A Conversation With the President About Foreign Policy
From left to right: Howard K. Smith of ABC, Eric Sevareid of CBS, John Chancellor of NBC, and President Richard Nixon.
It was television day, as H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s chief of staff wrote in his diaries. A day when President Nixon would lock himself in a room to prepare for an appearance on national television. The goal for this day: get through to the ordinary guy on details of foreign policy.
On July 1, 1970 at 7:00 pm, President Nixon sat down with news network anchors Howard Smith of ABC, John Chancellor of NBC, and Eric Sevareid of CBS to discuss live the challenging topic of foreign policy. It was the first time a President participated in a live interview; Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson participated in similar television programs, but their videos were edited in advance of their airings. He offered his reasoning for such an endeavor, particularly as it coincided with the urgency of America’s foreign policy situation. It would give him ample time to explain to the American people, in the most candid way, why certain decisions were made and why certain decisions would, in the President’s opinion, be most conducive to a successful foreign policy.
By taking the subject of foreign policy, by picking the anchormen of the three networks, by having a chance for a little bit longer answer and a chance to follow up, I thought we could give our television audience a chance really to get to the depths of our foreign policy thinking which you can’t do when you are up there trying to, in 28 minutes, answer 24 times.
Watch the entire conversation below:
President Nixon performed admirably, handling the commentators well and delivering on point thorough and effective points. He answered questions related to the Senate’s recent rescinding of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, his administration’s policy towards achieving a just peace despite such a decision, how Vietnamization would be achieved, and the status of the Cambodian incursion.
RN reaffirmed the American public on the success of the Cambodian campaign, and assured his administration’s adamant position on measured withdrawal of U.S. troops while simultaneously strengthening the South Vietnamese position. It would only be through this strategy that the United States could establish negotiating grounds with the North Vietnamese.
If the enemy feels that we are going to stay there long enough for the South Vietnamese to be strong enough to handle their own defense, then I think they have a real incentive to negotiate, because if they have to negotiate with a strong, vigorous South Vietnamese Government, the deal they can make with them isn’t going to be as good as the deal they might make now.
The conversation, though dominated by discussion regarding Vietnam, turned finally to the Middle East. Asked about approaching peace negotiations in the Middle East, President Nixon had this to say:
The Mideast is important. We all know that 80 percent of Europe’s oil and 90 percent of Japan’s oil comes from the Mideast. We know that the Mideast, this area, this is the gateway to Africa; it’s the gateway to the Mediterranean; it’s the hinge of NATO; and it is also the gateway through the Suez Canal down into the Indian Ocean.
Such a critical territory in the world–volatile and on the verge of full-fledged war–would require the tactful cooperation of the United States and the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union showed interest in the Mediterranean, the United States would have a responsibility to monitor the balance of power in the Middle East.
once the balance of power shifts where Israel is weaker than its neighbors, there will be a war. Therefore, it is in U.S. interests to maintain the balance of power, and we will maintain that balance of power. That is why as the Soviet Union moves in to support the U.A.R., it makes it necessary for the United States to evaluate what the Soviet Union does, and once that balance of power is upset, we will do what is necessary to maintain Israel’s strength vis-a-vis its neighbors, not because we want Israel to be in a position to wage war–that is not it but because that is what will deter its neighbors from attacking it.
On the mutual understanding that the fruits of peace bear infinitely more than the malaise of war, two adversaries with the greatest military might the world has seen would be tasked with the responsibility of stabilizing tension in the world. President Nixon believed this, and he hoped, through his candid conversation, that the American people would also believe it.