The world was blessed, that a US president should take so much interest in foreign policy, and stake his posterity on it. The world was cursed, that Nixon was that president, and he squandered so much of his foreign policy on political point-scoring.
From my reading:
- His biggest legacy was opening up China, and he knew it. The rest of his legacy… mpf.
- He was stuck with Vietnam, and it was a quagmire: the more frantically he tried to pull himself out (including by invading several other countries, threatening to drop the big one, and dropping all sorts of ordnance anyway), the more stuck he got. Long-range effect: the US deterrent floundered, and Cambodia succumbed with nary a word. But it’s not clear how that outcome could have been averted anyway.
- The Detente with the Soviet Union was more a gesture than a real breakthrough, and the SALT treaties achieved little—especially because Nixon kept undermining Gerard Smith, the chief negotiator who was trying to do his job. But at least things didn’t escalate when they could have. Some have argued that Detente artificially extended the lifetime of the Soviet Union by a decade; but the Soviet Union’s demise would have been much messier a decade earlier.
- Allende may or may not have been overthrown anyway without the US’ connivance, and the massacres in Bangladesh weren’t incited by Nixon personally. But the insensitivity with which Nixon & Kissinger handled Chile, Bangladesh, and any number of other crises squandered the moral authority the US had (and it did have it back then).
- Nixon was out to lunch by the time of the Yom Kippur War, because of Watergate: Kissinger had to handle it on his own. Kissinger, it has not be said, did as best as he could in the circumstances, and whatever mess there has been in Israel before and since can’t be laid at Kissinger’s feet: it long predates him.