On the night of the New Hampshire primaries, I was attending the 2007 Distinguished Service Award Dinner of the Nixon Center at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. At the dinner, I heard (and recorded) a highly unusual, yet revealing roast of Henry Kissinger by billionaire Peter Peterson — who was himself the night’s honoree.
Pete Peterson, after whom the Institute for International Economics renamed itself the Peterson Institute, was Commerce Secretary during the Nixon administration and went on to help build and lead the Blackstone Group of which he is now Senior Chairman.
I like these dinners — and regret that while I got a pretty low-quality tape and audio recording of Peter Peterson’s fun pokes at Kissinger, I was not yet adept enough with the little flip video I have to get the important and mesmerizing attack that Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes made on neoconservatives and liberal interventionists.
Political commentator Jim Pinkerton and I both agreed that Simes was the news-maker that night and articulated an important call for serious thinking about America’s damaged national security position that demanded setting credible priorities.
Before I post the roughly 10 minute video clip, I thought I would highlight that I was sitting next to former Nixon enemies list member and veteran NPR political correspondent Daniel Schorr. Schorr told me that he and Nixon became friends in the latter years and developed mutual respect. He was there with his wife, Lisbeth Bamberger Schorr, a specialist in social health.
On my right was David Keene of the National Rifle Association and American Conservative Union, and his wife. Also at the table were Brookings’ Helmut Sonnenfeldt and his wife; Bob Merry, President and Editor-in-Chief of Congressional Quarterly; and They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons author Jacob Heilbrunn.
Merry and Grover Norquist had a ten-minute political exchange on stage before the major speeches about the early developments in the Republican and Democratic primaries, moderated by Jeffrey Bewkes, the new President and CEO of Time Warner.
Unfortunately (or fortuntately?), while Bob Merry and Grover Norquist were haggling, I was trying to get in cell phone range (the Four Seasons ballroom is in a cement dungeon and might just as well be considered a bunker) to get the New Hampshire primary results so I could join a roster of radio political commentators on “The Young Turks” show.
My colleagues were texting me the surprising results, and at 8:30 pm with 21% of the precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton had a four point lead over Barack Obama — and CNN had already called the race for McCain over Romney and the rest of the Republican field. I jotted down all of the numbers on a page I ripped out of a stray copy of the Nixon Center’s magazine National Interest, and showed it to a few folks who began passing the scribbled details all around the 250 person dinner. It went twirling in circles just about everywhere in the room.
My former colleague Peter Rodman — now at Brookings and formerly at the Pentagon, the Nixon Center, and CSIS — and who doesn’t particularly agree with my take on neoconservatism nonetheless with a grin and in a friendly manner asked me “Can I trust these numbers?”
But clearly, most of the room was in shock — some happy, some not.
But, this is all a lot of foreplay before the entertainment sizzle of the night. Peter Peterson, who I first met in January 1994 out at an event with Richard Nixon, Walter Annenberg, and others in Yorba Linda, California for the launch of the Nixon Center — spent his time not campaigning for his most known personal cause — fiscal hawkishness in dealing with America’s future entitlements crunch — but roasting Nixon national security adviser Henry Kissinger.
The sound and video quality are not the best, but there are not many moments like this when such revealing, often hilarious comments — that still give one a sense of the constant drama in the White House more than 35 years ago — are made before several hundred people.
I told a friend of mine at the Nixon Center that I got the whole thing recorded, and he grimaced a bit. But true to the standards he believes in, Nixon Center President Dimitri Simes told me it was all on the record.
So I share with you a bit of a DC evening. . .with many of the stars of the Washington national security scene in attendance. . . (note that it is ten minutes long).
Although both Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger spoke at the dinner, Susan Eisenhower (who was just out in Oklahoma as part of the Sam Nunn/David Boren bipartisan confab there) and General Brent Scowcroft made the presentation to Pete Peterson at the end of the video above.
— Steve Clemons