A Fight Over Taiwan Could Go Nuclear
War-Gaming Reveals How a U.S.-Chinese Conflict Might Escalate
When the scandal that now goes by the generic term Watergate first broke two years ago as what the White House called "a third-rate burglary," those who live in the world of foreign affairs put it aside as part of the American political scene that did not concern them. No more. For more than a year now it has been a prime topic of diplomatic conversation and of ambassadorial cables flowing out of Washington to the principal world capitals, if not to those further down the list in global importance. What is today more and more at issue is whether, and if so to what degree, Watergate affects both the substance and conduct of U.S. foreign policy and whether, and if so to what degree, other nations may have altered, or plan to alter, their postures toward and dealings with Washington.
Foreign policy is made both by commission and omission. It is affected by mood and nuance, by judgments of strengths and weaknesses, by one government's measure of another's will as well as its ability to act, by one national leader's perception of a rival or friendly leader's political standing in his own country and its effect on both national power and policies.
To this writing obvious to all has been President Nixon's determination to draw a line between foreign affairs and the domestic crisis that has now reached the stage of invocation of the ultimate sanction of the Constitution-the impeachment process. Indeed, a pillar of his public defense is the claimed necessity of his remaining in office in order to continue policies designed to assure "a generation of peace." Nonetheless, it is now evident that the matrix of foreign policy is being influenced by Watergate and could be substantially affected by Watergate. Only the outlines of such Watergate fallout can now be seen. But the revelations likely to come in future months and perhaps years can be expected to enhance rather than diminish this view.
Historically, the current situation is essentially sui generis. Only one other President, Andrew Johnson, 106 years ago, faced the same ultimate penalty as does Richard Nixon. But Johnson had less than ten months remaining in his term when the Senate, by a margin of a single vote, failed to turn him out of office. None of the historians of that epic have suggested any foreign complications springing from it. America's attention then was totally centered on post-Civil War internal problems.
Illness has at least thrice affected the conduct of the Presidency. James A. Garfield lay abed in 1881 for 11 weeks before dying from an assassin's bullet, but again no foreign problems of note were affected. Woodrow Wilson's failing health culminated in a stroke nearly a year and a half before his second term ended, and for many months the world was in the dark as to his real condition. Yet his battle for American approval of the League of Nations had, in fact, been settled before his health broke; it is unlikely that either the public determination to retreat to isolationism or Wilson's stubborn all-or-nothing posture toward the Senate would have been different had he remained a well man. During President Eisenhower's recovery from his 1955 heart attack and his 1956 ileitis operation, the government continued to function, with Vice President Nixon chairing both Cabinet and National Security Council sessions. Although the full record is not yet public, it appeared at the time that, with Eisenhower out of action after the 1955 Geneva Summit with Nikita Khrushchev, it was easier for Secretary of State John Foster Dulles than it might otherwise have been to limit and contain the efforts of Harold Stassen, the President's assistant for disarmament, to arrive at substantive agreements with the Soviet Union, but the effect was minor.
It is evident, then, that the current situation is far different, and potentially far more serious, than any previous case. This is so because Nixon's role in history has been to redirect American foreign policy in the wake of the Vietnam disillusionment that culminated the nation's quarter-century of active interventionism around the globe following World War II. What is most critical is that President Nixon's opening to China, his détente policy toward the Soviet Union and his efforts to break the impasse in the Middle East are ongoing rather than completed efforts of the greatest long-range significance. Related to the triangular Nixon game of Washington-Moscow-Peking diplomacy are the transatlantic relationship, problems with Japan, and a host of lesser though important changing patterns of American political and economic relationships with every other area and practically all other nations.
How has Watergate affected all these? First of all there is the matter of attention, if only because a President has a finite amount of time to work each day. The White House has constantly sought to depict governmental operations as normal, at least in foreign affairs. Leonid Brezhnev's visit to the United States last summer and the President's intended return trip to Moscow this June are cited to demonstrate normality. When Nixon went to Paris for the funeral of French President Pompidou, his chief of staff, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., emphasized that "it is very evident that European leaders and world leaders with whom the President met continue to look to the United States and President Nixon as an essential factor in the realization of the continuing efforts to develop a structure for a stable international environment." Foreign officials visiting Washington recently, in some cases at least, have been surprised at their easy access to the Oval Office, an access designed to depict normality.
Yet it is also true that Nixon has had to spend thousands of hours of his time on Watergate, much of it time that otherwise probably would have been devoted to his own often-expressed preference for foreign policy. Indeed, as the transcripts of White House conversations on Watergate have revealed, the President as far back as April 14, 1973 bemoaned the time Watergate was consuming, adding: "Well, I'll hear about it a lot but I've got to run the country." In the succeeding 14 months these time-consuming pressures gradually came to focus on the bottom-line problem of how to ensure his very tenure in the Presidency.
Bureaucracies normally complain of the inability to win presidential attention, that policy decisions go unmade, that vacant positions go unfilled. This has been heard increasingly in Washington as Watergate has escalated. But Nixon has had one extremely fortunate stroke of luck: he has had a surrogate President for foreign affairs in Henry A. Kissinger, able to carry on, as in the Middle East, on his own momentum along already agreed general policy lines. Kissinger's contention always has been that he has had no difficulty in obtaining presidential decisions and instructions. One hardly need be cynical to say, as impeachment has moved from the unthinkable to the possible, if not probable, that Nixon has come to need Kissinger even more than Kissinger needs Nixon. Yet, reading the rambling transcripts of the taped Nixon conversations on Watergate makes one wonder whether the same inability to speak in simple declarative sentences and to focus on central issues would appear in the transcripts of his talks with Kissinger-or whether it has been Kissinger, more than we realize, who has organized policy and then received presidential approval. Foreign readers of the Watergate transcripts may be led to revamp their estimates of Nixon as a man and as a take-charge leader, particularly in a crisis situation. If he could be so indecisive in a domestic crisis, could he be likewise in a foreign crisis despite all the earlier evidence to the contrary?
"Any President," Kissinger said on April 26, 1974, "in any Administration lives in history a lot longer than he lives in headlines, which imposes a sense of responsibility." But the record of American history is that administrations, including Presidents, do live in headlines, both those they make for their own enhancement and those made about them by others to their detriment. The action-reaction phenomenon applies to foreign as well as to domestic affairs.
The first question, then, is the effect of Watergate on Soviet policy-makers, the men of the Kremlin Politburo. The regime headed by Brezhnev committed itself, pre-Watergate, to détente with the United States; Watergate, to the extent it has been publicly noted in the Soviet Union, has been depicted as a maneuver, or plot, of anti-détente Americans somehow aimed at reinstating the cold war. More recently, however, some analysts have suggested that the Kremlin has begun to hedge its bets on Nixon in favor of Vice President Gerald Ford. Ford's indiscretion in stating that should he become President he might drop Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who has come under increasing Moscow verbal fire, would seem to make him appealing to those in the Kremlin who want to carry forward the détente policy. Some even speculate that the Kremlin purpose in warming up to Ford, and in receiving at high levels such other potential Presidents as Senator Edward Kennedy, is to help head off Senator Henry Jackson, who is Moscow's current number-one American enemy. It is not difficult to visualize a Politburo session discussing how to influence the American political scene so as to help assure a continuation of a détente-minded Presidency.
These matters are speculative. What is fact is that Nixon has been unable to deliver on his promise to Brezhnev on American credits and other advantageous trade provisions. Jackson has been the chief bottleneck here, as he has been in the negotiations at the second round of the strategic arms talks (SALT). It is not demonstrable by any roll call that Nixon's Watergate troubles have prevented the trade and credit measures from passing Congress, but it is undeniable that the President's reduced standing with the Congress, among Republicans as well as Democrats, has created an atmosphere in which it has been far easier to oppose him than was the case during his first term.
As to SALT, there were those, including Jackson, who felt Nixon signed the 1972 agreements because of their effect on the presidential campaign, despite an imbalance in the offensive arms agreement. Had there been no Watergate there would surely have been arguments over the terms of SALT I and over what should be included in SALT II. But there would not have been the opportunity for Jackson, now so obviously a presidential candidate, to charge the Administration with concentrating on a "quick fix" of short-term SALT measures for this June's planned Moscow summit-with the implication that such a "cosmetic agreement" would be designed to bail Nixon out of his Watergate troubles, or at least to mitigate them. Thus, on the American side, Watergate provided the political opportunity for Jackson to reach for the jugular on substantive issues.
On the Soviet side there certainly are reasons for the Kremlin to argue the terms of SALT II, including the implications of Schlesinger's revised American strategic weapons policy. Yet Kissinger's confessed inability to reach the hoped-for "conceptual breakthrough," and his subsequent declaration that there would be no permanent SALT agreement reached this year, focused speculation on the possibility that Moscow was raising the ante because of Nixon's weakened position at home. There is no hard evidence of that. A reflection of the possibility, however, was the bipartisan senatorial round-robin public statement to Kissinger saying he should "advise the Soviet Union not to miscalculate the determination of the Congress and the American people to achieve sound and equitable strategic arms limitations" and, should that fail to come about, that "the Congress and the people will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our national security." Whatever the potential in such a statement may be for a further escalation of the arms race, the threat most likely was read in Moscow as a sign of weakness rather than of strength.
We do not know the internal Politburo debate over the acceptance or continuation of the détente policy. Brezhnev has apparently taken risks in championing that policy, risks that quite probably, even rightly, are likely to have been called into question by Nixon's inability to carry out his promises in the trade and aid area. One can assume that Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin's dispatches have not neglected Watergate's perceived or presumed effect in limiting Nixon's ability to deliver, however much Dobrynin himself may be a détente advocate. The ambassador has expressed, privately of course, alarms over what he considers an anti-détente theme in much that has recently been published in the United States.
Soviet policy in the Middle East, like Soviet SALT and trade-aid policies, obviously has a life of its own. But is it unaffected by Watergate? The global American military alert ordered by the President on the night of last October 24-25 was said to be in response to Soviet military movements and a sharp note to Washington from Moscow. Nixon called the crisis "the most difficult we have had since the Cuban confrontation" of 1962. Were the Soviet moves designed solely to bulwark the then dangerously eroded Egyptian military position? Were they-and the Nixon responses-simply superpower gamesmanship? Or did the Soviets go a step farther than they might otherwise have gone in order to test the President's ability and willingness to respond amid the Watergate atmosphere? Insiders as well as outsiders in Washington confess to uncertainty.
It is not, however, unreasonable to speculate that the Kremlin felt itself able to push somewhat harder than it might have otherwise without risking the overall détente policy. When a reporter asked Kissinger about speculation that "the American alert might have been prompted as much perhaps by American domestic requirements as by the real requirements of diplomacy in the Middle East," he replied that the question itself was "a symptom of what is happening to our country that it could even be suggested that the United States would alert its forces for domestic reasons." There was something of an outcry at the time about such a question even being asked. There was no outcry this spring, however, when a Democratic Congressman, Representative Les Aspin of Colorado, introduced a series of resolutions designed, he said, "to keep the President from playing fast and loose with our national security during an impeachment trial, and to make sure at the same time that no foreign power tries to take advantage of the situation." In less than six months, suspicions that Nixon might somehow use foreign policy as a Watergate defense had clearly intensified.
If the effect of Watergate on Soviet-American relationships remains uncertain, the effect on Sino-American relations is even more unclear. Such an astute observer as Ross Terrill wrote in April of a "gray cloud" over that relationship: "Peking's attitude to Watergate has changed from unconcern to anxiety lest Nixon may not be able to carry forward his China policy." There is good reason to believe that China's vice premier came to the recent special United Nations General Assembly session more to plumb in conversation with Kissinger the Watergate-created American situation than to worry about Third World problems. Terrill and others have noted Chinese anxiety, if not anger, over the sending of a senior American diplomat as the new ambassador to Taipei, a step some ascribe to Nixon's determination to keep on board his ship those conservative members of Congress, especially Senators, who have always felt he betrayed the Republic of China by his dealings with the People's Republic of China.
Internal Chinese politics remain obscure. But if it is a reasonable assumption that Peking opened the way to rapprochement with Washington out of fear of Moscow, then it is also a reasonable assumption that a weakened Nixon now may be viewed as less a bulwark against the Soviet Union than he was made out to be by those in China who were daring enough to risk such a major turn in foreign policy. Whether the latest signs of internal upheaval in China relate to a souring on the opening-to-America policy is uncertain, but a number of China experts in the United States see a direct connection. Given the advanced age of Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, the public backers of that policy, a new uncertainty over the future of the Chinese-American relationship seems evident. Administration officials argue that China, in the face of the continued presumed threat from Moscow, has nowhere else to turn, despite any Watergate effect. That line of reasoning may be comforting but it is hardly conclusive, given the Kremlin's past efforts, however sporadic and unsuccessful, to patch up the Sino-Soviet quarrel or, alternately, its thinly veiled threats of a preëmptive military strike at its neighbor.
American relations with Japan had suffered from neglect, from Nixon administration hard-line economics and from the "Nixon shock" of the abrupt change in our China policy, all prior to Watergate. Tokyo has now normalized relations with Peking in many areas. But Japan's unending search for raw materials includes a massive Siberian development deal, or set of deals, with Moscow that would require large American participation. That participation now is more and more suspect in Washington, especially in Congress. This suspicion is a reflection of unease about the Nixon trade-aid policy toward Moscow and about the presumed domestic political content of that policy. The way that the Soviet grain deal of 1972 contributed to domestic inflation has not been forgotten. Now Watergate has made it more difficult, perhaps even impossible, for the Administration to go forward with the once contemplated massive participation in a Japanese-Russian-American financial deal.
The 1973-74 energy crisis quickly brought to the surface the nationalistic attitudes of Japan and many other nations, but Japan, of all the industrialized societies, is the most vulnerable on the matter of foreign oil imports. There is no evidence that Watergate contributed to Arab decisions to use the so-called "oil weapon." However, a part of Nixon's response, his call for "Project Independence" in American energy requirements, is viewed by some as having had a Watergate component, at least in its tone. It surely cuts across past Nixon preachments against a resurgent American isolationism.
Such an "independence" policy has added to the negative aspects of the already troubled transatlantic relationship, providing the French once again with an argument for a Western Europe with weaker ties to Washington. Kissinger's aborted "year of Europe" was the product of many factors unrelated to Watergate. European diplomats in Washington have been among the most reserved in their judgment on Watergate's effect; yet this spring many reached the point of actively probing the chances of a Nixon ouster and the potential of a Ford Presidency. Perhaps the most reasonable judgment is that the Nixon administration disarray due to Watergate has added to the centrifugal forces within the Western Alliance created by Gaullism and speeded up by American neglect during the era of U.S. pre-occupation with Vietnam. The continuing issue of American troop levels in Europe may be dormant for the moment, but Watergate has not made it any easier to hold the Administration line. Most probably the outcome of this issue in the United States will depend on domestic budget problems and, most especially, on the future of the détente policy (with its Watergate component). Election of a new French President and the change of leadership in West Germany, due to strictly internal reasons, add new uncertainties to the Atlantic Alliance. How the new leaders view the Watergate-affected American scene is a matter for the future to unfold.
As to Vietnam, and other American commitments in Southeast Asia, the ability of the Saigon government, and of those in Cambodia and Laos, to survive by their own wits and abilities remains critical. South Vietnam and Cambodia depend on a continuing flow of American arms and money, and these in turn depend not on Nixon and Kissinger alone but on congressional willingness to vote what the Administration asks. While there are some signs, especially in the Senate, that the general Nixon debility has strengthened the anti-Vietnam aid bloc, it is probable that the Administration will get most of what it seeks. Perhaps Watergate's effect should be viewed this way: Nixon has neglected domestic economic problems because of his Watergate preoccupation; inflation, unemployment and related matters bring calls for new domestic expenditures; in an election year, especially, this rising competition for the congressional dollar makes it harder to get the Congress to vote money to sustain foreign policy.
One other geographic area is pertinent: Cuba. The inconsistency of the continued isolation of Cuba in a period of American détente with the Soviet Union and China is striking. President Nixon seems to have a special thing about Cuba, born of his pre-Bay of Pigs encounter with Fidel Castro. Though many believe that Kissinger favors a new approach to Cuba, the Secretary has dutifully held to the Nixon line. At most, he has granted trade exceptions for American companies operating in such places as Argentina, where the penalty of non-agreement was a storm of anti-Americanism exacerbating an already tenuous U.S. position. Some credit the continuing hard Nixon posture on Cuba to what has become known as "impeachment politics."
In essence, impeachment politics comes down to holding for the President his final redoubt: that one-third plus one of the Senate which, if it comes to a Senate trial, must find him not guilty if he is to retain his office. Cuba, in this context, is still a matter of passion to those generally suspicious of détente, including especially a number of generally conservative Senators from the Southeastern states.
An obvious casualty of impeachment politics was Paul H. Nitze, the long-time Defense Department official and member of the SALT negotiating team. Secretary Schlesinger wanted him in the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, a post for which he was fully qualified; but Nixon refused to send the nomination to the Senate after an outcry from Senator Barry Goldwater. It is impossible to know how many other nominations likewise have been affected, but suspicion grows. Liberal Senators ascribe switches on Nixon policies, and by those who are administratively involved, to impeachment politics; consumer protection, welfare reorganization and environmental standards are in this category. Although these may have no direct foreign policy relationship, such moves add to the hostility to Nixon foreign policy among that group in Congress that has long combined domestic liberalism and an internationalist viewpoint. Presumably the President assumes such members will be against him on impeachment whereas the domestic conservatives, if thrown sufficient bones, will stay with him in the showdown.
One of the clear casualties of Watergate was the plan for the second Nixon administration to concentrate in the White House a strict control of all the executive departments and agencies. The preoccupation with Watergate has given more, rather than less, room for maneuver to the departmental baronies, each in its own bureaucratic interest. Defense, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce and others now are under very little White House restraint as they pursue what they perceive as their own and their constituents' best interests, interests often at odds with the general administrative scheme. Food policies, for example, are based on what is good for the agrobusiness and farm interests more than the consumer; money issues are whipsawed between meeting the problem of inflation and that of unemployment. While these may seem to be essentially domestic matters, each has its obvious international repercussions. Furthermore, each departmental barony has important constituencies with lines to members of Congress who will be voting on impeachment. Some of these have reported a new receptiveness to their views at the departmental level, including the State Department, a receptiveness the more suspicious ascribe to impeachment politics.
It has been evident since Schlesinger took over at the Pentagon that he was a formidable opponent, if he wished to be, for Kissinger in the realm of politico-military strategy, including SALT. Despite protestations to the contrary, these two powerful figures have had differences over how to proceed with SALT. In the past, such State-Pentagon differences have been worked out through the National Security Council machinery, controlled by Kissinger when he was in the White House (but now a shadow of its former self), with presidential decisions or at least concurrences. Despite the denials that Watergate has distracted presidential attention, it has been evident that centralized control of the whole spectrum of politico-military issues has relaxed. Historically, the general rule has been that government fiefdoms are strengthened when the center is weakened. Watergate has weakened the center.
Whatever the personal Kissinger-Schlesinger relationship, Watergate has cast a pall on the Defense Secretary's future. Vice President Ford ascribed his remark about dropping Schlesinger to a feeling that the Secretary does not understand Congress and how to deal with it; but the reason is far less important than the doubts that the remark brought to the surface. Insecurity of a Cabinet member, the rule has always been, permits boldness among subordinates who differ with the chief, boldness that can delay, dissemble and otherwise impede the Cabinet member's policies.
In recent months the President's public appearances in person and through the media, especially television, have centered on rallying opinion to his side against Watergate charges and the potential of impeachment and removal. Nixon has fallen back on his foreign policy record, ending the Vietnam War and creating the new relationships with China and the Soviet Union, as part of this effort. But he has done virtually nothing to counter the sense of disillusionment about détente that Senator Jackson and others have created and encouraged. That task has been left almost wholly to Kissinger. Were it not for Watergate, it is highly probable that Nixon would be taking a positive stance to rally support for his generally approved policies, rebutting the criticism, taking the offensive instead of being on the defensive. Thus Watergate creates policy by omission.
The President has been forced from strategic considerations to the tactical; from thinking about and working on long-range, even medium-range, policies in the area of foreign affairs to working day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, in defense of his Presidency and his right to continue in office. Middle East policy, the most active area in recent months, has been left to Kissinger. White House stories, and Kissinger remarks, that it is Nixon who has made recent decisions are almost totally disbelieved. Here the old rule applies: it is not the facts but what people think are the facts that is important. The result is an enormous inflation in what Americans and foreigners take to be Kissinger's power. Ford's assurance that he would keep Kissinger, should he become President, is received with great relief. Nixon thus is hostage to the Secretary because of Watergate.
Kissinger, of course, could not do everything even if he had the authority to try. The energy problem, for a prime example, tracks across many bureaucratic lines: today it is bound, Gulliver-like, by rival arguments involving prices, profits and taxes; environmental and no-growth arguments; coal, oil, nuclear and other rivalries; not to mention business and political lobbying of the fiercest sort. Political as well as economic issues of the highest importance are involved, both foreign and domestic. So far we have been through a winter of presidential sloganeering, consumer frustrations and Administration promises of short-term relief for this summer. Chief reliance has been put on Kissinger's ability to make enough progress in the Middle East to open fully the Arab oil taps; whatever the bureaucratic machine has come up with by way of longer-range solutions, beyond such obvious moves as stepped-up leasing of government lands and proceeding with the Alaska pipeline, has yet to be formed into a logical entity. Only a persistent President, determined to work out and force through a long-term energy resource program, can resolve disputes and lead the way to a congressionally approved resolution of the issues. An otherwise preoccupied Nixon is not that kind of President, and we shall all pay for it, in more than dollars, in years to come.
Domestic politics also has its Watergate spin-off that could affect foreign policy. In this summer before the mid-term congressional elections, the conventional political wisdom is that the Democrats will vastly increase their strength, especially in the House. Ford and other Republicans have warned of the dire results of a "veto proof" Congress, one that could almost surely override any Nixon veto on matters of domestic spending and social policy. This probably is an exaggeration, for the record tends to show that vast congressional majorities soon become unmanageable for the party that obtains them. Nonetheless, a "veto proof" Democratic majority almost certainly would draw its vital added margin from the liberal-left end of the Democratic spectrum, thus adding to the bloc opposed to military spending and foreign involvement. This would make it more difficult for Nixon, or for Ford should he become President, to win approval of those new weapons systems and other expenditures which the President sees as the "bargaining chips" for negotiations with the Soviet Union, or as a security hedge should negotiations fail. Watergate thus casts a long shadow, for good or ill depending on one's own perception of both the weapons and the "bargaining chip" argument.
There are, at this writing, a number of options for the President in view of Watergate. He could resign although he insists he will not. He could invoke the 25th Amendment, stepping aside as President until he alone decides to retake the office, meanwhile permitting Ford to occupy the awkward untried role of "Acting President." He could be impeached by the House, convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Or he could be impeached but be saved in the Senate by a vote of one-third or more in his favor but less than a majority. This last outcome would leave him a massively weakened President for the two years or more remaining of his term.
Foreign affairs are never-ending; there is no finite solution to such larger issues as American relations with the Soviet Union, China, Japan, Western Europe, Latin America, Africa or any other fragment of the world, geographic, economic or psychological. As has already been said, President Nixon's role in history, given the parameters of the times in which he has held and still holds office, essentially has been to reposition the United States in the world for the final quarter of the twentieth century. He has repeatedly expressed fear of American isolationism, and that domestic tug has always been present in the national psyche. Kissinger has repeatedly spoken of the obligation of the United States to prevent a nuclear holocaust.
The past three or four decades have seen such a fall of dynasties, empires and other assorted regimes, such an interplay of force and ideas, such upheavals in so many societies, including our own, that planning American foreign policy for the future seems more difficult and perilous than ever before. Who can say what lurks in the interstices of times ahead? Yet plan the United States must, to the best of its ability, or it risks stumbling ahead blindly in an age in which what we know as civilization could be ended in hours.
It is probably here, more than in any of the specifics thus far discussed, that there lies the greatest danger from the effects of Watergate on foreign policy. Who can say what seeds have already been planted? A reading of history is a constant reminder of misjudgments by nations and leaders that led to profound misfortunes. The Nixon administration, besieged as it has been these many months with no end yet in sight, is unable to concentrate its collective mind because its leader cannot do so himself. Decisions are hurriedly made, ad hoc, or put aside for later. Planning papers continue to be written, skull sessions continue to be held, of course. But the cohesion that is vital to firm direction has vanished. Challengers to existing policies spring up on all sides.
It was the hope of many, in the Administration, in Congress, in the think tanks and academia, in the press and elsewhere, that once all realized that Vietnam represented the outer reach of American involvement abroad in the post-World War II world we could calmly and collectively come to a new national consensus as to what our role should be in the world of the future. It would not be easy, all recognized. But once the poison of Vietnam was gone it would at least be possible.
Watergate, more than any of the leftover issues of the recent past, has robbed the nation of the ability to get at this task, let alone resolve it. At best any new national consensus now has been delayed until the next national referendum in the presidential election of 1976. Perhaps we can afford the time; more likely we shall live to regret the hiatus. A weakened Nixon, however impeachment turns out, has lost the credibility to lead in creating the new consensus. A President Ford, ascending to the White House via appointment and impeachment rather than by election, could only be a caretaker until he could be confirmed by the voters in his own right. A national debate on the issues now will not come until 1976, and then it will be mixed in with a host of domestic issues which may very well, to most voters, appear overriding.
This, then, is the ultimate tragedy of Watergate in the realm of foreign policy. Whatever may have been the excesses of presidential management of foreign affairs predating Nixon, American policy cannot be reformed in a vacuum of leadership; we can afford no James Buchanan in foreign affairs. President Nixon, whose first term was an explosion of initiatives, has had to retreat to simply trying to keep the momentum from halting altogether. It will be a long time before we can truly assess the costs of this hiatus. At the very minimum we must agree with Kissinger that "one cannot have a crisis of authority in a society for a period of months without paying a price somewhere along the line."