Nixon's Farewell Advice

April 27, 1994

Widely proclaimed as perhaps the most perceptive of our foreign policy presidents, Richard Nixon goes to his grave today having completed one last treatise on world affairs. In excerpts released by Time magazine, Mr. Nixon takes sharp exception to some of President Clinton's policies and describes his campaign slogan -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- as "good politics but poor statesmanship." "We cannot have a strong domestic policy unless we have a strong foreign policy," he writes, thus reversing Mr. Clinton's order of priorities.

For those seeking foreign policy prescriptions from the forthcoming Nixon book, "Beyond Peace," the Time excerpts present fascinating and predictably contentious views.

On China, the departed president excoriates the administration for "increasing distrust, stirring up trouble, threatening non-cooperation and fomenting confrontation" after Deng Xiaoping had specifically told him he hoped for the opposite. He warns that if the administration cancels existing trade arrangements because of China's human rights transgressions, it would hurt the free-market entrepreneurs who hold the key to China's future.

On Russia, the former president foresees a more nationalistic leadership emerging. But rather than "throw in the towel," he urges the West to become "a more active participant in Russia's success." With the administration supporting International Monetary Fund aid to Russia, Mr. Clinton's policy toward Russia seems not so far from Mr. Nixon's.

On Bosnia, Mr. Nixon says "one of America's most conspicuous and unnecessary foreign policy failures is the carnage in the former Yugoslavia." For this, he blames both the Bush and Clinton administrations. Mr. Nixon urges lifting of the United Nations arms embargo so Bosnian Muslims can obtain weaponry -- an idea critics feel could widen the war.

Asserting that "America must lead" despite the end of the Cold War, Mr. Nixon is worried by many developments on the contemporary scene: a "hobbled" presidency, an "imperial Congress" and 1960's "cultural conceits" that deny personal responsibility.

"The greatest challenge America faces in the era beyond peace is to learn the art of national unity in the absence of war or some other explicit external threat," he writes. "If we fail to meet that challenge, our diversity, long a source of strength, will become a destructive force. Our individuality, long our most distinctive characteristic, will be the seed of our collapse, Our freedom, long our most cherished possession, will exist only in the history books."

Denied an opportunity to deliver a farewell address when he left the White House in disgrace, Mr. Nixon has produced a small bookshelf of foreign policy and political commentary that will be an important part of his legacy. His call for strong American leadership will resonate with Mr. Clinton and presidents to come, even if his specific ideas on specific situations are overtaken by events.

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