Obama Needs to Channel Nixon


nixon_mao.jpgOne of the reasons that the New America Foundation and I worked to get America and the World: Conversations on the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and David Ignatius published is that it was supposed to be a primer for the Obama team to look at the plethora of challenges ahead through a Nixonian, realist portal.
Michiko Kakutani picked the book as one of her top ten favorites of 2008.
I think for a while, this strategy worked — as Obama did tilt toward a realist course in foreign policy. He recognized that like Nixon he had under his stewardship a constrained and limited presidency given the damage during the Bush years.
Only problem was that Obama’s realists don’t do realism so well — and many on his team are not sold on the discipline and importance of national priority-setting that a realist, or progressive realist, approach requires.
Walter Pincus has a nice piece in today’s Washington Post looking back at “Nixon the Political Scientist” and finding many lessons the Obama team better learn quickly.
Pincus starts off:

“In the final analysis, elections are not won or lost by programs. They are won or lost on how these programs are presented to the country, and how all the political and public relations considerations are handled.”

That could have been President Obama after the Massachusetts special Senate election last Tuesday. But President Richard M. Nixon wrote those words to his White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, on Nov. 22, 1970, commenting on staff memos he received about “problems ahead” as they looked forward to his reelection effort, then two years away. The 30-page memo was among the 280,000 pages of documents from the Nixon Library released last week.

Beyond the domestic challenges the Obama White House faces and which have gotten worse rather than better since they took the helm is a grim foreign policy plate.
Nixon changed the way global gravity worked by engineering an opening to China — and Obama, more than anything else, needs to refashion his vision and get the backbone to do the same kind of gravity-curving work on Israel-Palestine matters, Cuba, Russia, China and Iran if he wants to reinvent American leverage and regain momentum.
For those interesed in Nixon, an interesting site to check out is “The New Nixon“.
Here is the link to the Richard Nixon Library & Museum and the release of materials mentioned in the Pincus article.
— Steve Clemons


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