Honoring the Centennial of President Nixon’s Birthby Representative Edward R. Royce
Posted on 2013-02-14
in the house of representatives
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I rise to recognize the legacy of President
Richard Nixon in this centennial year of his birth.
President Nixon took the oath of office at a time of domestic upheaval and far-reaching social, economic, and political change. I doubt there was ever a day when he did not wake to an agenda of pressing challenges and difficult decisions.
But his true legacy lies in foreign policy.
Few Presidents have entered the White House with a deeper understanding of international affairs, and we are very fortunate that he did. For when he first walked into the Oval Office, he inherited a world in which the U.S. was faced with enormous difficulties and problems that seemed to have no solution, from our grinding engagement in Vietnam to an increasingly emboldened Soviet Union.
He understood from the first that the old ways of doing things simply would not work in a new and dangerous world and repeatedly astonished his admirers and opponents alike with a surprisingly flexible and sophisticated, albeit tough-minded, approach.
That was most famously demonstrated by his stunning reaching out to China.
For decades this action has been the subject of much discussion and comment, and it is commonly cited as a model for similarly bold action today.
But there is danger in easy comparisons. It is of key importance to stress that he did not suffer from an illusion that Mao's dictatorship was reforming itself or that our mutual hostility was primarily the fault of the United States. Or that a handshake could somehow transform conflicting goals into a broad partnership.
Instead, it was based on a clear-eyed understanding of how the world actually works and that a rigid adherence to ideology can blind one to inconvenient facts and potential options. Only someone deeply confident in his beliefs could have done so. But he did not take unnecessary risks, he did not leap into the dark, hoping for the best. Instead, he took deliberate steps on a well-thought-out path to specific goals.
Even then, his eyes were not focused on China, but on a much larger purpose, namely reordering the international system to give the U.S. new options that it otherwise would not have had, including an ability to exploit divisions among opponents that rendered each eager for improved relations with the U.S.
What a contrast to today's world, where the U.S. often goes hat in hand to professed enemies in the illusion that they can be bribed to abandon their fundamental goals, that unilateral concessions will generate good will, or that they can somehow be convinced to become good international citizens through pleas or lectures.
Nixon knew that peaceful outreach and negotiations were possible only when the other side had no doubts of your toughness. Sometimes a smile is helpful, but often a stick is more convincing. No one ever doubted that Richard Nixon understood the difference.
His no-nonsense view of the world can be seen in the aftermath of the murder of Israeli Olympians in Munich by PLO terrorists on September 27th, 1972 when he warned that if we want safety, we must not seek ``accommodations with savagery, but rather act to eliminate it.'' That was written twenty-nine years before the devastating 9/11 terror attacks, but it remains a crucial guide to action today.
As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I deal on a daily basis with the many problems the U.S. faces around the world. Some would be familiar to President Nixon; many are quite different. But the deep understanding, the commitment to basic principles, the pragmatic flexibility that characterized his approach are as essential today as they were then.
I met him once when he spoke before the House Republican Conference in March, 1993, shortly after I first entered Congress. The subject was Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet empire, but even after many years out of office, and only a year before his death, his understanding of the range of issues and problems facing that country and ours impressed everyone in the room. He was masterful to the end.
Afterward, the President mentioned his old House seat to me, and he asked me to join him for a meeting with members of the Senate, organized by Senator Patrick Moynihan. There he spoke of the future challenges and opportunities with respect to China, Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America. As usual, he spoke without using notes.
Perhaps his greatest legacy is what any student of his accomplishments can see for themselves: that the United States has no choice to be a leader in the world if we are to secure the safety and interests of the American people, that passivity and a surrender to events can bring only disaster, that refusing to recognize that the world is often a dangerous and unforgiving place is to live in illusion, that foolishly acting as though our resources were unlimited with no need to prioritize our goals is a certain road to defeat.
So it gives me pride to recognize President Richard Nixon during the centennial of his birth. We owe him our respect for what he accomplished on behalf of the security of the United States in a turbulent world.