Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nixon's Thorough Thought Process

Writing at The National Interest, which is published by the former Nixon Center, Paul Pillar disputes David Ignatius's suggestion that the most remarkable thing about Richard Nixon's opening to communist China was that it was undertaken by a staunch anti-communist:

Nixon's initiative had its roots in his cogitation while out of power about great power politics and how it could be reshaped to America's advantage. When he entered the White House in 1969 it was with one of the most fully formed strategic outlooks about foreign affairs of any incoming U.S. president. A fundamental aspect of the China initiative that Ignatius does not mention is that it was one leg of triangular diplomacy in which Nixon intended to use the relationship with Beijing to gain leverage in his dealings with the Soviet Union. On the China part of his strategy, Nixon was even ahead of his geostrategic partner Henry Kissinger.

Nixon personally planned the negotiating approach toward China, inventorying on his yellow legal pad the objectives of each state and where they might find common ground. It was a thorough thought process that—especially in taking account of the perspectives and interests of the other side—is sorely missing from much of what passes for public debate about foreign policy today. Nixon and Kissinger's super-close-hold manner of handling the initiative, in which even Secretary of State William Rogers was kept in the dark, had its disadvantages. Some signals from the Chinese were missed, and there were some avoidable stumbles in the drafting of what became known as the Shanghai Communiqué. But to the extent the result was a positive accomplishment, which it was, the credit was all Nixon's.

TNI's new editor, Robert W. Merry, missed an opportunity to devote the January-February 2012 print edition to a look back and forward at Sino-U.S. relations through the prism of the Nixon initiative. I was glad to learn that the center itself has some programming planned.

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