Nixon, Richard Milhaus°
NIXON, RICHARD MILHAUS°
NIXON, RICHARD MILHAUS ° (1913–1994), 37th president of the United States. After his discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander, Nixon entered politics and was elected to the 80th Congress in 1946. In his first term, Nixon quickly established himself as a staunch conservative on domestic issues, with a preoccupation with internal security, and a firm supporter of the new global role then being assumed by the Truman administration. By 1950 his slashing political style had earned him the lasting enmity of liberal intellectuals and many Jewish voters committed to its civil libertarian tradition. His opportunity to run for the presidency came in 1960, but pitted against John F. Kennedy, he suffered his first political setback. This was followed two years later by a second political setback when he lost the race for the California governorship, and it seemed that his political career was at an end.
In fact, in June 1963 Nixon left his political base in California to join a Wall Street law firm. During the next six years, however, he traveled extensively, becoming a familiar figure at local Republican Party gatherings and earning political credits everywhere. Soon his name was being mentioned once again as a possibility to head the Republican ticket in 1968. The Vietnam and civil rights issues had created serious schisms in the Democratic Party and not even the sacrifice of Lyndon Johnson seemed able to heal them. His hairbreadth victory over Hubert Humphrey resulted in one of the most remarkable political comebacks in American history.
In a geopolitical sense, Nixon was anxious to restore American influence in the Arab world, so that his primary purpose, the containment of Communist influence, might be served. It was not unexpected therefore that the preinaugural fact-finding mission of William Scranton to the Middle East was accompanied by much talk of a new "evenhanded" policy in the area. The words had an ominous ring for Jews since Nixon could easily impose a settlement from on high without too much fear of domestic repercussions. Some American Zionists sorely regretted the absence of a closer connection to the Republican Party.
By February 1969 the Nixon administration appeared ready to impose such a peace on the basis of the Rogers plan. It called for an overall guarantee of security to all the nations in the area and freedom of navigation along the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran, in return for which Israel would, with minor modifications, revert to the pre-1967 boundaries. Negotiations were begun with the Russians and a cease-fire was arranged. Arms shipments to the area, including promised Phantom jets, were held up.
Then three events reversed the administration's policy: the Russian rejection of the Rogers plan, the Egyptian deployment of sam missiles in the cease-fire area, with Russian connivance, and the Jordanian civil war. This last event in particular brought Nixon and the Jewish community closer together. Fearing that Syrian intervention would lead to a direct confrontation with the Soviet Union, Nixon made arrangements in secret talks with Yiẓḥak Rabin, the Israeli ambassador, to prevent such a possibility. Israel would, if necessary, stop the Syrian tank column from reaching Amman, while a reinforced Sixth Fleet would protect Israel's rear against Egyptian action. With such an agreement in hand, Nixon was easily able to face down the Soviet Union in his own version of the Cuban missile crisis. For Jews these events put Nixon in a new light. Even if Nixon had no special attachment to Israel, he could be depended upon in a crisis to act in Israel's interests, motivated by the realpolitik of the Middle East situation. Nixon was re-elected in 1972. The aid which he extended to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, particularly the airlift which supplied much needed arms, showed him as a supporter of Israel.
His resignation in 1974, as a result of the Watergate affair, brought his political career to an end.
R. Nixon, Six Crises (1962); G. Wills, Nixon Agonistes, The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1969); R. Evans, Jr., and R.D. Novak, Nixon in the White House, The Frustration of Power (1971); K. Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority (1969).
[Henry L. Feingold (2nd ed.)]