Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Powerby Robert Dallek
With the publication of his magisterial biography of John F. Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek cemented his reputation as one of the greatest historians of our time. Now, in this epic joint biography, he offers a provocative, groundbreaking portrait of a pair of outsize leaders whose unlikely partnership dominated the world stage and changed the/em>
With the publication of his magisterial biography of John F. Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek cemented his reputation as one of the greatest historians of our time. Now, in this epic joint biography, he offers a provocative, groundbreaking portrait of a pair of outsize leaders whose unlikely partnership dominated the world stage and changed the course of history.
More than thirty years after working side-by-side in the White House, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger remain two of the most compelling, contradictory, and powerful men in America in the second half of the twentieth century. While their personalities could hardly have seemed more different, they were drawn together by the same magnetic force. Both were largely self-made men, brimming with ambition, driven by their own inner demons, and often ruthless in pursuit of their goals. At the height of their power, the collaboration and rivalry between them led to a sweeping series of policies that would leave a defining mark on the Nixon presidency.
Tapping into a wealth of recently declassified archives, Robert Dallek uncovers fascinating details about Nixon and Kissinger's tumultuous personal relationship and the extent to which they struggled to outdo each other in the reach for achievements in foreign affairs. Dallek also brilliantly analyzes their dealings with power brokers at home and abroad—including the nightmare of Vietnam, the unprecedented opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the disastrous overthrow of Allende in Chile, and growing tensions between India and Pakistan—while recognizing how both men were continually plotting to distract the American public's attention from the growing scandal of Watergate. With unprecedented detail, Dallek reveals Nixon's erratic behavior during Watergate and the extent to which Kissinger was complicit in trying to help Nixon use national security to prevent his impeachment or resignation.
Illuminating, authoritative, revelatory, and utterly engrossing, Nixon and Kissinger provides a startling new picture of the immense power and sway these two men held in changing world history.
The New York Times
This abridged version of Dallek's study of the relationship between a president and his powerful secretary of state is read with precision by Conger. Dallek approved the audiobook's abridgment, which hits the high points of his 750-page doorstopper. Conger hints at imitating the deeply familiar voices of Dallek's twin protagonists without sliding into all-out parody. He drops his voice to a semigrowl for Nixon and adds a muted Central European flavor for Kissinger. For the most part, Conger hits the expected notes, emphasizing and underlining Dallek's narrative with understated flair. Those expecting spine-tingling excitement from the meeting and collision of these two powerful, ultimately destructive political forces may be disappointed by Conger's staid reading, but its allure lies in its solid, unobtrusive nature. Conger pulls listeners into Nixon and Kissinger's struggle by ceding center stage to them. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 12). (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Dallek, the author of such first-rate biographies as An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, now offers an excellent reassessment of one of the most imposing foreign policy duos in U.S. history. Nixon and Kissinger both reveled in power and were driven by the hope of attaining greatness, expectations that were shattered in part by their mutual arrogance, cynicism, and need for constant reassurance. The author maintains that their partnership achieved important victories, notably the opening of China, détente with the Soviet Union, and Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, which ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War at a time when Nixon was consumed by Watergate. However, such failures as the disastrous policies in Vietnam and Cambodia, which resulted in thousands of American and millions of Asian deaths; the toppling of the legitimately elected Allende government in Chile; and the willingness to use foreign policy as a means to secure Nixon's reelection and to downplay Watergate damaged America's reputation for decades. Both men spent the post-Nixon years writing many popular books-16 between them-in attempts to rehabilitate or enhance their reputations. Dallek's is an important analysis, based on recently available declassified records and includes important caveats for current policy makers. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/07.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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Nixon and Kissinger
Partners in Power
A man's philosophy is his autobiography. You may read it in the story of his conflict with life.
Walter Lippmann, The New Republic, July 17, 1915
In the nearly twenty years following his resignation from the presidency in 1974, Richard Nixon struggled to reestablish himself as a well- regarded public figure. He tried to counter negative views of himself by writing seven books, mostly about international relations, which could sustain and increase his reputation as a world statesman. Yet as late as 1992, he complained to Monica Crowley, a young postpresidential aide: " 'We have taken . . . shit ever sinceinsulted by the media as the disgraced former president.' "
Above all, he craved public attention from his successors in the White House. The reluctance of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush to invite him back to the Oval Office for advice, particularly on foreign policy, incensed him. When Bush sent him national security form letters, "he erupted in fury. 'I will not give them [the Bush advisers] any advice unless they are willing to thank me publicly,' " he told Crowley. " 'I'm tired of being taken for granted. . . . No more going in the back door of the White Housemiddle of the nightunder the cloak- of- darkness crap. Either they want me or they don't.' "
At the 1992 Republican Convention, after Bush publicly praised Nixon's contribution to America's Cold War victory, Nixon exclaimed, " 'It took guts for him to say that. . . . It's the first time that anyone has referred to me at a convention. Reagan never did. It was gutsy.' " After Bill Clinton invited him to the White House to discuss Russia, Nixon declared it the best meeting " 'I have had since I was president.' " He was gratified that Clinton addressed him as " 'Mr. President.' " But when he saw his advice to Clinton being "diluted," it "inspired rage, disappointment and frustration."
Nixon's postpresidential resentments were of a piece with longstanding sensitivity to personal slights. His biography is in significant part the story of an introspective man whose inner demons both lifted him up and brought him down. It is the history of an exceptional man whose unhappy childhood and lifelong personal tensions propelled him toward success and failure.
It may be that Winston Churchill was right when he said that behind every extraordinary man is an unhappy childhood. But because there are so many unhappy children and so few exceptional men, it invites speculation on what else went into Nixon's rise to fame as a congressman, senator, vice president, and president. Surely, not the least of Nixon's motives in his drive for public visibility was an insatiable appetite for distinctiona need, perhaps, to make up for psychic wounds that produced an unrelenting determination to elevate himself to the front rank of America's competitors for status, wealth, and influence. Like Lincoln, in the words of law partner William Herndon, Nixon's ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.
Like most political memoirists who romanticize the realities of their upbringing, Nixon painted a portrait of an "idyllic" childhood in Yorba Linda, California, a rural town of two hundred about thirty miles northeast of Los Angeles, and Whittier, a small city of about five thousand east of Long Beach. He remembered "the rich scent of orange blossoms in the spring . . . glimpses of the Pacific Ocean to the west [and] the San Bernardino Mountains to the north," and the allure of "far- off places" stimulated by train whistles in the night that made him want to become a railroad engineer. "Life in Yorba Linda was hard but happy." His fatherworked at odd jobs, but a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and a cow provided the family with plenty to eat.
When Richard was nine, the family moved to Whittier, where his mother's Milhous family lived. He described growing up there in three words: "family, church and school." There was an extended family with scores of people, including his grandmother, Almira Burdg Milhous, who inspired him on his thirteenth birthday in 1926 with a gift of a framed Lincoln portrait and a Longfellow poem, "Psalm of Life": "Lives of great men oft remind us/We can make our lives sublime/And departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time." Nixon cherished the picture and inscription, which he kept hung over his bed while in high school and college.
Richard remembered his parents as models of honest decency who endowed him with attributes every youngster might wish to have. "My father," Nixon wrote, "was a scrappy, belligerent fighter with a quick, wide- ranging raw intellect. He left me a respect for learning and hard work, and the will to keep fighting no matter what the odds. My mother loved me completely and selflessly, and her special legacy was a quiet, inner peace, and the determination never to despair."
But in fact, Nixon's childhood was much more tumultuous and troubling than he let on. Frank Nixon, his father, was a boisterous, unpleasant man who needed to dominate everyone"a 'punishing and often brutal' father." Edward Nixon, the youngest of the Nixon children described his "mother as the judge and my father as the executioner." Frank's social skills left a lot to be desired; he offended most people with displays of temper and argumentativeness. As a trolley car conductor, farmer, gas station owner, and small grocer, he never made a particularly good living. Nixon biographers have painted unsympathetic portraits of Frank as a difficult, abrasive character with few redeeming qualities. Though Nixon would never openly acknowledge it, he saw his father as a harsh, unlikable man whose weaknesses eclipsed his strengths.
Frank was a standing example of what Richard hoped not to bea largely inconsequential figure in a universe that valued material success and social standing. Richard was driven to do better than his father, but he also struggled with painful inner doubts about his worthiness. Despite his striving, Richard initially doubted that he had the wherewithal to surpass his father. Frank was not someone who either by example or direct messages to his sons communicated much faith in their worth. At the same time, however, Richard was his father's son: his later readiness to run roughshod over opponents and his mean-spiritedness in political combat said as much about Frank as it did about Richard....Nixon and Kissinger
Partners in Power. Copyright © by Robert Dallek. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Robert Dallek is the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 and Nixon and Kissinger, among other books. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, and Vanity Fair. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Was good book in showing the relationship between these men. Very well researched. At times, was hard to follow the sequence of events.
Robert Dallek, biographer of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, has now written an account of the Nixon presidency, but it is not as good as Seymour Hersh¿s magnificent The Price of Power. In July 1968 Nixon and Kissinger told President Thieu of South Vietnam to reject US calls to begin participating in peace talks. In doing so, they broke the US law against private citizens conducting diplomatic negotiations. Nixon campaigned on a platform of ending the war, yet sabotaged Johnson¿s final efforts to negotiate, and then escalated the war. Nixon and Kissinger always opposed unilateral withdrawal. They aimed to continue the US aggression against Vietnam until victory could be achieved. When they talked of an `honourable settlement¿, they meant one that achieved all the USA¿s war aims. More US soldiers would have to die so that the earlier deaths would not have been in vain, which, absurdly, equates to saving the dead. Nixon and Kissinger cruelly indulged in sunshine talk about the war, promising the American people that one last push, one more invasion, would bring victory. But the truth was that the USA had lost. There was no alternative to withdrawal: their only choice was whether to end the war swiftly, or end it a bit later after killing yet more Vietnamese and having even more American soldiers killed pointlessly '20,000 were killed under Nixon'. Nixon and Kissinger never grasped that a quick exit from Vietnam would have helped, not undermined, US credibility. They never asked other governments what they thought about a speedy exit. Détente was just a cynical device to try to divide Vietnam from its allies, and it failed. Dallek concludes that Nixon and Kissinger¿s policy towards Vietnam ¿was a disaster. Administration actions destabilized Cambodia, expended thousands of American, Vietnamese and Cambodian lives, gained no real advantage and divided the country.¿ Actually, Nixon virtually united the country against him and against the war: by 1969, 71% of the American people wanted Nixon to withdraw 100,000 troops from Vietnam by the end of the year. Nixon and Kissinger claimed that their policies were realistic and intelligent, but neither could see that the Vietnamese people were justly fighting for their national liberation. Nixon and Kissinger were not the tragic, flawed heroes that Dallek portrays but despicable war criminals.