In this morning's New York Times Scott Shane has written a preview of Robert Dallek's new book (due out next week with excerpts currently available for reading in Vanity Fair), Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. There are so many ways in which this history can be read in the light of our present situation (not to mention my favorite how-did-we-get-into-this-mess question) that the book may best be reviewed as an extend (700-page) reflection on the 74th quatrain of Fitzgerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (whose first line is quoted above). Given my own reluctance to ever use the word "dignity" in a sentence about Nixon, I feel it is best to begin with the "Imus connection." We already know the abundance of expletive in Nixon's spoken utterances (making him perhaps a mentor for the current Vice President), just as we already know his use of the epithet "my Jew boy" in his reference to Kissinger; but Dallek appears to have elevated the latter into "a sadistic pleasure in flaunting his casual anti-Semitism before his Jewish national security adviser" (Shane's text). There are any number of ways in which Imus' recent behavior can be described; but I would not include "sadistic" among them (nor to I recall encountering that particular adjective in any of the many media accounts). (Need it be mentioned that, back in those days, the only connotation of "Ho" was of the formidable opponent we had encountered in North Vietnam.) Kissinger, of course, could give as good as he got. While he may not have done this to Nixon's face, Shane reports on discovering in Dallek's text incidents of "Mr. Kissinger describing his boss to aides and reporters as 'that madman,' 'our drunken friend' and 'the meatball mind.'"
Far more serious is the way in which Shane reads Dallek as commentary on our current "mess" in Iraq:
One pattern in particular seems relevant, he said: the reassurances that Nixon and Mr. Kissinger continually offered each other between 1969 and 1973 about the likely success of each of their moves in Vietnam, from the incursion into Cambodia to the prospects for “Vietnamization,” the gradual shift of the burden of combat from American to South Vietnamese troops.
With them, as with other presidents he has studied, “there’s a degree of autointoxication,” Mr. Dallek said.
“They convince themselves of what they want to believe,” he continued. He said he sensed the same phenomenon in the Bush administration and what he called the plan for “Iraqization” to reduce American involvement in the current war.
I particularly like that term "autointoxication," perhaps because it reflects on the recent HBO series on addiction. Now that the media has gotten beyond acting as cheerleaders for both the White House and the war it created for us, we can find no end to the examples of decision making by an inner circle extremely adept at convincing themselves of what they wanted to believe; and the metaphor of intoxication seems particularly appropriate when the "decider" for that inner circle had to wrestle with his own demons of alcoholism. Meanwhile, we continue to be haunted by the ghost of Marx, not for his Communist Manifesto but for his assertion that, when history repeats itself, what first is tragedy returns as farce. We may have finally encountered the ultimate counterexample to this proposition, since this time tragedy seems to have returned as an even greater tragedy.