A Conversation with Nixon

By William Safire Copyright New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 2, 1994 | Go to article overview

A Conversation with Nixon


William Safire Copyright New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In one of our long talks last year, Richard Nixon said, "Guns are an abomination." And he added, "You can use that now."

Which I did in a column. The "now" referred to an agreement between my old boss and me: Some of what he said was for immediate quotation, some for private instruction and the rest to be made public at my discretion "someday" - by which he meant any time after the ceremony last Wednesday at which he joined the real Silent Majority.

Much of his strategic thinking will be available next month in his last book, "Beyond Peace." But here is Nixon as one admirer had a chance to see him, tossing off aphorisms with candor and purpose ("Bull sessions produce only what bulls produce").

On recent Russian leaders, preceding his last mission to Moscow: "Yeltsin is at his best in a crisis, just as Gorbachev was at his worst in a crisis. We stayed too long with Gorbachev; we mustn't stay too long with Yeltsin. We need contact with the opposition, and Yeltsin won't like it."

Specifically about Yeltsin: "He has bouts of depression, and takes medication for his back problem, like Woodrow Wilson. His close buddies are not very impressive. He feels the army didn't move quickly enough in the coup attempt against him." (Long pause.) "He'll trust only a few people, and will think only those who support him 100 percent are his friends." (I said I knew somebody like that once, and Nixon gave his short bark of a laugh.)

"I gave Clinton an evaluation of Yeltsin: not hard to read, straight out, refreshing, charismatic. But lacks experience in free-market economics, let alone running a democratic republic."

On the Mideast: "I have great respect for Rabin, but I didn't want to go to the dog and pony show on the White House lawn. I told him later that it takes a strong man to make peace; he's able to do what he's doing because Arafat is weak, and far worse than Arafat is waiting in the wings. Paul Johnson had a line that statesmen must differentiate between different degrees of evil."

On Bosnia: " `Assertive multilateralism' is nonsense. De Gaulle said to Malraux: `Parliaments can paralyze policy; they cannot make policy. …

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