Nixon’s Triumph in West Berlin

    The men of the past thought in terms of blockades and walls; the men of the future will think in terms of open channels. The men of the past were trapped in the gray overcast of cold war; the men of the future, a future toward which we will all work, if only they remember the tragedy and triumph of Berlin, will be free to walk in the warm sunlight of a just peace.
    -Richard Nixon

    Germany Berlin Wall Anniversary Then and Now

    President Nixon surveys the eastern side of the Berlin Wall on February 26, 1969.

    This autumn marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a pivotal moment in 20th century history that paved the way for German reunification and the end of the Cold War era. “The fall of the Wall” that began when East German leadership relaxed border controls bridged a long divided Germany. Berlin had finally become, in President Bush’s words of foreshadowing, a place of cooperation and not a point of confrontation.

    Only 20 years prior, Berlin was the arsenal of East-West division. President Nixon assumed office at a time when the wall was etched in the European psyche. Far from anyone’s imagination was the dismantling of the wall, let alone any sort of relaxation in East-West tensions. Incidentally, the bond between the United States and its European allies had weakened due to the former’s entrenchment in the malaise of the Vietnam War.

    President Nixon entered office with a vision to reinstate sound American foreign policy. He began by bolstering U.S. relations with Western Europe–its strongest network of alliances–and in doing so, made his first official presidential visit to the region. One of his seminal stops came at the Siemans Factory in West Berlin, where he addressed thousands of workers and spectators eager to hear from a U.S. president making the first state visit to the region since President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

    To the excited Berliners, President Nixon proclaimed “that the people of Berlin are free and that despite a wall this is one city and one people and one nation.”

    The division of Berlin, characterized by years of arduous debate over petty legalities, administrative practices, and political and economic interests, was a critical component of the Nixon administration’s foreign policy strategy in Europe and was emblematic of what had gone astray in East-West relations. The wall had been a concrete symbol of East-West confrontation.

    President Nixon recognized the impracticality to which reunification of Berlin was possible at the time. Yet, he firmly stood by the view that West Berlin ought not to be treated as a separate political entity devoid of its western European ties.

    Speaking off the cuff, President Nixon spoke on behalf of all Americans and free people across the globe when he addressed the Siemens factory workers: “Sometimes you must feel that you are very much alone. But always remember we are with you, and always remember that people who are free and who want to be free around the world are with you. In the sense that the people of Berlin stand for freedom and peace, all the people of the world are truly Berliners.”

    20 years later, the opportunity for all Berliners to be free finally presented itself. When the first pieces of the Berlin Wall fell, RN advised President Bush in a memorandum to be wary of Mikhail Gorbachev’s allure, despite his popular foreign policy of glasnost and domestic policy of perestroika. Many believed that Gorbachev was a Communist contrarian, a reformer, a man who represented the Soviet State but was a westerner at heart. President Nixon urged caution:

    “I do not share the views of those who believe that because Gorbachev is tearing down a wall that should never have been built when he had no other choice, and because he often speaks of his devotion to freedom and human rights, that he is deep down a closet democrat.”

    At the Time Magazine Man of the Year Dinner on January 22, 1990, Richard Nixon gave his honest assessment of Gorbachev. While acknowledging that Gorbachev was by far the most enlightened Russian leader of this century in Russian history, he did not deviate from his belief that Gorbachev was a true-believing communist whose ultimate goal was to save the flailing ideology.

    “There is no question but that he is a remarkable new kind of leader of the Soviet Union and we welcome the initiatives at home and abroad that he has already taken. But when you examine the evidence, it is clear that what he is doing is making a virtue out of necessity.”

    Though Gorbachev made popular amends to the Soviet Union’s approach to foreign relationships, there was no question that internally, the Soviet grasp was weakening. East Germany’s sudden turn of heart, devoid of Soviet intervention, was evidence of that. Everywhere in the world, Communism was failing. The per capita income of the Soviet people was falling, dissent was ripening across Eastern Europe, and all the great industrial powers were pitted against the Soviet Union. To save Communism from imminent failure, Gorbachev applied the only pragmatic strategy available to him: a pivot to the West.

    The fall of the Berlin wall was a giant leap in the direction of self-determination and freedom for Eastern Europe, but at the moment was only a means of Gorbachev’s political strategy. RN warned that Gorbachev’s pivot to the West would remove the glue that held the Western alliance together–the defense against Soviet aggression. To support its own interest of stability and freedom in Europe, the U.S. and its allies would have to be sure that the Soviet Union supported the same goal. Only then could true peace be achieved.

      RN Fights Organized Crime

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        Democratic Senator John L. McClellan (far right) from Arkansas sponsored the OCCA in Congress as the bill passed both houses within months.

        Forty-four years ago today, President Richard Nixon signed the “Organized Crime Control Act” (OCCA) into law at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. This piece of legislation would prove to be highly useful for the Justice Department and FBI when prosecuting entrenched leaders of organized crime, especially the so called Mafia. Over time, this legislation would provide the federal government with the adequate enforcement abilities to prosecute criminals engaged in terrorist activities and provide the basis for the modern witness protection program.

        The path to the OCCA began when President Nixon signed Executive Order 11534 on June 4, 1970 establishing the National Council on Organized Crime to investigate the issue in depth and begin pushing for appropriate legislative remedies through Congress as soon as possible. The Council was chaired by the Attorney General, John Mitchell and also included the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor as well as a score of other top executive branch officials.

        The goal of the Council was to find a way to realistically consolidate the various Justice Department Strike Forces that were tasked with combating different areas of organized crime into one comprehensive framework.

        View a talking points memo for President Nixon on reasons for creating NCOC:

        The major accomplishments of the OCCA was that it gave the federal government a more far reaching ability to crackdown on organized crime syndicates and racketeering shell schemes, which as a by-product, gave the federal government better insight and control into drug trafficking and acts of terrorism, in particular bombing which were prevalent at the time. In addition, the act gave grand juries wider powers to detain witnesses deemed unmanageable and the witness protection clause also gave the Attorney General wider authority to freeze assets connected to racketeering scams. The OCCA was a success in significantly curtailing “mafia” activities through its “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act” article, which made it possible to prosecute someone who had told others to commit criminal activity in his or her stead.

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        Upon signing he OCCA into law at the Justice Department on the morning of the 15th, the President visited the Washington Metro Police.

        On June 13, 2011 at the University Club in Washington, D.C., the Nixon Foundation and the National Archives presented a Nixon Legacy Forum on RN’s work with Congress to enact sweeping anti-crime legislation and how he gave the Justice Department the tools to more effectively fight organized crime. The panelists — all Nixon era legal experts from the White House, Justice Department, and Congress — spoke about the spirit of bi-partisanship exemplified by the officials who spearheaded the administration’s initiatives and about the substantial, lasting changes they brought to America’s criminal justice system. The Archivist of the United States David Ferriero gave introductory remarks and supplemented the presentation with original documents from the era. Participants included G. Robert Blakey, Wallace H. Johnson, Richard “Pete” Velde, and Geoffrey C. Shepard.

        Watch the entire legacy forum below:

          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.


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