Daily Archives: 3 July 2010

Full Tilt

President Richard Nixon stunned the world in his first term by visiting China and establishing diplomatic relations with the Communist country.  The President’s dramatic deviation from decades of established China policy, not to mention his bellicose statements in the 1950’s and 60’s, branded him as an apostate among the anti-Communist movement in the West.  That he undertook these actions to undermine the Soviet sphere of influence and gain Chinese pressure on Hanoi to reach a settlement accord concluding the Vietnam War were strategic subtleties loss in the grandeur of the moment.  The path to his greatest achievement was Pakistan, a close ally of China; along the way he encountered speedbumps in the form of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and the press.

As Nixon and Kissinger clandestinely negotiated with China through their Pakistani contacts, the Indo-Pakistani war erupted on the subcontinent over the fate of East Pakistan.  Many in the US State Department openly sided with India (in spite of her ties to the Soviet Union) due to the brutal Pakistani treatment of minorities in the months leading up to the conflict and the resulting refugee nightmare.  Officially, the United States remained neutral and encouraged a cease fire.  Privately, the Nixon Administration provided the Pakistanis with materiel through proxy states and dispatched a number of warships to the area.  Nixon and Kissinger hoped this “tilt” toward Pakistan would demonstrate to the Chinese the reliability of the United States as a strategic partner.

In the months leading up to the Pakistani tilt, a Naval Yeoman, Charles Radford, worked closely with Kissinger, Al Haig and Admiral Robert Welander.  Yeoman Radford served in no official policy-making role; he was a stenographer.  He was also spying on the White House on behalf of the Pentagon, notably Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Moorer.  As 1971 drew to a close, Yeoman Radford leaked the minutes of the Pakistani Tilt meetings to pro-India journalists Jack Anderson and his protoge, Brit Hume (yes, that one). 

Radford’s connection to Anderson began when he served as part of the US embassy staff in New Delhi years earlier.  During that tour, Radford met Anderson’s parents who subsequently introduced him to their son.  His subterfuge was quickly revealed inasmuch as only four other persons had access to the minutes quoted in the Anderson/Hume column.  By this point in his presidency, Nixon had already established his White House intelligence team, the “plumbers” to fix the “leaks” within the government and thereby create the secrecy necessary for ventures such as his China gambit.  Of course, the plumbers were later apprehended at the Watergate Hotel conducting a different operation. 

Yesterday, the Nixon Presidential Library declassified some of the internal memoranda regarding the Radford leak and the subsequent investigation.  (Link to the primary sources here: http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/documents/jan10/094.pdf.)  Radford admitted he gave the purloined documents (thousands — including some from burn bags and even Kissinger’s briefcase) to the JCS, but maintained his innocence about the Anderson leak.  The circumstantial evidence weighed strongly against his plea of innocence, however.  Nixon did not expose this “leaker” but had him reassigned to Oregon (where they closely monitored him).  He also refused to fire Admiral Moorer, to Kissinger’s great rage, believing it better to let the Joint Chiefs know he had something on the Chairman.

The Jack Anderson “Pakistani tilt” columns greatly endangered Nixon’s China initiative.  Presumably, Admiral Moorer was gathering evidence of Nixon’s intentions and planned to leak them himself in order to stop the China reversal.  The role of the Chinese venture in creating additional economic, military and strategic pressure on the USSR, which accelerated its ultimate downfall, cannot be minimized.  The role of the Pakistani tilt in relations on the sub-continent is very much a point of debate.  But the Radford affair, aside from its international implications, also revealed a Presidency obsessed with the secrecy of its foreign policy.  Nixon later wrote, “From a diplomatic point of view, the leak was embarrassing; from the point of view of national security, it was intolerable.”

In a deleted scene of Oliver Stone’s bio-pic, Nixon, the director portrays the ire of the President over Jack Anderson’s column (inter alia).  As usual with Oliver Stone, one must be wary of his license with history and record of absurd embellishment, but the film delivers (as a whole) a fairly even-handed evaluation of Nixon.  His portrayal of the President’s reaction to continued “leaking” shouldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor.