Kissinger: 1973, the Crucial Year

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9780743272834: Kissinger: 1973, the Crucial Year

By any measure, 1973 should have been Henry Kissinger’s year of triumph. But major events—defeat in Vietnam, Watergate, war in the Middle East, the Arab oil embargo—shattered whatever peace and calm America had attained in the early part of the decade. Rather than progressing on all fronts, as he had expected, Kissinger had to confront some of the most critical policy challenges of his career, including the blowup in the Middle East, détente with Russia, and the opening of the door to China.

Kissinger: 1973, The Crucial Year
is the gripping history of one of America’s most enigmatic and influential foreign policy advisers during a pivotal year in the country’s postwar history.

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About the Author:

Alistair Horne, the author of, most recently, Seven Ages of Paris, The Age of Napoleon, and The French Revolution, is a fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. He was awarded the French LÉgion d’honneur in 1993 and received a knighthood in 2003 for his work on French history.  His books include Back into Power, Small Earthquake in Chile, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, To Lose a Battle: France 1940, The French Army and Politics, 1870–1970, A Bundle from Britain, an d A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962.  His latest books are. He lives in Oxfordshire.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

A Very Odd Couple

"The loneliest and saddest Christmas I can ever remember."

-- Richard Nixon to David Frost

"If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog."

-- Harry S. Truman

Nineteen seventy-two was a year Henry Kissinger was glad to see come to a close. After twelve months of turbulent activity, and nail-biting negotiations with the North Vietnamese, it had ended on an upbeat note of considerable optimism -- insofar as the global position of the United States was concerned -- yet one of some uncertainty in terms of his own private ambitions. A triumph in which Kissinger could claim to have played some little part, in the presidential elections that November President Richard Nixon had won the second greatest landslide in American history. Forty-seven million Americans had voted for him -- and for his and Kissinger's policies -- representing more than 60 percent of all the votes cast. It was an impressive endorsement of his strategy of opening the door to China the previous year, and détente with the Soviet Union. Moreover, despite the huge underswell of opposition to the ever-rumbling Vietnam War, it surely indicated that a majority also supported Kissinger's tireless trips to Paris in 1972, endeavoring to wrestle a "peace with honor" out of the granite-faced, unyielding men from North Vietnam.

Yet that strange human being, Richard Milhous Nixon, the strangest -- and perhaps the most fascinating if not egregious -- of all U.S. presidents, had celebrated his triumph, not with oysters and champagne as had British prime minister Harold Macmillan in a comparable triumph on coming to power in 1957, but with a demand for the resignation of his entire staff.

Christmas 1972 was a lonely time, for Kissinger as well as for his boss, and a period of serious reflection. Kissinger was then a bachelor, enamored of the tall, elegant, but elusive WASP Nancy Maginnes, but still very much a bachelor -- Washington's most sought-after bachelor. Each Christmas he would "ask her to marry me; every year she refused -- said she 'wasn't ready' -- and yet she wasn't seeing anybody else."1 So he continued to live in a cramped bachelor house, two up, two down -- one bedroom of which he used as an office -- on Waterside, a small road running up from Rock Creek.

Originally he was to have spent Christmas with Nixon in his Florida hideout at Key Biscayne.2 But the invitation had been withdrawn, or rather curtailed to a two-day working visit from December 20 to 22, to debrief General Alexander Haig (then White House chief of staff) on his recent Saigon trip to see the prickly President Nguyen Van Thieu. The two most powerful men in the United States were undergoing a patch of strained relations. There were various reasons: the Christmas Bombing of Hanoi had led to disagreements among the two over its public image; and, on a more personal level, Nixon had been sorely piqued by a recent interview with the attractive Italian female journalist Oriana Fallaci, where Kissinger had rashly let his hair down. Coupled with Time magazine bracketing the president, and his adviser, as their Man of the Year, it had caused the highly sensitive president, ever seeking a slight, to feel grievously sidelined by his ebullient subordinate. So Nixon spent a solitary Christmas ("the loneliest and saddest Christmas I can ever remember," he told David Frost, "much sadder and much lonelier than the one in the Pacific during the war").

Certainly these glum reflections were not shared by his national security adviser; he had his own.

For Kissinger the business year (as recorded in his immaculate "Record of Schedule"*) ended on December 23 with visits from Admiral Thomas Moorer, the browbeaten chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Staff Al Haig, to discuss the effect of the Christmas Bombing, a session with his close associate, Peter Rodman,  in the Map Room, a lunch date with the journalist William Safire, currently a presidential speechwriter; then, at 3:22 p.m., Nancy arrived to collect him from his office. It was a familiar mix, though less intensive than his habitual workday. Christmas Day was spent lunching with Joseph Alsop, his favorite and most trusted among the Washington journalists, at 2720 Dumbarton Avenue in Georgetown, and then dining with Evangeline Bruceà in her grand abode nearby.

Though Washington had closed down for the holidays, the next day, December 26, a key message from Hanoi brought Kissinger racing back to his office. It was the signal the White House had anxiously been awaiting; it was also the day of one of the biggest raids by the giant B-52s. The North Vietnamese had agreed to a resumption of the Paris peace talks as soon as the U.S. bombing stopped, and registered its willingness to settle "the remaining questions with the U.S. side." It looked like the ultimate climb-down by Hanoi. Kissinger observed in his memoirs, "We had not heard such a polite tone from the North Vietnamese since the middle of October."6 He signaled back suggesting a resumption of talks on January 8 (ultimately deferred to the 23rd). The bombing was ceased forthwith. A visit from the White House barber, and at 2:50 p.m. Kissinger took off -- alone§ -- on a wellearned six-day holiday to Palm Springs in the Southern California desert.

For a man whose mind was never still, it was a time for serious reflection. While strolling down the beach near the San Clemente White House, the weekend before the elections in November 1972, Kissinger had mused gloomily to author Theodore "Teddy" White: "How do you withdraw? How do you get out of a situation where every single crisis around the world gets dumped on us?"

Not since conversing with grandees like George Marshall and Dean Acheson could White recall "the use of American power so carefully explained" as in that conversation. A passerby shook Kissinger by the hand, thanking him "for peace." Kissinger seemed taken aback, exclaiming, "Where else could it happen but in a country like this.... To let a foreigner make peace for you, to accept a man like me -- I even have a foreign accent!"

Events had taken a distinctly encouraging upturn since that November stroll, but similar thoughts were not far from the forefront of Kissinger's mind over the Christmas break. The prospects for the coming year looked good, certainly better than they had at the same time twelve months ago. As he apostrophized the coming year of 1973 in his memoirs, it was to begin "with glittering promise; rarely had a Presidential term started with such bright foreign policy prospects."

As his close associate on most of his ventures at that time, Winston Lord, adumbrated these heady days to the author, "U.S. foreign policy was at an absolute peak," with the Nixon-Kissinger team looking "poised to continue to build a structure of peace." Nixon had been reelected in a landslide, the Vietnam War was (or looked to be) over; the Middle East seemed stable; there was the opening to China to build on; and major progress in détente with the Soviet Union. "Now they could continue progress on those fronts while turning to issues that needed more attention; relations with Europe and Japan (especially after the shock of China), Middle East, other regions including our own backyard, 'newer' issues like energy, North-South relations, etc. Congress buoyed by an end to Vietnam War and dramatic summits and progress with two Communist giants."

There was just one small, one very small, blip. It was called Watergate.

Back in the idyllic European peacetime summer of 1870, British foreign minister Lord Granville had been able to discern, justly so it seemed at the time, not "a cloud in the sky." Yet three months later Emperor Louis-Napoleon's Third Empire had collapsed, crushed by a triumphant Prussia, the emperor himself forced to abdicate; the whole European order had been turned upside down. In 1870 the whole balance of power in Europe had changed overnight. In America, though the skies were perhaps not so cloudless, there was certainly no sense of the drama that lay ahead: a major war in the Middle East, but -- with far profounder significance -- the leader of the free world, successor to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, disgraced and disabled. But, perhaps less than a cloud on the horizon, Watergate was more like a shark circling, as of January 1973 at a respectful distance, still -- but slowly out there moving in. Whether, that lonely Christmas of 1972, the ripples in the water figured yet anywhere near the forefront of the mysterious, dark reflections -- brooding on thoughts of revenge against his many foes -- of Richard Milhous Nixon, will never be known. There were rumblings over the break-in at the Watergate complex the previous summer; but that probably caused the least of disturbance to the slumbers of this secretive man. We'll never know. Yet there was no reason to think they did. Had he not just won one of the most spectacular reelection victories of all time? So why the dark thoughts, the sadness?

Certainly they were unlikely to have featured in those of his national security adviser (he of course had his own worries, but not such torments). In his memoirs Kissinger wrote, "We had begun Nixon's second term imagining that we were on the threshold of a creative new era in international affairs; seldom, if ever, had so many elements of foreign policy appeared malleable simultaneously."

Malleable. However, "Within months we confronted a nightmarish collapse of authority at home and a desperate struggle to keep foreign adversaries from transforming it into an assault on our nation's security." Whereas, from a diplomat's point of view, he saw Nixon's first term having formed "in a sense an adolescence.... Diplomacy in the second term, which ended abruptly in the late summer of 1974, was a rude accession of maturity." As far as his own role was concerned, he summarized, it was to fall "to me to attempt to insulate foreign policy as much as possible from the domestic catastrophe." But "all our calculations were soon to b...

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