Foreign Policy: Passage to Détente
DURING most of his career before he was elected president, Richard Nixon had seemed almost the personification of militant resistance to the expansion of international communism. Yet within less than four years, by the summer of 1972, the Nixon administration had concluded a series of accords with the Soviet Union; exchanged vows of mutual forbearance with the Communist rulers of China; and announced triumphantly, in the president's State of the World message to Congress in 1972, the virtual interment of the cold war: "Our alliances are no longer addressed primarily to the containment of the Soviet Union and China behind an American shield. They are, instead, addressed to the creation with those powers of a stable world peace."1
In some secondary theaters, the more belligerent "old Nixon" from time to time seemed to take charge of policy, as in the administration's firm interdiction of the Syrian invasion of Jordan in 1970; the "tilt" toward Pakistan in the war between India and Pakistan in 1971; the campaign to bring down the Allende government in Chile; and, most of all, the administration's determined prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia. In the crucial areas of direct relations with the two Communist superpowers, however, Nixon's approach was more flexible and conciliatory than that of any president since Franklin Roosevelt.
Had Nixon risen above principle in the service of political expedience, as his fundamentalist conservative critics charged? Or were there consistent bonds of ideology between the cold war strategy of