find ways to fill the security vacuum in Eastern Europe, particularly over the next decade when the uncertainty centering on instability within the former Soviet Union will run the highest. This does not mean that NATO members should immediately extend its full Article 5 commitment—-‘an armed attack on one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack on all of them’—-to the new democracies. But it does mean that we should think in more subtle terms than an all-or-nothing guarantee. NATO, after all, functions at various levels, including political consultation, military cooperation, and participation in its integrated military command. Because they share our values and because the current vacuum creates an incentive for adventurism, the East European democracies must be brought into NATO’s security sphere without granting them immediate full partnership.”
The reason that this passage stood out to me was that it called to my mind Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interview with Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. As I talk about here, Palin was saying that Georgia and the Ukraine should be in NATO. This surprised me and a few other people I read. At the time, Russia was going after Georgia. If Georgia were in NATO, would NATO be obligated to fight Russia? And would a war against Russia even be feasible, or desirable?
Palin should probably have read Nixon’s discussion of NATO on page 129 of Seize the Moment. Nixon was for cooperation between NATO and the Eastern European countries, but not for a “you attack one Eastern European country, and we consider that an attack on all of us” approach (my words). Maybe he would have had the same ideas about Georgia and the Ukraine.
4. On page 164, Nixon mentions the loss of Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong’s son:
“While the United States provided aid and troops to prevent Communist victories in Korea and South Vietnam, the Communist Chinese sacrificed tens of thousands of solders—-including Mao Zedong’s only son—-to support the aggression of North Korea and provided indispensable economic and military assistance to the aggressors in North Vietnam.”
There are many things that I loathe about Mao—-the Cultural Revolution, his killings of millions of people, etc. But I do respect that his only son went out to fight for the advancement of Communism, knowing that he might die. There are enough politicians who try to save their own skin or the skin of those they love: they may be military hawks, but they themselves dodged going to war, or they are okay with sending other people’s kids to war but not their own. It’s a mark of principle when a leader is the opposite of this.
You can probably detect some respect on Nixon’s part for Mao in this case. Nixon in his books is quite critical of Communism and Communists, but he does at times note things that he finds admirable about them.
I’ll probably talk more about China in tomorrow’s post.
5. On pages 158-159, Nixon says that the U.S. partly has itself to blame for its trade deficit with Japan:
“…Japan’s tremendous economic success represents an easy scapegoat for American politicians seeking to deflect attention from our own economic problems. First, the combination of a high federal deficit and a low domestic savings rate requires capital imports, which, in turn, are reflected in a trade deficit in goods and services. Second, many U.S. companies lack the long-term horizons needed to cultivate the Japanese markets. Third, since 95 percent of Japan’s young people but only 75 percent of America’s graduate from high school, we have failed to invest sufficiently in our human capital. Some studies have pointed out that even if Japan eliminated all its import barriers, the U.S. trade deficit would drop by only $5-8 billion. They suggest that primarily the fault is ours, not theirs.”
In the above passage, Nixon appears to overlap with the economic views of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Nixon, like many right-wingers, seems to portray a high deficit and low personal savings as bad for the economy. Why? I think that he regards a high deficit as bad because it sucks money out of the private sector: money that could be used for private investment and production is instead being used for an inefficient government program. And Nixon may believe that people should save more because, once they have saved enough money, they can use that money to pay for capital that builds businesses. Or people’s savings would be in the bank, where it would be available to be loaned out to people who want to start businesses. For Nixon, because we do not have enough capital ourselves, we rely on a country like Japan to provide us with capital, contributing to the trade deficit.
And yet, Nixon also overlaps with Barack Obama’s view that the key to a strong economy is education. Mitt Romney was all for education, too, but my impression during the 2012 campaign was that Romney emphasized tax cuts as the key to economic recovery—-a trickle-down sort of approach—-whereas Obama stressed government investment in education as a way to prepare people for the high-skilled jobs of the twenty-first century. Nixon, at least in my reading thus far, does not say what the government should be doing about education, but he did highlight its importance in terms of helping the U.S. to become economically competitive.