Taking Freedom For Granted
Richard Nixon had been an outspoken anti-Communist all his life. But as the country's thirty-seventh president, he believed that dealing directly with communist nations was the only way to introduce American democracy to the rest of the world. "What happened after I became president," he told a reporter, "was that I had to look at the world as I found it then; and I saw that with the Vietnam War going on, we had to make moves toward the Soviet Union, toward China, and others as well, in order to build for the future."
In 1972 Nixon made a historic presidential visit to China and met with the Communist leaders there. He also traveled to Moscow, the first president ever to do so. A groundbreaking nuclear arms control agreement would follow. "The United States could exist as an island of freedom in a world controlled by either Soviet or Soviet-leaning governments, but it would not be a very healthy, or even a safe world to live in," he said.
But overshadowing all his efforts abroad was the war in Vietnam. Believing that military pressure would speed up the peace process, Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia and Laos, without telling Congress. Although he would eventually bring the Vietnam War to an end, his secretive style of leadership would be his undoing. "We were obsessed with secrecy," he later admitted. "As a matter of fact I was paranoiac or almost a basket case with regard to secrecy."