By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments
Though he resigned in disgrace in 1974, former United States President Richard M. Nixon never lost sight of his major goal to be remembered as the one who “turned the era of confrontation into the era of negotiation.” His work for détente with Russia, his leadership to guide negotiations to open up China, and his successful negotiation of anti-ballistic missile treaties are just a sampling of examples of the prowess of one who many might regard as one of the premier statesman of our time.
Nixon’s “Ten Commandments of Statesmanship” (plus two) outline his guiding principles as a statesman. James Hume, author of Nixon’s Ten Commandments of Statecraft and former Nixon Presidential speech writer, noted that Nixon kept these commandments in his center desk drawer in the Oval Office on a laminated sheet of paper. With these commandments readily available, he daily reviewed and reflected on the various issues of his day using these principles to guide him in his measured responses to the vicissitudes–and crises–of leadership.
Pastors and other leaders may benefit by reading through each of these “Ten Commandments (plus two).” The brief commentary accompanying each one is based on James Hume’s commentary as well as my own editorial reflections.
The additional two commandments were added to the original list based on other principles delineated in James Humes’ commentary. Page numbers in parentheses refer to page references in Hume’s book, Nixon’s Ten Commandments of Statecraft ( New York: Scribner, 1997). Italics have been added to those words in the commandments which are not enclosed by quotes (‘ ‘).
Read, reflect, and consider which principles, if any, might be appropriate and/or applicable for use in your Christian ministry of leadership.

Nixon’s Ten Commandments Of Statecraft…
Plus Two

1) Always be prepared to negotiate, but never negotiate without being prepared.
Nixon’s view was that preparation was always essential. “Fact finding,” Nixon said, “is the mother’s milk of negotiation” (p. 45).Lesson: Be a “Boy Scout.” Always Be Prepared!
2) Never be belligerent, but always be firm.
Nixon, a Quaker, recalled the teaching in Proverbs, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” Yes, he also understood “weakness often invites belligerency from exploitative aggressors, while firmness deters them.”
“Nixon,” said Hume, “knew the difference between being firm and belligerent, and in his negotiations he manifested resolve and avoided empty threats of retaliation.” (p. 49)
Lesson: You don’t have to make a public spectacle of yourself to demonstrate the conviction of your resolve.
3) Always remember that covenants should be openly agreed to but privately negotiated.

After reaching his historic agreement with China in 1972, James Hume asked Nixon, “Mr. President, was winning the pact with Red China like wooing a nun?” The president, wrote Hume, laughed and nodded.

Negotiation and getting things done is often a process of sending out a series of calibrated hints, gestures and signals to which China could publicly respond. Such “flirting,” Nixon discovered, is often necessary to create the necessary groundwork for trust, openness, and negotiation

How do you work this those “old” adversaries in your church? Do you try to do it publicly? Or are you willing to patiently take time to break the ice and “woo: them. Remember Nixon’s maxim,

“Public tactics tend to harden the opposition.
Successful diplomatic or business negotiators resist the temptation to grandstand or make public demands
that can be interpreted as threats.” (p. 73)

Lesson: Never publicly condemn or target the opposition. It will kill all efforts toward reconciliation. Keep trying to win them over and “woo” them if necessary. Never, ever give up. If it worked with Communist China, it could work with your antagonists, too!

4) Never seek publicity that would destroy the ability to get results.

Solomon’s wisdom quoted in the Book of Proverbs says, “Pride goeth before destruction.” Conventional wisdom says, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

“Publicity,” Nixon noted, “is a double-edged sword.” It can be used to mobilize support. Yet, if done prematurely, it may alert adversaries and jeopardize a plan’s success.

Lesson: Don’t publicize too much too soon or else you may end up shooting yourself in the foot.
5) Never give up unilaterally what could be used as a bargaining chip. Make your adversaries give something for everything they get.

Jesus said it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” But don’t be too eager to give…or give in. Ben Franklin, perhaps the United States greatest statesman, had this advice, “Only give in on smaller points in order to gain in larger ones.”

Nixon expanded on Franklin’s insight. “Give something for every concession. Don’t think you have to give tit-for-tat. Don’t feel you have to split fifty-fifty. If he gives sixty, give him forty.” (p. 91)

In positions of leadership, Nixon like Benjamin Franklin knew that “when you give advantages away, you don’t win popularity but lose respect.” (p. 104)

Lesson: Just because you’re a Christian and a pastor doesn’t mean you have to give up your convictions, principles and positions just to be popular or to make people happy. Keep your respect and that of your office. Be guarded and careful with what God has given you.
6) Never let your adversary underestimate what you would do in response to a challenge. Never tell Him what you would not do.

When evaluating the Soviet threat to Western Nations Winston Churchill said, “From what I have seen of our Russian friends, there is nothing for which they have more respect than strength and nothing for which they have less respect than weakness.” (p. 105)

Given Russia’s unpredictability during the Vietnam conflict, Nixon learned that in order to keep North Vietnam at the table, he would avoid public positions of what he would or would not do. In not letting others know what his plans were, he gave diminished the threat of Russia’s unpredictability by giving himself the edge of predictability.

Nixon called an opponent’s “unpredictability” their “unvoiced threat.” In response to the Soviet’s unvoiced threats, Nixon responded in kind. The threat was effective, Nixon noted, as long as the power to carry it out is readily apparent. “Such a weapon in statecraft,” said Nixon, “should not be forsworn without a compensatory concessions from the adversary.” (p. 113).

Lesson:  In order to maintain control and to prevent further escalation of conflict, sometimes it may be best not only to not say what you’re going to do, but also to avoid saying what you’re not going to do. When you finally have sufficient strength to carry out the plans, do so in a timely and prudent manner.

7) Always leave your adversary a face-saving line of retreat.

Not too many people remember this but  after Nixon’s inaugural in 1969, Nixon provided Air Force One for Hubert Humphrey return trip home. Though Nixon defeated Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election, Nixon assured Humphrey would leave Washington and the Vice-Presidency with dignity.

Magnanimity, Nixon believed, was not just a gesture. It’s a virtue. One of Nixon’s favorite quotes was “Build a golden bridge of escape for your enemies.” (p. 122). Indeed, face saving is one of the big hidden issues in every negotiation wrote Chester Karrass in his book, Give And Take.

How do you deal with your enemies? Can you be magnanimous…even when you “win”? In victory, can you build them a “golden bridge of escape?” Take this Nixon maxim heart: “those whose self-respect is destroyed will, given a chance, retaliate.” (p. 133).

Lesson: Winning isn’t an excuse to humiliate the loser. Humiliating a loser almost always results in not one, but two losers. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him…heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12).
8) Always carefully distinguish between friends who provide some human rights and enemies who deny all human rights.

Nixon said, “To take a magnifying glass to the faults of our friends and turn a blind eye to the record of our foes is not only wrong but stupid.” (p. 139)

Every leader must distinguish between those who are friendly, but in disagreement, and those who are really the opposition. Punishing our friends because of legalistic perfectionistic demands for conformity to our ways never pays dividends. When we so punish our friends, the result is a loss of influence that our own prestige and influence.

No leader should use human rights violations or a messy personal life as an excuse for not following through on a commitment to any ally. As President Franklin Roosevelt said in response to not cutting trade ties with Dictator Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, “I know he’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.” (p. 147).

Lesson: President Roosevelt stood by his friends, even when he didn’t approve of everything his friends were doing. Sometimes leaders must hate the sin but accept and be loyal to the sinner.

9) Always do at least a much for our friends as our adversaries do for our enemies.

“A friend in need is a friend in deed,” wrote Benjamin Franklin. Nixon’s related maxim was, “My friend’s enemies are my enemies.” (p. 149)

In the Russian threat against Israel in 1973, Nixon had to choose whether to side with Israel or to follow the advise of his cabinet. He chose the unpopular position. He stayed loyal to Israel.

Reflecting on this critical chapter in Israel’s history, Golda Meir later wrote,    “Nixon ordered the US alert on October 14, 1973, because détente or no, he was not about to give in to Soviet blackmail. It was, I think, a dangerous decision, a courageous decision, and a correct decision.” (p. 154).

For Nixon’s unswerving loyalty in the face of staunch opposition from his own administration, Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, in tears of gratitude, said, “President Nixon saved Israel.” (p. 154)

Leaders can’t afford to diminished credibility with their allies and supporters. They must know they can trust and rely on you…even when others don’t support them…or you.

Perhaps author James Humes summarized the lesson of this commandment best when he wrote,

“The reputation of loyalty, whether to a political ally, a friend, or a business client, is credit in the bank. The failure to sustain that loyalty diminishes the credibility of [a leader,] a country or a company” (p. 158).

Lesson: Love your enemies…but always be even more loving and loyal to your allies and friends even if it’s unpopular.

10) Never lose faith.  In just cause faith can move mountains. Faith without strength is futile; but strength without faith is sterile.

In Nixon’s dealings with the USSR, he always believed that “it was not enough for America to be just anti-Communist. He believed that America had to prove the superiority of its democratic ideal.” (p. 163).

Nixon believed the reason the USSR crumbled was because of the sterility of its faith. No matter how strong a people might be, if their faith is sterile, they will collapse.

Lesson: Faith, at all costs, cannot be neglected. It’s the only lasting basis of true lasting, moral strength. Keep faith and keep building on it…lest you die.

Plus Two…

11) “Sometimes leaders are hesitant about executing strong and controversial measures in the belief that a less than full-hearted operation mutes criticism. When you once decide, go with all your might.” (p. 154)

Lesson: Don’t do anything half-heartedly. Either “go for it” or not. To do neither is to guarantee failure.

12) “When saying ‘always’ and ‘never,’ always keep a mental reservation; never foreclose the unique exception; always leave room for maneuver. A president always has yet to be prepared for what he thought he would never do.” (p. 173)

Leaders know that there’s always the potential for an exception, a surprise, or unexpected development. Never say “never.” A leader who is straight-jacketed into dogmatics of his own human planning is diminished in his performance and constrained in his capacity for action.

Leadership is, as Nixon noted, not a predictable “paint by number” proposition in which one just needs to follow the lines. Those who adopt the doctrinaire ways are, what Churchill described as “fanatics.” “The fanatic,” said Churchill,” is one who can’t change his mind and can’t change the subject.” (p. 174)

Nixon’s response was akin to Churchill’s. Quoting Nixon, Hume wrote, that Nixon believed leaders should never wear blinders. “Wearing blinders limits the flexibility of choice and the possibility of finding answer to problems. (p. 174)

“More than once,” Nixon noted,  “the course the leader thought he would never consider when first assuming the help became the only option.” (p. 181).

Lesson: Be like Gamaliel. Always leave room to change, alter, or re-direct actions. If you don’t, the one you may have squeezed out may be God.
Thomas F. Fischer

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