'One of the nastiest to grace the White House'

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The Independent Online
WORLD leaders rallied round yesterday to laud Richard Nixon's foreign-policy achievements but drew a discreet veil over the sordid aspects of his domestic political career.

He was widely praised for bringing China into the community of nations, achieving the Helsinki Agreement in Europe, and helping to lay the ground for peace in the Middle East.

Watergate, his blanket bombing campaigns in South Vietnam and Cambodia, and his inglorious role in the McCarthy era were avoided.

Leading historians, however, were less generous in their analysis. While recognising Nixon's abilities they judge him a Machiavellian politician whose personal flaws caused his downfall.

John Major: 'Richard Nixon will be remembered for his tireless work for a better understanding between East and West. He was a leading architect of the process which led to the end of the Cold War and his judgment on international affairs was widely respected.'

President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng of China: Nixon was 'a politician with strategic long-term vision and political courage (who) . . . opened the door for a new era in Sino-American relations.'

The Russian President, Boris Yeltsin: he was 'one of the greatest politicians'.

Henry Kissinger, his former Secretary of State: Nixon's grasp of foreign policy was 'as firm a few weeks before his death as it had ever been . . . He patiently studied the world as it was and put his ideas in the service of his analysis.'

Yitshak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister: Israel had lost a friend who supported his country in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Morihiro Hosokawa, the Japanese Prime Minister: praised Nixon's efforts to improve post-Second World War relations.

The Vietnam government: 'May he rest in peace.'

Sir Edward Heath: 'His policies were right in every way. He supported us over Europe. He appreciated we were not going to war or join the war in Vietnam. He appreciated that in the Yom Kippur war we could not offer America facilities because we were neutral.'

Eric Hobsbawm, emeritus professor of economic and social history at the University of London: 'He was an able president and probably the nastiest man to become president since the war.

'He made his reputation as a witch-hunter. He was the only one of the witch-hunters of the 1950s who actually was a serious politician.

'When he got to the top he was an able president particularly in international affairs. But he remained a nasty man to the end.' Tariq Ali, leading anti-Vietnam activist: 'I regard him basically as a war criminal. If the Nuremberg laws had been applied to the USA for what they did to Vietnam and Cambodia, Nixon should have been in the dock with Kissinger.' Professor Donald Cameron Watt, emeritus professor of international history at the London School of Economics: 'On the one hand, there is the wicked Richard Nixon who harassed the fellow travellers, who nailed Alger Hiss, who did Eisenhower's dirty work for him in the 1952 campaign, and who finally bowed out after defeat in the 1960 election and then, after failing to become Governor of California, saying you won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more.

'Then you have the Richard Nixon who got himself elected by a hair's-breadth in 1968 and completely revolutionsed US foreign policy with the aid of Henry Kissinger.

'And then you have the Nixon of Watergate.'

Ben Pimlott, professor of politics and contemporary history, Birkbeck College, London: 'He was a compulsive politico in some ways of the worst kind. He began as a totally opportunistic, impoverished, up-by-the-bootstraps, rather marginal political character whose political career opened with a smell of corruption about it. The whole McCarthyite period was one in which he was heavily involved, (as a) totally unscrupulous, exploiter of the witch-hunt and the national obsession and paranoia.

'All the stories about the Nixon White House revolve ultimately around his inability to relate to people properly. Ultimately it was his inability to see right from wrong and exercise sound judgement.

'Nixon brought Kissinger in, who was probably the most intelligent foreign-policy analyst that the Americans have produced in the last 30 to 40 years. 'The bottom line is that he was a criminal, he broke the law and it is indeed quite extraordinary that he should be a sort of elder-statesman figure.'

Robin Blackburn, editor of New Left Review, said: 'He mainly stood for a species of cosummate demagogy and political corruption.

(Photograph omitted)