Conrad Black: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Times

Roundup: Talking About History

[Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.]

It ill behooves the New York Times to become quite so sanctimonious about the latest Nixon tapes, which reveal some comments by the former president and Henry Kissinger about Israel, Russia, the Jews, and other groups. The Times comes to the subject of Nixon and Kissinger, and to the status of Israel and the Jews in the world, with hands that have rarely been clean for many decades. Kissinger stated, during the controversies in the early Seventies over encouragements to the Soviet Union to permit Jewish emigration (which in practice included a great many people whose rabbinical connections were tenuous), that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

This was a regrettable comment by a man who was a Jewish fugitive from the Nazi atrocities, and an unbecoming sentiment for the president’s principal foreign-policy collaborator. But the conduct of those trying to tie Jewish emigration to every aspect of the Soviet-U.S. relationship was exceedingly irritating, and it was counterproductive, as the Nixon administration secured a vast increase in the numbers of such emigrants when it ceased to be a matter of direct disagreement between the two countries. Dr. Kissinger spoke with no knowledge of being recorded and was strictly correct that Jewish emigration from the USSR was not a primary U.S. foreign-policy objective.

Those who know Dr. Kissinger know his addiction to hyperbole — in professions of undying loyalty, in declarations of the unacceptability of courses he is recommending against, and in advocacy of his preferred methods of action. It is all part of his formidable personality, shaped by his talents as a survivor, not just of the persecutions of the Nazis, but of many public-policy controversies, and as a noted commentator on world affairs more than 35 years after he retired from high public office. These may not be attractive traits, and may sometimes justify acute personal disappointment, but they are well within the range of foibles permitted to talented men who have rendered important service. Dr. Kissinger has certainly earned that indulgence.

This brings us to the qualifications of the New York Times to be quite so unctuous...

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