For my write-up today on Richard Nixon’s 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America’s Challenge in a One-Superpower World, I will again quote passages from the book, following each quote with my comments.
1. On pages 176-177, Nixon discusses what the U.S. should do in response to China’s unfair trading practices (i.e., barriers to imports and failure to “protect intellectual property rights”):
“Our response, however, should not be across-the-board tariff increases but rather more discriminating tactics such as blocking China’s entry into GATT or cutting back China’s export quota under the International Multifibre Agreement of 1974, which regulates all textile imports into the United States. If we want to have an impact on the changes occurring in China, we should not pull the plug on trade. Increasing economic progress will bring progress on human rights and civil liberties.”
Nixon is a big proponent of free trade in this book, for he believes that this can encourage countries to become more self-sufficient. He is not naive about free trade, mind you, for, like Pat Buchanan in The Great Betrayal, Nixon argues against the idea that free trade can contribute to peace by making countries economic beneficiaries of each other. Nixon notes historical examples of countries with mutual economic relationships that went to war with each other, and Nixon thus contends that free trade should not be seen as a substitute for an effective military. Still, Nixon likes free trade.
Nixon does well to address head-on a question that protectionists have asked: What do we do if other countries are not playing fair? I don’t know enough to evaluate his solutions. I wonder if blocking the entrance of China into GATT would be a short-term solution, since what if China were to behave itself to get accepted into GATT, only to return to its unfair trading practices after being accepted? Could China then be kicked out of GATT? Would the World Trade Organization effectively police China’s unfair trading practices? (I’m sure there are answers to these questions, but, as I said, I don’t know much about this issue.)
It’s interesting that Nixon says that trade with China can encourage its progress on human rights, for Nixon on page 259 argues that the U.S. should not establish diplomatic or trading relationships with Cuba and Vietnam until they “meet specific political and human rights conditions…” Nixon in his memoirs and in this book often argues that we can encourage progress in Communist dictatorships through cultivating diplomatic and economic relationships with them, rather than leaving them in isolation. Why does he deem Cuba and Vietnam to be exceptions to this rule? Incidentally, the next book that I will read by Nixon, Beyond Peace (1994), appears (at least from the back cover) to advocate trade with Cuba.
2. On page 265, Nixon responds to the charge that liberal trade policies will result in the outsourcing of jobs to countries where workers are paid less:
“If U.S. corporations located their facilities simply on the basis of lower wages, they would all have moved to Mexico already. In addition to wage levels, other variables such as output per worker, transportation capabilities, and the quality of human resources are all part of the economic equation.”
Nixon probably has a point here. There are still manufacturing companies that remain in the U.S. If outsourcing were too lucrative, how would there be any manufacturing companies here? Perhaps they stay because our infrastructure is better, or for other reasons. And yet, it seems to me that outsourcing is still a problem. My understanding is that manufacturing jobs are on the decline in the U.S., and that outsourcing is probably one reason for this.
I wish that Nixon had addressed more extensively in this book the question of what we would do if we had a hard time competing. Nixon criticizes U.S. agricultural subsidies because he thinks that they give U.S. farmers an advantage over foreign farmers, who are looking for a market for their goods (and need that market for their country to advance economically). But what would happen to us if loads of cheap foreign crops are coming into our market, in direct competition with the American farmer?
3. On page 256, Nixon criticizes the way that foreign aid to Africa has been wasted, hinting that free-market capitalism can set Africa onto the road to prosperity:
“Over the past decade, the United States and other Western industrialized countries have injected over $100 billion in aid and credits into sub-Saharan Africa. Most was wasted because inefficient and corrupt governments refused to put into place policies to provide average farmers and workers with incentives to produce.”
Ironically, John Bircher Gary Allen made a similar argument in his right-wing critique of Richard Nixon, entitled Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask. Gary Allen essentially argued that foreign aid props up socialism and ends up being wasted, and that the best way for impoverished foreign countries to advance economically is for them to embrace the free market.
What stood out to me in what Nixon said on page 256 was that he saw a place for the average farmer in Africa: the average farmer should have incentives to become more productive. This, in my opinion, conflicts with what I’ve heard often takes place in the Third World, in the name of capitalism: multinational corporations come into the country, take people’s land, use that land for cash crops or mass production, and reap handsome profits, while paying their Third World workers dittly-squat. Nixon actually argues that it can economically help a Third World country to allow multinational corporations to come in. Indeed, multinational corporations provide Third World countries with capital and produce a lot of goods. But I wonder if there is a way for small farmers to be able to keep their land, and to produce enough to be competitive on the global market. Or should they be competitive in the global market? What would be so wrong with small farmers producing enough to feed their own country? Is there a way to make private ownership work for people in the Third World, as opposed to making it work for multinationals?
And yet, I’d like to mention an example that Nixon cites of foreign investment contributing to improved conditions for the poor. On pages 257-258, Nixon lambastes Apartheid in South Africa, contending that its discriminatory policies are “economically stupid” because they deny blacks “equal economic opportunities” and thus end up squandering their productivity and talents. But Nixon does not think that American disinvestment from South Africa is the answer. Nixon states on page 258 that “Many American companies, such as Ford motor company, had financed black housing, schooling, recreation, and health facilities.”
4. On pages 219-220, Nixon appears to take a rather anti-Israel tone, as he defends a “land for peace” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
“While we are right to support Israel’s survival and security, we would be wrong to back the current Israeli government’s extreme demands. [W]e should understand how the occupied territories came into Israel’s possession through the 1967 war. Aggressive military moves by Arabs created the crisis—-perhaps even made the war inevitable—-but Israel launched the first attacks. Former prime minister Menachem Begin said in August 1982, ‘In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him’. [T]he Arab-Israeli conflict poisons our relations with the Muslim world and undercuts our ability to cooperate with countries with modernist, pro-Western leaders. Israel’s occupation of Arab lands—-and particularly its increasingly harsh treatment of the Palestinians—-polarizes and radicalizes the Muslim world.”
Nixon is for Israel going back to its pre-1967 borders, while Jordan would possibly administer the West Bank, and Syria the Golan Heights. Nixon addresses the question of whether this would compromise the security of Israel. Under Nixon’s proposal in this book, conventional offensive weapons would be banned from the territories that are returned to the Palestinians, the returned territories would be a “buffer zone”, checkpoints would ensure that weapons are not smuggled into the West Bank for an attack on Israel, and the U.S. would consider an attack on Israel to be an attack on the U.S., and would respond accordingly. I wonder to what extent this overlaps with and differs from current proposals for a Palestinian state.
I was talking with my brother about Nixon’s claim that Israel started the 1967 war. My brother agreed that Israel attacked first, but he said that it was a pre-emptive strike—-that Egypt was planning to attack Israel, for Egypt had been anti-Israel since the 1940’s. This wikipedia article quotes Nasser as saying on May 27, 1967: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”
5. On page 226, Nixon argues that Palestinians in the occupied territories should elect representatives to the peace talks, without Israelis exercising a veto power over their choice:
“…elections should be held in the occupied territories to select Palestinian representatives for the peace talks. Israeli leaders have insisted on advance approval of those who might serve in that role and on blackballing anyone with any association—-no matter how distant—-with the PLO. That is unreasonable. We did not like negotiating with Stalin or his successors, but since they held power, we had to deal with them. Unless Israel comes to terms with its enemies, no peace agreement will enhance its security.”
The reason that this passage stood out to me was that it reminded me of a question that Katie Couric asked of Sarah Palin in 2008. Palin was saying that we should support democracy in the middle-east, and Couric then asked about Hamas’ victory in a Palestinian election. What happens when democracy leads to an outcome that the U.S. considers undesirable? I’ve wondered how I would answer that question, for it is indeed a difficult question. I’d probably give an answer similar to what Nixon said about Palestinian elections for representatives at the peace talks: that we should accept the Palestinians’ choice, and try to deal with that choice if we can. That doesn’t mean that we should be okay with everything Hamas does—-threatening Israel, after all, is wrong. But part of democracy is accepting people’s choice (though whether Nixon consistently did that as President has been debated).