Frum on Dallek's Nixon and Kissinger

The opening paragraphs of David Frum’s review (sub. req.) of Nixon and Kissinger:
Partners in Power by Robert Dallek
is something I wish I had written. It sets up the subject, builds the tension, and then slides the knife in:

A protracted war. Divisions at home. Insecure energy supplies. Tensions with allies.

America in 2007? Yes, but also America in 1969. In the introduction to his new study of the foreign policy of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Robert Dallek writes: “I am convinced that the many questions raised in this book have relevance for current national and international problems.”

The questions faced by Nixon and Kissinger do indeed resonate in our own time. Should Americans promote democracy abroad? How can peace be kept between India and Pakistan? Between Arabs and Israelis? Across the Taiwan Strait? How much deference should Congress show the president in foreign policy?

Nixon and Kissinger articulated forceful and coherent answers to these questions and many more — and Americans have fiercely debated their answers for nearly four decades. The debate continues into our own time. When President Bush charged, in his November 2003 Whitehall Palace speech, that “your nation [Britain] and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability,” it was Nixon and Kissinger he was criticizing.

You might imagine that a historian would hesitate to join this voluminous and ferocious controversy unless he had something new and important to say. You would imagine wrong. Robert Dallek has written bestselling books about John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Somebody — his publisher, his agent, his wife, the financial-aid officers at his children’s colleges — obviously decided it made sense for him to add another administration to the series. Whoever that unknown adviser was, he did Dallek no favor.

Nixon and Kissinger represents itself as a deep new study of the making of American foreign policy. In reality, it is a hasty summary of newly released memos and phone transcripts from the Nixon and Kissinger archives, lightly seasoned with authorial commentary.


Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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