In a blog post that I wrote on Monica Crowley’s Nixon Off the Record, I speculated about what Richard Nixon would have thought about President Bill Clinton’s policies in Somalia, Bosnia, and Serbia. In a post that I wrote on Richard Nixon’s 1992 book, Seize the Moment, I wondered what Nixon’s stance would have been on President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.
In reading Nixon’s 1994 book, Beyond Peace, I see that Nixon was actually alive when Clinton was pursuing strategies in Somalia, Bosnia, and Serbia. On Somalia, Nixon pretty much thought what I speculated that he thought: he believed that U.S. intervention into Somalia was a mistake, but that America’s withdrawal from the country conveyed weakness.
On Bosnia and Serbia, I was right that Nixon believed that the region was important to U.S. interests, presumably enough to justify American intervention. But what I learned in Beyond Peace was that Nixon considered Clinton’s policies in that region to be a mistake. Nixon says on pages 153-154:
“From the beginning of the war [in the former Yugoslavia] there have been excesses on both sides, but the cycle of violence began as a result of Serbian aggression against other former Yugoslavian republics—-aggression for which the United States and its allies have consistently and repeatedly failed to exact a price. As early as 1991, along with a number of other observers, I called upon the United Nations to lift the embargo against the victims of Serbian aggression. The United States, the United Nations, and the European Community vacillated, equivocated, orated, condemned, and ultimately did nothing to counter effectively the Serbian onslaught…It is unfortunate that the United States did not take action in this protracted struggle until it was forced to do so by a public reaction to bloody images on television.”
Essentially, Nixon says that Clinton, the UN, and the European Community were dithering in response to the Serbian aggression against the former Yugoslavian republics. Nixon’s criticisms remind me of former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick’s critique of U.S. policies on the region in her 2007 book, Making War to Keep Peace. And they also call to my mind the movie The Special Relationship, which is about President Bill Clinton’s relationship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In this movie, Blair publicly challenges Clinton to take more action on Kosovo, in a time when President Clinton is hesitant.
Nixon says on page 154 that the West would have intervened sooner to help Sarajevo had the people of Sarajevo been primarily Christian or Jewish, and his implication appears to be that the West was slow to act because of Sarajevo’s large Muslim population. In a time when elements of the right-wing have become frighteningly Islamophobic, in terms of condemning moderate Muslims and lumping them together with radical ones, this 1994 statement by Nixon makes me proud of him (whether or not it is entirely fair).
What puzzles me, though, is Nixon’s statement on pages 154-155: “The siege of Sarajevo can have a redeeming character only if the West learns two things as a result. The first is that enlightened peoples cannot be selective about condemning aggression and genocide…The other lesson is that because we are the last remaining superpower, no crisis is irrelevant to our interests. If the United States had been willing to lead, a number of steps short of the commitment of ground forces—-for instance, revoking the arms embargo—-could have been taken early in the Bosnian crisis to blunt Serbian aggression. Our failure to do so tarnished our reputation as an evenhanded player on the international stage and contributed to an image promoted by extreme Muslim fundamentalists that the West is callous to the fate of Muslim nations but protective of Christian and Jewish nations.”
It’s not that Nixon’s sentiment by itself puzzles me: of course the United States should be concerned about genocide. But it puzzles me in light of what Nixon wrote in Seize the Moment, and even in Beyond Peace. Nixon appears to maintain that the U.S. should be selective about when it will intervene militarily—-that it should do so only when its own interests are involved. Saying that the U.S. should intervene to stop genocide (if that is what Nixon is suggesting on page 154) strikes me as a departure from that. And, when he says that “no crisis is irrelevant to our interests”, that makes me wonder if that’s a blank check for us to interfere militarily anywhere there is a crisis.
Now onto the issue of the Iraq War under George W. Bush. What would Nixon have thought about that? On page 121 of Seize the Moment, Nixon criticizes German firms for being “the principal contractors for Saddam Hussein’s network of hardened command bunkers.” That makes me think that, had Nixon been alive when Germany was refusing to back up the U.S. on the Iraq War, Nixon would have joined the conservative voices who argued that Germany was doing this on account of the business that it was doing with Iraq. But would Nixon have supported the U.S. overthrowing Saddam Hussein and undertaking the task of nation-building? I don’t know. Nixon in Beyond Peace seems to support regime change in Iraq, but here’s the strategy that he advocates: “We should actively support the main opposition to Saddam, the Iraqi National Congress, as it seeks to force Baghdad to open up its political system. We should offer Jordan increased economic incentives and a major role in the Arab-Israeli peace process as encouragement to turn off the spigot of trade until Saddam Hussein falls from power.” That’s different from the U.S. directly overthrowing Saddam. But, as I said in my last post on Beyond Peace, Nixon was open to changing his mind when he felt that situations changed.