Friday, June 03, 2005

Ben Stein Strikes Back

Ben Stein has weighed in on the revelation that W. Mark Felt was the infamous anonymous source "Deep Throat". Mr. Stein's piece is more of the sort that I was expecting to hear. Would that I could have heard G. Gordon Liddy on the subject; it might have actually been worth listening to, unlike his radio program. Mark at Decision '08 calls this piece "appallingly bad". I disagree, but let's take a look at the article: Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POW's, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel's life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad? Some on my side of the aisle might say that starting the EPA was "bad", but put that aside for a moment. The 1973 Paris Peace Accords were, probably, a good thing. Retrieving a majority of our POWs is unarguably a good thing. Ending the Yom Kippur war and saving the state of Israel can, I think, be counted as good things. Diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China put another pistol to the head of the Soviet Union, and that's a good thing. Whether that was a good idea now is another issue for another article. Reducing the numbers of atomic weapons is another one of these probably good things.1 Now cometh the snark: Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going. That was his crime. He was a peacemaker and he wanted to make a world where there was a generation of peace. And he succeeded. Mr. Stein is a tad off here---the purpose of the break-in at the DNC HQ in the Watergate Hotel was to gather intelligence on what Lawrence F. O'Brien and others were up to. The 'agenda of peace' bit may be true, but I'm not entirely sure that's what we elect a President to do. It does, however, sound nice. It also rings true to Nixon's remark in his Inaugural Address that "the greatest honor history can bestow is that of peacemaker". As for succeeding in the generation of peace, I suppose that's a defensible remark; Nixon had lived through both of the World Wars, and compared to that, the relatively small brushfire wars of the late 1960s and 1970s weren't of much account. Mr. Stein also takes some shots at John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, which delights me to no end, but I suggest reading them courtesy of the Spectator. Mark's displeased with Stein's assertion that Nixon's enemies caused the fall of South Vietnam and the "killing fields" of Cambodia under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I see these as more-or-less defensible. We know that RN didn't mind turning the Democratic Republic of Vietnam into a moonscape; this after all is the man who reportedly said, "We're going to bomb the bastards like they've never been bombed before", and promptly did so during Operation LINEBACKER II. "Nixon's enemies" were able to derail efforts to assist the Republic of Vietnam during the resumed efforts of the DRV to conquer it. Thus, I think it's defensible to lay responsibility for the RVN's fall at the feet of the anti-war majority in the Congress at the time. The Cambodian question is a bit more difficult. I'm not going to get into it deeply, but I agree with Stein. Had RN been in office, I bet the Khmer Rouge would have been on the receiving end of a few Stratofortress sorties. Heck, we were already bombing Cambodia in the 1970s, so it wouldn't have been that hard. Nevertheless, both instances were examples of where the American government was paralyzed either as a direct result of the Watergate process or still recovering from it, with a triumphantly anti-Nixon Congress asserting itself against the prerogatives of the President. I don't believe, based upon my understanding of RN, that he would have let the RVN or the Cambodian people go down in flames had he been either a) not bogged down in the defense of his Administration or b) hamstrung by the anti-war types in the Congress. The bogging and hamstringing pretty much occurred courtesy of the Watergate investigations and the subsequent 1974 election results. I find it hard to believe that a portion of the blame can't be laid at Felt's feet for this. Had he not acted out of what amounts to a spoiled brat mentality, then perhaps Saigon wouldn't be Ho Chi Minh City, and the name "Pol Pot" might be some sort of weird name for a kitchen appliance, instead of a blood-soaked name in history. Mr. Stein closes with a rhetorical flourish that I'd consider worthy of Christopher Hitchens, were he a Nixon loyalist. The whole piece is, I think, a proper salvo against the Cult of Felt that is probably en route to being erected. ---- 1 If you've read Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, you might know why I'm not sure that reductions in the numbers of nuclear weapons are good things. In a nutshell, given the advances in ICBM/SLBM technology, the US/USSR had the ability to start thinking about counterforce strategy, i.e. killing our/their missiles in the silos. When you combine the ability to kill missiles in the silo (a function of accuracy more than yield) with a declining number of targets (through missile reductions) then a crippling first strike becomes plausible. That may, as Clancy's Soviet flag officer put it, increase the probability of a nuclear exchange, even if it's one-sided. That isn't very reassuring. Normally, I tend to be rather flippant about the things---embracing Derbyshire's "I don’t see how you can ever have enough nukes" position---but when push comes to shove, I don't like the bomb.


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