Whatever one may think of Richard Nixon, even his harshest critics usually would concede his foreign policy genius. By opening up China, surrounding the Soviet Union, making peace possible between Israel and Egypt, signing the first significant arms control treaty with the Soviets, and ending the war in Vietnam, Nixon made the world a far more peaceful place. He wanted a “generation of peace,” as we Nixon speech writers were told to call it — and he got it.
What would Nixon do now? What would he do with a resurgent, militant Russia, led by a shrewd aggressive empire builder — atop a foundering state?
What would he do about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea to Russia by a plebiscite at bayonet’s point?
I don’t know and he’s not talking. But based on a lifetime of study of RN and his mind, I offer these guesses on what he would do.
1. He would stop making empty threats about costs and penalties. With Russia the source of most of western Europe’s gas and much of its oil, there is little that the West can do to Russia that could not be wildly outdone by Russian slamming of the door on energy shipments to Europe. Russia holds all of the cards for right now.
2. He would realize that we have disarmed far too much in a dangerous world. Nixon was a fan of a strong military and also was not afraid of making people pay their share. He would ask for a 10 percent income tax surcharge for the next five years with the proceeds to go to beefing up the military. This is the kind of signal that the world is waiting for and that Putin understands. RN would know that right now is the exactly worst possible time to even consider cuts in defense in any area.
3. Nixon would call for an end to the kowtow to Russia on missile defense. It is clear now that the Russians cannot be trusted to live up to treaty promises. After all, they promised noninterference in Ukraine. It is time to deploy American technology to protect Europe and America from missile attack from Russia or Iran or anywhere.
4. Nixon would call for the end of the era of wishful thinking in foreign affairs and defense. No relaxation of sanctions on Iran until they denuclearize their country. Vague promises are not enough. No more bribing North Korea. No provocative statements but also no more belief in fairy tales.
5. No eastward expansion of NATO. We obviously do not plan to fight for any former USSR countries. Why pretend? Why set the trip wire such that we are bound to fail any future tests?
6. Nixon would know that the Russians have already lost. They gain nothing at all from their invasion. They now have to deal with yet another captive population that hates them. They have to deal with a world that knows they cannot be trusted. Aside from some fleeting psychic pleasure that Putin may derive from his show in Sevastopol, he gains zero for himself or the Russian people but only starts the downward cycle of empire again. Nixon would let Putin stew in that juice.
Or, maybe not. But this is what I think he would do and I knew him.