(HOST) For commentator Barrie Dunsmore, the revelation of the identity of Deep Throat is a reminder of how Watergate shaped several decades of U. S. Mideast policy.
(DUNSMORE) Like virtually all of the national media at the time, I never guessed Deep Throat’s true identity. I was covering Secre- tary of State Henry Kissinger for much of that time and suspected, as did most of my colleagues on Kissinger’s plane, that he might be the Washington Post‘s secret source. Our other candidate was Alexander Haig, a former aide to Kissinger and the White House Chief of Staff in the final days before Nixon’s resignation.
In retrospect, we were right about one of our suspicions – Nixon’s preoccupation with Watergate was a significant factor in what the U. S. actually did in the Mideast in 1973 and ’74. In the early days of the 1973 Middle East War, when the Soviets were toying with sending missiles to help Egypt, Nixon played the hard-line card putting U. S. forces on high alert, bringing nuclear war closer than at any other time, except for the Cuban Missile crisis. No Russian missiles were sent.
But Nixon then turned to diplomacy, sending Kissinger on a series of missions which helped achieve a cease fire and then brought about disengagement agreements, first between Israel and Egypt and then between Israeli and Syria. These were Kissinger’s then famous “Diplomatic Shuttles”, when he flew back and forth from one country to the other, negotiating the disengagement terms – hill by hill, yard by yard and rifle by rifle.
The Israeli-Syrian shuttle lasted an entire month. Kissinger was not amused when we teased him that Nixon wouldn’t let him come home without an agreement. But as Watergate events were reach- ing a climax in May ’74, it’s now apparent that Kissinger was going to stay as long as it took to get the Israeli-Syrian deal.
The Israeli-Syrian agreement resulted in a disengagement of their two armies and in armistice lines, which both sides have honored and are still in effect some 30 years later. On the Egyptian side, President Anwar Sadat was so pleased with the process he invited Nixon to Egypt and restored diplomatic relations with the U. S., broken at the time of the 1967 Mideast war.
Within five years – with Jimmy Carter’s help – Sadat would make a full peace agreement with Israel. As Egypt was the only Arab country capable of seriously threatening Israel, that changed the entire nature of the Middle East dispute and defused a region that had been a potential flash point for World War Three.
So, without the pressures of Watergate, would American policy in the Mideast have been substantially different? I think, yes. Be- cause of Watergate, Nixon desperately wanted a major diplomatic victory to demonstrate his worth. So he was willing to give Kiss- inger far greater latitude than was normal. Ultimately, Kissinger produced not only short term peace; he significantly diminished Soviet influence in the area by establishing the U. S. as the honest broker to be trusted by both Israelis and Arabs.
That honest broker role could be said to be a Watergate legacy – and it’s served this country well.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.