Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

by Robert Dallek

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061832956
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 752
Sales rank: 253,886
File size: 3 MB

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Nixon and Kissinger
Partners in Power

Chapter One


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 since—insulted 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 House—middle of the night—under 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 distinction—a 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 be—a 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.

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Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Ryan-50 More than 1 year ago
Was good book in showing the relationship between these men. Very well researched. At times, was hard to follow the sequence of events.
cwhouston on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really looking forward to reading this as I particularly liked `Flawed Giant' about the Johnson administration - having finished and enjoyed it, I'm also slightly disappointed. Most of the foreign policy issues faced by Nixon and Kissinger are covered in detail, but there is practically no coverage of domestic political issues. Nixon himself had no interest in `building outhouses in Peoria' but this does not necessarily mean that it should have been omitted from `Partners in Power'. For example, toward the end of the book we are told `...Schlesinger, who replaced Laird as Secretary of Defence,......" without even an explanation of why Laird was replaced.Other gripes include the remarkably scant coverage of the role of Spiro Agnew, who is mentioned briefly on only four or five occasions, and the inadequate coverage of the effects of Nixon's bombing of Cambodia and the means by which N&K illegally sought to cover it up. I also felt that more direct quotes, which are readily available, would have brought more life to the content.However, Dallek does provide in-depth coverage of Vietnam, Yom Kippur War, OPEC crises and détente with the PRC and USSR, and the writing style easily maintains interest. The best aspect of the book (and to be fair the main objective) is the portrayal of the relationship between the president and his national security advisor. Startling similarities become apparent, and the author provides a particularly interesting analysis of the inner drivers motivating each man.Overall, this is a very well written and enjoyable account of some aspects of the Nixon presidency and an intriguing study on the use and abuse of executive power. Kissinger was right when he said in 1968 `that man is not fit to be president'.
LisaMorr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read Partners in Power: Nixon and Kissinger earlier this year and found it to be very interesting. I never realized how similar these two guys were, especially how paranoid Kissinger was. Neither one of them treated people very well at all - people quitting and/or having nervous breakdowns seemed faily common.The book covered both Nixon's and Kissinger's somewhat humble beginnings separately, and then intertwined their biographies when they got together. Vietnam, China, the USSR are all covered, as well as Watergate. It was interesting how Nixon continued to downplay the importance of Watergate almost to the end.A well-written book, however sometimes it seemed to jump back and forth in time, as several strings were being followed. Not the easiest of reads.
jdpwash on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amazing how history repeats itself. Bush is no Nixon but the politics of fear and deception seem to be perennial.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Any overview of the Nixon-Kissinger collaboration is necessarily going to be at least partially derivative and while Dallek leans on William Bundy's Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency and to a lesser extent Walter Isaacson's Kissinger: A Biography, he also did his own exhaustive research, including access to much new material from Kissinger's archives. The resulting synthesis is an excellent one-volume overview. Presidential historian Dallek presents here the full tale of the Nixon-Kissinger era for scholar and general reader alike. Dallek mostly allows the story to tell itself and is even-handed when he does insert his own views. Of course, even-handed means a largely negative evaluation. While Dallek rightly praises Nixon for the China opening and to some extent for detente with the Soviet Union, he also covers the criminal overthrew of Chile's elected Socialist leader Allende and their nearly catastrophic tilt toward Pakistan in its conflict with India - and of course, Vietnam. As Dallek once again establishes, Nixon and Kissinger deliberately extended the Vietnam War to aid Nixon's 1972 re-election. They distinctly did not want the war to end too early and risk the premature collapse of the South Vietnamese house of cards in advance of the election. The exit of US ground forces was cynically calibrated to be just completed by the fall of 1972. And as Dallek relates they expanded the war to Cambodia and Laos with disastrous results for those peoples. The story of the Nixon era ultimately becomes the story of Watergate. At bottom Watergate was about the tapes. After the discovery of their existence, Nixon's resistance to releasing them led to charges of cover-up, and their ultimate release confirmed his criminality. Dallek does necessarily delve a bit into the details of Watergate, but the best source for that story remains Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon by Stanley Kutler. When the taping system was first installed, Haldeman asked whether Nixon wanted transcripts prepared. Nixon declaimed, "Absolutely not. No one is ever going to hear those tapes but you and me." The delicious unintended irony of this answer is irresistible, but also revealing. Nixon seems to have had the self-awareness to know in advance that his tapes were not going to be pretty. Indeed, one of the strengths of Dallek's book is the extent to which the mostly repellent personalities of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are on display: paranoid, ruthless, secretive, conspiratorial, and deceptive. Kissinger at least possessed a charm that Nixon completely lacked. Nixon did not like people much and people reciprocated. While Dallek does not add any big new important pieces to our knowledge, his exhaustive research does add authoritativeness to what we thought we already knew. Dallek does highlight the shocking extent of Nixon's drinking - he was often drunk and asleep or out of control, in particular during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. 'Nixon and Kissinger' is the work of a worthy professional historian and Dallek has given us a complete and even-handed treatment without polemics (however, his repeated suggestion that Nixon's aides and Kissinger in particular should have pushed Nixon's temporary removal under the 25th Amendment is perhaps the book's weakest point). Dallek also made a special effort to make his work accessible to a younger generation of readers who did not live through the Watergate-Vietnam immersion experience. Highly recommended for both seasoned Nixon hands and newcomers alike.
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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.