Sunday, January 1, 2017

We've Been Here Before

A US presidential candidate working with a foreign power to undermine the current president's foreign policy position while thousands are dying and thousands more being displaced as refugees in a prolonged foreign civil war.  A long cold war with the foreign power, heavily invested in the civil war of its proxy, would suddenly see a major shift in positive relations as a result. 

Evidence of this meddling came to light before the election, but the sitting president chose not to reveal it because doing so would destroy the integrity of the voting process. Despite the sitting president's many accomplishments in civil rights and leading the country back into economic prosperity, the candidate of the other party wins the election and defeats the president's increasingly unpopular successor.

No, this isn't 2016 in review again, but 1968. The treacherous candidate was of course Nixon, the sitting president was LBJ, the foreign power was China, the war was Vietnam, and the unpopular successor was Hubert Humphrey.

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.
The 37th president has been enjoying a bit of a revival recently, as his achievements in foreign policy and the landmark domestic legislation he signed into law draw favorable comparisons to the presidents (and president-elect) that followed. A new, $15 million face-lift at the Nixon presidential library, while not burying the Watergate scandals, spotlights his considerable record of accomplishments.

Haldeman’s notes return us to the dark side. Amid the reappraisals, we must now weigh apparently criminal behavior that, given the human lives at stake and the decade of carnage that followed in Southeast Asia, may be more reprehensible than anything Nixon did in Watergate.

Nixon sank Johnson's efforts to end the Vietnam War so he could win, full stop. He used Anna Chennault as an intermediary and put pressure on South Vietnam through the Chinese.

When Johnson got word of Nixon’s meddling, he ordered the F.B.I. to track Chennault’s movements. She “contacted Vietnam Ambassador Bui Diem,” one report from the surveillance noted, “and advised him that she had received a message from her boss … to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was … ‘Hold on. We are gonna win. … Please tell your boss to hold on.’ ”

In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”

“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.

Johnson’s closest aides urged him to unmask Nixon’s actions. But on a Nov. 4 conference call, they concluded that they could not go public because, among other factors, they lacked the “absolute proof,” as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford put it, of Nixon’s direct involvement.

Nixon was elected president the next day.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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