Interview with Richard Nixon: Paying The Price

RICHARD NIXON believes he will always be known as the "Watergate man," the President who resigned the office, and expects little charity from history

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 6)

We have some who say that the changes in the Soviet Union happened because the U.S. under Reagan had a booming economy and a stronger military; it had SDI ((the Strategic Defense Initiative)), which the Soviet Union would have to spend billions of dollars to compete with, and had a firm foreign policy.

On the other side, some argue -- and I agree -- that the primary factor was internal. Communism didn't work: it didn't work there, it didn't work in Eastern Europe, it didn't work in the Third World. What we did may have accelerated the process.

But even had the U.S. not taken the line it did, this would have happened.

Q. If your policy of detente had continued, might it too have created the circumstances that we now see?

A. In my view, yes. Of course, I'm a prejudiced witness on that. Now, detente practiced with linkage would have worked. What has happened now might have happened sooner.

Q. Is the cold war really over?

A. The Soviets have lost the cold war, but the West has not won it. It is not enough to say now that people have rejected communism, that we're home free. Waging a revolution is difficult, but not nearly as difficult as governing. That is the problem in all the countries of Eastern Europe. I'm not enthused about this idea of sending our political experts over and telling these poor people how to win an election. I think it's a little silly and even insulting. What they need is economic experts from the private sector, and maybe some from the Government.

Q. Looking back on the Viet Nam War, what second thoughts do you have?

A. I was asked that about ((the invasion of)) Cambodia once after a speech at Oxford. I said, "Yes, I wish I'd done it sooner." That was a shocker. And going further, Why didn't you do the May 8 bombing and mining sooner? Why didn't you do the December bombing sooner? And the point was, it should have been done sooner, but for one thing, I didn't feel first that the traffic would bear it within the Administration.

We might have lost half the Cabinet, certainly. Neither ((Secretary of State William)) Rogers nor ((Secretary of Defense Melvin)) Laird -- not because they were doves, but because they just thought it was the wrong decision -- would have supported an all-out attack in order to bring the war to a conclusion.

Eisenhower and I were once talking in 1967; Eisenhower felt we should declare war. He said, "You can declare war, then you can handle all these debaters and the bomb throwers." But the problem with declaring war was that the Russians and the Chinese both had treaties with North Viet Nam.

So the declaration of war didn't appeal. But I was also thinking of what we could do after Viet Nam. It was essential to have a new relationship with the Russians, have a new relationship with the Chinese, and I felt that at that time, early on, it would have made it difficult, almost impossible, to develop that new relationship had we declared war. It would have broken it off. In retrospect, I don't think so. In retrospect, I think we could have done it. And it may have been a mistake of judgment, but at the time, that's the reason I didn't do it.

Q. Some people say that when all was finally said and done you --

A. Didn't get any more than we would have gotten earlier?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6