Groundbreaking for the George W. Bush Presidential Center —the latest addition to the National Archives’ system of Presidential Libraries— will begin a year from now. The designs of architect Robert A. M. Stern were unveiled in Dallas on Wednesday. Several drawings were released, and the general impression was described in today’s Washington Post by architectural writer and critic Philip Kennicott:
Architect Robert A.M. Stern’s plans for the George W. Bush Presidential Center call for a low-slung building of brick and limestone, following traditional lines and hugging the Texas landscape with a calm reserve. It’s almost as if Bush has chosen to retreat into the patrician reticence of his blue-blooded, Connecticut forebears.
The library, with groundbreaking scheduled for November 2010 and an estimated cost of $250 million, will be built on the campus of Southern Methodist University and will house public exhibition space, a mock-up of the Oval Office, a conference center with 364-seat auditorium, and separate entry and offices for scholars. Visitors will enter through Freedom Hall, emblazoned with an American flag on its ceiling and capped by a square glass box that allows natural light to flow in.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center entrance. WaPo critic Kennicott, combining admiration and snark, writes that “It is all self-consciously attuned to and consonant with the SMU campus, a hyper-dignified collection of buildings with porticos and white columns that look as if they were designed by Thomas Jefferson unconstrained by a budget.”
Freedom Hall: The Bush Presidential Center’s entrance lobby.
Kennicott is harsh on the Clinton Library in Little Rock:
Compare this with the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, the shape of which recalls the 42nd president’s tediously repeated “bridge to the 21st century” metaphor. Created by Polshek Partnership, the Clinton library is a flashy, contemporary confection of aluminum and glass, with dramatic cantilevers and a high-tech gloss. Although Polshek’s work in Washington has tended to the empty and meretricious (e.g., the Newseum and desperately flawed plans for a visitor center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial), the library for Clinton achieved the brass ring of all too many architectural endeavors: instant iconic status.
Purely as a consumer in the competitive market of Presidential Libraries, I find that judgment misleading. One man’s tired metaphor may provide another man’s moment of quiet inspiration, and the Clinton Library —strikingly situated on the bridge-crossed Little Rock River, and unconstrained by the style of any surrounding campus — provides the visitor an intriguingly site-specific experience, particularly when approached by foot on President Clinton Avenue. The interiors and exhibition spaces are open and friendly and sleekly modern. And walking through the replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room remind visitors of the tangible reality of the Office and the office.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
I have recently had two occasions to visit and tour the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia — the first time out of curiosity and the second out of interest based on the first. Wilson was one of RN’s favorite predecessors; he chose portraits of Wilson and Eisenhower for the Cabinet Room. The Wilson Library complex is bounded on one side by the mansion acquired to house the presidential papers and on the other by The Manse — the house in which Wilson was born in December 1856. Although he only spent his first year in Staunton, he always considered it as home and chose it as the site for his Library.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia.
Each of the twelve —and soon to be thirteen— presidential libraries reflects the character and the times of its namesake. So comparing them is a business of apples and oranges. That said, and acknowledging that I’m myopic, I find the Nixon Library —designed by Langdon Wilson— especially architecturally suitable and institutionally successful —as both an accurate rendition of its namesake’s story and as an experience for the average visitor. Its setting, its design, and its general ambiance convey a real sense of the President and Mrs. Nixon. The remarkable arc of the Nixon story is all there — from the house where he was born to the simple polished granite headstones of his and Mrs. Nixon’s final resting places. And in the spacious and graciously proportioned building is the history of the deep valleys and high mountains they experienced between.
The original architect’s drawing of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library campus in Yorba Linda.
The Reflecting Pool and Colonnade at the Nixon Library.
Twenty years ago next July: The 38, 40, 37, 41, and their First Ladies at the opening of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on 19 July 1990.
“I was born in a house my father built.” RN’s Birthplace at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
Forty years ago, on 19 November 1969, RN welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato to the White House at the beginning of what would be a significant few days in the history of US-Japanese relations. Typically, the meeting was the result of long planning and negotiations; and, while there was room for spontaneity in the dealings between the two leaders and the two delegations, the general outline of the trip’s results were known before the Prime Minister’s limousine pulled up to the South Portico.
POTUS and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato review an honor guard during the arrival ceremony at the White House on 19 November 1969.
The twenty-seven year occupation of the island of Okinawa, and the presence of American nuclear weapons on it, had been an issue bedeviling relations between the two nations for some time. As the Japanese economy began to revive and flourish, the desire to shake off American what was increasingly seen as an American yoke became focused on the island. Such sentiment was easily provoked by left-wing parties and politicians, and Sato’s Liberal Democratic Party increasingly felt that its survival could depend on some kind of Okinawa settlement.
But the LBJ White House, State Department, and Defense Department, while turning over the Bonin Islands as a token of bona fides, were unable to do more than promise to study the reversion of the Ruyuku Islands of which Okinawa was a part.
“Moving from one’s position now is filled with difficulties”: A Christian Science Monitor cartoon depicted the US-Okinawa negotiations during the Johnson Administration.
In his seminal “Asia After Vietnam,” article in the Fall ’67 edition of Foreign Affairs, RN mentioned Okinawa as a problem that would have to be addressed. From his first days in the White House, in order to clear the diplomatic decks in order to prepare for an approach to China, he moved the resolution of the Okinawa issue to a front burner. By the end of April, he had decided that Okinawa would be returned if the Japanese government guaranteed approval for US forces to remain based there and would undertake to carry out regional defense.
19 November 1969: RN in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Sato. RN said that these three days of White House meetings “will probably be the most successful talks that have been held between our two governments.”
In one of the most egregious leaks of national security documents that plagued the administration’s first year, on 5 June, Hedrick Smith of The New York Times reported on a leaked Top Secret NSC document — NSDM-13: Policy Toward Japan — that gave away the ultimate US negotiating positions for the upcoming talks with Japan:
With respect to Okinawa, the President has directed that a strategy paper be prepared by the East Asia Interdepartmental Group under the supervision of the Under Secretaries Committee for negotiations with the Japanese Government over the next few months on the basis of the following elements:
1. Our willingness to agree to reversion in 1972 provided there is agreement in 1969 on essential elements governing U.S. military use and provided detailed negotiations are completed at that time.
2. Our desire for maximum free conventional use of the mlitary bases, particularly with respect to Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
3. Our desire to retain nuclear weapons on Okinawa but indicating that the President is prepared to consider, at the final stages of negotiation, the withdrawal of the weapons while retaining emergency storage and transit rights, if other elements of the Okinawan agreement are satisfactory.
Two career diplomats —U. Alexis Johnson at the State Department and Ambassador Armin Meyer in Tokyo— played important parts in working out the details of the agreement that would be signed at the White House in November.
Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi had sworn off smoking as long as Okinawa wasn’t under Japanese control. As Secretary of State Bill Rogers and Prime Minister Sato watched, RN gave the Foreign Minister a pack of Japanese cigarettes to celebrate the agreement.
A fifteen-point joint communique covering the matters of mutual interest discussed during Prime Minister Sato’s visit was issued on 21 November at the conclusion of the visit (Points 6-15 dealt with Okinawa).
In the Rose Garden: On Prime Minister Sato’s last day in Washington —21 November 1969— RN announced plans for the return of the Ryukyu Islands —including Okinawa— to Japan. The reversion took place on 15 May 1972.
In an extensive and fascinating 1996 oral history interview, US Ambassador to Japan Armin Meyer described a conversation with RN shortly after the above photo was taken:
While I’m thinking of it, one thing that always affected me, was on that very first November day, when we, when Nixon and Sato, concluded that treaty, that statement that was issued, communiqué, which we had spent three months drafting, because that was the heart of the whole Okinawa negotiations, Nixon and I walked Sato back to his car and on the way back Nixon told me… I mean he never saw ambassadors the way earlier presidents had, he just didn’t have time for them, but there was one brief period there when he and I were chatting and he said… “You know our job is to keep the LDP in power, that’s your job, to keep the LDP in power.” And that was really what was moving him on going ahead with Okinawa, on going ahead… because he realized that the election was coming up, that the treaty arrangement was up in another year, and so on. Well, as I mentioned, I went down to Okinawa three days after I presented my credentials, looked around, came back, and wrote a telegram that said, “as Okinawa goes, so goes Japan.” It was preaching to the converted, obviously, because Nixon was way ahead of me on it, but it helped a lot. In that connection, I might say, that among the non-converted, usually, were the military. One time when I came back, one early time, I remember Henry saying, “now Armin, don’t you dare talk to the military, they’re my people, I don’t want you talking to them.” Because he was keeping them in line on this whole Japan policy.
At the Rose Garden farewell ceremony on the last day of the Prime Minister’s visit —21 November— the President said:
There have been many meetings between the heads of government of Japan and the United States over the past 25 years. I am confident that history will record that this is the most significant meeting that has occurred since the end of World War II.
It is customary on such occasions to say that a new era begins in the relations between the two countries involved. I believe today, however, that there is no question that this is a statement of the fact that a new era begins between the United States and Japan, in our relations not only bilaterally in the Pacific but in the world.
As the joint communiquй which will be issued at 11:30 indicates, we have resolved the last major issue which came out of World War II, the Okinawa problem. And further, we have made significant progress in the resolution of other bilateral issues in the economic field, as well as in the field of investment and trade, not only between our two countries, but in the Asian area.
President Barack Obama appeared to be taking a page from Richard Nixon’s playbook Wednesday when he seemed to declare the suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed guilty and deserving of the death penalty. In Nixon’s case, he pronounced cult leader Charles Manson guilty of several murders while Manson was being tried in a California state court for killing actress Sharon Tate and others.
Here’s what happened. In an interview, the president had this exchange with Chuck Todd of NBC:
TODD: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – can you understand why it is offensive to some for this terrorist to get all the legal privileges of any American citizen?
OBAMA: I don’t think it will be offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.
TODD: But having that kind of confidence of a conviction – I mean one of the purposes of doing – going to the Justice Department and not military court is to show of the the world our fairness in our court system.
OBAMA: Well –
TODD: But you also just said that he was going to be convicted and given the death penalty.
OBAMA: Look – what I said was people will not be offended if that’s the outcome. I’m not pre-judging; I’m not going to be in that courtroom, that’s the job of prosecutors, the judge and the jury.
The RN remark came on August 3, 1970. He was criticizing the media for glamorizing criminals, and used Manson as an example:
I noted, for example, the coverage of the Charles Manson case when I was in Los Angeles, front page every day in the papers. It usually got a couple of minutes in the evening news. Here is a man who was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason.
Ron Ziegler immediately retracted the remark, noting that RN had intended to say “alleged.” But the comment caused big problems for the prosecution — as Obama’s remark probably will.
There are a couple of differences. Nixon admitted error. At a press conference several months later, a reporter asked him about the Manson trial and other cases in which he suggested that criminal defendants were guilty. “I think sometimes we lawyers, even like doctors who try to prescribe for themselves, may make mistakes. And I think that kind of comment probably is unjustified. ” Obama, by contrast, insisted that “when” really means “if.”
Also, the text of Nixon’s original comment was (and is) available on the public record. But the Obama White House, unlike its immediate predecessors, does not routinely post interview transcripts. To find them, one must search online in other places. And as any Googler knows, things often disappear from the web.
37: February 1972
44: November 2009.
The White House ID for downloading this photo is “hero_greatwall_LJ-01-60″