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Oct 20, 2011

R. Nixon, Diplomatic Historian

This clip comes from a recently-released 1 March 1973 meeting between Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Simcha Dinitz about Middle Eastern affairs. In this section, the President functions as an amateur diplomatic historian, offering his perspective on the tension between realism and idealism in US foreign policy, and how that pattern applied to Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles Treaty.

(A note: the overall quality of the recording sometimes isn’t that great.)

President Nixon: Well, we work toward the ideal, but we have to work for it pragmatically. That’s really what it comes down to.


President Nixon: Woodrow Wilson, you know . . . He was probably the most religious, idealistic man ever to ever sit in this office. But before it all, when it finally came down to it—he had great impact. He brought us into the war, the Fourteen Points—again, when he goes over to the Versailles Conference, the pragmatists of Europe gobbled him up in about two bites.

Prime Minister Golda Meir: Yes.

President Nixon: And the world was very unsafe as a result, correct?

As a matter of fact, I think if the Versailles Treaty had come out differently, that you’d never [have] had a Hitler. You know? You really look what produced that fella—it had to start with Versailles. It had to start with Versailles. You can’t take a . . .

If, for example, the attitude toward the Germans after World War I had been the attitude that we took after World War II, there might have been a different situation.

Henry Kissinger: But I think Versailles was either too soft or too tough. [Unclear cross-talk.]

President Nixon: I thought it was too tough, actually.

Kissinger: But it was . . . It . . . It created the possibility of humiliating the Germans, while not [unclear] them enough.

President Nixon: You can’t do that. If you’re going to humiliate somebody, you must destroy him. Otherwise, he’s going to be able to destroy you. You never strike the king unless you kill him.

Kissinger: That’s true. [Unclear] France, which had been demoralized by the war, because Russia couldn’t come to . . . So Versailles was a disaster.

President Nixon: That’s right.

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