Friday, May 28, 2010


It is astonishing that in the midst of a major international crisis the principal American policy makers would be fretting over whether they came across as "tough." Impressing foreign adversaries as firm about U.S. national interests made sense, but there was something less than rational about "coming off like men." It was if the contest with Soviet Russia was a test of Nixon's manhood. Personalizing a great crisis or turning any political debate into a battle over a leader's identity or sense of self is never calculated to serve the national interest. In the end, it is amazing how well Nixon and Kissinger did in making foreign policy in spite of unacknowledged impulses to make decisions partly based on their amour propre.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 346.
Nixon & Kissinger spent the majority of their time at the pinnacle of their power concerned about their identities. Each of them was deeply obsessed with fostering an identity that would highlight their impressive resumes of accomplishment. Their days were shaped around creating images that the world would be completely grateful for and dependent upon. They wanted the world to need them and desired to be seen as experts on a global scale. Each problem they tackled was done with a sense of vanity and expectation that it would prop them up. Because of this, they constantly had to strive in order to maintain the lofty status they believed they had to have. Entire policies and worldwide political decisions were made to reinforce themselves. The problem of course came about when cutting corners and taking advantage of the law became "necessary" for survival. But even before that, the problem could clearly be seen in something as simple as Nixon needing to tame the Soviets in order to feel good about himself. It was if he was still the kid on the playground showing off to impress the cute little ponytail girl.

When our sense of worth and identity is shaped by the things we do and what others think about us, we will never find peace. There is always something more or better to do and there will always be someone who is not impressed by you. What's worse is we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of making decisions not based upon what's best but what feeds our egos. Even if it does turn out right (Nixon's going to China for example), we live with the knowledge that we chose based upon ourselves instead of doing what we thought was best. Everyone has an identity. So the question becomes - what are the forces you are allowing to shape yours?