91. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Special Assistant (Safire)1

“The most significant areas of the world in the immediate future are like five fingers of the hand. Other areas like Africa and Latin America are 50 years away. But here are the five fingers: (The President held up his hand and ticked them off.) First the thumb, the US, still the strongest; next Western Europe and, boy, that Common Market is coming along fast; third, the Soviet Union; fourth, China; fifth, Japan.

“With that kind of world, the United States of America is now entering a very interesting period.

“Our vision is obscured by our obsession with the war in Vietnam. God knows, that war will be over quite soon. If we had such control over our other problems, it would all be easy.

“We will have a live-and-let-live situation with the Soviet Union; we will have a strong ally in Western Europe, but not doing much for its own defense; we will have a competing China, no longer isolated; and we will have a growing Japan.

“Now, the US looks at low labor rates around the world and its immediate reaction is, ‘Boy, we better put up some quotas.’ Congressional pressure along these lines is enormous. But the US cannot build a fence around itself and expect to survive as a great nation. If we did, the rest of the world, still having to make it, would out-produce us. Soon, the US would not be #1, and there are areas in which I am for the US being #1.

“Here’s the irony: the success of US diplomacy will lead to greater dangers and opportunities economically.

“This morning, in the Cabinet meeting, Secretary Rogers saw a period of five to ten years from now when 75% of our foreign policy would be economics. We either have to come to the mark, or we will be #2 economically. If that should happen, something will go out of the American spirit. That’s why I don’t like to give up on the SST, and that’s why we are ending the war the way we are. Difficult as it is, that’s the easiest thing we have to do.

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“It’s terribly important we be #1 economically because otherwise we can’t be #1 diplomatically or militarily. You hear a lot of stuff around that the US is not to be trusted with power. You hear that our Presidents lie us into wars—though I think, when all the facts come out, we will have a better view. You hear that the US is imperialistic and aggressive. But we build up our enemies after wars, and we ask for not one acre. What will we get for ourselves out of Vietnam? Nothing.

“As distinguished from other great powers throughout civilization, we did not ask for our position of power, nor did we even have a policy for acquiring the power. It fell into our lap.

“For the next quarter century, let us see to it that we do play this role. We care when there is an earthquake in Peru or a famine in India. Never has a nation given more and gotten less.

“I have been more melodramatic than I meant to be, but if the moment comes when we are not competitive, our standard of living will go down, inflation will go up, and something will go out of the American spirit.

“This would diminish the chances for a generation of peace. The future of the economy is in our hands—and also the future of peace.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memoranda for the President, Box 85, May 2-August 15, 1971. No classification marking. The memorandum is Safire’s record of the President’s comments before a meeting of the President’s Commission on Productivity, which met between 10:07 and 10:47 a.m. in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)