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Robert Dallek, Summing Up 'Nixon and Kissinger'

Presidential historian Robert Dallek has written about LBJ, JFK, FDR and Ronald Reagan. Now, in his book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, he tackles two political titans he describes as "self-serving characters with grandiose dreams of recasting world affairs."


Other segments from the episode on April 25, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 25, 2007: Interview with Robert Dallek; Review of the album "Hyphy Hitz."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Robert Dallek, author of "Nixon & Kissinger," on their
"co-presidency," ambivalence toward Vietnam, bizarre
secretive-yet-transparent attitudes, and vulgarity

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to talk about one of the most secretive administrations in
American history, run by two powerful men who needed and distrusted each
other. My guest Robert Dallek is a presidential historian whose new book
"Nixon & Kissinger" examines how the two used and abused their power. Henry
Kissinger served as Richard Nixon's national security adviser, then became his
secretary of state. Dallek's book is based on recently opened records,
including national security files, Nixon tapes and Kissinger telephone
transcripts. Dallek says these papers have allowed him to reconstruct
interactions between Nixon and Kissinger and others in the government,
revealing the collaborations and rivalries, the backstabbing intrigues and
foul language.

Robert Dallek, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, you describe Nixon and
Kissinger as being co-presidents, especially during the Watergate era. What
do you mean by co-presidents?

Mr. ROBERT DALLEK: Well, what I mean is that Kissinger was very ambitious
for influence and power and dealing with foreign affairs. And Nixon, I found,
interestingly, didn't know Kissinger when he appointed him. He knew his
reputation as a major scholar, as someone who had been a commentator on
foreign affairs and published in a variety of journals and published a variety
of books and had been close to Rockefeller. And he wanted someone who would
in many ways, though, be a cipher, and that's why he appointed William Rogers
as secretary of state, because Nixon prided himself on the fact that he knew a
great deal about foreign affairs, was highly experienced, and he was going to
run foreign policy. And these other folks around him were going to be, as I
said, essentially ciphers.

What he didn't understand was that Kissinger was a man of great ambition, not
just great intelligence, and that very quickly Kissinger became a fierce
competitor with the secretary of state Rogers for control of foreign affairs,
and then with Nixon, as well. Now, Nixon resisted and he would complain
constantly to Halderman and to others around him about the Kissinger problem,
he called it "the K problem," that he's constantly trying to elbow Rogers
aside and take over foreign affairs. And he told Kissinger from the get-go,
`You are not going to have a major say in making a foreign policy in the
Middle East because it would not be acceptable. You're a Jew, and this is
going to be impermissable.'

But Kissinger pushed hard for a role in foreign policy there, nevertheless,
and Kissinger's reputation began to rise more and more. The opening to China.
Kissinger became the focus of press attention. The detente negotiations with
the Soviet Union, Kissinger was seen at the center of that. And questions
were raised as to whether these were really Nixon's policies or were they
Kissinger's? And it made Nixon furious, you see.

But when Watergate came along after the 1972 election, when it really became a
crisis for Nixon, his authority, his ability to control his own
administration, waned. And foreign policy became all that more important to
him, because his hope was that he could use foreign policy to blunt the
Watergate crisis because he had no other card to play.

GROSS: Now, you write that, as co-presidents, Nixon and Kissinger wanted to
ensure that the White House controlled foreign policy, and that Kissinger
implemented Nixon's plan to do that. What was the plan to have the White
House control foreign policy?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, they would not let William Rogers in on their major
decision-making. He was on the sidelines, so to speak. When Kissinger was
sent to China to open the door to Nixon's visit in February, 1972, Rogers was
only informed at the last minute. When the secret negotiations were going on
in Paris between Kissinger and the North Vietnamese representatives, Rogers
was not informed or not given a say in what was being discussed in Paris. And
so they really pushed Rogers aside, and Kissinger became Nixon's point man in
these Vietnamese negotiations, in the opening to China. And then also,
Kissinger had a back channel role in discussing Soviet-American relations with
the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoli Dobrynin. And Kissinger would
carry messages to Nixon. `This is what Dobrynin is telling us; this is what
the Kremlin is saying.' And Rogers was out of the loop, and in some of these
telephone transcripts you see the anger Rogers expresses, and at time talks
about resigning. But he was a proud man and didn't want to embarrass Nixon.
He was also a very decent human being, and he stayed on until the end of
Nixon's first term.

GROSS: Why didn't Nixon replace him sooner with Kissinger, if he wanted to
keep Rogers out of the loop? I mean, why bother to have a secretary of state
if you're going to keep him out of the loop?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, you had to have a secretary of state.

GROSS: Well, I mean, I knew that, but why not...

Mr. DALLEK: Right.

GROSS: ...why not get rid of him and replace him with Kissinger?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, because he also did not want Kissinger to have too much
authority, too much power, and, in fact, at one point, Nixon has a
conversation with Halderman, and Halderman complains and Nixon complains about
the fact that Henry is pushing so hard for greater control over foreign policy
and to push Rogers out. And Rogers is a kind of firewall against Kissinger,
and they say if Rogers is pushed out, Henry'll become a dictator. And that's
the exact word they use. He'll take so much control he'll be a kind of
dictator. And so they're worried about his assertiveness.

GROSS: Now, even though you describe Nixon and Kissinger as partners in
power, a lot of your book is about the rivalry between them and like who would
get the credit for each negotiation, and who would get the blame for any
failed foreign policies. Even like in Vietnam. describe the rivalry between
Nixon and Kissinger...

Mr. DALLEK: Yes.

GROSS: ...during the peace talks to end the war.

Mr. DALLEK: Well, Kissinger was very eager to see the peace arrangement
completed before the 1972 election, and Nixon resisted that because he was
afraid that there would be an attack on him as much too cynical, that he was
ending the war not because peace with honor was within his grasp but because
he wanted to win the election 1972, be re-elected. And so Kissinger wasn't
thinking that much about the election. He was thinking about all the energy
he had invested in those many, many secret meetings he held with the North
Vietnamese and then the efforts to bring the South Vietnamese on board.

And in a sense, there was a kind of a triangular struggle. There were the
South Vietnamese, the Thieu government, which was very resistant to making
peace, believing--accuratly, as it turns out, of course--that it was a kind of
sell-out. He wasn't going to be able to--the South Vietnamese, the Thieu
government was not, for the long run, going to be able to resist the North
Vietnamese pressure, that the North Vietnamese were going to eventually resume
full scale aggression against the South, and that they would topple the Thieu
government. So Thieu was very resistant to the idea of reaching a peace
agreement with the North. Nixon uses him for temporary purposes. He wants
peace, and of course he does take the American troops out. At the start of
his presidency, there's 545,000 American troops in Vietnam, and by the time
the 1972 election rolls around, there are only 39,000 left. And he's largely
convinced the public that he's ending the war. But he doesn't quite end it
yet because he doesn't want this to be seen as an act of political cynicism.

GROSS: My guest is presidential historian Robert Dallek. His new book is
called "Nixon & Kissinger." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Robert Dallek about his new book
"Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power."

You desribe Nixon and Kissinger as working behind each others' back during the
Vietnam War. What were some of the things each did behind the other's back?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, Nixon wanted to send, for example, Al Haig, who was
Kissinger's deputy at the National Security Council, and then in '73, after
the Watergate crisis erupted, Haig became Nixon's chief of staff. But he kind
of wanted to use Haig to check Kissinger. He wanted to send Haig with him to
Paris at one point, and Kissinger resisted because he understood that Nixon
was going to try and reign him in and keep control of what was happening in
Paris by having Haig there.

Now, Nixon, on the other hand, could not afford to put too much pressure on
Kissinger, because he periodically would threaten to resign. And by the time
the election of '72 rolled around, Kissinger was so much in the public eye, he
was such an important part of the administration and what was seen as the
great foreign policy successes in dealing with China and the Soviet Union that
Nixon could no longer afford to get rid of him.

And then, of course, when Watergate came along, the crisis, of course, really
erupts after the '72 election and speeds up in '73. And by then, Kissinger is
absolutely at the center of this administration, and it's then that he really
does become a co-president, and in particular, during the Yom Kippur War,
which begins in the fall of 1973.

GROSS: In what ways did Kissinger play a larger role than you would've

Mr. DALLEK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...during the Yom Kippur War, after Egypt attacked Israel?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, first off, when the attack began in October of '73,
Kissinger did not inform Nixon, did not brief him on what was going on for
over three hours. The information came into Kissinger at roughly 6:00 in the
morning and it wasn't until about 9:30 in the morning that Kissinger has a
conversation with Nixon. But he talks to Al Haig, and he tells Haig that, `We
should tell the press that I am keeping the president informed hour by hour.'
And, of course, there had been no conversation. And so Nixon, in some ways
because he's so distracted by Watergate, is willing to let Kissinger run the
show on this Middle East crisis. But he wants Kissinger to speak out in ways
that demonstrate, or suggest, to the press that Nixon is very much in control.
So that's one instance.

Then, a second example is that, about five or six days into the Yom Kippur
War, Brent Scowcroft, who was now Kissinger's deputy at the National Security
Council, Haig having moved up to the White House, Scowcroft calls Kissinger
up, and in this telephone transcript that I had to read, he says to Kissinger,
`British prime minister wants to speak to the president in about half an
hour.' Now, this was about 8:00 in the evening. And Kissinger says to
Scowcroft, `We can't do it. The president is loaded.' And they say, `Oh, my
goodness, I guess we'll have to tell the prime minister that the president
will speak to him in the morning.' And in the meantime, Kissinger is more than
happy to talk to the prime minister, you see?

But the most dramatic example of this co-presidency was...

GROSS: So Nixon was just like too drunk to deal with it?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, he's too drunk or he's sedated. I mean, and I'll give you
this next example, in which I think you can see that. Kissinger goes to
Moscow to negotiate an end to this Yom Kippur War, using the Russian on
American influence, pressure on both the Egyptians and the Israelis. Now the
Israelis, at this point, three weeks into the war, are beginning to have a
decisive control over the battlefield, and they've surrounded the Egyptian
third army in the Sinai Desert. The Soviets are very concerned about the fact
that the Israelis can now starve this army out and force a surrender. And
Moscow tells Kissinger that, `We want to send paratroopers in, and we want you
to share in this with us, and you send in a joint military force, and we will,
in a sense, rescue this Egyptian third army.'

Now, Kissinger, Haig talk about this, and there's no way they're going to let
the Soviets send a paratroop force into the Middle East. And they tell the
Soviets, `We are not going to join with you.' And then they say, Nixon
and--rather, Kissinger and Haig say, `Well, we've got to have a meeting.
We've got to discuss what to do.' And Haig says to Kissinger--again, telephone
transcripts--says to him, `Where you going to hold your meeting?' And
Kissinger says, `State Department.' And Haig says, `No, no, you've got to hold
it at the president's house, at least symbolically demonstrating that it's the
president who's in charge.' And Kissinger then says to Haig, `Where is the
president?' This is about 9:30, 9:35 in the evening--9:50, I believe, in the
evening. He says, `Where's the president?' And Haig says, `He's asleep.' And
Kissinger says, `Should we wake him up?' And Haig says, `No.' Then half an
hour later, they speak again, and Haig says to Kissinger, `Well, did you speak
to the president?' You know, meaning, `Well, maybe you went ahead and woke him
up anyway.' And Kissinger says, `No,' he says, `I don't want him charging
around here.' See?

They meet at the White House, and there are seven officials, none of whom had
ever been elected to anything, and they make the decision to raise the DefCon,
the defense condition. Nuclear alert. Only twice in the whole Cold War did
this happen. The first time was during the Cuban missile crisis when John
Kennedy was president, and the second time was during this Yom Kippur War.
Now, the next day, Kissinger...

GROSS: And they do this without telling the president?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, that's my understanding. And I looked and searched, and
there's no document I found in the records indicating that Nixon was informed,
that he signed off on this. Now, Haig and Kissinger do say that, oh, they
consulted him. But there's no evidence they did, and the next day when
Kissinger gets information that the Soviets are backing down in the face of
this nuclear alert, who does he speak to? Not Nixon, but Haig. And Haig says
to him, `Have you spoken to the president?' And Kissinger says, `No, I'm going
to call him now.' It's 2:00 in the afternoon, I think. He then speaks to him
at 2:30 in the afternoon, half an hour later. And in essence, what they say
is that `We don't want the press'--this is, I'm paraphrasing now--`We don't
want the press to think or believe that we cooked this up'--they do use that
term, "cooked this up." And they've carried this off.

Then when Kissinger talks to Nixon, Kissinger says to him, `Well, you've won
again, Mr. President.' And Nixon is happy that they've done this. And
they're confident that Nixon would've signed onto this. And they're probably
right. But, nevertheless, they didn't have his direct commitment or authority
to do this. So I found it pretty shocking.

GROSS: Yeah, well, you're a presidential historian, you've written about,
what, four presidential administrations?

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah.

GROSS: So did this seem kind of unprecedented to you?

Mr. DALLEK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was startled by this, amazed. But
Nixon--and I raise questions in the book about, `Why didn't they think of
invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution?' This could have been...

GROSS: Saying that the president was not equipped to carry out his full

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah. That he was incapicatated, you see. But what they
understood was that Nixon would've resisted this like mad, and that he might
then have threatened to fire them, or indeed fire them as usurping his
authority, as carrying off a kind of political coup. Now, Nixon was not so
incapacitated that he couldn't function. I mean, he was erratic, you see. He
might be drunk, he might be on sedatives, he might be asleep, he might be out
of it, but he had enough wherewithal to carry on day to day. And so if they
had threatened him with suspending his authority as incapicated, Kissinger,
Haig, they were confident he would've fought back. And also, if Kissinger had
done that, it would've jeopardized his position with Nixon. And he wasn't
going to do that.

GROSS: Well...

Mr. DALLEK: So they--and at one point--an additional point I'd make is that
Kissinger kept saying that this Watergate crisis has so undermined the White
House authority, the presidential authority, that it's injuring, undermining,
jeopardizing American national security. Well, if he really believed that,
why doesn't he invoke that 25th amendment, suspend Nixon's authority until the
Watergate crisis is cleared up, let Gerald Ford take over--he became the vice
president after Agnew was ousted--and have a functioning president there.

GROSS: Well...

Mr. DALLEK: He doesn't do it.

GROSS: Let me suggest the possibility that maybe Nixon and other members of
the White House were covering their own behinds in protecting Nixon, because
for Kissinger to have said, `Well, look, our president has been drinking too
much and he's on sedatives, and we've protected him this long, but it's gotten
to the point where he's not really functioning fully as president'...

Mr. DALLEK: Mm-hmm. Of course.

GROSS: Well, then, everybody would've said, `Well, how did you let it reach
that point in the first place?'

Mr. DALLEK: Of course, of course. I couldn't agree more. They were
vulnerable at that point, too. And what I argue in the book is that Kissinger
was, in many ways, complicit in trying to rescue Nixon during this Watergate
crisis, you see? His highest priority is to keep Nixon in place and keep his
authority in place, and never mind that there was a cover-up, never mind that
there may have been serious criminality here, violations of law of the
Constitution. They want to hold onto power. And it's so striking to me that
when Nixon resigns, he doesn't say, `I'm resigning because I crossed the line,
I've committed any congressional transgression.' What he says is, `I've lost
my political support in Congress.' It's as if he's a prime minister who has to
resign because he doesn't have continuing congressional or parliamentary
support. And of course that's nonsense. But he won't 'fess up to the fact
that he's done anything of a criminal nature. And then, of course, Ford
pardons him and suspends forever the adjudication of that question.

GROSS: Robert Dallek will be back in the second half of the show. His new
book is called "Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power." I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with presidential historian
Robert Dallek, author of the new book "Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power."
It's based on recently opened documents, includinging national security files,
Nixon tapes and Kissinger phone transcripts.

Now, we were talking about how, during the Yom Kippur War, after Egypt
attacked Israel, that Kissinger and Haig kind of, you know, took over.

Mr. DALLEK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And kept Nixon in the dark for a while about what was going on.

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah.

GROSS: Which is kind of paradoxical, because the Nixon administration tried
to keep Kissinger, earlier on, from participating in Middle East policy
discussions because Kissinger was Jewish. And you quote Halderman as saying,
`Didn't Kissinger understand that if he was involved and something went wrong,
they're going to say "It's because a goddamned Jew did it" rather than blaming
the Americans?' And Nixon agreed with him.

Mr. DALLEK: Yes, absolutely. And Nixon, of course, had a kind of--it's
difficult to describe it, but a kind of cultural anti-Semitism. I interviewed
Kissinger, and we talked about some of this, and we did agree that Nixon's
anti-Semitism was a kind of cultural anti-Semitism, by which I mean, you know,
a kind of small town, Southern California culture in which he saw Jews as, you
know, sort of undesirable types, he stereotyped them. But he was nasty about
this and it was one of his ways of trying to put Kissinger in his place. And
he would say negative, ugly things about Jews, and then he'd say to Kissinger,
`Isn't that right, Henry? Isn't that right?' And Kissinger would supinely
respond, `Well, Mr. President, there are Jews and there are Jews.' And
Kissinger would try and interject commentary at some meetings about the Middle
East, and then Nixon would then say, `Well, can we get an American opinion

GROSS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I mean, was that maybe because, I mean, Kissinger
was German-born?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, I think not just German-born, but a German Jew.

GROSS: But Jewish.

You say that Nixon sometimes called Kissinger a Jew boy behind Kissinger's
back and occasionally to his face.

Mr. DALLEK: Yes. Yeah. Yes.

GROSS: Did you see Jew boy references in transcripts that you read?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, you know, on that count, I must say that I got that from a
secondary source, that he would say it to his face. There's lots of
information in Walter Isaacson, for example, and Richard Reeves, who spoke
about--wrote about this, I found. But I mean, there is plenty of stuff. I
mean, for example, when there's a telephone--there's a transcript--I mean, not
a transcript, but a conversation between Halderman and Nixon about the fact
that Henry is late to a meeting, and Halderman says to Nixon, `Henry's late.
He's always coming late.' And Nixon says, `Of course he's late! He's a Jew,
isn't he? Jews are always coming late!' And--I mean, you know, it's just

GROSS: I mean, it almost sounds like a bad marriage.

Mr. DALLEK: Yes.

GROSS: I mean, you describe Nixon and Kissinger as being co-presidents, but
it sounds like a bad marriage at times.

Mr. DALLEK: At times.

GROSS: Because you describe them as needing each other, depending on each

Mr. DALLEK: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: ...but also being incredibly jealous of each other and having a

Mr. DALLEK: Yes. Absolutely.

GROSS: And Kissinger refers to Nixon as "that madman," "our drunken friend,"
and "the meatball mind."

Mr. DALLEK: Right. Right. Right. Well, Henry...

GROSS: And--yes?

Mr. DALLEK: Kissinger, when he didn't like people or was frustrated or
irritated by them, he'll call them maniacs. And the South Vietnamese, the
North Vietnamese, they're maniacs, he said to some journalist. Spending an
afternoon with them is like a week in an insane asylum. And anybody who
was--he calls Rogers at points a maniac. And, yeah, he's very negative
about--but you see, what's so interesting is they're rivals. And you see
this, for example, when Nixon comes off the plane in China on his arrival
there in February of '72, and he tells Kissinger, everybody else on the plane,
`Nobody comes out with me. I come out myself.' Because he wants the
photographs to be strictly of Richard Nixon at this moment, and this great,
extraordinary diplomatic initiative, this breakthrough in Sino-American
relations, and Kissinger's not going to get credit. He's in the back of a
plane. And Kissinger talks about this in his memoirs. He said if he was told
once, he was told a dozen times that he wasn't going to get off the plane at
the same moment with Nixon. Well, you know, he was jealous of Henry.

But there was--he was such an insecure man, there is the material about
him--the last day they're in China, they spend the last night in a Shanghai
hotel. Nixon's in a suite of rooms, and he's been drinking these, you know,
mai tais, and just--or "Mao tais," I'm sorry, Mao tais, and he's sloshed. And
at 2:00 in the morning, he calls Kissinger and Halderman to come to his suite
of rooms, and he wants assurances from them that the China trip was a great
success, that it's going to be remembered as a landmark moment in his
presidency. And Kissinger describes him as this lonely, insecure man who--and
I say in the book, Nixon was the sort of fellow who couldn't take yes for an
answer. In some ways, he was better off--was more comfortable with a crisis
in which he had to prove himself, rather than a moment of triumph, when he
could feel that he really achieved something extraordinary.

And that's, of course, the positive side of their relationship. They did a
have shared understanding of what needed to be done about China, that it was
impermissible, with a country of 750, 800 million people, to continue to
isolate them. And also the idea that you used China as a kind of balancing
wheel against Soviet power, and detente. They believe in detente because they
understand, wisely so, that a nucler war with the Soviet Union is out of the
question. So there is a marriage that is constructive here, that produces
some landmark achievements that will echo through history forever. But as you
said before, they are fierce rivals, and it's a bad marriage in some ways.

GROSS: My guest is presidential historian Robert Dallek. His new book is
called "Nixon & Kissinger." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Robert Dallek about his new book
"Nixon & Kissinger: Partners in Power."

So, you know, when you're reading what happened behind the scenes during the
China negotiations, does the story look very different than the headlines
look? And, you know, everybody seemed to credit China as Nixon's most
important foreign policy achievement.

Mr. DALLEK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But when you look behind the scenes, is there something going on that
we weren't aware of that changes how that breakthrough looks?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, what you see on the China issue is that Nixon's--as I just
described--his insecurities, his uncertainties. Of course, he presents it as
a very positive and certain policy, but he has his doubts. And that was
particularly true on Vietnam.

You see, what I find interesting with this material on Nixon and Kissinger is
that this was the most secretive administration in American presidential
history until maybe this current administration, and yet it is the most
transparent of administrations. Because the documentary record is so
abundant, is so huge and available now, you know.

Thirty-plus years after the end of the Nixon presidency, we can go behind the
scenes and see, for example, on Vietnam, they would speak confidently in
public that they were getting peace with honor; the Vietnamization; the
training of the Vietnamese was working, it was effective, that they were going
to be able to take over the fighting against the North Vietnamese because we
trained them so effectively, we invested so wisely in building them up. Well,
behind the scenes, they have tremendous doubts about this. They talk about
the fact that we can't win in Vietnam. There's not going to be a military
victory there for us. We have to get out. They understand that this is a
very hot political issue in the United States, and in fact, in the Halderman
diaries, which are another source for this book, Halderman has a conversation
with Kissinger in December of 1970 in which Halderman says to Kissinger, `The
president wants to get out of Vietnam by the end of '71,' and Kissinger says
`Bad idea.' Because if South Vietnam is destabilized in '72, it could
jeopardize Nixon's re-election. That's the thrust of what Kissinger is

And they stay on into--very close to--through the '72 election, and you see
there's a kind of political cynicism to it, and they talk then about peace
with honor. And after this peace agreement, there's never peace there.
There's never a full end to the war. There continues to be bloodshed.
Because it falls off the headlines of the newspapers because American troops,
American boys are not being killed. And yet, at the same time, there's a
continuing struggle. And they hide this. They keep talking about peace with

GROSS: So, you know, it's amazing, because on the one hand, like you describe
Nixon as really wanting to get out of Vietnam because he realized the war is

Mr. DALLEK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS:'s not winnable, and it's a losing battle with him, too, with the
American public. But at the same time, he's postponing an effective
negotiation to the end of the war because he thinks people will be cynical if
he negotiates it about the same time of the election.

Mr. DALLEK: Terry, he's--Terry, he's...

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. DALLEK: He's very ambivalent about the entire Vietnam business, because
he and Kissinger believe that if they leave with their tails between their
legs, it will undermine, destroy almost, American credibility with its
adversaries, with its allies. What they missed, I say in the book, is the
fact that American credibility was being undermined constantly by our
continuing involvement in Vietnam.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DALLEK: And that what was more realistic was for us to get out, cut our
losses and use our resources in much more constructive ways. I don't mean
necessarily in domestic affairs, but in the making of foreign policy. And
they themselves are very concerned about the fact that, will they be able to
carry off the China and Soviet initiatives if the Vietnam war is continuing?
So there was other fish to fry, and--to coin a phrase--and they're very
ambivalent about Vietnam.

And also, they don't want to accept the proposition that America has been
defeated there. Hence, you have the Cambodian incursion in April of 1970. He
wants to beat up on the North Vietnamese. He wants to see if he can use
American military power to really defeat them. And so he's in this, so to
speak, experimental stage in this first couple years over Vietnam. And
increasingly he sees that they can carry it off, but they've got to get out.

GROSS: Could you share with us one of the more jaw dropping details that you
came across in the recently released documents that you read through to
research your book on Nixon and Kissinger? One of the jaw dropping moments
that you haven't already shared with us.

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah. Well, I would say the most jaw dropping were those
moments during that Yom Kippur War when Nixon is asleep, and Nixon is probably
sedated, and Kissinger and Haig and others are raising the DefCon without
Nixon's direct authority. Also, during Watergate, how doubtful Nixon was
about what to do and how to escape from this crisis, and Kissinger, who is
constantly stroking him, `Mr. President, this country would be dead without
you,' constantly telling him, `What you do is so important, it's so valuable.'
I mean, all this was so, in a way, distressing to me to see the unrealism of
Kissinger's response to Nixon.

You know, I did some interviews. The New York Times interviewed me about this
book, and I was asked how did I feel about Nixon after having done all this
work and studied him. And I said I came away with a certain greater sympathy
for the man. I mean, not that I admire him. I think he was, in many ways, a
very troubled and--intelligent but troubled man. But I had a certain greater
compassion for him. As far as Kissinger went, though, I've described him as a
brilliant scoundrel, because he was such a brilliant manipulator of the press.
The stories I've found, the conversations with all sorts of people in the
press, and just astonished me.

GROSS: You describe Kissinger as having complained to the British ambassador
John Freeman in 1970...

Mr. DALLEK: Yes.

GROSS: ...that the men around Nixon were a collection of rogues, quote, "I've
never met such a gang of self-seeking bastards in my life. I used to find the
Kennedy group unattractively narcissistic, but they were idealists. These
people are real heels."

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah.

GROSS: So he thought that the Nixon administration was a bunch of heels...

Mr. DALLEK: Right.

GROSS: ...but certainly didn't reveal that to the American public and
continued to work with them.

Mr. DALLEK: Oh, of course not.

GROSS: And at the same time, one of the reasons you say why Nixon tapped the
phone of the syndicated journalist Joseph Kraft was to see whether Kissinger
was leaking to him.

Mr. DALLEK: Exactly. Well, there was such distrust. You know, as Kissinger
said to a journalist at one point, `Well, I'm getting my paranoia under
control.' Now, you know the old saying that even paranoids have real

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DALLEK: ...which of course they did, but nevertheless there was such
paranoia. And Nixon and the press, he despised the press. He had tremendous
contempt for them. Now, of course, in public, he would say, `Oh, this is the
American way.' And he'd hold press conferences and he would try to stroke
them. But when you see the things he says about the press--and I don't know
whether you're going to want to run this or cut it out of the conversation,
but he called the press "sluts...(word censored by station)." You know? I
mean, and it's just--his vulgarity. I mean, you know, he'd talk about...(word
censored by station)...and...(word censored by station)...bastards and sons of
bitches, and I mean, you know, every sort of group he could subject to.

I mean, after the 1972 re-election, he talks to Halderman about cleaning house
and they've got to get new blood in and a new spirit in the White House for
the second administration, and he says, `Well, we need some Italians and we
need some Hispanics, but' he said, `we're not going to be able to find them.'
And, you know, `We have enough Jews and people like that in the
administration.' But, you know, he just--and he talks about--oh, he said, `The
one person who we must keep on is George Bush.' That's, you know, the first
bush, George H.W. Bush, who is at that point head of the Republican National
Committee, chairman of the Republican National Committee. And Nixon's, `Well,
we got to keep him on because he'll do anything we tell him to.'

GROSS: So having written this book about Nixon and Kissinger based on the
papers of the Nixon administration, do you find yourself seeing the Bush
administration any differently?

Mr. DALLEK: I think the Bush White House, to me, there are powerful echoes
from this Nixon administration, and particularly on the Iraq war, comparing it
to Vietnam. Nixon, Kissinger knew that we weren't going to win in Vietnam,
they kept talking about peace with honor. They kept talking about
Vietnamization, that the South Vietnamese going to be able to take over the
national security of their state and defend themselves. And the same we see
with this Iraq war, that the Bush administration keeps offering confident
predictions of success in Iraq, of promoting, producing democracy, of building
up an army and a police force that'll tend to the state's national security.
But my guess is we're going to see the same outcome in Iraq that we saw with
Vietnam: a failed state, and you'll end up with some kind of dictatorship
there. And that you're not going to succeed in Iraq, just as we didn't
succeed in Vietnam.

GROSS: In Bob Woodward's book, his latest book about the Bush administration
and the war in Iraq, he wrote that Kissinger had been brought in by the Bush
administration to advise the president. What was your reaction when you found
that out?

Mr. DALLEK: I said, `Uh-oh,' because Kissinger apparently is telling him
that he must reach for victory. But my cynical view of this is that Kissinger
may have also told him, `You must present this as a victory as opposed to
achieving a real victory.' Because it's hard for me to believe that Kissinger
sees the war in Iraq as a possible victory. And so I think he's offering up a
politically cynical view in saying you must present it as some kind of

GROSS: Robert Dallek, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DALLEK: It's been my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Robert Dallek is the author of the new book "Nixon & Kissinger:
Partners in Power."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new collection of hyphy, a variation of
hip-hop. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ken Tucker on "Hyphy Hitz"; hyphy is a variation of

About 10 years ago a new variation on hip-hop became popular in San
Francisco's Bay Area. It's called hyphy, slang for hyperactive, and it's
gaining in national popularity. Rock critic Ken Tucker says it represents a
more playful, energetic version of hip-hop. Here's his review of a new
anthology of Bay Area acts called "Hyphy Hitz."

(Soundbite of "Getz Ya Grown Man On")

KEN TUCKER reporting:

As you can hear from that song by a group called Dem Hoodstarz, hyphy is a
genially rambunctious musical style that takes a riff or two and then
surrounds them with raucous voices shouting, crooning and laughing. To listen
to the various acts collected on the "Hyphy Hitz" collection is to be invited
to a party that doesn't stop, with each guest trying to wear the biggest,
loudest lampshade on his or her head. A hyphy manifesto of sorts is this
tune, which salutes hyphy's birthplace, Oakland, California, and is called "Go

(Soundbite of "Go Dumb")

TUCKER: Most hyphy music is built around keyboard and synthesizer chords.
There's little of the sampling of other people's hits as there is in so much
other hip-hop, and there aren't too many guitars to be heard. The result is
music that's totally divorced from rock and very connected to techno music.

But what makes hyphy appealing to me is that hyphy offers the exact opposite
of techno's cool reserve. This is hot, sweaty music, pulsing and pounding
with energy and enthusiasm. There's a playful element that's most clearly
heard on one of this album's best cuts, called "Stewy," which includes both
children's voices and the vocals of hyphy's biggest star, the rapper called

(Soundbite of "Stewy")

TUCKER: For those cultural anthropologists among you, E-40 claims that Snoop
Dogg stole his famous irritating phrase "fo' shizzle" from E-40 and hyphy
slang. I would not hold this noncrime against hyphy, however. Among other of
its distinctions, hyphy mostly rejects the gloomy, violent, misogynistic
scenarios of gangster rap. It's best songs serve as a critique of that genre.
Instead of yammering about dealing drugs and brandishing guns, hyphy devotees
like to joke about having grapes--that is, drinking wine--and dancing in clubs
or out on the street. The idea is to make a song a kind of movie soundtrack
for an urban party scene.

(Soundbite of "Super Sic wit It")

TUCKER: `I'm married to the air,' says a vote that floats to the surface of
that song, "Super Sic wit It," and it's that kind of airy absurdism that
nudges hyphy's hip-hop into a kind of art movement. These California
celebrators are breaking down, fracturing and reassembling, making a kind of
abstract expressionist version of hip-hop. They would deny such ambitions,
most likely, but it takes real artistry to sound so casual and so bursting
with the joy of life.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Hyphy Hitz."

If you want to catch up on editions of FRESH AIR that you missed, you can
download podcasts of our show on our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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