Egypt's Anwar Sadat once told Richard M. Nixon that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin "is crazy . . . crazy like a fox." David Ben-Gurion helped Nixon's daughter Tricia with her seventh-grade homework. Soviet Premier Leonid I. Brezhnev traveled to summit meetings with an attractive masseuse who wore Arpege perfume.
Former president Nixon shares these gems and others in a gossipy, candid new book titled "Leaders," a collection of musings on the greats and near-greats he has known in more than 30 years in politics. He discusses the attributes of a great leader, noting, "You cannot really appreciate the heights unless you have also experienced the depths" of public life.
The 348-page book is almost an essay on the need for leaders to be tough above all, at least if they are men.
"Those who are in fact gentle are seldom good at wielding power," Nixon wrote.
A leader, in his view, must have "the willingness to risk all to gain all. You must not be afraid to lose." Even in condemning former Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev as a cold totalitarian, Nixon admitted "grudging respect for his effective exercise of raw power."
"During his harangues he came toe-to-toe with me and poked me in the ribs with his index finger," Nixon wrote. "Many of the things he said in his flashes of rage would have been sufficient to provoke a declaration of war in the age of polite diplomacy. In our age they only made the translator blush."
In one such exchange, during Nixon's 1959 visit to Moscow, Khrushchev attacked a recent congressional resolution on satellite nations as "fresh horse s---, and nothing smells worse than that." In reply, Nixon recalled, he said the chairman was wrong. "There is something that smells worse than horse s---, and that is pig s---."
Even Chinese Premier Chou En-lai, who never lost his poise, was capable of ruthlessness, Nixon observed. "He told me that Lin Piao's plane had been headed toward the Soviet Union but had disappeared en route. He added that they had not been able to find it since. And then he just smiled."
But at least one tough woman was not Nixon's idea of leadership. Mao Tse-tung's fourth wife, Jiang Qing, "was tough, humorless, totally unfeminine, the ideal prototype of the sexless, fanantical communist woman," he wrote. "I have never met a more cold, graceless person."
Israel's Golda Meir, he continued, was "an elemental force of nature" who closed a telephone conversation during the height of Watergate news in 1973 with, "Take care of yourself and get plenty of rest."
Like himself, Nixon observed, many world leaders reserved time to themselves to walk alone and think, among them, Egypt's Sadat. Reacting to the Israeli strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor last year, Nixon opined to Sadat that Begin "had acted irresponsibly and erratically. He Sadat blurted out, 'Yes, he is crazy.' But then he Sadat added, 'He is also probably crazy like a fox.' "
Sadat, according to Nixon, added that he liked dealing with Begin and was hopeful for the future of the Mideast in the wake of Ronald Reagan's election as president. Begin, Sadat said, "is very tough and will be able to make a deal that others may not be able to make. Israel needs a deal, and I am confident that between Begin, Reagan and myself, we will be able to make greater, more lasting progress than was made during the Carter administration," Nixon wrote.
Ben Gurion, visiting the Nixons in 1959, gave Tricia Nixon a half-hour lecture on Judaism, and "Tricia got an 'A' on her exam," Nixon recalled.
French President Charles DeGaulle was "a facade but not a false one . . . like the ornamentation on a great cathedral, rather than the flimsy pretense of a Hollywood prop with nothing behind it," Nixon wrote. He called DeGaulle "the first consummate media figure," who "empathized with me because he saw me as another who knew what it was to be 'in the wilderness' " of politics.
Mao was another who felt that tie, Nixon continued. " 'I like rightists,' " he quoted Mao as saying when the two met in 1972. " 'In America, at least at this time, those on the right can do what those on the left can only talk about.' " Nixon said Mao's rooms were awash in books, while "the adjectives 'unkempt' and 'sloppy' would not overstate his appearance."
Brezhnev, however, is a well-tailored man who likes luxury cars and hunting, and brought "a very attractive, quite full-figured young woman" to Camp David in 1973 as his masseuse, Nixon wrote. "As we shook hands, I recognized the scent she was wearing. It was Arpege . . . which happens to be Mrs. Nixon's favorite."
Nixon said he developed a strong personal relationship with Brezhnev, whom he called "an emotional man, particularly about death in war." Most great world leaders were "deep-down, very emotional," Nixon wrote, and often used that to create a personal myth, appealing to people on an emotional level.
One of the best, he said, was Winston Churchill, "the largest human being of our time." When Nixon, then 41, remarked to Churchill in 1954 that he tended to get seasick, Churchill said, "Young man, don't worry. As you get older, you'll outgrow it."
Nixon got lots of advice on Vietnam. He recalled that Churchill told him in 1954 that the French had made "a fatal mistake" in Indochina when "they made the decision to go in, but not to go all-out." DeGaulle advised presidential candidate Nixon in 1967 "that I should advocate an early end to the war on the best possible terms."
DeGaulle told him that Soviet leader Alexei N. Kosygin, lamenting the war, had "smashed his fist into the palm of his other hand and said, 'You don't know how much trouble this war in Southeast Asia causes in the Russian budget.' "
But Nixon rejected this advice. As early as 1953, when he asked Indonesian leader Sukarno what he should do in Vietnam, the sternly anticommunist Sukarno said, "Nothing. You have spoiled that by not supporting Ho Chi Minh."
Nixon spent several pages analyzing the fall of the shah of Iran, blaming part of it on television. "The rebels, because they shouted the rhetoric of the left, were romanticized by the news media, particularly television, and the Ayatollah Khomeini played the networks for patsies," Nixon wrote. He said television "cast the Iranian hostage crisis so exclusively in soap-opera terms that people eventually accepted a national display of yellow ribbons as a substitute for national policy."
The shah, Nixon wrote, was "not ruthless enough in quashing those who threatened his nation's stability. A well-timed crackdown on his enemies rather than the ill-advised concessions he made to them as the crisis unfolded would have been the best thing the shah could have done to save Iran from the darkness that has engulfed it."
Nixon has clearly retained his jaundiced view of the media, and wrote that its impact on politics has been enormous. "Today the chances of receiving much approval or esteem for accomplishments in public life are slim. The risks of glaring invasions of privacy are much greater, and the kinds of sacrifices and disclosures required for entering politics in the first place have simply become prohibitive for many," he wrote.
He added, "I sometimes wonder whether the great originals like Churchill or DeGaulle would be able to survive the constant barrage of trivial coverage our political leaders are subjected to today."