Jim's Reviews > Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

Nixon and Kissinger by Robert Dallek
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May 23, 13

bookshelves: american-political-biography
Read in June, 2008

If you ask people to describe Richard Nixon, they'd probably mention Watergate and Foreign Policy and use phrases like cunning, paranoia, bunker mentality and his desperate need to be number one. If they knew him better, they might even describe him as anti-semitic, for while he wasn't a Klan style racist, there was an element of anti-semitism to his character (as I learned from this book).

If you asked those same people to describe Henry Kissinger, they might mention his shuttle diplomacy and Nobel Peace Prize (for his work on Vietnam of all places) and use terms like ego, intellectual snobbery, and desperate need to be considered a leader. If they knew him better, they might mention his Jewishness.

This book examines the strange relationship between Nixon and Kissinger as they try to use foreign policy to deflect criticism of their personality and policies in other areas (inflation was 15% while they were in office).

It's a sad and rather depressing book. Both Nixon and Kissinger are presented as people who have some policy successes (the recognition of Red China, detente with Russia and the SALT I negotiations), but who have too many personality and policy faults (their over stated egos, along with Watergate and the failure in Vietnam) to become they could have been (in my humble opinion).

Overall, the book is interesting, you'll learn a good amount about two of the most interesting individuals in modern American political history. It does, however, leaves some holes. Firstly, the intricacies related to the formal replacement of Taiwan as the "true representatives of the Chinese people" in the UN isn't really covered (despite much of the book being about developing a relationship between America and China). This might be because Taiwan was treated shabbily (as suggested by Doro Bush Koch in her book about George Bush Snr, who was the US Ambassador to the UN at the time) or because they were outwitted by Mao on the issue (as has been suggested by Jon Halliday and Jung Chang in their biography of Mao), but whatever the reasoning, its implementation isn't covered in the detail I'd like.

Secondly, when Dallek introduces the book, he claims that Nixon's drinking, drug abuse and mental instability (in the run up to Watergate) should have been used to unseat him under Article 25 of the Constitution. While you can see why he might make that decision (given the evidence he produces), I would argue he overstates his case, a view that's given some creedance by the fact that Nixon's doctor's son wouldn't release Nixon's medical records.

Finally, Nixon's anti-semetism is pretty much glazed over, as is Kissinger's willingness to let Nixon be fairly anti-semitic. Blandly stating that Nixon's lower middle class upbringing (and Kissinger's pathological need to be Secretary of State) as the cause of their respective behaviour is an oversimplification, and I would argue that it needs to be examined in greater detail, if I'm honest.
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