Richard Nixon’s Foreign Policy Reading List

    IMG_0524A replica of President Nixon’s New Jersey office at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

    By Brian Robertson

    What did President Nixon read? That is a question often asked by school children participating in school tours at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, and for younger audiences, the answer is usually the copies of National Geographic in the Nixon family home, the small sample of his books displayed in his post-presidential office exhibit and the books on the desk in the replica of the Lincoln Sitting room.

    For what he read in foreign policy, however, the answer is much more complex.

    A deep thinker and voracious reader, President Nixon was an intellectual who read widely but also had over forty years of applied foreign policy experience.

    While he admired intellectual inquiry, he valued the wisdom derived from the decision-maker’s challenge to theoretical paradigms. As he wrote in Real Peace: A Strategy for the West, “Those who make peace at the typing table rather than at the negotiating table have the luxury of being peace-makers without having to grapple with complex problems in the rough-and-tumble world of international diplomacy.”

    One clue as to what may have been on his foreign policy reading list are the works and authors he included in his best-selling books.

    Regarding détente and East-West relations, the scholars he regularly thanked included an array of published policymakers and academic historians which included William Van Cleave, Marin Strmecki, Walter McDougall, James Billington, Fritz Ermarth and William Hyland.

    He also frequently agreed with Charles Krauthammer’s columns and may have followed the columnist on a number of contemporary issues and world events. While not necessarily in complete agreement with the preceding (President Nixon’s writings provide a detailed insight into his perspective on American foreign policy), it is safe to bet they were on his reading list.

    In 1985, President Nixon read Charles Krauthammer’s March 1985 New Republic article entitled, “Isolationism, Left and Right” and wrote the author:

    1 Krauthammer RN 1

    The following is President Nixon’s annotated copy of Charles Krauthammer’s November 1993 Time Magazine article, “The Greatest Cold War Myth of All.” At the top, you will see a handwritten note to his assistant, Monica Crowley: “A helluva piece!”


    In addition to general books on foreign policy, President Nixon frequently studied and wrote about the Vietnam War,  citing Guenter Lewy, Norman Podhoretz, Andrew Krepinevich, Douglas Pike, Stephen J. Morris, Harry Summers and Robert Turner. These scholars are part of what became known as the revisionist school of Vietnam War scholarship, and although “revisionists” do not agree on all points, they generally depict U.S. involvement in Vietnam as a noble cause deterred by bad politics, biased press coverage and flawed military tactics.

    President Nixon reflected this view in his own book, No More Vietnams, and despite assuming office with little national will and a hostile Congress committed to slowly eroding his power to prosecute the war, he believed non-communist South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam) and Cambodia (Republic of Cambodia) deserved the chance to defend themselves against the Soviet and Chinese backed communist North Vietnamese Army (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and Khmer Rouge.

    Historians and scholars who continue to study the war from what can be described as this perspective include Mark Moyar, Lewis Sorley, Stephen Randolph, Mackubin Owens, Phil Catton, Ron Frankum and Ed Miller.

    This blog entry, of course, is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the books President Nixon read but serves as a starting point for what could be elucidated as Richard Nixon’s foreign policy reading list.

    Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.

      Recognizing First Lady Nixon’s Accomplishments on Her 102nd Birthday


        By Will Swift, author of PAT AND DICK: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage.

        In celebration of what would have been First Lady Pat Nixon’s 102nd birthday, let us remember some of her remarkable accomplishments as First Lady.

        - She was the most traveled first lady in history until Hillary Rodham Clinton surpassed her record twenty five years later. She traveled to 41 states and for 131,723 miles to visit 31 countries. The New York Times called her “Madame Ambassador” for her diplomatic work during her travels with the president and her solo trips to Africa and South America.

         - She was the first first lady to be the “personal representative of the president” at the inauguration of a foreign leader, President Tolbert of Liberia.

         - She was the first first lady to confer with presidents of foreign countries. She discussed U.S. policy on Rhodesia and South Africa with the leaders of three African countries.

        - She represented the president on an international humanitarian mission, spearheading efforts to raise funds and traveling high into the Peruvian Andes to bring relief supplies and comfort to the victims of the worst earthquake in the history of the Americas.

        - She engaged in diplomacy by speaking to longtime Soviet ambassador Dobrynin’s wife Irina to make sure the May 1972 presidential visit to the Soviet Union was not cancelled over differences about Vietnam.

        - During her 1969 visit to Vietnam, she was the first first lady to enter an active combat zone.

        - On foreign visits she made sure that women were invited to political events, where they had previously been excluded, and visited settings where she could encourage women to take an active role in improving their lives.

        - She helped women to recognize their right to equality and to improve their self-image in the U.S. and abroad.

        - She encouraged more women to go into government and politics.

        - She was the first first lady to publicly support the Equal Rights Amendment.

        - For the first time in history, she and the president promoted women to work as military social aides in the White House, where they could serve at major state dinners and social events.

        - She focused on volunteerism as her special project to address social problems at the local level and advocated passage of the Domestic Services Volunteer Act.

         - She promoted her husband’s domestic agenda by making field trips to programs that highlighted his administrations’ environmental, law enforcement, and mental health policies.

        - She was the first first lady to address the Republican nominating convention.

        - She was the first first lady to make a solo campaign trip during the presidential campaign.

        - She did more than any other first lady to refurbish the White House. Along with the executive mansion’s curator, she brought in six hundred historic paintings, antiques and furnishings, created the Map Room, renovated the China Room, and refurbished nine other rooms including the Green, Red, and Blue Rooms. Historian William Seale said the White House’s “great collection of Americana is the long shadow of Mrs. Nixon. The impulse, the idea and the energy were hers.”

        - She arranged for the White House to be lit at night.

        - She had wheelchair ramps installed at the White House for disabled citizens.

        - She created special White House tours for visually, hearing and physically impaired citizens.

        - She made the White House gardens and grounds available to the public.

        - She initiated Candlelight Tours of the White House and other evening tours so that average American families could see the interior of the president’s home.

        - She invited hundreds of average American families to non-denominational worship services in the East Room on Sundays.

        - She arranged for recorded histories of the White House to be placed at intervals along the fence so people waiting to see the mansion could learn about it.

          If Nixon Could Advise Obama on the Ukrainian Crisis

            RN72_08Moscow Summit May 1972

            By Brian Robertson

            The Ukrainian Crisis has evoked strong responses from across the American political spectrum. There are cries for President Obama to take unilateral action and impose sanctions against Putin while others urge the President to avoid overreacting to the international crisis.

            Amidst this clamor of advice, President Obama should turn to the career of Richard Nixon. The first U.S. President to set foot in the Kremlin and negotiate substantial arms control agreements with the Soviet Union while delicately maintaining a global balance of power structure, President Nixon deftly engaged a generation of Russian leaders ranging from Nikita Khrushchev to Boris Yeltsin.

            If President Nixon were in the arena, he would undoubtedly urge President Obama to seek a diplomatic solution appealing to the strategic interests of Russia, the Ukraine, and the United States.

            First, President Nixon would have urged President Obama to take the initiative and convince the U.S. public of the necessity of recognizing our own limits as a strategic interest.

            As President Nixon reminded President George H.W. Bush in 1992 on providing aid to Russia, “the mark of great leadership is not simply to support what is popular but to make what is unpopular popular if it serves the national interest.”

            In the shadow of two divisive wars and a global economic calamity, President Obama needs to utilize the power of the presidency to convey to the public the benefits and gains of establishing a diplomatic solution vis-à-vis the Ukraine and Russia.

            To a great degree, President Nixon accomplished this task by convincing the public to support the American engagement of unpopular leaders such as Leonid Brezhnev and Mao Tse-Tung during the Cold War.

            As President Nixon accomplished with Brezhnev and Mao, President Obama’s engagement of Putin does not signify an approval or endorsement of Russia’s policy. President Nixon emphasized to Mao during his 1972 trip to China:

            Mr. Chairman, I am aware of the fact that over a period of years my position with regard to the People’s Republic was one that the Chairman and Prime Minister totally disagreed with. What brings us together is a recognition of a new situation in the world and a recognition on our part that what is important is not a nation’s internal political philosophy. What is important is its policy toward the rest of the world and toward us. That is why—this point I think can be said to be honest—we have differences. The Prime Minister and Dr. Kissinger discussed these differences. It also should be said—looking at the two great powers, the United States and China—we know China doesn’t threaten the territory of the United States; I think you know the United States has no territorial designs on China. We know China doesn’t want to dominate the United States. We believe you too realize the United States doesn’t want to dominate the world. Also—maybe you don’t believe this, but I do—neither China nor the United States, both great nations, want to dominate the world. Because our attitudes are the same on these two issues, we don’t threaten each others’ territories. Therefore, we can find common ground, despite our differences, to build a world structure in which both can be safe to develop in our own way on our own roads. That cannot be said about some other nations in the world.

            Upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, President Obama also recognized the significance of President Nixon’s diplomatic overtures and necessity of engaging countries that have deep differences with the United States:

            The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door. In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies.

            During the early post-Cold War years of U.S.-Russia relations, President Nixon recognized the need to dispense of American cultural and political assumptions equating the Russian people with Soviet communism.

            In 1994, as the first American to address the Russian Federation Duma, President Nixon described “profoundly disturbing developments” in U.S.-Russian relations and warned, “If you follow our media you will find as a result of the exaggerated reaction to the (Aldrich) Ames spy scandal, there has been a resurrection of some anti-Russian attitudes carrying over from the Cold War.”

            In op-eds and speeches throughout the early 1990s, President Nixon continued to condemn the resurrection of Cold War assumptions toward Russia and urged the American public to “stop treating Russians as a defeated enemy.” Today, President Obama inherits the task of convincing the American public to stop comparing Post-Cold War Russia to the Soviet Union.

            Secondly, President Nixon would impel President Obama to impress upon Putin the strategic benefits of resorting to a diplomatic solution with the Ukraine. A long drawn out conflict or attempt to subjugate the Ukraine would create great strains on Russia and damage its standing in world opinion.

            Confronted by perpetual border disputes with Georgia and Estonia, the impact of international condemnation, and possible economic sanctions, a military occupation or attempt to transform the Ukraine into a satellite state would imperil the geopolitical integrity of Russia and, indeed, destabilize the entire region.

            While in office, President Nixon faced paramount domestic and international crises but reacted in a manner that maintained American prestige.

            In 1973 as Egypt and Syria invaded Israel with Soviet aid, President Nixon supplied essential material support to Israel and through intense negotiations deterred the Soviet Union from directly intervening in the war. While President Nixon did not support the Soviet role in the conflict, he still engaged the Soviet Union and laid the framework for the Carter administration’s Camp David Accords in 1977.

            In this telephone transcript, President Nixon—despite suffering from the domestic turmoil of Watergate— advised Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to provide essential aide to Israel and engage Soviet Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin:

            Nixon: Exactly. I think we should say—I think a personal message now should go. I mean you have been sending messages, but one should go from me to Brezhnev saying….

            Kissinger: Everything I am sending too goes in your name.

            Nixon: Good. But I think he should know now look here. The peace of not only this area but the whole future relationship is at stake here and we are prepared to stop if you are and we are prepared—you know what I mean. I don’t know—have you got anything developed along those lines so that we just don’t have . . .

            Kissinger: I have—I am developing it now and I think I could call Dobrynin and point it out to him.

            Nixon: Right, right. Put it in a very conciliatory but very tough way that I do this with great regret because—great reluctance but that we cannot have a situation that has now developed and we are prepared to tit for tat. The situation which regard to nothing on the battle so far.

            The following document shows Kissinger relaying the message to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin:

            Kissinger: And he wanted me for the benefit of your leadership to know two things—to tell you two things. One, we are now engaged in an airlift as you know of equipment to Israel.

            Dobrynin: Is it heavy equipment or consumables?

            Kissinger: It is mostly at this point consumables and we are keeping some restraints at the moment on heavy equipment. Considerable restraints on heavy equipment and a little but very little. We are prepared to stop the airlift immediately after a cease-fire if you are prepared to stop your airlift. But if not we can first of all increase it considerably and include heavy equipment. I mean we are not going at our maximum capacity or anywhere near.

            Dobrynin: No, I understand. It is not that you will continue intermittently.

            Kissinger: Well, if it goes on we will be forced into it sooner or later. As you know, we are already as you know under massive pressure on the Phantoms. We are sending a few but not like anything that we are asked to do.

            Dobrynin: Yes, I understand. Yes.

            Kissinger: You know those were the major items he wanted me to . . .

            Dobrynin: At the beginning you said you begin an airlift, yes?

            Kissinger: Beginning—it is in process. It is beginning now. Yes.

            Dobrynin: Well, that is a matter of information.

            Kissinger: Well, it is a matter of information proposal. If you are prepared to stop your airlift after a cease-fire, we are prepared to stop ours immediately.

            Dobrynin: Alright, but it is connected with the cease-fire you mentioned, yes.

            Kissinger: In connection with the cease-fire, yes.

            Dobrynin: O.K. I’ll pass it on right away.

            Kissinger: You know, Anatoly, we all know now what is at stake because if this goes on much longer…

            Finally, President Obama must convince Ukrainian leadership of the benefits of working out an internal solution to their disputes.

            While this will not be an easy task, President Obama should emphasize Russia’s and the Ukraine’s interdependence on one another for the past twenty-three years. Russia and the Ukraine have been one another’s most profitable trading partners and contribute to one another’s economic and political stability.

            The argument as to whether the Ukraine is a Western European or Eastern European ally is irrelevant and only serves to resurrect the ghosts of the Cold War. Ultimately, President Obama must make a greater effort to instill in the Ukrainian people and leadership class a determination to establish their independence of NATO and Russia.

            In his final book, President Nixon wisely advised “finding ways to be pro-Ukrainian that do not appear to be anti-Russian and by stressing that our policy is based on the manifestly correct view that our interests and those of Moscow and Kiev will benefit from both nations being strong, open, and free.”

            Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.

              43 Years Ago Today: RN Addresses Newly Commissioned Naval Officers

                RN Addressing OCS Graduates 1971President Nixon addresses the graduates of the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, March 12, 1971.

                By Chris Barber

                On this day 43 years ago, President Nixon stood before the 1971 graduating class of officers at the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island to deliver a message of opportunity.

                But it was not simply a message blanketed by cliches about what lay ahead for each talented young man. Instead, it was about the kind of opportunity that lay ahead–the kind that all men would be willing to stand for.

                To President Nixon, the opportunity for these budding officers was the realization for a full generation of peace. The Vietnam War was drawing closer and closer to an end, and Nixon believed within the next three years the United States would not be involved in any major conflict.

                The pursuit of peace is the opportunity which lies before you, and the preservation of peace will be the special obligation of your generation. There is no greater opportunity, and there is no greater responsibility.

                To the graduates of 1971, and to son-in-law David Eisenhower who was one of the graduating members of this class, President Nixon assigned the task of keeping the peace, and adding to the challenge of this task, he stressed the importance of maintaining American military strength.

                RN and DE GraduationPresident Nixon congratulates his son-in-law, David Eisenhower, upon his graduation from Naval Officer Candidate School.

                In his message, the President also quelled the concerns of those that found themselves resenting the time dedicated to service–time that could perhaps be used instead for advancement in other careers. He offered an encouraging perspective and alluded to his own wartime service:

                I tell you, [the years] will not be lost. Rather, I believe that nothing you do in your life will be more important than the service you give in the next 3 years. Out of the sacrifice and the bitterness and the testing of the last 10 years has come the opportunity to achieve at last what Americans all want and what we have not had in this whole century: a full generation of peace. It is for us now to seize that opportunity, to win the peace. It will be for you to keep it.

                In keeping the message of peace, he dedicated a portion of his message to discounting the new isolationist philosophy so often evangelized in Washington–a philosophy of maintaining considerable distance from world affairs. The President confessed that keeping peace for the next generation would be a difficult task if the United States had suddenly scaled down its defense sphere. He understood the arguments of the new isolationists, but to President Nixon, the question “of what is enough is not academic.” For a man who had been in the arena for a large part of his life, who had gone face to face with enemies of freedom and justice, he also understood the cost of weakness.

                We must have strength. If all the world were free, we might have no need of arms. If all the world were just, we would have no need of valor. But as we see that the values we cherish are not cherished universally, and that there are those who feel threatened by the prospects of freedom and justice, then we must keep the strength we need to keep the values we cherish.

                And so, President Nixon left the graduates with an imprint for which they could live the rest of their lives by:

                As you serve in our peace forces, you can be proud of this great fact: We Americans firmly believe in what we are and in what we have. But we do not choose to go the way of those ancient crusaders who sought to civilize the world one grave at a time. We do not seek power as an end in itself. We seek power adequate to our purpose, and our purpose is peace.

                  Nixon and de Gaulle

                    RN and De Gaulle Close-UpPresident Nixon and General de Gaulle in Paris, 1969.

                    By Chris Barber

                    Like many who had yet to make the acquaintance of Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, Richard Nixon initially developed a particular bias against the hauteur man of France. After all, to know de Gaulle was to know him through reporters and Foreign Service personnel, who only knew the man as abrasive and arrogant and who found his nationalistic interests a far cry from the necessities of modern times.

                    Richard Nixon first met the enigmatic leader as Vice President in 1960 during de Gaulle’s state visit to the United States. It was at this visit that the future President of the United States noted de Gaulle to be “a very kind man with a somewhat shy quality to describe.” Nixon thought de Gaulle almost gentle, but with the keen and mysterious ability to lead. Likewise, de Gaulle’s first impression of Nixon was positive–”one of those frank and steady personalities on whom one feels one could rely in the great affairs of state.” The roots of Nixon and de Gaulle’s mutual respect for one another began here.

                    Over the 1960s, and especially during Nixon’s wilderness years, de Gaulle found Nixon’s company to be equally as important to that of a head of state’s. After Nixon lost the presidential election of 1960 and subsequently the gubernatorial competition in 1962, de Gaulle courted him with the same cordiality as he would have given a President.

                    Perhaps prophetically, it was also during these years that de Gaulle predicted Nixon’s ascendancy to the White House. William Safire, an aide to Nixon during his wilderness years travels, recalled that de Gaulle had gazed at the various aides accompanying Nixon to get an understanding of who would be in his circle come the time he became president.

                    When Nixon made Europe his first foreign trip abroad in February 1969, the culmination of Nixon and de Gaulle’s relationship was communicated in their conversations at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Out of all the conversations President Nixon held with various heads of state, these were perhaps the most significant and revealing of both men’s foreign policy prestige.

                    The memorandum of conversation for the first Nixon-de Gaulle discussion, which can be viewed in its entirety below, demonstrated the senior statesmanship of the French leader. While Nixon was using his trip to Europe to gauge U.S. ally interest, he was particularly willing to receive counsel from the great man who belonged to history.

                    After Nixon and de Gaulle both agreed to discuss the whole range of East-West problems, the conversation commenced with de Gaulle’s intuition on Russian foreign policy.

                    “[De Gaulle] did not feel that the communists were advancing any longer,” the transcription reads. “He did not think that the danger of communism was over–it may last many years still but it can no longer conquer the world. It is too late for that. The dynamic is gone.”

                    Under this pretext and adding to his refreshing sense of foreign policy, de Gaulle delved into the necessity of considering rapprochement with China.

                    “[The Russians] see their relationship with the West and with [Europe] in light of the problems they expect to have with China tomorrow. They are thinking in terms of a possible clash with China tomorrow.”

                    Because of this circumstance, and because the Russians no longer thought possible to conquer the West, de Gaulle opined that working towards a détente was “a matter of good sense” for both sides. If the two sides were not ready to make war, to make peace would be the most sensible route.

                    Nixon further engaged de Gaulle on Russia’s stance in the world by asking him whether or not the General believed that the Russians considered the American nuclear deterrent as credible. Transcribed is de Gaulle’s response:

                    The Russians knew that the U.S. could not accept or allow the Russians to conquer Europe for that would also mean the conquest of Africa and the isolation of the United States on the American continent. Though they might have initial success with tactical weapons they know that it would not stop there and that the U.S. would eventually have to use all of its power and destroy the USSR. The USSR of course also had the power to destroy the U.S. He did not believe that the Russians wanted everybody to be dead, themselves included. It was not natural for living beings to harbor such ideas. The death of everyone was not a policy.

                    More importantly, de Gaulle claimed that if both countries used tactical weapons, all of Europe would most certainly be destroyed. In the end, both President Nixon and de Gaulle agreed that détente would be the most sensible and the most required route.

                    Turning to the Middle East conflict, President Nixon expressed his pessimism about the inking of a peace settlement anytime soon. De Gaulle stressed the importance of establishing Arab-Israeli peace as soon as possible, for if the situation grew worse, “the Arab governments would fall and the madmen would replace the existing Arab governments.” Both the U.S. and USSR would not be interested in leading radical forces.

                    The Presidents would hold further discussions during Nixon’s inaugural foreign trip, but it would be the last time that they discussed foreign policy thoroughly, as de Gaulle astonishingly resigned his post on April 29, 1970. Both would see each other one final time at President Eisenhower’s funeral.

                    When de Gaulle suddenly passed away on November 9, 1970, French President Georges Pompidou arranged a separate memorial service at Notre-Dame Cathedral. 63 former or current heads of state attended the memorial service, including President Nixon.

                    “As the President of the United States, I was among them. But I was also there as a friend.”


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