Sunday, June 24, 2012

the dark continuum of watergate

consortiumnews | The 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in has brought reflections on the scandal’s larger meaning, but Official Washington still misses the connection to perhaps Richard Nixon’s dirtiest trick, the torpedoing of Vietnam peace talks that could have ended the war four years earlier, Rober Parry reports.

The origins of the Watergate scandal trace back to President Richard Nixon’s frantic pursuit of a secret file containing evidence that his 1968 election campaign team sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s peace negotiations on the Vietnam War, a search that led Nixon to create his infamous “plumbers” unit and to order a pre-Watergate break-in at the Brookings Institution.

Indeed, the first transcript in Stanley I. Kutler’s Abuse of Power, a book of Nixon’s recorded White House conversations relating to Watergate, is of an Oval Office conversation on June 17, 1971, in which Nixon orders his subordinates to break into Brookings because he believes the 1968 file might be in a safe at the centrist Washington think tank.

Unknown to Nixon, however, President Lyndon Johnson had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to take the file out of the White House before Nixon was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1969. Rostow labeled it “The ‘X’ Envelope” and kept it until after Johnson’s death in 1973 when Rostow turned it over to the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, with instructions to keep it secret for decades.

Yet, this connection between Nixon’s 1968 gambit and the Watergate scandal four years later has been largely overlooked by journalists and scholars. They mostly have downplayed evidence of the Nixon campaign’s derailing of the 1968 peace negotiations while glorifying the media’s role in uncovering Nixon’s cover-up of his re-election campaign’s spying on Democrats in 1972.

One of the Washington press corps’ most misguided sayings – that “the cover-up is worse than the crime” – derived from the failure to understand the full scope of Nixon’s crimes of state.

Similarly, there has been a tendency to shy away from a thorough recounting of a series of Republican scandals, beginning with the peace talk sabotage in 1968 and extending through similar scandals implicating Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – in the 1980 interference of President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran, drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels, and the Iran-Contra Affair – and reaching into the era of George W. Bush, including his Florida election theft in 2000, his use of torture in the “war on terror” and his aggressive war (under false pretenses) against Iraq.

In all these cases, Official Washington has chosen to look forward, not backward. The one major exception to that rule was Watergate, which is again drawing major attention around the 40th anniversary of the botched break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972.