NIXON, Richard M. (1913-1994), President. Autograph letter signed ("Richard Nixon"), as former president, to George Neavoll, Woodcliff Lake, N.J., 26 March 1993. 1 page, 4to, personal stationery, with original envelope.
"IT IS A LEADER'S RESPONSIBILITY NOT JUST TO FOLLOW PUBLIC OPINION BUT TO LEAD IT"--NIXON ON CLINTON, YELTSIN AND "DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA"
THE COMEBACK COMPLETE. A fine and important autograph letter showing Nixon in his favorite role as world statesman, dispensing sound advice on the importance of aiding the democratic government of Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The former President is responding to an appreciative editorial in the Portland Press Herald, in which the editorial page editor George Neavoll praised Nixon for his constructive support of the Clinton administration's Russian policy. "Apart from your very generous comments with regard to my role," Nixon writes, "I thought your editorials on support for democratic Russia were among the best I have seen on this subject. President Clinton deserves great credit for making a gutsy call on this issue. Any foreign aid--including aid to Russia is politically unpopular. But he recognizes that it is a leader's responsibility not just to follow public opinion but to lead it. Even with our help, Yeltsin may fail. Without our help he will certainly fail. He deserves our help not because we like him personally but because he stands for our values."
This letter marks not only an important event in American foreign policy, but the culminating act of Nixon's long effort at rehabilitating his reputation after resigning the presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in August 1974. Through a series of books on foreign policy and carefully rationed public appearances, Nixon slowly worked himself back into political respectability. He took his boldest step during the 1992 presidential campaign when he circulated a memo with the vaguely threatening title of "Who Lost Russia?" Nixon, after all, first came to prominence in the late 1940s bashing the Truman administration for "letting China go communist." After Clinton's election Nixon sent signals through intermediaries about his interest in meeting the new President to discuss Russia. Reportedly, First Lady Hillary Clinton was adamantly opposed and rebuffed these overtures.
But Nixon kept pressing his views. On 5 March 1993--just weeks before a Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Vancouver--he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times stressing the importance of America and the G7 nations aiding Russia. Clinton's political advisors urged him to grant Nixon an audience. It would, they argued, bolster the administration's Russian policy on Capitol Hill, and it would also prevent Nixon from (as one aide colorfully put it) "coming back and kicking you in the teeth" if things in Russia went downhill. Clinton agreed and on 8 March 1993, using the rear entrance to avoid cameras, Richard Nixon returned to the White House. The meeting with Clinton was a great success, lasting more than an hour. "God what a comeback!" said Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose. "Who'd have believed it possible?" Nixon's great sense of personal satisfaction is evident in this rich, historically significant letter.