Whenever new documents (or in the case of RN – tapes and documents are released), it is an opportunity to reassess a subject.  Or at the very least, provide some nuance into the subject.  Probably the best opportunity we have for this continuing process of discovering something new is in the area of presidential history – as these new documents are released on specific timetables.  For many Nixon historians like myself, the release of these documents is much like Christmas morning.
When reading the sample documents, one cannot help to be struck by the conflict mentality of the Nixon White House.  It was leadership by political warfare; the art of beating the opposition party on the political battlefield of public opinion.  Many documents authored by Charles Colson, and especially a memorandum to the President by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (with RN marginalia) {See Memo from Moynihan to the President: November 13, 1971} ; suggest that the Nixon administration thought they weren’t only fighting a political war, but a cultural war against liberals.  This is several years before Bill O’Reilly made the ‘culture war’ into media rhetoric.

While RN was moderate politically, these documents underscore that perhaps that RN might have been more conservative privately.  RN might have been less of a ‘fellow traveler’ of the right, as Pat Buchanan has accused RN of being; and more of a ‘fellow traveler’ of the center.

More of the re-assessment of history might come in the area of RNs role in the Vietnam War.  It seems that RNs public rhetoric of confidence, didn’t match what was said in the private halls of the White House.  Like Lyndon Johnson; RN understood the war was a no-win situation.  RNs main objective was to preserve American prestige and respect around the world intact, while withdrawing from Vietnam.  This would be achieved by using different tactics; by bombing the enemy to the peace tables.

Much of this we already know.  But what the latest release of the tapes show, is the length in which RN and Kissinger would go to achieve their main objective.  Protecting American prestige, and getting out of the conflict.  More and more, it is coming out – that the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 benefited the North Vietnamese most of all.  This is proven by the clear fact that North Vietnamese troops were still allowed in South Vietnam (as both forces froze where they were), after the ceasefire.  Prime Minister Thieu understood it – and became the main obstacle in signing the agreement in Paris.  This became the main subject of RN and Kissinger’s frustration.  It seems that all of this places “peace with honor” into question.

As more and more documents are released, the historical balance will produce a Richard Nixon who was – not the one who the critics or his fanatics want him to be.