LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Newly released documents show that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delayed telling President Richard Nixon about the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 to keep him from interfering, according to new book excerpted in Vanity Fair on Monday.
“Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” is by presidential historian Robert Dallek, who spent four years reviewing the Nixon administration’s recently opened archives, including 20,000 pages of Kissinger’s telephone transcripts and hundreds of hours of Nixon tapes.
The historian says that when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on October 6, 1973, the Israelis informed Kissinger at 6 a.m., but 3 1/2 hours would pass before he spoke to Nixon.
Dallek, a biographer of Nixon predecessor Lyndon Johnson. also had access to nearly a million pages of national-security records and unpublished parts of the diaries of Nixon’s first chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman.
Dallek says the documents reveal a complex relationship between two men who were both prone to paranoia, insecurity, manipulation, and ruthlessness. They also show Kissinger’s increasing power derived from the deepening incapacity of the president due to the Watergate scandal.
He says Nixon did not believe Kissinger should handle Middle East policy and quotes the former president as saying:
“Anybody who is Jewish cannot handle” Middle Eastern policy. Henry might be “as fair as he can possibly be, he can’t help but be affected by it. Put yourself in his position. Good God ... his people were crucified over there. Jesus Christ! Five million of them popped into big ovens! How the hell’s he feel about all this?”
Kissinger told Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig Jr. that the war had started an hour before informing the president, Dallek says.
Kissinger phoned Haig, who was with the president in Key Biscayne, Florida, saying “I want you to know ... that we are on top of it here.”
He also urged Haig to lie to the media by telling them that “the president was kept informed from 6 a.m. on,” so as not to let it appear that Nixon was out of the loop. When Kissinger finally phoned the president at 9:25 a.m., Nixon asked that Kissinger “indicate you talked to me.”
Dallek also says that according to a telephone transcript, Nixon asked Kissinger on October 7, if there had been any message from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the Middle Eastern hostilities and Kissinger said “Oh, yes, we heard from him.” Then Nixon had to press, asking lamely, “What did he say?”
On October 23, Kissinger and Haig headed a group of national security officials to devise a response to Brezhnev. Without Nixon’s input or knowledge, Dallek says they decided to raise America’s worldwide level of military readiness to Def Con 3, a level reached only once before.
Dallek says transcripts reveal that before they convened, Kissinger asked Haig during a phone conversation if he should wake the president and Haig replied “No.”
Thirty minutes later, in another phone conversation, Haig asked, “Have you talked to the president?” Kissinger replied, “No, I haven‘t. He would just start charging around ... I don’t think we should bother the president.”
Kissinger maintained that putting the country on alert was Nixon’s order. But Dallek reports that there is no document or transcript showing that the president signed off on the action.