Argument

BREAKING: Richard Nixon Does Not Endorse Donald Trump

The Republican front-runner is about to deliver his first "presidential" foreign-policy speech. The 37th president says it’s all hogwash.

April 30. 1970, Washington, DC, USA --- President Richard Nixon during a television address explaining his Cambodia policy. --- Image by © CORBIS
April 30. 1970, Washington, DC, USA --- President Richard Nixon during a television address explaining his Cambodia policy. --- Image by © CORBIS

Trump is going to the Nixon Center to blow it all up.

Oh, I can hear the jokes from Cambridge and Georgetown now. How apt, the professors will say. Will the speech take place in the Cambodia Room?

They can go to hell. Lectures, white papers, and faculty lounge chatter die a quick death, but some of us keep our butts on the line for peace. In 1994, I founded the Nixon Center to further what was, at the time, almost 50 years in public life building a world of alliances, with America as the central, indispensable power. But in 2011, the name was changed over my objections to the “Center for the National Interest” — the sort of pointy-headed doublespeak that passes for nuance in the campus tearooms.

They will only engage with me from behind a curtain. That ends today. It’s still the Nixon Center, by God, and it’s an abomination for Trump to speak there. He makes no claim to me or my achievements, and I’d sooner swallow lye than give Trump a blessing.

Yes, I encouraged him to run for office in 1987. But Christ, do you know how many letters I write in a week? I was relating a personal observation from Mrs. Nixon, who’d seen Trump on television. We all agree he’s good at that. He was a Democrat at the time, and he would have run from New York. We all know what their politicians are like. That kind of courtesy is the bread and butter of politics. Don’t dare call it an endorsement.

The press will tell you that Trump speaks off the cuff in foreign policy, that he’s naive, unprepared, and formless. Wait until Kissinger gets a word in his ear, they say, or Gates, or even Nixon — that will set him straight.

Hogwash. Kissinger is only as good as his master. In 1967, I wrote of my desire to open China, and Henry thought it was nuts. It was a “flight of fancy,” he said, with a “fat chance” of success. Then it worked, and it suddenly became his idea.

Besides, Trump already knows what he thinks. For 30 years, he has been an isolationist windbag who recalls Lindbergh and Taft. (I never met Taft, but in the Navy I passed up the chance for dinner with Lindbergh to play poker. He was later my guest in the White House.) Trump pushes the lie that government should run like a business to its limit; he wants to soak allies like Germany, Japan, Kuwait, and South Korea for protection money. Kick in for troop protection, he says. Cede those oil profits to us, or we’ll pull out. Like slot machines or selling steaks, the bottom line is king.

Howard Hughes wasn’t cut out to be president. He would have sold the White House for girls and rocket ships. Neither was George Romney, who would’ve run the country like a Rotary Club. A man who’s been married as much as Trump can’t think beyond the next five minutes. In terms of power, he’d relegate us to the place of Mauritania or Mexico. The pennies he saves in the Korean demilitarized zone would be spent on day one of the coming world war.

Trump has never seen a war. He dodged the draft while sitting on a pile of his father’s money. Myself? As a boy I plucked chickens in the Arizona heat. I mopped floors and drove a truck. I served in the Pacific. I understand power because I was once on the bottom, see, and you have to be lean, mean, and resourceful on the way up. Every step is on the edge of the precipice. You learn to keep your balance, or else.

Trump knows he can’t avoid dealing with China and Russia, but he sees them as rivals on the boardwalk. He wants to fortify his position, make a deal, enrich himself, and leave.

His mutual admiration society with Putin is easy to understand; both have hung on at the top, standing on necks, deflecting knives, and reviving concerns that others left for dead. (Like Brezhnev, Putin is a great swordsman. The Russians always are.) Putin calls Trump “brilliant,” and Trump promises that he’ll get along “fine” with Russia. There’s every reason to believe him.

Trump’s only active foreign policy goal is to defeat the Islamic State, and he agrees with Putin, rightly enough, that Assad is no threat, and must be accommodated. So why shouldn’t Putin ally with Trump against the Islamic State in return for a weakened NATO? Putin gets the jihadists off his back, and Trump can claim strength abroad. It’s nothing to throw in the keys to Eastern Europe. Trump doesn’t give a damn — all those troops in Germany and the Baltics cost money. Getting there costs lives, too, but he has a short memory.

Putin won’t have to worry about deepening trade ties with Europe either. According to Trump, unfair trade deals — not warfare — are the central threat to American security. With a military “bigger, better, and stronger than ever before,” “no one will mess with us.” Has anyone asked him how well it worked at Pearl Harbor?

We’ll see what China has to say about all this. Absent a new trade deal with China, Trump says he’ll impose tariffs on Chinese goods of up to 45 percent. Trump all but dismisses China’s threat in the South China Sea, believing that the economic carrot will make them heel. It won’t. The Chinese are very subtle, and they expect subtlety in return. They equate it with strength. Where there is lack of subtlety, China sees opportunity.

They will surely renegotiate on trade, but in return for the withdrawal of a carrier battle group, or even recognition that the Spratly Islands belong to China. And how will Trump, short-term thinker that he is, refuse the chance to claim victory on his signature issue?

So China and Russia are free to expand. Our commitments are torn up, and Americans are are left with — what? A few more nickels left in their pockets, at the cost of an earthquake across the world. If Japan doesn’t come through with protection payments, will American troops remain to defend them? If not, they’ll be forced to acquire nuclear weapons. Will Turkey align with Russia? Malaysia with China? Pakistan with Iran?

Given that he learns all he needs from watching “the shows,” Trump can’t answer. It doesn’t interest him, either. His thinking resembles your old aunt who’s too blind to read the newspaper — Remember when they made spark plugs in Yonkers? Those were the days. Peace, a chicken in every pot, and, by God, no Mexicans on the factory floor.

It’s a mistake to sneer at it, though. Taft was a fat judge who ran a nation of small farmers and the newly rich; at the time his isolationism was conventional, the result of ignorance. Lindbergh was a bigot who got swallowed up by the Second World War. But Trump is a man for his time. When people have long been poor, when they’re exhausted by 15 years of war and kill themselves with pills for want of jobs, Trump sounds good.

Scratch your neighbor’s back first. Bring the troops home. Make the bastards abroad show their appreciation. Give nothing away for free. “Make America Great Again.”

In spirit, it’s all anyone has the right to expect. But Trump’s penny-pinching, shoelace-staring foreign policy is 150 years out of date. It’s not just an immediate threat to peace — it will permanently discredit and destroy American power in the world.

Contrast this with our policy of détente with the Soviet Union and the opening of China. A weakened Moscow turned their attention to a newly strong Beijing, allowing America to create new alliances in the Middle East and solidify our place as the vital superpower. It led to a generation of peace and prosperity.

Do we see such strategic thinking from Trump? Anything that qualifies him to speak at the Nixon Center, much less hold the door or take the coats?

No. Foreign policy cannot be conducted by ledger, and realism means acting without fear or favor. If you’re counting on the graybeards in Foggy Bottom to hold Trump back, think politically — his election alone will be enough to set the world on its ass.

Other countries already suspect America is a land of dumb, drunken hypocrites who care for nothing but barn dances and high school football games. Trump will confirm it. He won’t get everything he asks for, but the image of him as president is harmful enough.

Those who let Trump darken my door — because it’s mine, goddamn it, no matter the name — ought to watch their backs and sleep lightly. America’s role is to be a peacemaker, and I’ve dedicated myself to making it so. They can ignore me, condescend to me, beat me down, pretend I’m dead. But I’ll always stand up on this.

A Quaker troubles the world by preaching peace to it.

Photo credit: CORBIS/Flickr

Richard Nixon never left us. With the help of playwright Justin Sherin, he continues to speak his mind as @dick_nixon on Twitter.

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