RN and TR: Always in the Arena

    TR and RN

    The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, a Ken Burns documentary film that aired last month chronicles the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, members of the influential family who shaped much of 20th century American politics. One of Richard Nixon’s most admired political figures of the 20th century, perhaps more so than the colossal icon Winston Churchill, was Theodore Roosevelt. A man who embraced the strenuous life, T.R. thrived living life in pursuit of excellence in citizenship. He believed in the fundamental teaching wrought from the stern strife of living in the arena, and acknowledged the weakness of feigned superiority from those who observed the realities of life from the stands. Very much like T.R., Richard Nixon chose a life in the arena and aspired for excellence even if it meant enduring defeat, because it also meant rising to the call of duty.

    Click here to view a trailer of the Ken Burns film.

    An excerpt from T.R.’s speech Citizenship in a Republic appears on the page before Richard Nixon’s post-presidential memoir on victory, defeat and renewal, In the Arena, begins:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knows neither victory nor defeat.

    It is a quote that embodies the story of RN’s life–one of perseverance against seemingly insurmountable defeats. A man who could have easily chosen to retire from political life following a gut-blowing gubernatorial defeat in 1962 and news agencies deeming it his political obituary, but found a way to return to political prominence that culminated in his ascension to the White House. A man who, despite being the only President in the history of our nation to resign the post, rose from his political vestiges to succeed in his duty as perhaps one of the most influential elder statesman.

    Perhaps RN held a conviction, despite battling the emotions surrounding his decision to resign, that this was yet another beginning. In his farewell remarks to White House staff on his final day as President, RN turned to the moving tribute that TR wrote for his wife following her sudden passing. Earlier on the same day, he had learned that his mother died. Only in his twenties, TR believed that the light of his life had gone out:

    He said, ‘She was beautiful in face and form and lovelier still in spirit. As a flower she grew and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had been always in the sunshine. There had never come to her a single great sorrow. None ever knew her who did not love and revere her for her bright and sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure and joyous as a maiden, loving, tender and happy as a young wife. When she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be just begun and when the years seemed so bright before her, then by a strange and terrible fate death came to her. And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life forever.’

    That was T.R. in his twenties. He thought the light had gone from his life forever — but he went on. And he not only became President but, as an ex-President, he served his country, always in the arena, tempestuous, strong, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but he was a man.

    Richard Nixon himself aspired to be that kind of man. For it appeared that his light had gone out once the decision was made to resign. But RN went on, because in life, defeats are always only a beginning.

      DefCon III

        HAK RN 10.10.73001

        Secretary of State Henry Kissinger briefs President Nixon on the Middle East Peace talks.

        On October 21, 1973 Henry A. Kissinger, President Nixon’s Secretary of State arrived in Moscow to conduct secret negotiations with the Soviet Union to bring an end to the war in the Middle East. With the U.S. negotiating on behalf of the Israelis, and the Soviets negotiating for the Arabs, the two sides began the highest-level talks thus far in the war. With the full negotiating authority of President Nixon, Dr. Kissinger settled the first framework for a cease-fire within 4 hours, an astonishing accomplishment. Up to this point, the U.S. maintained its three major strategic objectives: (1) to fulfill its obligation to Israel, (2) to reduce the role of the Soviets in the Middle East (and was in a position to do so at an accelerated rate through a peace process), and (3) to maintain friendly relations with the Arab world throughout the crisis.

        Kissinger arrived back in the U.S. on the night of October 23-24 to learn that the cease-fire he had implemented only hours earlier in Tel Aviv had been broken. The Israeli Army was advancing further into Egyptian territory, threatening to destroy the entire Egyptian Third Army.

        The Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire situation following the advance of the Israeli Army further into Egyptian territory.

        On the 24th the Soviets informed the Administration that they intended to make a major move at the UN by having a new draft resolution proposed to the Security Council that would call for both the Soviet Union and the U.S. to send in military contingents to the region to enforce a new cease-fire. The U.S. made its intentions to veto such a resolution (along with the UK and China) clear to the Soviet Union and, in addition, the U.S. would in no way tolerate outside military forces on the ground in the region. The reasoning behind the refusal to engage outside armies into the region was crystal clear; such a move threatened to escalate the crisis into a superpower conflict, potentially instigating the use of nuclear weapons. Additionally, the Administration saw it as a Soviet strategy to shore up its weakening influence with Arab states while the American President was weakened at home by internal upheaval (the resignation of Vice President Agnew and the firing of the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had created a media firestorm at home and resulted in the resignations of three other high ranking officials in the Justice Department).

        Talks with Ambassador Malik (Soviet Union Ambassador to the United Nations) on October 26, 1973.

        Nevertheless, late on the night of October 24th, Nixon received an urgent note from Secretary Brezhnev that if the U.S. refused to send peacekeeping forces, then the Soviet Union was willing to do so unilaterally.

        It was now clear to the President and his administration that the Soviets would not be intimidated or incentivized to return to the negotiating table by words alone, but that the Administration had to exercise force through concrete actions to show that the U.S. was still fully invested in the conflict. Nixon stated in his memoirs that,

        When Haig informed me about this message, I said that he and Kissinger should have a meeting at the White House to formulate plans for a firm reaction to what amounted to a scarcely veiled threat of unilateral Soviet intervention. Words were not making our point – we needed action, even the shock of a military alert.

        In order to lure the Soviets back into talks, the Administration knew that the American reply had to be conciliatory in tone but strong in substance. On October 25th Nixon raised the military alert for all U.S. forces around the world to DefCon III, in essence, the highest stage of readiness for peacetime conditions. Along with the alert, the Administration sent out a conciliatory note to the Soviet high command requesting immediate negotiations and sent another note to Sadat to belay his request for Soviet troops to enforce the cease-fire, lest the U.S. be forced to send in forces also.

        All of these actions culminated in the most desirable response possible from the American perspective. The Soviets were utterly shocked by the U.S.’s escalated, yet calculated response and Sadat did indeed rescind his request for Soviet troops. That same day, October 25th, UNSC Resolution 340 was approved, ending the war. As a result of this (finally) successful cease-fire resolution, the U.S. had managed to maintain its obligations to Israel while bettering its standing with Arab countries, Egypt in particular. Sadat’s sudden shift away from the Soviet Union to the United States was possibly the most positive outcome of the bloody and tragic war, contributing to the overall stability of the region and laying the ground work for the Camp David Accords 5 years later; still the only successful Middle East peace treaty to date.

        President Nixon briefs the press on the situation in the Middle East on October 26, 1973.

        U.S. Ambassador to Israel Kenneth Keating reports on his meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. The meeting confirmed the phasing out of the American airlift by October 28.

          Operation Nickel Grass: Turning Point of the Yom Kippur War


            The U.S. Air Force shipped 22,395 tons of tanks, artillery, ammunition, and supplies to Israel aboard C-141 Starlifters and C-5 Galaxies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

            After the first week of battle in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was clear to many observers that Israel was encountering unexpectedly high casualty counts and equipment loss in its war with Syria and Egypt. On the Egyptian front in particular, Israeli losses continued to climb as a result of the neutralization of its air superiority by Egyptian surface to air missiles (SAMs). By October 9th, the Israelis had lost 49 airplanes (14 Phantoms) and 500 tanks (400 on the Egyptian front alone). The war of attrition was certainly raising questions about Israel’s military sustainability. For Washington’s peace efforts to succeed, neither side in the conflict could gain anymore militarily than they came into the conflict with. The Nixon Administration needed both parties to enter into negotiations without the balance of military power tilting to either side so as to ensure that both Israel and the Arab states could negotiate on equal footing.

            Several days into the war, Washington decided that supplementary action needed to be taken to ensure that the balance of the war didn’t tilt in Egypt’s and Syria’s favor, but rather, that Israel would be able to hold its own in battle for at least one or two weeks longer.

            By the morning of October 9th, evidence strongly suggested that the Soviets were supplying Arab forces with military material and that Moscow had supposedly encouraged other Arab states (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, etc.) to join the war. With the Soviet Union supplying aid to Egypt and Syria, the U.S. was gifted with diplomatic cover to legitimize an arms shipments operation of its own to Israel. At first, the airlifted shipments were sent covertly via aircraft from El Al airlines, which had had the Stars of David on their tails painted over. These earlier shipments were mostly consumables and light military materials.

            By October 9th the situation had become so grave that the White House and the Department of Defense decided that the only effective way to supply the Israeli forces with a sufficient number of arms was by direct U.S. military transport aid. An overt military-supported airlift brought with it two major externalities which the White House knew would be the price of such an operation: (1) that the other non-involved Arab countries in OPEC would initiate an oil embargo on the U.S. and, (2) that virtually all European countries were opposed to allowing the U.S. to use their airfields to refuel for fear of having similar embargos enacted on themselves.

            Secretary of State Henry Kissinger addresses the concerns of NATO countries regarding the Middle East Conflict and affirms the U.S. position.

            This provided the U.S. military with a major logistic hurdle. But before it was too late, the U.S. was able to convince the Portuguese government to allow the use of an airfield in the Azores and secured Dutch authorization to secretly use an airfield in the Netherlands; a unilateral action by the Dutch defense minister who never consulted his cabinet colleagues on the matter. By the evening of the 9th of October, President Nixon ordered the commencement of Operation Nickel Grass, the American airlift to resupply the Israelis of military equipment lost in the war. Supplies began arriving in droves by October 14th and Israel was able to swiftly reconcile for its earlier losses. A real significance of the airlift was that it guaranteed that the U.S. would retain its influence with the Israeli government, sending the Jewish state help in her hour of need. This was essential to the Administration because by ensuring Israeli faith in the United States, the administration knew that it stood a much better chance of using its influence to make the Israeli negotiating position more flexible in post-war peace negotiations.

            Secretary of State Henry Kissinger provides diplomatic ammunition to U.S. embassies around the world, explaining U.S. position during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

            Fun Facts:

            • By the end of Operation Nickel Grass, the U.S. shipped 22,395 tons of material to Israel, with 8,755 tons arriving before the end of the war.

            • American aircraft flew approximately 570 missions throughout the duration of the airlift.

            • El Al aircraft flew approximately 5,500 tons of material over 170 flights.

            • The airlift continued until November 14, 1973, 20 days after the ceasefire.

              41 Years Ago Today: The Yom Kippur War Begins

                Forty-one years ago today, the deadliest Arab-Israeli military conflict commenced with a surprise attack, coordinated mainly by Egypt and Syria, on the Israeli occupied territories in Suez and the Golan Heights. The Yom Kippur War would instantly go down in infamy as the bloodiest military confrontation between Israel and its Arab neighbors totaling nearly 53,500 total casualties on all sides involved; compared to 5,500 casualties during the 1967 Six-Day War, and 10,000 casualties during the 1956 Suez Crisis.

                YKW tank pic

                A wrecked Israeli tank during the early days of the Yom Kippur War. Israel lost approximately 500 tanks during the first three days of confrontation, placing a high priority on tank replacements during the airlift campaign.

                This military campaign immediately presented a crisis of worldwide proportions that not only threatened the long-term stability of the Middle East but dramatically heated tensions between the United States and Soviet Union after long fought years towards rapprochement by the Nixon Administration. In order to achieve the best possible outcome from this tragic event, RN and his staff, along with the U.S. military needed to carefully and strategically maneuver on various fronts all the while confronting hostile domestic and internal backlash in response to Watergate, the resignation of Vice President Agnew, and the firing and subsequent resignations of high ranking Justice Department officials.

                From the start of the conflict, each side had many pieces of the board in play. The following is a brief summary of what each major player had to work with:

                Arab States (belligerents: Egypt, Syria, Iraq):
                • Reclaim land and prestige lost as a result of the 1967 war.
                • Remove Israel’s superior bargaining position dependent on occupation of 1967 conquered lands.
                • Force Israel into negotiations from a position of relative weakness.

                • Maintain lands captured in 1967 to preserve ideal negotiating position with respect to Arab states, PLO, and other Arab-Palestinian groups.
                • Maintain superior combat effectiveness over Arab enemies in the face of being extremely outnumbered by Arab forces.
                • Cannot strike preemptively in order to not appear to be the aggressor at the risk of losing U.S. support.

                United States:
                • Take supportive action for Israel that allows U.S. to maintain strong diplomatic and military influence.
                • Do not allow the balance of war to tilt in either direction in order to bring about negotiations with parties on equal terms.
                • Allow Israel to maintain its balance vis-à-vis the invading forces by supplying it with sufficient military material and arms.
                • Maintain domestic acceptance of arms supply to Israel in the face of the reciprocal OPEC oil embargo.
                • Do not allow U.S. relations with the USSR to escalate out of hand as a result of the conflict.

                Soviet Union:
                • Maintain fleeting influence in region by aiding Arab states in the war.
                • Maintain influence, credibility, and prestige in the region by making it possible for Arabs to reclaim the lands lost in 1967.
                • Attempt to expand Soviet military influence on the ground by sending in as many military personnel as possible under whatever diplomatic guise necessary.

                YKW Map 2

                On this day in 1973, the armies of Anwar Sadat’s Egypt and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria launched  surprise attacks on Israel.  The Arab armies took advantage of Israel’s observation of  the holiest day of the Jewish calendar — Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement — when broadcasting is curtailed and many soldiers are given leave to be with their families.

                For the remainder of October 1973, the crisis in the Middle East would test the resolve of each of the aforementioned parties and the global community as a whole. Over the next few days The New Nixon will be posting additional entries regarding different angles of the Yom Kippur War focusing on the various efforts and policies of the Nixon White House to end the war and to bring the warring parties back on the path to peace.

                  The First U.S. President to Visit Yugoslavia


                    President Nixon receives a warm welcome from Yugoslavian citizens.

                    On September 30, 1970, President Nixon touched down in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, becoming the first U.S. President to visit the Communist nation. On this day in 1970, after two hours of official talks with President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia in the Federal Council Building, President Nixon acknowledged “the growth of good and friendly relations between their two countries.”

                    President Tito, a leader in the so-called nonaligned world and owing allegiance to neither of the two superpowers, gained prominence as the leader of the World War II Yugoslav guerrilla movement, which successfully resisted the occupying Axis forces. Having by September of 1944 expelled all external forces from Yugoslav territory, Tito established the provisional government of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, later renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia following Tito’s overwhelming electoral victory.

                    At the end of September, 1970, circumstances nearly prevented President Nixon’s visit to Yugoslavia. President Tito was a close personal friend of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, who abruptly passed away on September 28 after suffering from a severe heart attack. Though President Tito was expected to postpone President Nixon’s state visit, he instead elected to forego the funeral. It appeared that President Tito would not have wanted to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, President Nixon’s much sought-after visit. It was also likely that he wanted to avoid missing the limited opportunity of making the case for his country’s stance against the Middle Eastern policy of the United States, for which he claimed to have been too favorable to Israeli interests.

                    High on the agenda of topics to discuss at the October 1 meeting, no less, was United States involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. But equally important to this discussion was President Nixon’s pledge to abide U.S. interest in Yugoslavian independence, to exhibit an understanding of its nonalignment policy, and to support its continued economic development. In other words, President Nixon would take this opportunity to differentiate the United States from the Soviet Union, who at the time continuously opposed Yugoslavian aspirations. Likewise, President Nixon, aware of Tito’s ties to Egypt, would approach this meeting with the premise that Yugoslavia offered a valuable conduit to Cairo.

                    Below, view National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s briefing memo for President Nixon’s first visit to Yugoslavia, which highlights some of these points:


                    President Nixon and President Tito before a State Dinner in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on October 1, 1970. 


                    Toasts of President Nixon and President Tito

                    After the meeting, both President’s released a join statement that acknowledged discussions on the Middle East, South East Asia, East-West relations, European security, less developed countries, and bilateral issues. It also affirmed both nations’ belief in negotiation rather than confrontation as indispensable to peaceful and just solutions, insisting that cooperation among sovereign nations would be the impetus for this type progress.


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