Essentially, a key tenet of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of communist countries think that he was unstable and prone to use nuclear force. What ensued in his first year in office in 1969 is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Cold War because it really highlights the growing split between the USSR and China and how Nixon tried to drive a wedge between them in order to strengthen the United States’ relative power and influence.
During the buildup to the Vietnam war after the Cuban missile crisis, and prior to Nixon taking office in 1969, leaders in the US and USSR would generally not explicitly threaten each other for fear of stoking another nuclear crisis. Nixon believed that the only way to end the war in Vietnam was to get North Vietnam and China to back down in the face of nuclear extinction, as the threat of nuclear escalation is what brought about a ceasefire during the Korean War. After secret peace talks in Paris to end the war stalled in the first few months of his presidency, Nixon went full ape. If Teddy Roosevelt believed that the United States should speak softly and carry a big stick, Nixon believed the United States should yell incoherently and flail its stick around.
In October 1969, Nixon issued a secret high level alert to his top military brass. He told them to be on standby to use nuclear force against North Vietnam and possibly the USSR and to scramble planes equipped with nuclear bombs to fly near Soviet airspace. This was kept secret from the American public, but was made loud enough so Soviet intelligence would pick up on it. At the time, Nixon wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam by expanding the bombing campaign into the North, which was not popular with the American public and would have likely resulted in fully-fledged war with China. So Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Soviets to think that he would do anything to win the war in Vietnam without actually having to do anything. It was a huge gamble.
But let’s not forget that in the immediate months prior to Nixon’s secret order, the USSR and China were in an undeclared military conflict with each other over a border dispute. Relations between the two communist powers had soured since 1960, which Nixon sought to capitalize on.
Prior to Nixon issuing the nuclear alert, the USSR was considering a preemptive, possibly nuclear attack on China’s nuclear arsenal. The USSR worried that if the United States escalated the Vietnam war with nuclear force and if China responded with nuclear force too, then they would get dragged into a nuclear war with them as well. When a KGB officer approached an American diplomat about the possibility of the USSR striking China’s arsenal and how the US would respond – and allegedly even asked if the US would collaborate with the USSR to weaken China – Nixon made it very clear that the US would not tolerate an attack on its enemy by its other enemy.
But while Nixon intended the nuclear alert to influence events in Vietnam in his favor, some evidence from recently declassified Cold War documents suggest that the USSR mistakenly believed that the alert was meant to warn the USSR against attacking China’s nuclear arsenal.
Nixon did want to exploit the soured relations between the USSR and China in order to have leverage over the Soviets, and the nuclear alert had the unintentional effect of hinting that the US would side with China should a nuclear conflict arise between them and the USSR. This also unintentionally played into Nixon’s policy of opening up to China. By opening up to China, the US would no longer be dealing with one communist power, but rather two competing communist powers that were at odds with each other.
The nuclear alert issued in October 1969 did nothing to improve the situation in Vietnam (and arguably made things worse). While it did frighten the Soviets, they did ultimately interpret it as a bluff. Still, it indicated to the Chinese that Nixon would give them leverage over the USSR. It set the stage for rapprochement with China, which culminated in Nixon’s monumental 1972 visit to the communist country and the subsequent improvement of Sino-American relations. And of course, the visit laid the foundation for the deepening of economic ties between the two nations.
I read a really good history of the Southern Baptist Convention, a couple of years ago (sadly, I forget both author and title) that documented the conscious decision by which the national leadership of the SBC, during the Reconstruction, made a conscious decision to be the voice of moral authority on the Confederate revisionist side, to embrace and defend the religious and social complaints of the former slave-holding class in the old Confederacy. So by the time of the rise of the Religious Right as we know it, the Southern Baptist Church had already invested nearly 100 years in raising, training, and providing volunteers for pro-segregation candidates in both political parties. After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, that put the Southern Baptist Church firmly on the Republican side.
Also in 1964, at the presidential nominating convention (per the speeches and writings of Goldwater delegate and best-sellling conspiracy theory author John Stormer), was the meeting of the Republican Anti-Communist Caucus at which the leader of the top fundamentalist seminary in America, Dallas Theological Seminary, committed to revising the curriculum to persuade all future fundamentalist ministers that fighting Communism was Christian cause number one, and to teach that it was therefore a religious duty of all Christians to support politicians from what they saw as the only reliable anti-socialist, anti-communist party, the Republicans.
In 1968, the Pope of the Catholic Church issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which, among other things, banned the practice of contraception or abortion. By 1968, feminism was already seen as a left-wing political cause for long enough that it was being paid lip-service by even center-left politicians in the Democratic Party, which fairly rapidly coalesced into the current situation where observant Catholics feel forced into supporting the only anti-feminist political party, the Republicans.
In the second volume of his auto-biography, Francis Schaeffer, Jr., the son of the famous evangelist (and founder of the modern fundamentalist movement) Francis Schaeffer, documents that it was his personal revulsion to the idea of legal abortion, after 1973 Roe v Wade, that persuaded him to argue his father into telling wealthy Protestant fundamentalists that opposition to abortion was the most important Christian cause, and that they needed to donate money that funded the founding of Moral Majority. Schaeffer Junior says that he approached politicians in both parties, offering them the support of Moral Majority if they would denounce legal abortion, making the argument to Democrats that the traditional Catholic origins of organized labor and their traditional embrace of government regulation made anti-abortion a Democratic cause, only to find himself out-maneuvered by feminists on the platform committees and organizing committees. So, he says, he had no choice but, as their lead fund-raiser, to encourage early Moral Majority leaders to embrace Republicans, and their embrace of traditional rural values (see neo-Confederacy, above), as the only hope of seeing legal abortion overturned. (A decision he now says he regrets, but feels that the feminists left him with no alternative.)
(*Post-1964, the Southern Baptist Church embraced the Republican Party for segregationist reasons; post-1973, Moral Majority and the Catholic bishops both embraced the Republican Party for anti-feminism reasons.)
The modern conservative movement isn’t about being conservative at all, its about pandering to religious groups, saying you oppose anything the Democrats do while spending just as much money. There are no conservatives in Washington. A true conservative believes in the constitution. They would support the separation of church and state, the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms. They would support equal legal protections for all, meaning they would support a woman’s right to choose, and gay marriage. But again, there are no true conservatives in Washington, only partisan hacks using abortion and gay marriage as wedge issues to stay in office and keep raking in that sweet sweet lobbyist cash.
Here are three things Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater said during his life as a politician:
“On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.”
“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'”
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
Senator Harry Reid’s boring demeanor and refusal to be phony apparently rubs many people the wrong way. But choking a dangerous mafia man, getting a bomb strapped to his car for daring to act against the mafia in Vegas, as well as not withholding punches from Sen Ted Cruz and Tea Party obstructionists make him a bad-ass in my book.
He has a very confrontational style when it comes to the Tea Party. If he doesn’t like something, and doesn’t hesitate to criticize it. Such candor from a politician is a refreshing break from the usual self-interest based hesitancy to make such remarks. He has called the extreme ring wing fraction of the Republican Party, “anarchists” and “reckless”; he’s said they’ve “lost their minds” and need to “get a life”; and during this government shutdown his office leaked private emails with House Speaker John Boehner’s chief of staff.
The emails show that before the House speaker demanded an end to health-care subsidies for congressional staffers, he vigorously fought behind the scenes to procure them. It appears that Boehner’s public reversal on this position made Reid and Democrats reach their breaking points. “Speaker Boehner has a credibility problem,” Reid said in a statement. “From refusing to let the House vote on a bill that was his idea in the first place, to decrying health-care subsidies for members of Congress and staff that he worked for months to preserve, to stating that the House doesn’t have the votes to pass a clean CR at current spending levels, there is now a consistent pattern of Speaker Boehner saying things that fly in the face of the facts or stand at odds with his past actions.”
Obama and Reid can’t negotiate with Boehner because they can’t trust him. Not trust in the “he lacks integrity” sense, although that may be true, but can’t trust in the “I wouldn’t trust my weight to that bridge” sense – he does not have control of his caucus, nor does he have a good feel for what drives his caucus on this issue. (For a Speaker of the House, John Boehner is a lousy politician. Since negotiations are both a bad idea from the Democratic perspective, and also totally futile so long as Boehner remains the GOP point man.)
At this point, the whole world is watching the catastrophic consequences of a leaderless House during the Republican’s renewed threat of a government shutdown or debt-ceiling default. These reckless actions are part of a grandstand play to reverse Obamacare (or the ACA) but they’ve assumed an illogic of their own. The House Republicans seem almost to enjoy holding the country hostage. Their version of Russian roulette has become so familiar that everybody seems to forget just how outrageous it is. Speaker Boehner surely knows this type of brinkmanship, however popular with the right wing, is damaging the party nationally. But he simply cannot control his members.
Basically, The Tea Party Republicans have total control over Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives. And by being completely batshit insane, they’ve put themselves in a position where they can crash the country OR the Republican Party. Or both. This isn’t even negotiating with terrorists. Terrorists at least have reasons and overarching ideals. This is, plain and simple, a bunch of power-mad idiots who have no idea how the world works and pretty much think they can put a stop to the 21st century if they pout hard enough.
The framers of the constitution never imagined a stupid and malicious enough group coming together to decide it’s worth fucking up the national and global economy in order to prevent the process of laws going into effect. There is no “Hastert Rule” in the Constitution. You don’t defund the government over a disagreement over a law. This isn’t a budget issue where both sides couldn’t agree on how much to spend on different parts of the government. This sets a bad precedent if they succeed. This would allow them to hold the government hostage over ANY law that they don’t like in the future. (Gay marriage becoming legal nationwide? The war of drugs being ramped down and work towards legalization? Outlawing things that are not science being taught in public schools as if it is truth? Any other major shift in policy that doesn’t fit the republican worldview…) This is a test run to see what they can do by brute force. This isn’t just an idea or an executive order they are fighting, it is a law which has been passed and upheld as constitutional.
What they are trying to do right now is throw away our entire way of life. And that is not a melodramatic statement. They are trying to exert unilateral power over the law of the land, using a single party, in a single body, in a single branch of the government. This CANNOT be allowed to happen.
As a liberal, (who has a generally negative view of politicians on both sides), I have come to appreciate Harry Reid, when he commits to doing something, he does it. And in times like these I’m glad to have someone like that in my political corner.