The 37th President reflects on how the West can help influence new democracies in the East.
President Nixon was a reflective thinker, and would daily outline political and foreign policy strategy on his ubiquitous yellow pads, or in memos to his staff and in correspondences with national and world leaders.
A September 1991 memo to his foreign policy assistant Marin Strmecki illustrates these ruminations. The Soviet Union was rapidly collapsing, and its satellites were on the cusp of becoming independent nation states.
Nixon was thinking about how these states would shape their post-communist future.
He emphasized to Strmecki that history showed that communism didn’t work. It wasn’t only Stalin’s brand of communism that failed. “All communist regimes beginning with Lenin and including Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and even reforming Gorbachev were gigantic failures.”
He added one caveat: Gorbachev’s great historic contribution was his reforms that exposed communism as a failed faith, that now belonged “with other failed faiths to the dustbin of history.”
Nixon then turned his attention to democratic socialism as a purported alternative. He wrote that while socialism wasn’t an unmitigated evil, the new wave of self-determination shouldn’t be hoodwinked by the “fashionable fraud” of intellectual elites.
“The only economic success stories in the developing world are in those nations whose leaders chose free market policies and rejected the siren call of socialism,” Nixon told Strmecki.
He believed the stakes were great, and that every effort should be made to influence these countries not to sacrifice their newly achieved freedom and opportunity, on the altar of equality and stability.
Nixon concluded his memo by recalling a 1976 conversation he had with Mao Ze Dong. China’s aged and ailing communist leader asked, “Is peace your only goal?”
Nixon responded, “Peace with justice. You can have peace in a graveyard or prison.”
For Nixon, the West now had the opportunity to demonstrate to the new democracies “that freedom can produce the progress that communism and socialism only promise.”
Read the whole memo below: