[F]rom this historical episode, it is clear that repeated doses of foreign policy realism can deaden the conscience. In President Nixon's office, a lack of human sentiment was viewed as proof of mental toughness - an atmosphere that diminished the office itself. Realists are often dismissive of Manichean distinctions between good and evil, light and darkness. But in the world beyond good and evil, some may be lightly consigned to the gas chambers.Gerson's comment is especially appalling in view of an historical reality which he neglects to mention, namely that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union reached its Cold War apogee as the direct result of Nixon's policies. That means Russia's Jews were safer because of Nixon, and yet Gerson claims to have gotten a whiff of gas. While the taped Nix-Kiss exchange is impossible to defend on its merits, it's nothing but hot air.
Since the tape was opened earlier this month, Kissinger's friends have defended him strenuously. No word yet from Nixon's men -- except, now, Kissinger himself. Knowing him, I'd say his response became inevitable after Gerson used the opportunity of the tapes opening to suggest that the Jackson-Vanik amendment (which tied U.S.-Soviet trade relations to rates of emigration and ended up making it far harder for Jews to get out than it had been under Nixon) somehow helped end the Cold War. In response, Kissinger took to the Washington Post op-ed page on Christmas Eve. He began by apologizing for his loose talk in the White House and then took aim at his Reagan-boosting critic:
Gerson ascribes the collapse of the Soviet Union in part to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The amendment played no significant role in what resulted from imperial overstretch, incompetent economic management and the determined resistance of a succession of presidents from both parties, culminating in the Reagan period.
Gerson sneers at detente as if it were a kind of moral abdication. Memories are short. The conversation under discussion occurred on March 1, 1973. The Vietnam War had just ended; prisoners had not yet returned.
An effective global strategy was in place with the opening to China, a broad dialogue with the Soviet Union, and major progress in Egypt and on emigration. It was to preserve that policy that the conversation in the Oval Office took place, and it is in that context that it must be viewed.