By way of introduction, I had the honor of working with President Nixon and his staff during the last five years of the former president’s life. During that period, I wrote much of the text of the exhibits in the Nixon Library, assisted with two of his books, and took on various other research and writing projects as assigned. Most of my career has been spent in government, including 5 ½ years on Capitol Hill, and more than 8 years with New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, both in Trenton and during her 2 ½ years as administrator of the EPA. I have worked as a freelance speechwriter and author in New Jersey since 2003.
Having been associated with President Nixon, I am often asked, “What would he have done about ____________.” Without presuming to be able to divine what RN would do in any particular situation, I hope to use this blog to speculate – and to stimulate discussion – about how President Nixon would have handled various current issues confronting the United States, both at home and abroad. So in each of my posts, I’ll ask, “WWRND?” – “What Would RN Do?”
Today, I ask: WWRND About Iraq?
I think it is clear that as the next president, RN would advance a strategy in Iraq that would enable the United States to preserve its honor and standing in the world while ending its involvement in Iraq. He would work to build the capacity of the Iraqi government, its military, and its civilian police forces to control its own future, so that American forces could be withdrawn over time. And he would honor the sacrifice of those who served by ensuring that when the U.S. withdrawal was complete, Iraq would have a reasonable hope of enjoying a secure, democratic, and peaceful future, with strong and continued American support, as needed, even after our troops had come home.
RN would also make extensive use of the “bully pulpit” to share with the American people the reasons behind his strategy (something President Bush has not done very effectively over the past five years). He would win their support by using facts, reason, and a clear vision to explain why his strategy, and the cost of implementing it, would build a lasting peace. He would also keep them up-to-date on the progress of his policy.
If this approach sounds familiar, it should; it’s what RN did regarding Vietnam. The situation confronting the next president in Iraq parallels in many respects that confronting RN when he took office, having inherited the war in Vietnam from Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Like RN did in 1969, America’s next president will inherit a very unpopular war, with no clear strategy in place for ending that war, and with much of the world watching to see how the U.S. will extricate itself.
Of course, RN faced additional challenges that the next president will not, including a massive, well-organized, and vocal and sometimes violent anti-war movement, weekly American casualty figures that numbered in the hundreds, and the always-tricky dynamics of the struggle of the Cold War.
Nevertheless, the next president would be wise to study RN’s Vietnam policy for guidance in crafting his or her own policy for Iraq.