Unpopular War

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Kissinger and Nixon continued an unpopular war, Robert Kaplan notes, and they were pilloried for it:

Even the harshest journalistic accounts make clear that Kissinger and Nixon genuinely felt, despite the public outcry, that continuing the war was necessary for America to sustain its strategic position worldwide. Shawcross wrote that the two men were influenced by both the “Munich mentality” and the memory of how President Eisenhower ended the Korean War — by threatening the Chinese and the North Koreans. To Kissinger and Nixon, playing tough was not a surrealistic abstraction but something necessary and definable. However wrong the stance they took may appear in hindsight, Kissinger and Nixon did what they thought was right for the country’s interests, knowing they would be reviled — especially among the intellectual elite, who usually have the last word in writing history.

Now, isn’t that exactly how we want — or at least how we say we want — our leaders to act? Isn’t what angers so many people about President Bill Clinton and other current politicians the fact that they make policy according to the results of public-opinion polls rather than to their own conviction? It may be the case that polling is unfairly criticized — that for a leader to base his or her decisions on public opinion is not so bad after all, especially if one has in mind the case of Kissinger and Nixon. It is also likely that in prolonging the war for the reasons they did, Kissinger and Nixon demonstrated more real character than do many of our present leaders.

It’s hard to point to Nixon as an exemplar of real character, but the point still stands that a principled conservative — or neo-conservative — is not about to get respect in the media for his character.

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