This review by James Rosen appears in the April 2007 issue of The American Spectator. Click here to subscribe.p> em> Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World br> by Margaret MacMillan br> (Random House, 432 pages, $27.95) /em> /p>
DULLES ALWAYS USED TO SAY that he had to operate alone,” Henry Kissinger told President Nixon on June 13, 1971, “because he couldn’t trust his own bureaucracy.” Occasioning Kissinger’s reference to John Foster Dulles, the Eisenhower-era secretary of state, and to the general untrustworthiness of career government officers, was that morning’s publication, in the New York Times, of the first installment of the Pentagon Papers: the largest leak of classified documents to the news media in recorded history. “That was good for Dulles,” Kissinger added, “but we pay for it now because we are stuck with the bureaucracy.” “I just wish,” Nixon mused, “that we operated without the bureaucracy.” Kissinger laughed; the president swiftly realized the irony. “We do,” Nixon said. “All the good things that are being done,” Kissinger clarified.
Just eleven days earlier, the back-channel diplomacy Kissinger was extolling, and had personally elevated to an art form-running rings ‘round Nixon’s affable but overmatched secretary of state, William P. Rogers, under the instruction and tutelage of the president himself-had paid handsome dividends. On June 2, the national security adviser had received a secret message from Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai, conveyed through Pakistani intermediaries, inviting him to travel to Beijing and lay the groundwork for Nixon’s own historic visit to China in February 1972.
That memorable event, and the diplomatic scheming that produced it, are brought vividly to life in Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, a magisterial study by University of Toronto history professor Margaret MacMillan. Drawing on dozens of memoirs and scholarly studies, on documentaries, contemporaneous oral histories, and fresh interviews with key players (including Kissinger), and on hundreds of declassified documents and transcripts published by the George Washington University’s National Security Archive and by the State Department itself, in its Foreign Relations of the United States series, MacMillan skillfully re-creates the unique confluence of historical forces and idiosyncratic personalities that made possible the great thaw in Sino-American relations, a triumphant, transcendent, and still reverberating event in world history.
Although Nixon’s visit to China and its surreal imagery, stage-managed with innovative genius by H.R. Haldeman and his White House aides, are now, at a distance of 35 years, firmly ensconced in the modern mind-the stuff of plays, movies, and at least one opera, integral to the very language of international relations-MacMillan makes clear how fragile the enterprise was from the start: how many junctures there were when it seemed as though Air Force One might never touch down in Beijing’s civilian airport, how uncertain it was that the ailing Mao Tse-tung would even meet with Nixon, and how rocky the negotiations were that preceded the trip and spawned its concluding document, the Shanghai Communique. The Chinese had to overcome their deeply ingrained suspicion of Western powers, which centuries of experience had taught them to see as exploitative and hypocritical, and which only intensified after Mao and the Communists came to power in 1949; the Americans, meanwhile, bogged down in Vietnam and coming to grips with the reality of diminished superpower influence across the globe, feared appearing as supplicants and upsetting numerous allies.
Chief among these allies was Taiwan, where nationalist Chinese forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek, had retreated after Mao’s victory, and which Washington had ever since recognized as China’s sole legitimate government. Despite periodic threats by Mao to use military force to bring Taiwan under the mainland’s Communist rule, successive White Houses had held fast to the “two-China” policy, an inviolable article of faith for conservative anti-Communists, especially, since 1949.p>In July 1971, however, as Kissinger readied for his first trip to Beijing, a secret kept from both the press and senior levels of the State Department, Nixon coldly instructed his emissary to jettison the two-China policy in exchange for Chou’s help on Vietnam. Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s deputy and the third man present in the Oval Office, recorded Nixon’s orders in a now-declassified “top secret” memorandum. Kissinger, Nixon said, was to convey the policy shift with measured, enigmatic words; he was “not to indicate a willingness to abandon much of our support for Taiwan until it was necessary to do so.” That much MacMillan quotes, but Haig’s memo continues: br>