I finished Richard Nixon’s In the Arena. I have four items.
1. On page 325, Nixon talks about the use of linkage when negotiating with the Soviets:
“How we structure and approach talks with Moscow will largely determine our success in them. Gorbachev will take us to the cleaners in negotiations unless we use the tactic of linkage. The two sides do not have the same degree of interest in progress on all issues. Moscow has a greater interest in some areas, such as trade, and the United States has a greater interest in others, such as conventional arms control. If we let him do so, Gorbachev will gladly negotiate solely on the former. If we acquiesce to that unbalanced approach—-if we fail to link the two sets of issues—-he will dominate the negotiating agenda, conclude agreements on his top priorities, and defer resolution of our issues to the indefinite future.”
This appears to be common sense: when you negotiate with people, you identify what they want and what you want, and you link the two, offering to do such-and-such for them if they do such-and-such for you. The reason that I am referring to this passage is that it exemplifies what strikes me as the topic of much of In the Arena: How do you play the political game? How do you persuade people to do what you want them to do? A while back, when I was blogging through Richard Nixon’s Six Crises, blogger ConsiderAgain said that Six Crises “Sounds like a good book to think about if I ever run for office” (see here). Nixon would most likely heartily agree that ConsiderAgain should read Six Crises, since it was Nixon’s favorite book that he wrote, and Nixon often recommended it to people and gave out copies! But, in terms of a book that addresses what politics is like—-the good and the bad, how to negotiate, how to lead, the players involved, etc.—-In the Arena is an excellent book to read, in my opinion.
But why would anyone consult Nixon on how to play the political game, with all of his blunders? Would Nixon be the person to consult on how to relate to the media, when he tended to alienate the media? Would he be the one to consult on how to deal with Congress, when he as President arguably did not work well with Congress, such that it went against his agenda and, ultimately, him? And Nixon himself complains that there were times when he had difficulty getting bureaucrats to do what he wanted! Maybe one could be edified by what he says about foreign policy, since he did achieve progress in that area.
That said, I still think that In the Arena is a good book to read. Nixon may have succeeded in areas, and he may have failed in areas. In addition, perhaps he magnified certain problems, such as the media (not that the media are a problem, but they can be, at times). But he still had decades of political experience, and he’s a good source to read about the players and motivations that are part of the political game, as well as ways to navigate through that game.
2. On page 342, Nixon discusses civilian casualties in the Vietnam War:
“Those who opposed our involvement in Vietnam also argued that our tactics indiscriminately killed civilians. In fact, our forces operated under strict rules of engagement designed to prevent such casualties. Many American bomber pilots were shot down, ending up dead or as POWs, because their paths across North Vietnam were chosen to minimize the risk of civilian casualties. In the two weeks of intense bombing in December 1972, only 1,500 civilians—-according to Hanoi’s own count—-were killed, compared with over 35,000 civilians killed in one night of fire-bombing of Dresden in World War II. Civilians accounted for a much smaller proportion of casualties in the Vietnam War than they did in either World War II or the Korean War.”
I was thinking of not including this item in this blog post. I’ve already blogged about the topic of civilian casualties in the Vietnam War (see here, here, here, here, and here), and I’ll come across the topic again in my future reading for My Year (or More) of Nixon, since Nixon discusses it in his book, No More Vietnams. But I decided to include this quote of what Nixon says on page 342 because it does strike me as a fairly reasonable argument, especially the part about how American bomber pilots were shot down because they were in areas where their bombing would not result in too many civilian casualties. At the same time, there is another side to the debate. At the library, I saw a book that I may read sometime in the future: Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. The title of this article in The Nation says what the book is about: “The US Military Regularly Killed Civilians in Vietnam.”
3. On page 347, Nixon argues that world government will not bring about perfect peace:
“The second myth is the idea that establishing a world government would produce perfect peace…While the UN has played an important role in facilitating the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War, and the pullout of Cuban forces from Angola and the independence of Namibia, it has not settled the underlying conflicts in any of those disputes. Moreover, its contributions to these partial settlements were made possible only because the parties to those conflicts already reached the conclusion that they were better off engaging.
“As Winston Churchill pointed out to me the last time I saw him, in 1958, no nation will ever let an international organization make decisions affecting its vital interests. That is why the suggestion that the UN arbitrate the Arab-Israeli conflict is a non-starter. Given the UN’s record of repeatedly trying to pass unbalanced resolutions condemning Israel while ignoring the aggressive actions of Arab states, we can hardly expect the Israelis to submit their fate to a stacked jury. Only after a settlement has been reached by negotiations between the two sides could the UN play a possible peacekeeping role.”
This passage brought several things to my mind. First of all, I thought about Gary Allen’s John Bircher-type narrative that Nixon wanted to create a one-world government (see here). Nixon in In the Arena appears to suggest otherwise. Second, Nixon seems to be rather critical of the United Nation’s stance against Israel. This stood out to me because Nixon himself says critical things about Israel in some of his books. But Nixon may not have been gun-ho pro-Israel, per se, but rather one who could see both sides, and who recognized the importance of recognizing the desires of both sides in trying to effect negotiation. Third, Winston Churchill’s skepticism about international organizations surprised me somewhat, since the Worldwide Church of God (I grew up in an offshoot of that) liked to quote Churchill’s statements in favor of world government. (The WCG was arguing that the world needs Christ to rule it for there to be peace, and that Christ would do so after his second coming.) Maybe Churchill believed different things about world government in the course of his life. And fourth, this passage illustrates a point that Nixon makes in his chapter about peace: that peace does not mean utopianism. Nixon acknowledges that human nature is what it is, and that countries have their own self-interests. It may not be possible to get countries to like each other, Nixon argues, but we should try to encourage them to coexist peacefully.
4. On page 367, Nixon encourages young people to visit the elderly in retirement homes:
“I have visited several of the excellent retirement homes near our home in Saddle River. The facilities could not be better…The staffs are understanding and compassionate…They have everything—-good food, good medical care, television, and good people to look after their every need. Everything, that is, except the one thing that matters most—-love. Nothing can substitute for the love of family or friends. Only someone who is getting older can appreciate that. Younger people could enrich their lives immeasurably by visiting, calling, or writing someone in a retirement home, whether they know the person or not. Most such facilities will allow you to ‘adopt’ residents who have no friends or relatives to visit them.”
Nixon’s book offers advice to different kinds of people. He encourages people to travel when they are still young and have the physical mobility to enjoy what’s in other countries. He provides guidelines about when older politicians should retire. Nixon’s statement on page 367 stood out to me, though, for a couple of reasons. First, there are times when I fear being alone when I am elderly, since I’m not good at making friends. But, second, I have thought about visiting retirement homes while I am still young. I used to do so, either for an internship, or on my own time, and I think that the elderly people I visited appreciated that I took the time to keep them company. I may do so again. Of course, the challenge is talking to the right people within the bureaucracy so that I can arrange that, and also bringing theory into practice: not just having a thought to visit the elderly, but actually doing it.