Chapter 12: The Nixon Administration (1969-74)
Table of Contents
The Secret Bombing of Cambodia
One of the biggest criticisms of the Nixon administration is the "secret" bombing campaign of Cambodia, a neutral and defenseless country in Southeast Asia. Nixon later disputed its labeling as "secret." In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in New Orleans on August 20, 1973, he explained that the decision was made only two months after he became president. He further stated that the decision was made in a meeting attended by Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird; National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger; Secretary of State, William Rogers; and head of the CIA. He also stated that the bombing plan was "disclosed to appropriate Government leaders" and the "appropriate Congressional leaders, those in the Military Affairs Committee like Eddie Hebert."(Footnote 37) He added that "there was no secrecy as far as Government leaders were concerned, who had any right to know or need to know."
Nixon had apparently been led to believe by his advisors that the lives of American soldiers were at risk because the North Vietnamese were setting up sanctuaries and staging areas in Cambodia.
"If American soldiers in the field today were similarly threatened by an enemy," he explained, "and if the price of protecting those soldiers was to order air strikes to save American lives, I would make the same decision today that I made in February of 1969." He admitted that the military action was kept secret from the American public, but only because "the bombing would have had to stop"1 if the public had been informed.
Nixon’s description of the decision to bomb Cambodia—which he made as a new president—was surprisingly similar to Kennedy’s indoctrination as a new president when faced with the Bay of Pigs ordeal in April of 1961. To fully appreciate Nixon’s plight, it is important to remember that President Johnson had escalated the number of American soldiers in South Vietnam from 16,000(Footnote 38) when Kennedy was killed to 540,000 when Johnson left office in January of 1969. Johnson had abdicated his leadership—by announcing in March of 1968 that he would not seek re-election—thereby leaving his successor with the nightmare of Vietnam, a foreign policy disaster in a colossal state of senseless confusion and discontinuity. Unfortunately, this is what Nixon’s critics selectively forget when denouncing him for the so-called "secret" bombing campaign in Cambodia. Nixon’s critics tend to forget that he stepped into the presidency with half a million soldiers—mostly eighteen year-old boys—placed in harm’s way on foreign soil.
Nixon was obviously concerned for the safety of those half-million soldiers, and as the new president, was probably pressured by his advisers to make a bad decision as Kennedy was pressured eight years earlier regarding the Bay of Pigs. Both made the wrong decision, but neither did so in a vacuum. Both kept the decision secret from the American public, but not a secret from the appropriate people within government.
I would venture to state that most "informed" Americans today have been led to believe that Nixon’s "secret" bombing campaign in Cambodia was literally a "secret" in every sense of the word. Most people believe Nixon somehow managed to initiate a military campaign against a foreign country without informing anyone in government because this is the spin that has been pushed by propagandists within the news media and the bookpublishing industry for years. But Nixon’s explanation seems perfectly believable. Thinking rationally, how would he have kept such a program a secret within the United States government? Did he personally fly a plane to Cambodia and drop the bombs himself? Obviously this is absurd. He made a command decision in the middle of a war with the full knowledge of his advisors and the appropriate leaders in Congress. The reason he made the decision was to save the lives of half a million American soldiers put in harm’s way by his predecessor.
Nixon’s Eight Point Strategy to end the Vietnam War
When Nixon campaigned for the presidency in 1968, he pledged repeatedly that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. As the years passed, people forgot about his pledge. But it begs a question now as it in 1968. Why did the plan have to be secret? He was president, why couldn’t he just withdraw? The Vietnam War was a major liability for him politically. Few Americans would have objected, not even supporters of the war. What prevented Nixon from using his constitutional power as Command-in-Chief of the military to withdraw forces as he saw fit? In Oliver Stone’s movie, Nixon, it was suggested that the 37th president did not have authority to make such a dramatic decision. There was a scene in the movie where Nixon agreed with a young female protester who described the governmental forces keeping American troops in Vietnam as a "wild animal." Upon reflection, her description seems accurate. Nixon’s plan apparently needed to remain secret in order to tame the wild animal.
If one accepts the premise that the Vietnam War was merely a continuation of the two opium wars of the Nineteenth Century (Chapter 11), then logic would dictate that it was not within a sitting US president’s power to merely withdraw military forces from South Vietnam by issuing an executive order. Also, Nixon may have known who killed the Kennedys and Martin Luther and why. No one knows for certain if Nixon’s foreign policy was part of a well-conceived strategy to end the Vietnam War, or if it was a series of random decisions made without a grand purpose. Nevertheless, he performed the following eight tasks which ultimately achieved peace—albeit a short-lived one—in Southeast Asia.
The first point was to dramatically increase American aid to Israel. In a word Nixon bought them off. By doing so he created division among friends of Israel. He gave Israel about $1.61 billion from 1971 through 1973. That was a huge increase—approximately the same amount the United States had given Israel over its entire 22 year history (from 1948 through 1970).2 If Nixon believed that US involvement in the Vietnam War and President Kennedy’s assassination were the results of a Jewish conspiracy, then his colossal increase of foreign aid to Israel was completely understandable. He was dividing his enemies.
The second point was to initiate a program called "Vietnamization" which reduced American forces in South Vietnam from 540,000 in January 1969 to 335,000 by late 1970, then to 160,000 by late 1971, and finally a complete withdrawal by the end of 1973. In addition, Vietnamization gradually made the South Vietnamese army assume all military responsibilities for their defense while being abundantly supplied with US arms, equipment, air support, and economic aid. US commanders in the field were instructed to keep casualties to "an absolute minimum," and losses decreased appreciably.
The third point was to establish diplomatic relations with China. Nixon personally visited China in February 1972 after a 21-year estrangement with the United States. This was a bold diplomatic move for an American president. But his new friendship with China gave him leverage to negotiate with the Soviet Union which would lead to an era of détente between the two superpowers.3
The fourth point was to establish détente with the Soviet Union. In May of 1972 Nixon paid a state visit to Moscow to sign 10 formal agreements, the most important of which were the nuclear-arms limitation treaties known as SALT I (based on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks conducted between the United States and the Soviet Union beginning in 1969) and a memorandum, the Basic Principles of U.S.-Soviet Relations, summarizing the new relationship between the two countries in the new era of détente.4 Although the Soviet Union continued to exist for 19 more years,(Footnote 40) Nixon ended the Cold War—for all intents and purposes—in May of 1972 when he and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT I agreements. It is significant that the Watergate burglary occurred just one month later, on June 17, 1972.
The fifth point was to break up Auguste Joseph Ricord’s heroin cartel. Nixon’s war on drugs reached a zenith with the extradition of Ricord from Paraguay which occurred around the same time of his trip to China followed by his meeting with Brezhnev in Moscow in the spring of 1972.(Footnote 41) By going after Ricord, Nixon was assaulting the top underworld figure responsible for smuggling heroin into the United States at that time. The profits from Ricord’s heroin smuggling efforts were apparently divided among international crime syndicates and various espionage organizations which funneled the illicit drug money to the power elite in Israel and the Western Powers (i.e., United States, Britain and France). Nixon was indeed tangling with a "wild animal" when he went after Ricord.
The sixth point was to intensify US bombing of North Vietnam in order to get that government to participate in the Paris peace talks. By doing this Nixon created division within the military, many of whom actually wanted to win the war and had no interest in drug smuggling.
The seventh point was to withdrew American forces from Vietnam. By the time Nixon did this, he had done several other things—the first six points—to set the stage for the seventh point.
The eighth point was to abolish the draft completely. This made it extremely difficult for succeeding presidents to get involved in another Vietnam War. Before starting another full-scale war, the next president would first have to reinstate the draft—something the American public would resist. Ending the draft was perhaps Nixon’s greatest contribution to world peace.
The Conclusion of the Vietnam War
In March 1972 the North Vietnamese invaded the demilitarized zone (DMZ)(Footnote 42) and captured Quang Tri province. President Nixon responded by ordering the mining of Haiphong and other North Vietnamese ports and an intense bombing of the North. Peace talks resumed in July, but the talks broke down in mid-December with each side accusing the other of bargaining in bad faith. Nixon responded by subjecting Hanoi and other North Vietnamese cities to 11 days of intensive U.S. bombing (later called the "Christmas bombing.")
The relentless Christmas bombing forced the North Vietnamese back to the Paris peace talks which resulted in a cease-fire agreement on Jan. 27, 1973. A cease-fire would go into effect the following morning throughout North and South Vietnam, all U.S. forces would be withdrawn and all its bases dismantled, all prisoners of war would be released, an international force would keep the peace, the South Vietnamese would have the right to determine their own future, and North Vietnamese troops could remain in the South but would not be reinforced. The 17th parallel would remain the dividing line until the country could be reunited by "peaceful means." This pact was augmented by a second 14-point accord signed in June. In August the U.S. Congress proscribed any further U.S. military activity in Indochina. By the end of 1973 there were few U.S. military personnel left in South Vietnam.
But the fighting continued in spite of the cease-fire agreements, and North and South Vietnam each denounced the other for numerous violations of the truce. Casualties, both military and civilian, were as high as they had ever been.
The year 1974 was characterized by a series of small offensives as each side sought to seize land and people from the other. The North Vietnamese began preparing for a major offensive to be launched in either 1975 or 1976, while the South Vietnamese tried to hold all of the areas under their control, although they lacked the strength to do so. South Vietnam's difficulties were compounded when the United States drastically cut its military aid in August 1974.(Footnote 43) The morale and combat effectiveness of South Vietnam’s army—aka, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)—plummeted as a result.
In December 1974 the North Vietnamese attacked Phuoc Binh, a provincial capital about 60 miles (100 km) north of Saigon. Their capture of this city in early January 1975 convinced the North Vietnamese that a full-scale invasion of the South was now practicable. Accordingly, in early March, North Vietnamese forces began a large-scale offensive in the central highlands. When President Thieu ordered a withdrawal of all ARVN forces not only from the central highlands but from the northernmost two provinces of the country as well, general panic ensued, and the South Vietnamese military machine began to come apart. The withdrawals rapidly became routs as large ARVN units disintegrated into columns of refugees. One by one the coastal cities were abandoned, and by early April the ARVN had abandoned the northern half of their country to the North Vietnamese forces. The troops of the ARVN began to melt away, and the remaining Americans escaped by air and sealifts with Vietnamese friends and coworkers. On April 21, President Thieu resigned and flew to Taiwan. On April 30 what remained of the South Vietnamese government surrendered unconditionally, and North Vietnamese tank columns occupied Saigon without a struggle. A military government was instituted, and on July 2, 1976, the country was officially united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with its capital in Hanoi. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
The Watergate Burglary (June 17, 1972)
Near the end of President Nixon’s first term, on June 17, 1972, five men were arrested breaking into the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate office-appartment building in Washington, DC. It was quickly learned that the arrested burglars had been hired by the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP). Immediately, attorney general John Mitchell resigned as director of the CRP. Clearly, this was an embarrassment for President Nixon, but the incident did not impact the ensuing fall elections which Nixon won by a landslide. The Democrats retained majorities in the House and Senate.
A few days after the break-in, charges of burglary and wiretapping were brought against the five men arrested at the scene, plus two additional officials within the Nixon administration. They were E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, and G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.
Investigation into the scandal continued for the next two years and culminated with the resignation of President Nixon on August 9, 1974.6
As previously mentioned, the Watergate burglary occurred a month after the SALT I agreements were signed by Nixon and Breshnev. SALT I and accompanying agreements marked a new era of détente between the two superpowers.
Division Between Nixon and the Military
As it turns out, Watergate was not the only cover-up in the Nixon White House. Joan Hoff, a research professor of history at Montana State University, recently wrote an article asserting that on December 21, 1971—six months before the Watergate burglary occurred—Nixon approved the first major cover-up of his administration; however, he was not covering up his own misdeeds. He was covering up the Navy’s. Nixon had learned that Admiral Thomas Moorer, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had authorized his subordinates to spy on the White House’s National Security Counsel. For thirteen months, from 1970 to late 1971, Navy Yeoman Charles E. Radford systematically stole and copied NSC documents from Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, and their staff. When Nixon learned of this, he ordered it hushed up; but he let the military know he was aware of the spying. Apparently Nixon and his aides thought that approach would give them more leverage with a hostile defense establishment.7
Bob Woodward and Naval Intelligence
The news media slowly began to cover the Watergate burglary. Several major newspapers investigated the possible involvement of the White House in the break-in. Leading the pack was The Washington Post and its two young reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose stories were based largely on information from an unnamed source called "Deep Throat"; the mysterious identity of Deep Throat became a news story in its own right and continues to be speculated on to this day.
The journalistic integrity of Yale graduate Bob Woodward became tainted and comprised years later when it was revealed, by authors Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, that prior to working at the Washington Post, Woodward had worked at the Pentagon for the Office of Naval Intelligence as a Naval Lieutenant. Silent Coup—a 1991 book by Colodny and Gettlin—reveals that in 1969, the twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant was the briefing officer for Admiral Moorer, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had authorized his subordinates to spy on the White House’s National Security Counsel. A briefing officer sees, hears, reads, and assimilates information from one of several sources and passes it on to more senior officers. This is a coveted position for young officers seeking career advancement. The work is often Top Secret.
Colodny and Gettlin asserted that Admiral Moorer sent Lieutenant Woodward to the basement of the White House to act as a briefer for Alexander Haig.8 The ramifications of this information are staggering.
Nixon’s War on Drugs
On June 17, 1971 Nixon declared that heroin addiction was "Public Enemy No. 1,"(Footnote 44) and he targeted Auguste Joseph Ricord for extradition from Paraguay and prosecution in the US for managing large-scale heroin smuggling into America.9 This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nixon had become too bold, too independent. His war on drugs even led to the demise of Lucien Sarti—the French-Corsican assassin who fatally shot President Kennedy in the right temple with an exploding bullet—when Mexican agents shot and killed him in Mexico City on April 27, 1972.10
In his first three and a half years as president, Nixon got Congress to increase the Bureau of Narcotics’ annual budget from $14 million to $74 million and expanded its agent force from 600 to 1,600. The Bureau of Customs—the agency that monitored drug-trafficking into the United States from other countries—grew from 9,000 to 15,000.11
The Nixon administration determined that the primary smuggler of heroin into the United States was Auguste Ricord. Consequently, in March 1971 the United States government attempted to extradite Auguste Ricord from Paraguay, but there was a breakdown in protocols and it did not happen;12 although Ricord remained in jail in Paraguay. Over the next year and a half, Nixon turned up the heat on Paraguay to release Ricord to the United States. On June 14, 1971 Nixon met with ambassadors to all countries that grew opium poppies or converted opium gum to morphine and morphine to heroin. He had called them home to impress upon them the seriousness of the situation and to order each of them to make heroin a daily, personal, and official concern. Nixon advised the team of ambassadors in the "problem countries" to influence, even exert pressure on, the heads of state to help break up the international heroin cartel.13
In effect, the US ambassadors became Nixon’s foot soldiers on his war against heroin.14 Under his leadership, US Customs and narcotics agents were encouraged to "exploit" investigative techniques of Latin and European countries that were legally unacceptable in the United States. Such practices included unauthorized wiretaps, bugging, even torture. In other words, the US agents did not use these techniques themselves, but they would not discourage other countries from acquiring information by whatever means was acceptable. This approach allowed US agents to be somewhat agressive in building a case against Ricord as a citizen of Paraguay, but without violating his rights in the United States after he was arrested, extradited, and prosecuted.15
In September 1971, a newly created Cabinet Committee on International Narcotics Control held its first formal meeting in the White House. It was chaired by Attorney General John Mitchell, the secretaries of Defense, Treasury, and Agriculture; and the Director of the CIA. The committee fought the war on heroin through diplomatic channels. Their objective was to convince heads of state—through pressure from US ambassadors—that President Nixon was serious about stopping the flow of heroin into the United States.16
On July 4, 1972 the American Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay did not hold an Independence Day party for the Paraguayan officials. This had been an annual tradition for 111 years. Nixon’s message was loud and clear: Send us Ricord.17
Around this time the Cabinet Committee on International Narcotics Control held another meeting to discuss the Ricord case, the continuing difficulties with drug smuggling from Panama, and similar problems in Thailand, Burma.18 It is significant that the Committee was discussing two countries that make up the Golden Triangle.
In September 1972 the government of Paraguay announced they would extradite Ricord to the United States to face prosecution for heroin trafficking.19
On December 16, 1972 Auguste Ricord was convicted of conspiring to smuggle narcotics into the United States.20 On January 29, 1973 Ricord was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $25,000.21
On July 1, 1973, President Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) by merging its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) with various law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies. DEA has been charged with the responsibility of enforcing the nation's federal drug laws and works closely with local, state, federal and international law enforcement organizations to identify, target and bring to justice the most significant drug traffickers in the world.22
Dealing With Israel
When President Nixon took office in January 1969, Levi Eshkol was prime minister of Israel and was head of the Labour party.(Footnote 45) Eshkol had been prime minister since June 16, 1963 after David Ben-Gurion stepped down from that position. Consequently, Eshkol was Israel’s prime minister when President Kennedy was assassinated. He was also prime minister during the Six Day War, during Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War and during the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. On February 26, 1969, Eshkol died in office. He was replaced by Golda Meir, foreign minister to Eshkol and Ben-Gurion. Meir had also been a member Histadrut(Footnote 46) since she and her husband migrated to Palestine from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1921. Her real name was Goldie Mabovitch, later Goldie Myerson, finally changed (Hebraized) to Golda Meir.23 As Prime Minister, Meir headed the Labour party.
During Nixon’s first term, he was not indebted to Israel or its allies in America for winning the election. Most of the American Jewish community had supported Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential race.24 According to Henry Kissinger, Nixon often boasted to collegues that the "Jewish lobby" had no power over him.25
Initially, Nixon felt that National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s Jewish background disqualified him from deep involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. Consequently, Nixon gave those responsibilities to his first Secretary of State William Rogers. Around the time of the Watergate burglary, June of 1972, a power struggle developed between Kissinger and Rogers.(Footnote 47) Ultimately Kissinger won and replaced Rogers as secretary of state in the fall of 1973. Kissinger was completely pro-Israel whereas Rogers had been even-handed and was liked by the Arabs but disliked by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.26
Nixon was distrustful of Jewish political influences within American politics. He made the following observations in his memoirs:
|One of the main problems I faced…was the unyielding and shortsighted pro-Israel attitude in large and influential segments of the American Jewish community, Congress, the media and in intellectual and cultural circles. In the quarter century since the end of World War II this attitude had become so deeply ingrained that many saw the corollary of not being pro-Israel as being anti-Israeli, or even anti-Semitic. I tried unsuccessfully to convince them that this was not the case.27|
In addition, both Nixon and Kissinger made the mistake of approaching Middle East issues within the framework of the Cold War. Nixon might have been more effective had he viewed Arab-Israeli problems as an ongoing regional conflict which ultimately entangled both America and the Soviet Union.28
The War of Attritution (1969-70)
The years 1969 through 1970 was a period in which the Egyptians tried unsuccessfully to pressure Israel and the United States into implementing UN Resolution 24229 (reference Chapter 10 for text of the Resolution). The high point of this period was marked by a direct clash between Soviet personnel and the Israeli Defense Forces. This conflict was the result of Egypt’s humiliating defeat in the Six Day War combined with Israel's flaunting of its military might at the Egyptians.30
In late 1968, Egypt began shelling IDF troops regularly. Israel responded by firing back, plus it built a fortified defense across the east bank of the Suez Canal. To minimize casualties from Egyptian fire, Israel launched massive bombing raids that extended to deep penetrations of Egyptian air space. At the end of the year, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan boasted that Israel had destroyed twenty-four missile sites, an estimated one third of Egypt’s front-line combat planes. Rubbing salt in the wound, Israel’s pilots flagrantly displayed their air superiority by creating sonic booms to shatter windows in Cairo.31
Nasser requested military aid from the Soviet Union, and in January 1970, the Soviets furnished him with a powerful air defense system. By March 17, 1970, Soviet troops in Egypt were armed with an assortment of impressive weapons, including SA-2s. On the same day, it was announced that 1,500 Soviet technicians and a stockpile of SAM-3 missiles—weapons not even supplied to North Vietnam by the Soviets—had arrived in Egypt. By April 24th, a month later, 10,000 Soviet technicians were in Egypt and Egyptian planes planes were being flown into combat by Soviet pilots. The Nixon administration was soon under political pressure to counter the Soviets by supplying Israel with 125 additional fighter planes; however, diplomatic avenues were explored instead.32
UN Resolution 242 was discussed again but no genuine effort was made to enforce it. In August 1970, a flawed cease-fire agreement between Egypt and Israel went into effect. But five Israeli Phantoms were soon shot down over Egypt by Soviet missiles. Israel complained, but the reality was the cease-fire agreement had been violated by both sides. Neither the Soviets or the Egyptians were supposed to shoot at Israeli planes, but the Israeli Phantoms had no business being in Egypt’s airspace in the first place.33
In a sense, Israel had been paid back for flaunting its military might over Egypt; however, the Israelis used the truce violations as a pretext for avoiding discussions that might force them to return land acquired in the Six Day War.34
The Jordanian Crisis (June to September 1970)
The PLO had built a large private army for raids on Israel and was involved in attempts to assassinate King Hussein. On September 5, 1970, an extremist group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked three airliners (American, Swiss, and British) and landed them in a small airfield in Amman, Jordan. Over three hundred passengers were held hostage before the planes were destroyed. King Hussein wanted to crush the terrorists, but feared such an action might draw Iraq and Syria into the conflict, thereby escalating the overall situation. At America’s encouragement, Israel launched air strikes against Syria while Jordanian forces crushed the PFLP guerrillas.35
Nixon increased American aid to Israel in 1971. Some believe he was rewarding Israel for its assistance with the PFLP hijackers, but he may have used that incident as a pretext to buy off Israel (reference the first point of Nixon’s eight point plan to end the Vietnam War.) As previously stated, he gave Israel about $1.61 billion from 1971 through 1973. That was a huge increase—approximately the same amount the United States had given Israel over its entire 22 year history (from 1948 through 1970).36 In retrospect, however, Israel did not really deserve such a huge reward because it acted primarily out of self interest. Syria was one of Israel’s most dangerous enemies, and it was to Israel’s interest to eliminate a Syrian-dominated radical regime in Amman, Jordan. Surely Nixon understood that.(Footnote 48)
The Death of Nasser—Replaced by Sadat (1970)
On September 28, 1970, President Nasser died suddenly and unexpectedly.(Footnote 49) His successor, General Anwar el-Sadat was not widely known outside his own country. The political experts did not expect him to do much right away, put he surprised them by suddenly trying to switch backers; preferring the United States over Russia. Sadat was under heavy political pressure internally to recover land from Israel or risk being overthrown. For some reason, Henry Kissinger ignored Sadat’s efforts to switch sides.37
Assisted by American representatives in Cairo, Sadat drafted a peace proposal and submitted it to the Nixon administration. He had been led to believe that it would meet America’s approval. At this point, the Nixon government was under heavy Israeli influence, and Sadat’s proposal was promptly rejected at Israel’s direction. In May 1971 Sadat was left with no alternative but to maintain his friendship with the Soviets. Consequently, he signed a friendship agreement with them.38
Nevertheless, Sadat was not happy with the Soviet Union. He wanted more arms in order to take back his land, but the Soviets did not want to fight Israel and they wanted to avoid a confrontation with the United States. In May 1972, at the Moscow Conference, Sadat concluded that the Soviet Union had completely reneged on its promises to recover Egypt’s seized territories. Consequently, he expelled his Soviet advisers, and in February 1973 sent a private emissary to Kissinger to discuss a United States-brokered deal. Sadat’s efforts were less than fruitful because Nixon was pre-occupied with the Watergate scandal at that time.39
After Nixon’s re-election in 1972, his Middle Eastern policy was in effect—though not stated—to continue nurturing Israel’s military so that prime minister Golda Meir could continue her expansion agenda. Israel continued using its powerful political influence in America to pressure Congress. By March 1, 1973, Nixon agreed to supply new airplanes and even authorized plans for co-manufacturing of aircraft in Israel.40
The Yom Kippur War (Oct. 6, 1973)
On October 6, 1973 (Yom Kippur), Egypt launched a massive attack on Israel. Egyptian forces swiftly crossed the Suez Canal and occupied the entire east bank. Within two days, the Israelis lost fifty aircraft and hundreds of tanks. The United States and Israel were caught completely off guard. On October 9th, Israel launched a counterattack and halted the Egyptian onslaught.41
In the years immediately following the Six Day War, the Soviets had helped Egypt assemble one of the most substantial missile walls in the world. Also, to avert an air offensive from the Israel Air Force deep within Egypt, the Soviets furnished Egypt with SCUD surface-to-surface missiles with a 180-mile range. With the delivery of the first SCUD in April 1973, Sadat decided to launch the attack. He was assisted by President Assad of Syria who simultaneously attacked Israel’s northern border.42
Sadat organized the attack because he was under heavy political pressure to provide even a small military success to compensate for the humiliating defeat of the Six Day War in 1967. In fact, he managed to thwart a coup d’état supported by the Soviets. In planning the attack, Sadat’s primary objective was not merely to recover lost territories, but to burst the bubble of leaders in Washington and Jerusalem who believed Israel could continue its annexation program with impunity. To a large degree, the Yom Kippur War achieved that goal.43
The emotional impact of the Yom Kippur War was considerable. Israel’s casualties were extensive; its vision of an boundless enlargement of kingdom had been given an abrupt shock. The discovery that Arabs could in fact fight with courage and efficiency was most unsettling.44
UN Cease-Fire (Oct. 22, 1973)
A UN cease-fire order was issued on October 22, 1973; however, Israel quickly ignored it. They attempted to surround the Egyptian Third Army and starve it into surrender. The United States demanded that all parties abide by the UN cease-fire, otherwise America would intervene and provide food to the Egyptian troops.
During the cease-fire negotiations, the Israelis demanded more military support and threatened a negative publicity campaign toward the US government for joining the Soviet Union in imposing peace conditions to Israel. The United States mildly subdued its displeasure and tried to appease Israel by providing the extra planes and tanks requested.45
The Geneva Conference (1973)
In September 1973 President Nixon appointed Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State,46 thereby replacing William Rogers. To resolve the Yom Kippur War, the UN passed Resolution 338 which called for a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt, prescribed implementation of UN Resolution 242, and urged additional peace talks at Geneva. The following is the complete text of UN Resolution 338:
|The Security Council
(UN Security Council Resolution 338, October 22, 1973)
The United States had lukewarm support for Resolution 338(Footnote 50) and its call for a Geneva Conference, although Kissinger was obliged—as secretary of state—to give observers the impression that he was trying to adhere to it.47
President Hafez Assad, head of Syria since 1970 and head of the Ba’ath Socialist Party, had no interest in the Geneva Conference unless Kissinger agreed to answer the following three questions:
Syria’s three questions put Kissinger in an awkward position. If he agreed with the first point, that Syria should not give up any territory; this would upset Israel. If he agreed with the second point, that the Palestinian problem should be solved before peace talks with Israel could begin; Israel would definitely be displeased. On the other hand, if Kissinger supported Israel’s efforts to annex the Golan and refused to include the Palestinians, the Arabs would walk away from the peace talks. Kissinger more or less evaded the issue and merely gave President Assad unspecific support.49
Gold Meir made Kissinger’s job even more difficult by insisting that the Palestinians not be mentioned at all in Geneva and that the United Nations participation would be limited exclusively to facilitating the conference, and nothing more.50
Kissinger managed to negotiate a preliminary agreement between Egypt and Israel;51 however, the Arabs were dissatisfied with his attitude toward Syria’s three points. This created solidarity among the oil-producing Arab nations. Consequently, they imposed an oil embargo on the United States through the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). This had a dramatic effect on the American culture and economy.52
Arab Oil Embargo (1973)
OAPEC was created in January 1968. The Chairmanship rotates annually. Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and United Arab Emirates.53 As previously stated, the Arab oil embargo was the result of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s efforts—in the wake of the Yom Kippur War (1973)—to resolve Arab-Israeli conflicts at a peace conference in Geneva per UN Resolution 338. The OAPEC countries imposed the embargo which led to a quadrupling of oil prices. The aftershock produced runaway inflation and a recession.54
Few politicians had the courage to publicly criticize America’s support of Israel as the root cause of the Arab oil embargo. Instead our leaders took a more convenient route of blaming Arabs and engaging in racism toward Muslims at large.
The OAPEC nations refused to end the embargo until the United States worked out a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Kissinger’s job was made more difficult by Israel’s demand that Syria free its jailed Israeli prisoners. To neutralize that demand, Kissinger suggested that both countries—Syria and Israel—provide the other with a list jailed prisoners to be released. Once both sides agreed on the lists of names, the peace negotiations would begin.55
Israel and Syria provided the requested list of names, but peace negotiations quickly deteriorated because Israel was simply unwilling to give up any land to Syria. A squabble developed over the former provincial capital of the Golan Heights, Quneitra, an uninhabited market town with a population once estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000 people. Syria had evacuated the town at the end of the Six Day War. In the final hours of the truce, Israeli forces drove out the remaining civilian population and destroyed the town, leaving it uninhabitable; however, this fact was not known to the Syrians during the 1973 negotiations between Israel and Sryia. Consequently, Israel stalled and complained about the negotiations because they did not want to acknowledge destroying the town of Quneitra in 1967.56
As a diversion, Israel launched a raid into Lebanon which prompted a Palestinian guerrilla attack on the Israeli town of Ma’a lot. Hostages were seized. In the end, sixteen schoolchildren and three guerrillas were killed. The possibility of genuine peace evaporated with that tragic event; however, both Syria and Israel signed a peace plan on May 18, 1974 to end the fighting. This also diffused the Arab oil embargo.
It appears that President Nixon may have been more courageous than many realize. Although he resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, he did some things that the public seldom reads or hears about, at least not in full context. The following is a list of major accomplishments:
In light of these things, a different image of Nixon unfolds, and Watergate has new dimensions—likely a bloodless coup. To evaluate Nixon fairly, one must consider the times in which he served as President. He took office just six years after President Kennedy was assassinated. And Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, had quickly escalated US involvement in the Vietnam War. Within four years, Johnson had escalated the number of military personnel in South Vietnam from 16,000 to 540,000. After turning a small conflict into a major war, Johnson abdicated his leadership in March of 1968. Within days, Martin Luther King was assassinated. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Both men were advocating a quick withdrawal of troops from Vietnam.
The Nixon Administration is still most heavily criticized for its "secret" bombing campaign in Cambodia. But as he explained in a speech before the VFW in New Orleans on August 20, 1973, the action was not a secret within the government as his critics had charged. Nixon explained that the plan was "disclosed to appropriate Government leaders" and the "appropriate Congressional leaders." He added that "there was no secrecy as far as Government leaders were concerned, who had any right to know or need to know." It is also important to realize that Nixon had only been President for less than two months when that decision was made. Upon reflection, it appears that the so-called "secret" bombing campaign in Cambodia was actually Nixon’s Bay of Pigs. Eventually his enemies used that decision—which many of them participated in—as one of several reasons why he should be driven from office.
Within this context, many of Nixon’s actions regarding China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and the war on heroin were indeed bold and courageous.
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