Ten Commandments of Statecraft: on Foreign Policy

Nixon’s Ten Commandments of Statecraft

    A President needs a global view, a sense of proportion and a keen sense of the possible. If I could carve ten rules into the wall of the Oval Office for my successors in the dangerous years ahead, they would be these:
  1. Always be prepared to negotiate, but never negotiate without being prepared
  2. Never be belligerent, but always be firm
  3. Always remember that covenants should be openly agreed to but privately negotiated
  4. Never seek publicity that would destroy the ability to get results
  5. Never give up unilaterally what could be used as a bargaining chip
  6. Never let your adversary underestimate what you would do in response to a challenge
  7. Always leave your adversary a face-saving line of retreat
  8. Distinguish between friends who provide some human rights and enemies who deny all human rights
  9. Do at least as much for our friends as our adversaries do for our enemies
  10. Never lose faith. Faith without strength is futile, but strength without faith is streile.
Source: Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes, p. 9-13 Jul 2, 1997

Recommended quarantine of Cuba in 1960

When Vice President Nixon met Premier Fidel Castro during his 1st visit to the US in April, 1957, Nixon had written that Castro "was either incredibly na‹ve about Communism or under Communist discipline." Such a view was, at that time, opposed by the Latin American bureau of the State Department. The official State Department line was to "try to get along with Castro and understand him."

By early 1960, Nixon recommended economic, political, and diplomatic isolation of Cuba. He added that "the time for patience was past," and that we should move vigorously in full association of our sister Latin American republics "to eradicate this cancer" in our hemisphere and "to prevent further Soviet penetration." "The Administration," said Nixon, was planning "a number of steps" and "will very promptly take the strongest possible economic measures to counter the economic banditry being practiced by this regime against our citizens."

Source: Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes, p. 76-7 Jul 2, 1997

1972 "Triangularization": USSR vs. USA vs. mainland China

Nixon's strategy of "triangularization" was aimed at reshaping a bipolar world into a 3-sided one, led by the Soviet Union, the US, and mainland China. Before this could happen, Nixon needed to establish a diplomatic office in Beijing.

Of course, he could have followed the example of the British and French, who recognized Red China and abandoned the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan. But such a move would mean canceling our defense treaties with Taiwan and implicitly endorsing Red China's claim to the island.

The genius of Nixon's negotiations enabled him to have his cake and eat it too. That is, he achieved "triangularization" without abandonment of US military support of Taiwan. With the carefully crafted phrases, "one China" and "peaceful resolution," Nixon gained a liaison office in Beijing. George Bush would be the 1st liaison officer of that mission in Beijing. This access to the People's Republic was a success that exceeded Nixon's greatest hopes.

Source: Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes, p. 92-3 Jul 2, 1997

1973: Egypt's Sadat represents future voice for moderation

The Israeli army had surrounded Egypt's 25,000-man Third Army Corps. Its demise would spell the destruction of Sadat. The Third Army was the pride of the Egyptian forces boasting the professional elite of their military. At the beginning of the invasion on October 7, 1973, the Egyptian army had crossed the southern end of the Suez Canal and gained a foothold about 10 miles wide and 30 miles long in the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula, which Egypt had lost to Israel in the 1967 war.

Nixon believed that Sadat represented a future voice for moderation and restraint in the volatile Middle East. He prevented Israel from annihilating Sadat's army in order to preserve his leadership and thus the hope of a constructive peace settlement at a later time. For Sadat, the preservation of his army was a "face-saving line of retreat." But for the world, it was the foundation for the Egyptian-Israeli accord a few years later.

Source: Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes, p.123-5 Jul 2, 1997

Economic liberty mounts pressure to open up China

Nixon counseled that first, we should make a comparison between the leader of a friendly country and the alternative. Examples included South Vietnam and North Vietnam, South Korea and North Korea, Iran (under the Shah) and Iraq. Would Ho Chi Minh's Communist regime be as "democratic" as the government of President Thieu, which tolerated free elections, religious freedom, and the right of opposition journals to operate? Would the North Korean psychopath Sung offer a more open society than President Park?

Second, Nixon was implicitly arguing that a free market economy, which both South Vietnam and South Korea were encouraging, was a basic freedom totalitarian Marxism did not recognize. It was Nixon's belief that economic liberty, even if under autocratic governments, generated mounting pressure to open up society. In other words, if economic freedom comes, it is usually soon followed by political freedom. Nixon would cite Chile, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as South Korea, as evidence.

Source: Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes, p.134 Jul 2, 1997

  • The above quotations are from Nixon's Ten Commandments of Statecraft, by James Humes.
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