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Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Robert Dallek. Allen Lane. [Pounds sterling]30.00. xii + 740 pages. ISBN 978-0-713-99796-5.

Robert Dallek, a biographer of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, has now directed his considerable energies and skill to a comprehensive joint biography of President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser and the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Mr Dallek's book draws on recently-released documentation and is likely to establish itself as the standard source for those seeking to understand these enigmatic, complex and important men and their impact on international affairs.

Both Nixon and Kissinger were driven individuals of high intelligence who emerged from humble origins and were willing to behave ruthlessly in order to secure power and influence. They had a mutual respect for one another but their personal relationship was never close; quintessentially they were loners. Nixon, who took office in 1969, had an instinctive bent toward foreign affairs, while the academic Kissinger had since the 1950s developed considerable expertise and a growing reputation in international relations. Both were 'realists' who believed that the United States should pursue a foreign policy closely aligned with the country's national interests rather than one directed mainly by ideological and moral concerns, as these had contributed to a proliferation of foreign commitments, heightened Cold War tensions and created a tendency to see the world in simplistic black-and-white categories.

The record of the Nixon-Kissinger double-act was mixed. From the outset they collaborated in extricating the United States from the bloodletting of Vietnam. They ended up alternating between expanding the war by, for example, intensifying the bombing campaign and by bringing about the slow withdrawal of American troops under the aegis of 'Vietnamisation'. The latter was but a veil for American defeat, and despite the signing of the Paris peace accords in 1973 South Vietnam crumbled under the weight of the communist onslaught two years later. Yet the Saigon regime had been abandoned more by a Congress weary of international exertions than by the White House.

The process of East-West detente was generally more productive. By opening the Soviet Union to Western influence, detente 'eroded communism's hold on its people at home at home and abroad'. This development would make itself felt mainly in the following decade. Arms control agreements helped to moderate the nuclear arms race, and were a Cold War first. However, detente provoked particular controversy among those who held that negotiating with the Soviets was immoral and who sought with some success to impede its development. The Cold War reasserted itself with a vengeance in the late 1970s.

The diplomatic approach to Communist China in 1972 was 'a landmark opening in modern US diplomatic history' and gave Washington more room for manoeuvre in relation to Moscow. Only Nixon, with his well-established anti-communist credentials, could have engineered the opening without generating a conservative outcry in the United States. Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy' played a key role in bringing the 1973 yom kippur war in the Middle East to a close, and eased tensions between Israel and its Arab tormentors. It was probably his greatest achievement, but of course a long-term solution to the region's problems has so far proved beyond anyone's grasp.

The Nixon-Kissinger 'tilt' towards the repressive state of Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 was driven by calculations of Cold War geopolitics rather than by the reality that the conflict was primarily a regional one. Among other things, the 'tilt' sullied the administration's reputation and its credibility with the press. American complicity in the overthrow of the democratically elected, left-wing politician, Salvador Allende, in Chile in 1973 was derived from exaggerated fears of the South American leader's capacity to compromise American security interests. It also contradicted Washington's traditional commitment to national self-determination.

Nixon and Kissinger both wanted to use foreign affairs to distract the American public from the Watergate scandal, and it is notable that in doing so the latter showed himself 'as much the partisan supporter of a highly imperfect administration as he was its foreign policy expert serving the national security'. After Mr Nixon's resignation in 1974 he had some success in rehabilitating his reputation by presenting himself as an elder statesman. Kissinger had no direct involvement in Watergate but he too has worked hard, by means of his voluminous writing, to try to ensure that history will treat him well.

Although the subjects of Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power would certainly not agree with everything that Mr Dallek has written, they have been treated fairly in what is a sensitive, comprehensive and authoritative work. The book will become required reading for all with an interest in these two fascinating, flawed men and in the history of American foreign relations at a crucial point of the Cold War.
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Title Annotation:Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power
Author:Colman, Jonathan
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008

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