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Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Powerby Robert Dallek
Synopses & Reviews
With the publication of his magisterial biography of John F. Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek cemented his reputation as one of the greatest historians of our time. Now, in this epic joint biography, he offers a provocative, groundbreaking portrait of a pair of outsize leaders whose unlikely partnership dominated the world stage and changed the course of history.
More than thirty years after working side-by-side in the White House, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger remain two of the most compelling, contradictory, and powerful men in America in the second half of the twentieth century. While their personalities could hardly have seemed more different, they were drawn together by the same magnetic force. Both were largely self-made men, brimming with ambition, driven by their own inner demons, and often ruthless in pursuit of their goals. At the height of their power, the collaboration and rivalry between them led to a sweeping series of policies that would leave a defining mark on the Nixon presidency.
Tapping into a wealth of recently declassified archives, Robert Dallek uncovers fascinating details about Nixon and Kissinger's tumultuous personal relationship and the extent to which they struggled to outdo each other in the reach for achievements in foreign affairs. Dallek also brilliantly analyzes their dealings with power brokers at home and abroad—including the nightmare of Vietnam, the unprecedented opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the disastrous overthrow of Allende in Chile, and growing tensions between India and Pakistan—while recognizing how both men were continually plotting to distract the American public's attention from the growing scandal of Watergate. With unprecedented detail, Dallek reveals Nixon's erratic behavior during Watergate and the extent to which Kissinger was complicit in trying to help Nixon use national security to prevent his impeachment or resignation.
Illuminating, authoritative, revelatory, and utterly engrossing, Nixon and Kissinger provides a startling new picture of the immense power and sway these two men held in changing world history.
"Historian Robert Dallek has made his reputation with biographies of American presidents, Kennedy and Johnson among them. In this massive new book, he focuses on a relationship between one of the most controversial recent American presidents and his most influential foreign policy collaborator. So close was the partnership between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that one historian has talked of a... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) 'Nixinger' foreign policy. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Nixon met with Kissinger, then his national security adviser, 198 times; by contrast, William Rogers, the secretary of State, met with the president only 30 times. Nixon and Kissinger shared a similar view of the world — that nations should act to promote their own interests and to encourage international stability. Both worried about what Vietnam had done and was continuing to do to the United States; both wanted to mend relations with their allies, particularly in Europe; and both wanted a better understanding, including arms control agreements, with the Soviet bloc. Yet they were never friends, and both tried to take credit for the administration's foreign policy successes. Dallek paints a vivid portrait of two clever, insecure men, each wanting a place in history. Although at the start of their relationship, in 1969, Kissinger was a relative unknown and Nixon his powerful patron, by 1974 it was Kissinger, then secretary of state, who remained popular with the American public as a reviled Nixon left the White House. In later years, they rarely saw each other. One of the great challenges in writing a history of the Nixon administration is the extraordinary wealth of material, most of it now released. Rogers rightly warned Nixon and Kissinger that they would regret taping everything, but both men were eager to ensure their place in history. Dallek has trolled through thousands of pages of transcripts from the Nixon and Kissinger tapes and caught them at their best and their worst, vindictive, funny, statesmanlike, petty, wise and absurd. A word of warning, though: Their lengthy conversations ought not always be taken at face value. Nixon worked his ideas out that way; Kissinger tended to flatter and agree with his president and even joked about it. The tapes show the two men egging each other on to savage their enemies. The Democratic senators who are talking of impeaching Nixon during Watergate are, says Kissinger, 'bastard traitors.' The two men gloat that the 1971 war between India and Pakistan will cause American liberals 'untold anguish' because their beloved India was so clearly the aggressor. They celebrate when Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrows Salvador Allende's government in Chile, reassuring each other that, in Kissinger's words, 'we didn't do it,' although in the next breath he admits, 'I mean we helped them.' Dallek recognizes the real successes of the Nixon administration — China, the end of the Vietnam War and ditente with the Soviet Union — and its failures, such as the coup in Chile. He also reminds us of how dangerously distracted Nixon became as a result of Watergate. Sen. Barry Goldwater came away deeply worried after a bizarre dinner in 1973 at which Nixon 'jabbered incessantly, often incoherently, to the end.' Increasingly, it was left to Kissinger, the administration's 'one figure of stature remaining,' as Time put it, to manage American foreign relations and cope with crises such as the October War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. For all the fascinating detail, the big picture remains elusive. Curiously for a book about one of the key relationships in American foreign policy, there is little extended analysis of what the two men thought about the world and the role of the United States. Nixon, Dallek tells us, wanted to advance world peace. So do beauty pageant contestants. Nixon is 'an idealist' and 'a defender of national traditions,' and Kissinger is America's 'chief practitioner of realpolitik.' We need more explanation. The two men 'had a hidden agenda that they themselves did not fully glimpse.' Well, neither do we. This also is very much a history of the period as seen from inside the Beltway. Other countries and their leaders serve as background and obliging extras. In 1969, Nixon tells Charles de Gaulle that he is 'somewhat pessimistic on the Middle East.' It would be nice to know why. We get very little sense of what it is the Soviets or the Chinese, or indeed any other peoples, actually want. Dallek also commits odd omissions. There is almost nothing on the tensions within the Western Alliance, for example, which we know were a major concern for both Nixon and Kissinger. We also know that they had serious reservations about West Germany's 'ostpolitik,' or rapprochement with its Communist neighbors (which involved much more than 'ditente with the Communists'), but these barely get a mention. There is no discussion of how Nixon shocked his allies in 1971, when the United States effectively abandoned its support for the dollar and imposed wage and price controls; and there are no references to the impact of the new American relationship with China on allies such as Japan and Taiwan. Early on, Dallek promises the story of a collaboration 'that tells us as much about the opportunities and limits of national and international conditions as about the men themselves.' For all his industry, he does not seem to have shaken himself free of his material to deliver on that promise. They can be dangerous things, those tapes. Margaret MacMillan, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, is the author, most recently, of 'Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World.'" Reviewed by Marie AranaElizabeth McCrackenMargaret MacMillan, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Dallek is the first historian to mine thousands of pages of recently declassified transcripts and tapes, and pair them with Inside-the-Beltway memoirs and scholarly assessments of these 'partners in power.' In doing so, he uncovers what made this odd couple tick." San Antonio Express-News
"Dallek's account is long on description and short on analysis. It is, in addition, too monodimensional in its treatment of figures as complex as Nixon and Kissinger." Chicago Tribune
"[A]n encyclopedic and revealing inside look at the two men who essentially — if not always effectively — ran the world in the early 1970s." Christian Science Monitor
"Drawing upon a wealth of new sources, such as 20,000 pages of transcripts of Kissinger's telephone conversations, Dallek's biography takes us well beyond any previous book on the subject." Oregonian
"[Dallek] has succeeded in drawing a compelling portrait of the two men while analyzing the momentous consequences their foreign policy decisions had on America and the world." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Some of the detail will be daunting for all but the most dedicated policy wonks....But it all adds to the often alarming and always intriguing relationship between these two political titans who shared so much of the world stage at a particularly tumultuous time." Denver Post
"The more than 700 pages of Nixon and Kissinger are crammed not only with scandal but also with insightful descriptions of the most significant foreign policy issues of the period." Dallas Morning News
"Dallek's is an important analysis, based on recently available declassified records and includes important caveats for current policy makers." Library Journal
Book News Annotation:
Dallek (former president of the Society of American Historians) plumbs recently declassified documents and thousands of hours of recorded phone calls and meetings from the Nixon tapes in order to reconstruct the foreign policy relationship of President Richard Nixon and his principal foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger. In addition to shedding new light on many of the decisions regarding the Vietnam War, Nixon's trip to China, the coming to power of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, détente with the Soviet Union, and US support for Israel, the work provides new understanding of the personal tensions between the two men and the extent to which their foreign policy making was affected by domestic considerations, especially Nixon's Watergate travails. Annotation Â©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this epic and revelatory biography, a distinguished historian probes the lives and times of two unlikely leaders whose partnership dominated the world stage and changed the course of history. 16-page b&w photo insert.
About the Author
Robert Dallek is the author of the number one bestseller , among other books. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians, for which he served as president in 2004-2005. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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