From National Review Online


Conrad Black: Bogus Charges Against Nixon

Like Japanese veterans of World War II stumbling, emaciated, out of the jungles of Guam and the Philippines many years after the end of the war, near-terminal victims of Watergate fever still wander dazedly into the media with some new angle on the moldering, feculent myth that something useful was actually achieved in the bloodless assassination of Richard Nixon in the Watergate inanity. Nixon salvaged the Vietnam War the Democrats had pushed their own leader, Lyndon Johnson, into; the Democrats gave up on LBJ and pushed him out of the Forum, and he waited to die peacefully on his farm. They instantly made it Nixon’s war, and went to unimaginable lengths to depose him, to sever aid to South Vietnam, deliver Indochina to Hanoi and the Khmer Rouge, and to bring back the aging best and brightest with that most unlikely paladin, Jimmy Carter, fiddling with the thermostat in his cardigan and grumbling of the “malaise.”

Nixon saw what Johnson, too shell-shocked by the desertion of his entourage and by his inept commander’s call for 200,000 more draftees, did not: that the Americans and Vietnamese non-Communists won the Tet offensive of January 1968; it was a great victory. Nixon also saw that Ho Chi Minh, by denying Johnson’s offer in 1966 of withdrawal of all non-indigenous forces from South Vietnam, had shown that he would not be satisfied with the conquest of South Vietnam, but rather foresaw the defeat of the United States and the decisive role for himself in the ultimate triumph of Communism over the West. (Otherwise, he would merely have withdrawn and returned in overwhelming force in six months, and the U.S. would not have come back again.)

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger saw that South Vietnam could defeat the Viet Cong if it were powerfully enough assisted by American air power against the North Vietnamese. In April 1972, between Nixon’s historic visits to China and to the Soviet Union, the North Vietnamese made their supreme play and launched an all-out invasion of South Vietnam. There were only 28,000 U.S. ground forces in-country, and they were used entirely to defend air bases. But Nixon finally put an end to Johnson’s insane bombing halt of March 1968 and launched 1,000 air strikes a day on North Vietnam, moving up to 1,200 a day during his visit to the Soviet Union, so there could be no doubt about his seriousness. The North Vietnamese failed, decisively defeated by the South Vietnamese, assisted by heavy American air support — which it was always Nixon’s intention to reapply when the North Vietnamese violated the Vietnam peace agreement of 1973, which the Soviets and Chinese twisted their arms to sign, so cunningly had Nixon and Kissinger triangulated that relationship. This was why Nixon submitted the peace agreement as a treaty to the Senate: to secure Senate approval of its enforceability.

Of course, when the Watergate opportunity arose, the Democrats went cock-a-hoop for the chance to destroy the administration and deliver South Vietnam back to the brave Communist freedom fighters in the “Vietnamese civil war.” Nixon was torn down, his administration was torn to pieces, and all aid was cut off to South Vietnam. There has never been any evidence that Nixon knew anything about the Watergate break-in, and although there was a criminal conspiracy within part of the White House staff and the Republican National Committee to frustrate the investigation, there was never any serious evidence that Nixon had anything to do with it. All constitutional guaranties against wrongful self-incrimination were thrown to the partisan gale-force winds by compelling the testimony of Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean, at congressional hearings, with a sweetheart promise from the prosecutor and an immunity to a charge of perjury, and the compelled production of the president’s own telephone calls and conversations from and in his office. Almost all of the tapes were completely innocuous, including the so-called smoking gun. Gradually, the feebleness of the case against Nixon has emerged, as cant and emotionalism have subsided, inculpatory evidence has failed to arise, and the squalor of Deep Throat has come to light (including the effort to ignore Nixon’s attempt to help him from prosecution by Carter, although he suspected his identity). The echoes of Watergate anniversaries are squeaked out, ever more implausibly, like James Joyce’s famous description of the young writer’s confession: “sluggish and filthy.”

Just when my hopes were rising, like the green shoots of early spring, that the Nixon-demonizers had no more vitriol to propel with sinew-lean arms and quavering voice, that the much-punctured Woodstein inner tube had no more lies within, that decades of self-directed champagne toasts from firehoses had worn them down, the Woodstein Monster twitched: “It’s alive!” Barely. Peter Baker of the New York Times wandered blearily into the harsh winter light to give the 1968 Paris Peace Talks myth one more groaning turn of the wheel: to assert that Nixon told the South Vietnamese government to sandbag Johnson’s campaign-end launch of the peace conference.

Click here to read the full article at National Review Online.