Don’t like President Obama’s foreign policy? Blame President Richard Nixon. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for the former to acknowledge the influence of the latter, even as we approach the 40th anniversary next month of Nixon’s resignation.
In a recent commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy, Obama was quick to quote Dwight D. Eisenhower (“War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly”) and to reference John F. Kennedy (“At the height of the Cold War, [he] spoke about the need for a peace based upon a gradual evolution in human institutions”). But it was really Nixon — unmentioned — whom he was channeling.
Compare the following two quotes:
• “First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments. Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security. Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.”
• “On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake, when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction, but do not directly threaten us, then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development, sanctions and isolation, appeals to international law, and — if just, necessary, and effective — multilateral military action. In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”
The first was delivered by Nixon on Nov. 3, 1969, and has come to be known as the “Nixon” or “Guam Doctrine.” Nixon served notice to the world that the United States was willing to supply an imperiled ally with expertise and funding, but expected its partners to supply the troops.
The second was Obama at U.S. Military Academy on May 28, while defending his foreign policy in the face of criticism that we’ve become rudderless just as the Middle East implodes. Obama said that 13 years removed from 9/11, we now face more scattered risks than Al-Qaida, with extremists in Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Mali and other countries.
“We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stirs up local resentments,” said Obama. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.”
He told the graduates that they would be sent on missions to help other nations face down terror threats, with the United States’ supplying training and funding. To that end, he requested that Congress finance what he called a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, with up to $5 billion to help vulnerable countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, all neighbors of Syria.
More Nixon from Obama:
“America must always lead on the world stage,” the president said. “But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”
Last week, I ran this comparison past Pat Buchanan, who just wrote “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority.” Buchanan was at Nixon’s side from January 1966 through the end of his presidency in August 1974. Does he see the similarity?
“Exactly,” said Buchanan. “I didn’t agree entirely in those days with the Nixon foreign policy, but at the end of the Cold War, that’s exactly the foreign policy we should have adopted. … I think Barack Obama — in removing us from Iraq, that war, and Afghanistan — … I think that’s what the American people want. I think that’s the Nixon Doctrine there.
“Look, if our vital interests are not threatened, and our people are not attacked, and it’s someone else’s cause or, as Barack Obama said, somebody else’s civil war, [the American people] want to stay out of it. It’s a terrible world, and we’d like to make it all well, but we can’t, and we can’t spend all this blood and treasure in a war every decade doing it.”
Next month marks four decades since Nixon’s resignation, but that’s apparently an insufficient time to elapse for President No. 44 to reference No. 37 by name. Will that ever change? Buchanan says yes, and notes that he is often stopped and asked, “What was Watergate all about, Pat?” and how did it interrupt an otherwise good presidency?
“Let me tell you a little story,” Buchanan said. “When I went into the White House, I got a second golden opportunity after Watergate with Ronald Reagan, who brought me in as communications director, and he pulled me aside and said, ‘You know, Pat, I think President Nixon’s foreign policy had an awful lot to commend it.’
“He wouldn’t say it in public, either.”
Michael Smerconish is host of “Smerconish” on CNN. Readers may contact him at www.smerconish.com.