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Haig told me later in the day that Nixon was tilting toward resignation; he was thinking about doing so late in the week and had asked Speechwriter Ray Price to begin work on a speech. But his family might change his mind. During the afternoon I faced many opportunities to dissociate from the President publicly, thereby precipitating a crisis. I refused.
Around 7 p.m., I had a phone call from Nixon. He had just received an Israeli request for long-term military assistance. He would disapprove it, he said. In fact, he would cut off all military deliveries to Israel until it agreed to a comprehensive peace. He regretted not having done so earlier; he would make up for it now. His successor would thank him.
Was it retaliation for our conversation of a few hours agoon Nixon's assumption that my faith made me unusually sensitive to pressures on Israel? Or was it the expression of a long-held belief? Almost certainly both. Nixon did not return to the subject; the relevant papers were prepared but never signed.
Wednesday, Aug. 7, Haig told me that Nixon would be meeting that afternoon with key Republican leaders of the Congress: Senator Hugh Scott, Congressman John Rhodes and the respected conservative Senator Barry Goldwater. That might prove decisive. At 5:58 p.m. Haig called. Could I come right over to the White House? The decision had obviously been made. When I entered the Oval Office, I found Nixon alone with his back to the room, gazing at the Rose Garden through the bay windows. I knew the feeling from the time when as a boy I had to emigrate to a foreign land: attempting to say goodbye to something familiar and beloved, to absorb it so that one can never be separated from it. In the process, sadly, one loses it; the self-consciousness of the effort destroys what can only be possessed spontaneously.
Nixon turned. He seemed composed, almost at ease. He had decided to resign, he said. The Republican leaders had reinforced his instinct that there was not enough support in Congress to justify a struggle. The country needed repose. He could save our foreign policy only by avoiding a constitutional crisis. He would speak to the nation the next evening, Thursday, Aug. 8; he would resign effective at noon Friday, Aug. 9. He hoped I would stay on to continue the foreign policy of which he was so proud.
The effort seemed to drain him, and I feared for his composure. "History," I said, "will treat you more kindly than your contemporaries have." What I remember is that at that moment I put my arm around him, bridging at the end the distance that had separated us on the human level all these years. Nixon does not report it in his memoirs. So perhaps it did not happen, and I only felt like doing it. Or perhaps Nixon did not want to admit that he needed solace, an emotion that he considered weak but that was in fact the most human reaction possible. It makes no real difference. At the moment of his fall, I felt for Nixon a great tendernessfor the tremendous struggle he had fought within himself, for his anguish, his vulnerability and for his great aspirations defeated in the end by weaknesses of character that became destructive because he had never come to grips with them. If I did not in fact embrace him, I felt as if I had.