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audio: rumsfeld and nixon - caught on tape
photo of rumsfeld with president nixon Donald Rumsfeld has figured prominently in almost every Republican administration since 1968, when he took on a job advising President Richard Nixon. He raised eyebrows in the Nixon White House with his antiwar views -- and made plenty of enemies with his flashy, brusque style -- but he developed a close, if curious, relationship with the president, who became his mentor. Nixon's infamous White House tapes contain a conversation from 1971 in which the two discuss foreign policy, leadership, war and their hopes for Vietnam's transition from a battleground to a peaceful country. Here are seven interesting excerpts.

| First Excerpt
Rumsfeld is itching to get more experience in foreign policy. Here, Nixon and Rumsfeld discuss possible assignments for him -- including a post-war Vietnam.

listen to the clip

PRESIDENT NIXON: You can't--nobody can really think about the world these days, knowing what's going on, not just Europe, and the Soviet Union, and of course, mentioning China. But that's further down. I would prefer that you think in terms of a visit to Russia than going to Vietnam. Vietnam, I think, there's so much going on, so much is being studied to death in terms of the postwar finance and all that sort of thing. ...(inaudible) I don't really know anything that could add to it at this moment, and it's going reasonably well in terms of their plans ...(inaudible).

Let me see when Kennedy comes back. Kennedy might come back and say that there is a real need, ...(inaudible). I haven't asked him to see whether there is a need for this top American man, on the domestic side there--I'm just thinking of the domestic policy and all. And he said he'd come back and give a recommendation. If he does, you could do that.

RUMSFELD: It would [simultaneous conversation] ...(inaudible) physically be there in say, three or four months--

PRESIDENT NIXON: Oh, or in six months.

RUMSFELD: And take a good crack at it, in the fall.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Yeah, alright.

RUMSFELD: There might be a way to ...(inaudible)

PRESIDENT NIXON: I had heard it, but I had thought of it more in terms of just thinking ...(inaudible), but you ought to be there in terms of the transition of war and peace, and all that sort of thing. We're going to get into it. You see, here's the thing in Vietnam, which you well know, ...(inaudible), would understand. You've got to take your--you've got to do the hard before the easy things come along.

| Second Excerpt
Rumsfeld is eager to oversee Vietnam's transition from war to peace, but Nixon has other ideas, insisting that "the only thing that matters in the world is China, Russia, and Europe."

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PRESIDENT NIXON: You can't realize how quickly it will recede in the public memory, except for those poor devils that have been killed. They're going to forget the damn place. Vietnam will survive, and do reasonably well. It'll be hopping around, ...(inaudible), a lot of other things. And we won't give a damn.

RUMSFELD: Japan, China [simultaneous conversation]

PRESIDENT NIXON: The only thing that matters in the world is China, Russia and Europe. Latin America doesn't matter. Consciously. people don't give one damn about Latin America now. They don't give one damn about--


PRESIDENT NIXON: As far as Africa's concerned, really got to stay away from ...(inaudible). I don't think there's much to be gained in the MidEast.

RUMSFELD: The difficulty ...(inaudible)

PRESIDENT NIXON: -- [simultaneous conversation] they think it should ...(inaudible) purpose to cater to the Jewish vote or something like that. ...(inaudible) and anyway, there's not a thing to do about the MidEast. Europe, yes. But Russia's the place. Let's think about Russia.

| Third Excerpt
Nixon and Rumsfeld go on to discuss political philosophy. Here, the president waxes poetic about the beauty of private enterprise and the evils of dictatorships.

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PRESIDENT NIXON: I'll tell you about dictatorships. I've been to Spain, which is a dictatorship. And I've been to Yugoslavia which is a dictatorship. Good god, Spain looks like Canada when you compare the two. I don't know why, why the ...(inaudible). They sort of ...(inaudible) private enterprises to the god-given ...(inaudible)--

RUMSFELD: It's creative.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Yeah, it creates. It pollutes. It does a lot of other things. Believe me, it's beautiful because it has variety. The great problem of the non-private enterprise is there's no variety. They're all the same. Everybody's the same. Houses are the same. Shops are the same. There is no variety, no beauty, no nothing.

RUMSFELD: That's true.

PRESIDENT NIXON: What is beautiful? What is a rainbow, what makes a rainbow beautiful? If it was all red, it wouldn't be beautiful. It's all the colors.

RUMSFELD: The variety.

| Fourth Excerpt
Nixon is also thinking of Rumsfeld's future in the Cabinet. Rumsfeld would be a good fit in most departments, he says--except Defense.

listen to the clip

PRESIDENT NIXON: You should be thinking down the road. My view is if we can survive, which I think we can, and do the ...(inaudible), I think ...(inaudible) can do, as far as I'm concerned, anything in the Cabinet field, except I wouldn't put you in Defense. I wouldn't put you in State, obviously, because I think those two, at this time, ...(inaudible) Well, you'd have a hell of a lot more experience, but would not appear to be something that you can, or actually, you could be a ...(inaudible). But in any other position, ...(inaudible) HEW, HUD, Transportation, Interior-- you wouldn't want Agriculture?


PRESIDENT NIXON: I bet you wouldn't. Commerce. That'd be a nice one.

RUMSFELD: Hmm-mm. Thinking down the road a little more, I suppose something in the trade area, or you almost touch trade...(inaudible) which is one of the reasons--

PRESIDENT NIXON: Maybe we should have thought of you for the Peterson position.

RUMSFELD: Well, I suggested the possibility of getting involved in that area, or just on that foreign economic council, the International Economic Council, when it was created.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Are you on it?

RUMSFELD: No. But that would be helpful down the road.

PRESIDENT NIXON: If we put you on that.

RUMSFELD: Anything in trade, or business type.

PRESIDENT NIXON: I mean to make a note of that.

| Fifth Excerpt
The key, Nixon tells Rumsfeld, is not to get "bogged down" with the little things. What matters to a superpower, he says, is making the right foreign policy decisions. What good, he asks, are a clean environment and a healthy populace "if you're not around to enjoy it"?

listen to the clip

PRESIDENT NIXON: Let me tell you something. Don't get bogged down in the ...(inaudible), think of your future. That's the game. That's the big game. You know that. You know how you can feel it, Don, when you go out ...(inaudible), or when I go out...(inaudible), I have to sit there and act interested and be excited and all that sort of thing-- and I do care about all those things, I do care. But nobody ...(inaudible) gives a damn, really. Now, ...(inaudible), there's a lot to it. You know, I mean, I know you're frustrated.

RUMSFELD: That's right.

PRESIDENT NIXON: They're sitting there, grinding their teeth, saying Jesus Christ, I wish I was ...(inaudible). I don't mean by that, they all want to be running wars. I don't want to be running wars. But we live in a world, a very exciting world--now the British Ambassador ...(inaudible). I tried to describe ...(inaudible) in Salzburg. I said at the present time, we have the super-hawks on one side who want America to withdraw ...(inaudible) for the purpose of building a super-strength. And I said, fortunately, I said, most of them are with us, because they will support the command chief even though they don't think we ought to be fooling around.

On the other hand, we have a super-dove. I said, they're worse, because they want America to withdraw unto itself, and reduce its strength and concentrate on its cities. And I said, you know, you can have clean air and clean water, beautiful health, suburbs and all the rest of this, but it doesn't make a damned bit of difference if you're not around to enjoy it.

So we live with that kind of a world. It's just, the mantle of leadership is put on this country. We didn't ask for it. But it's here now. It's going to be here for 25 years. And whether we survive this world, what happens in this room, no question about it. And so whoever sits here has got to make those tough choices which says to people that yeah, that maybe sometimes ...(inaudible) is more important than one group. That's a tough son of a bitch. But it's got to be done. ...(inaudible) you've got China ...(inaudible). You've got China, ...(inaudible). You've got the whole European ...(inaudible). You've got Russia, of course. Then, you've got the nations, the continents, the future. Latin America's 50 years away. And Africa's probably 500 years away.

RUMSFELD: But they're there.

NIXON: And so here sits the United States. We're here for a fleeting moment of time, maybe 25 years, maybe that's all. Twenty-five years, when we're going to be dead, what happens here matters. The main thing is we must do the right thing. That's all. That's what this miserable damn war is about. I mean, this is quite ...(inaudible)-- it's getting out of the way, concerned that we don't destroy our ability to do the right thing. And we believe, for all ...(inaudible). And that's why you, looking to your future, at your age, think of the world.

| Sixth Excerpt
Rumsfeld is still worried about getting enough foreign policy experience--especially since he might run for the Senate later on. Of course, that might mean working with the military secretaries--something neither Rumsfeld nor Nixon cherishes.

listen to the clip

RUMSFELD: What I did in the House, Mr. President, is I went on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of Government Operations. Went all over Asia and Europe on investigations, the ...(inaudible) Subcommittee. I went on the Military Operations Subcommittee, went all over on investigations there. I was on the Joint Economic Committee, involved in foreign economic policy. And I picked Japan about six years ago as a country I wanted to become knowledgeable about. And started going over there a couple times a year. To this day, I still, and with Jim--

PRESIDENT NIXON: I have an idea. I have an idea. There might be, even at this time-- you're not, you're not too sensitive about, I trust you're not about where you sit at the table. You really ought to be, you really ought to be in foreign affairs. I wish I had any position. The question ...(inaudible) assistant secretary or something like that. ...(inaudible) That's where the action is. That's where it is.

RUMSFELD: And five years from now, that would give me a--

PRESIDENT NIXON: Oh, enormous.

RUMSFELD: --a credential, a background in terms of running for the Senate in Illinois, or in terms of being involved in the world. It's just a much--it seemed to--it struck me that it may be something say, your ...(inaudible) at this point.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, let's look at the transcript.

RUMSFELD: Of course, those service secretaries are--

PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, they're just ...(inaudible). I like them all as individuals. But the poor guys, they do, they must do important things. ...(inaudible), if Henry weren't such a difficult person, god knows he needs somebody else ...(inaudible). He needs a fresh face, somebody that understands.

| Seventh Excerpt
Nixon worries constantly about his public image. Here, Rumsfeld assures him that he's seen as intellectually curious--and, as Nixon himself notes, at least he doesn't have a "swishy" Northeastern accent.

listen to the clip

PRESIDENT NIXON: I'm basically, of course, from the poorest of the three backgrounds, in terms of what we call this world's goods. But, of course, a Midwestern in terms of background. But I think the difference is not only that I, I really have seen so goddamn much of the world that I must reflect it some, except in my accent. Thank god that hasn't changed. I can't stand that phony Eastern accent.

RUMSFELD: No, I can't either. I know.

PRESIDENT NIXON: You know, those people you know, they run around, put on a little swishy look and so forth. Now, understand, I don't mind that they're swishy, but I just don't want them to show it around me.

RUMSFELD: I think there's something about you that people think you're learning all the time. You're absorbing. And they want that. They want that. They know they are. The good ones know they are. And someone who doesn't seem to be raises questions.

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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