The Odd Couple
NIXON AND KISSINGER:Partners in Power.By Robert Dallek.HarperCollins. 740 pp. $32.50
The cover of this mammoth book depicts the odd couple in what seems a characteristic pose. Two middle-aged men in suits and proper leather shoes are walking up a path toward the White House. Their backs are to the camera. Richard Nixon is on the right, in trousers a little too short for him. He strides stiffly, his head lowered and his hands clenched behind a back that appears rigid with tension. On the left, both deferential and tutorial, Henry Kissinger seems relaxed as he bends slightly toward his president, making some long-forgotten point. They could almost be friends, but there is a distance between them, a palpable lack of intimacy.
When apart and in private, they could be cruel about each other. My “Jew boy,” Nixon called his gifted national security adviser. According to presidential historian Robert Dallek, Nixon “accurately suspected that Kissinger saw himself as a superior intellect manipulating a malleable president.” Kissinger in turn called Nixon “that maniac” or “our drunken friend” or “the meatball mind.” Of his trials during his first year in the Nixon White House, Kissinger confided to British ambassador John Freeman, with whom he was far more candid about American foreign policy than he ever was with the State Department (at least until he became secretary of state), “I have never met such a gang of self-seeking bastards in my life. . . . I used to find the Kennedy people unattractively narcissistic, but they were idealists. These people are real heels.”