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The price of power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.

This book is an "account of the foreign policy of the United States presided over by Henry Kissinger during Richard Nixon's first term in the White House." (Introduction, p. 19) It is based on over a thousand interviews with men and women who worked in the American government during that period, on the memoirs of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, and on reporting in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Some interviews took place abroad, such as those with leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi in 1979. Despite "persistent requests," neither Kissinger nor Nixon was willing to be interviewed. The book contains 41 chapters with lengthy footnotes, 22 additional pages of notes, a 31-page well prepared index, and an Epilogue. It is the product of four years of research and writing by its author, Seymour Hersh.

Mr. Hersh is no stranger to those who were concerned about the Vietnam war. In 1970 he revealed to a horrified public the massacre of civilian Vietnamese in the hamlet of My Lai. For this revelation he earned a Pulitzer Prize. Since then, he has been recognized as a top investigative reporter, and he is the only American who so far has received four George Polk Awards. The methodology used in this book could be a good model for a serious Ph.D. candidate writing his or her dissertation. For any episode or anecdote, first quote directly from the principals (Kissinger and Nixon), then marshal facts, supporting documents, and other evidence to prove that their statements are at best misleading, at worst distortions and lies.

By any standard, The Price of Power is a first-class scholarly work, and those who attack the author for not being a "scholar" should look at Webster's definition of a scholar as "one who has a profound knowledge of a particular subject," and not necessarily one who holds a Ph.D. degree. By careful and meticulous documentation, Hersh indeed shows a "profound knowledge" of Nixon's and Kissinger's political manipulations and intrigues.

The book, as already noted, is about foreign policy and its conduct, or diplomacy. Diplomacy--as it has been understood in Western countries since the fifteenth century--is the art and science of negotiating an agreement acceptable to all parties. In this sense, there is no victory in diplomacy, only compromise and reconciliation. Yet during his tenure as national security advisor to the president, Kissinger was praised by the mass media and by many foreign dignitaries as the "miracle man," the star negotiator who brought home trophies by the dozens, and the inventor of "shuttle diplomacy." He was called "almost a legend" by President Reagan when he was recently named head of a bipartisan commission on Central America.

The Price of Power discusses practically all major developments in the international scene during the years 1969-73. But the following ones are the most important and the ones for which both Nixon and Kissinger have claimed successes: the Middle East, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the opening of relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC), the negotiations to end the Vietnam war, and the overthrow of the regime of Salvador Allende in Chile.

The Middle East (Chapters 18, 19, 29)

Nixon, who is "generally contemptuous of Jews, an attitude he did not bother to conceal from Kissinger and other close associates" (p. 214), and Kissinger, for whom personal power is more important than religion and morality, hoped to reach a solution which pleased the pro-Israel Jewish constituency in the United States. However, in 1969 and 1970, "spite played a major role in America's foreign policy in the Middle East." (p. 213) Then Secretary of State William Rogers was left enough freedom to deal with the region while Kissinger was busy building his power base within Nixon's White House. Rogers proposed a plan for the partial disengagement of both Egypt and Israel along the Suez canal. His plan had a serious chance of acceptance by the belligerents but was torpedoed by Kissinger, who convinced Nixon to veto it. Kissinger did not want the State Department and especially Rogers to get the credit for negotiated peace. Later, in 1974 and 1975 and after a bloody war, Kissinger took the Rogers Plan as his own and won its acceptance. The success of course was a short-lived one: the bloodshed in the Middle East (Lebanon) continues and peace cannot be restored to the area unless and until a solution for the Palestinians is reached.

Relations with the People's Republic of China

The opening of informal contacts (formalization took place only under the Carter administration with the opening of the Chinese embassy in Washington) with the PRC after months of secret negotiations and following the media-event visit of Nixon to Peking, was not essentially the result of Nixon's enlightenment or Kissinger's skills. It was the consequence of developments beyond the control of the United States, i.e., the enduring and fundamental PRC-USSR geopolitical and ideological conflict; internal divisions within Chinese society after the collapse of the Cultural Revolution; the reemergence of historical distrust between Vietnam and China, little known then but later blown up to full scale in 1979 with the invasion of Vietnam by China and the Vietnamese military occupation of Kampuchea. The "China card" was played at the moment when the PRC was willing to go along because it served Chinese interests. As Hersh writes: "Nixon needed a summit in Peking, with live television back home, to assure reelection. China needed instant world recognition that it, like the Soviets, was in a position to bargain on equal terms with the United States." (p. 377)

Since the famed Shanghai Communique of February 28, 1972, according to which the United States and the PRC pledged to work for the improvement of relations, the "China card" has not been free of troubles and complications. The Chinese occasionally complain about U.S. "unofficial" relations with and sale of arms to Taiwan, which the PRC considers as a province of China and not an independent country.

The SALT Negotiations with the USSR

Nixon and Kissinger achieved the first breakthrough with the Soviets in the SALT negotiations after they agreed to sell more than $1 billion worth of American wheat to Moscow. They had to convince the maritime unions to change their long-standing political objection to loading Soviet freighters (Chapter 25). Moreover, Nixon and Kissinger concluded an agreement with the Kremlin leaders while bypassing the U.S. delegation to SALT led by Ambassador Gerard Smith, thus giving full credit for themselves. In the process, they had to distort highly classified internal studies on Soviet submarine growth, and committed serious mistakes to the advantage of the USSR.


Hersh's comprehensive account of the negotiations to end the Vietnam war constitutes the major part of the book, covering several chapters (10, 39, 40, 41). By 1969 it was clear that the Vietnam war, like a cancer, was spreading in all parts of the American body politic. Both Nixon and Kissinger felt the mounting pressures of the battlefields and the home front and wanted to end the war "with honor." The strategy to be followed was the "madman" theory, according to which Nixon was pictured to all concerned as a "madman" who could unleash hell on Hanoi if it refused to accept his terms. The tactics to be used were contained in a series of studies prepared by Kissinger's National Security Council Staff, and code-named "Duck Hook." They called for increasing bombing raids on North Vietnam and included a nuclear option. Hanoi was warned through messages relayed by a number of intermediaries including the Rumanians and the Pakistanis. To emphasize the seriousness of his warning, Nixon ordered a secret twenty-nine-day nuclear alert at the highest state of readiness--Def Con 1--in October 1969.

In Vietnam, as in other areas in the world, the Nixon-Kissinger diplomacy did not aim at peace, reconciliation, a compromise. It was a brutal exercise in the use of military force not for the national interest but for personal interests and power. Nixon carefully read the polls conducted by private pollster Albert Sindlinger who advised him that a preelection peace in Vietnam would cost him the hard-hat vote and therefore the election. Hersh uses previously undisclosed documents to prove conclusively that Nixon had agreed to a settlement in mid-October 1972, only to go back on his acceptance. In the meantime, young Americans continued to die by the thousands in the ricefields of South Vietnam, and untold sufferings were inflicted on Vietnamese in both parts of the country, while Kissinger, the courtier, and his "mad" prince were engaged in a personal struggle for power, its preservation, and enhancement. At no time in their political decisions did they take into consideration the human factor and how their decisions would directly and physically affect the American people, let alone their enemies.

There are a number of revelations in The Price of Power, in particular:

-- Moraji Desai, a deputy prime minister, a cabinet minister in Indira Gandhi's government, and later prime minister of India, was a paid agent of the CIA ($20,000 a year).

-- Nixon ordered the bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization camps inside Jordan, but his order was ignored by Defense Secretary Melvin Laird.

-- Kissinger ordered the military to give false reports on the location of bombings in Cambodia. He took liberties with control-and-command procedures of the Strategic Air Command.

-- In Operation "Sunshine Park," U.S. officials were actively encouraging Cambodian Prince Sihanouk's overthrow before 1970.

- The Greek military junta contributed cash funds to the Nixon presidential campaign in 1968.

And, if one wishes to know what the Nixon-Kissinger White House looked like and how it functioned like a Byzantine court, with its intrigues counterintrigues, subintrigues jealousies, conspiracies, and betrayals, read Chapter 9 (Intrigues) and Chapter 33 (Spying on Kissinger).

The Price of Power is a gold mine of information but contains no analysis. The reader is impressed, indeed overwhelmed, by a mass of detail, but in the end feels frustrated by the dominant fact that these details concern personalities and personal relations, that they are not the products of institutionalized policies. For example, on page 332 Hersh writes: "The full range of Kissinger's influence and his extraordinary ability to manipulate the press while wiretapping two of its leading members [William Beecher of the New York Times and Henry Brandon of the London Sunday Times] were impossible to comprehend at the time mainly because so much of what he did was skillfully hidden." Was the press manipulated because of Kissinger's skill at hiding facts or because of the reality that the media, including the mass-circulation press, have transformed information from a social product into a commodity for sale? The press continues to be manipulated after Nixon and Kissinger have lost their power.

On page 638: "As both the memoirs [Nixon's and Kissinger's] showed, neither man ever came to grips with the basic vulnerability of their policy: they were operating in a democracy, guided by a constitution, and among a citizenry who held their leaders to a reasonable standard of morality and integrity."

The question is not whether citizens hold "their leaders to a reasonable standard of morality and integrity" but how they go about doing it--by changing personnel, policies, or institutions?

In the concluding sentence of the book's Epilogue, Hersh observes that "Kissinger is constantly portrayed by the news media as an adviser and consultant on foreign policy issues to the Reagan Administration, but as of Spring 1983, he had not rejoined the government." (p. 642) After the appearance of The Price of Power, Kissinger still had not rejoined the government, but he was close to it when President Reagan named him head of a presidential commission on Central America. My critical remarks are not necessarily addressed to Mr. Hersh who has magnificently fulfilled his role as an "investigative reporter-writer." They are simply to remind readers that it is up to them to remedy Hersh's lack of analysis by developing their own, by interpreting the events described, and more important by proposing political tools to the citizens who wish to prevent a repetition of Nixon-Kissinger policies.
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Author:Tran Van Dinh
Publication:Monthly Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1984
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