The Adviser

excerpted from the book


Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia

by William Shawcross

Simon and Schuster, 1979

The Adviser


... [Henry] Kissinger's remarkable career has frequently been described since he came to general attention in 1969: a Bavarian-Jewish childhood, flight from the Nazis at age fifteen, escape from the Bronx into Army Counterintelligence during World War II, return to Germany to administer a district in Hesse, Government School at Harvard, academic success, and control of the Harvard International Seminar at which young high-fliers from around the world debated. Denied tenure at Harvard, he moved to two other citadels of the Establishment, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. He gained academic respectability with an interesting and revealing work on Metternich and Castlereagh, and unexpected fame with a treatise that rejected the Dulles doctrine of "massive retaliation" in favor of "limited nuclear war." Another book, more work for Rockefeller, a short unhappy stint on McGeorge Bundy's National Security Council, back to Harvard, adviser to Rockefeller in the 1964 Republican campaign, a fourth book, on the Atlantic Alliance, then off with Rockefeller again on the 1968 Presidential campaign around the nation-and an invitation from President-elect Richard Nixon to become his National Security Assistant.

Why Kissinger should have been so swift to reverse his well-publicized judgment in 1968 that Nixon was "unfit to be President" is clear enough. It is more rewarding to examine what Nixon saw in him. Whatever contempt Kissinger displayed for Nixon before he worked for him and- behind his back-in the White House, the terms in which they had both always seen the world and the manner in which they perceived their own roles were remarkably similar.

Nixon had risen from the House to the Senate to the Vice-Presidency on anti-Communism. Kissinger was not among the academics who questioned the conventions of the Cold War. His International Seminar at Harvard was an anti-Soviet forum in which the leaders of tomorrow could articulate and refine the notions of Iron Curtain, containment, and rollback. Nixon favored the use of American bombers to rescue the French at Dien Bien Phu and asserted that "tactical atomic explosives are now conventional and will be used against the targets of any aggressive force." It was Kissinger's book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy which made the notion of limited nuclear war respectable. He advanced the premise that "the problem is to apply graduated amounts of destruction for limited objectives and also to permit the necessary breathing spaces for political contacts." The idea that nuclear war could be controlled by good sense was novel and optimistic for a man who also believed that statesmen must have the freedom to act with "credible irrationality." But it coincided with the realization at the end of the fifties that the doctrine of massive retaliation was inhibiting.

Kissinger's political assessments also fitted the times. He argued that the Communists simply exploited Americans' desire for peace and fear of all-out nuclear war by playing with skill their "strategy of ambiguity"- alternating force, as in Hungary, subtle infiltration, as in the Middle East, and "peaceful coexistence." He dismissed the hundreds of thousands who marched to ban the bomb as tools of Soviet propaganda. Moscow's intent was "to undermine the will to use it by a world-wide campaign against the horrors of nuclear warfare. [Their campaign was a] tour de force, masterful in its comprehension of psychological factors, brutal in its consistency, and ruthless in its sense of direction. With cold-blooded effrontery, as if no version of reality other than its own were even conceivable, through all the media and organizations at its disposal, the Kremlin . . ." pursued its ends.

By the beginning of the sixties, Kissinger had exchanged limited nuclear war for limited conventional war, a notion that was finding support within the Kennedy White House. Even so, he did not last long as a consultant on Kennedy's National Security Council, and it was said by those who imagined that it reflected poorly on him that his style was not Camelot. A story went around that when Kissinger decided to call a press conference to announce his resignation, Kennedy's press aide, Pierre Salinger, remarked, "I didn't know he was a consultant in the first place." The experience must have shown him how the national security adviser can protect a President from others' views, and how essential access is to influence.

In The Necessity for Choice, Kissinger endorsed the idea that a missile gap existed between the United States and the USSR. He also developed the theme expressed in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, that leadership is only for the very exceptional and that one of its prices is to be alone and misunderstood by the masses and by most politicians whose vision is narrowed by their "preoccupation with domestic development." Kissinger later insisted that any statesman who "wish[ed] to affect events must be opportunistic to some extent," and he suggested that "the real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mould reality in the light of their purposes."

His writings might suggest that Kissinger was more moved by the statesman's freedom of action than by the needs and dynamics of democratic restraint. It has been said that his early experience of the Weimar republic and then fascism impressed him with the irreducible will and purpose of totalitarianism. Certainly he appeared to believe that democracy seemed an ineffective David against dictatorship.

The Soviet achievements were due to "greater moral toughness, to a greater readiness to run risks both physical and moral." The Russians were "iron-nerved," they analyzed events with a ruthless objectivity, they conceptualized the world more subtly than Western politicians. They were cold-blooded, logical, without compunction, steadfast. American methods of policy making were inadequate to confront them. Kissinger argued that no coherent purpose governed America's actions and decisions; far too much was done on a random basis outside a philosophical framework. Problems should not be disposed of individually on their merits, for that was "as if, in commissioning a painting, a patron would ask one artist to draw the face, another the body, another the hands, and still another the feet, simply because each artist was particularly good in one category." Kissinger's demand that each problem be dealt with only in the context of an over-all ideology was an early statement of his subsequent notion of "linkage," a concept that wishes to impose a framework upon an untidy world.

One of his proffered solutions to the problems of policy making involved the identification of a new class. This was separate from the businessmen, lawyers and bureaucrats who traditionally ran United States foreign policy, but it was still part of the foreign-policy cadre. It consisted of "intellectuals" whom Kissinger appeared to see as men with a specific calling. Unlike lawyers or businessmen or even many "policymakers," they have "addressed themselves to acquiring substantive knowledge"; this was something that the policymakers should be eager to acquire. But too often the intellectual's value, his investment in himself, was squandered by policymakers who asked him "to solve problems, not to contribute to the definition of goals" and to provide "not ideas but endorsement." Because, perhaps, the policymaker has not had the advantages of reflection that distinguish an intellectual, "his problem is that he does not know the nature of the help he requires."

The intellectual, Kissinger wrote, must deal with the policymaker "from a position of independence"; he should guard his "distinctive" and "most crucial qualities." These were "the pursuit of knowledge rather than administrative ends and the perspective supplied by a non-bureaucratic vantage point." Kissinger did not seem to raise the question of whether the intellectual could find himself unable to associate with certain policies and still retain his integrity. In certain respects, his "intellectual" was a mercenary.

Among Kissinger's qualities are charm and persuasiveness. At Harvard he was as sincere as he was serious. To talk to Kissinger was for many a pleasure; to be consulted was considered a privilege; "brilliant" was the commonly used word. There is reason to believe that Nelson Rockefeller and those men whose earlier patronage was helpful to his career felt honored by his company. Kissinger is a true diplomat; he can make anyone feel grateful and flattered. Some colleagues also detected other aspects of his personality. Stanley Hoffmann, professor of government at Harvard, once said that part of Kissinger's philosophy of life was always that "goodwill won't help you defend yourself on the docks of Marseilles." One distinguished Harvard economist now claims (not for attribution) that Kissinger appeared at Harvard to be "terribly inconsiderate, terribly self-centered, the most single-mindedly self-serving ambitious individual, who cultivated people only for the good they could do him." Another colleague has suggested that he was capable of experiencing shame and not allowing it to hamper him. Certainly he could be unkind as well as charming; secretaries were frequently brought to tears by his tantrums. And he engaged in terrible feuds; the longest was with Robert Bowie, Director of Harvard's Center for International Affairs, who had helped Kissinger eventually to get tenure at Harvard in 1957 and felt that Kissinger had not since repaid the kindness. For a time their offices were in the same suite, and each sent his secretary out to see that the coast was clear rather than risk meeting the other. The nearest thing to a go-between was Thomas Schelling, professor of economics at Harvard. He might have found the role wearisome anyway: Kissinger made it a little harder. Once, when Kissinger heard that Schelling had said something critical of him, he expressed outrage and injury in a letter in which he said also that his whole concept of friendship had now been changed.

Despite the mauling of Nelson Rockefeller by the Republican right in 1964, Kissinger continued to expand his areas of political interest and attempted in the middle sixties to come to terms with the developing war in Vietnam. Visiting Saigon, he impressed Daniel Ellsberg with a certain openness of mind. But his views were unexceptional; he agreed with most of Johnson's administration officials (and with Richard Nixon) that however unfortunate the Vietnam commitment had been, it now had to be met.

What Kissinger hoped for in 1968 is not clear. He had been a Rockefeller family counselor for almost a decade; this was his second Presidential campaign for Nelson. From early in the year he obviously doubted its chances of success and he accepted a fellowship at All Souls, Oxford.

When Rockefeller lost the Republican nomination to Nixon, Kissinger told Dean Brown, an American diplomat, that he would have to abstain. "I could never vote for Nixon, of course, and that clown Humphrey would never make a President." Publicly he called Nixon "the most dangerous" of the candidates. But he began to reconsider, and soon A11 Souls was receiving diplomatic messages that he might not arrive at the beginning of the term in October. Nixon records in his memoirs that in the weeks before the election Kissinger used his "entree" with the Johnson administration to uncover foreign-policy information that he passed on to help Nixon's campaign. This was done in complete secrecy, and when the columnist Joseph Kraft told him that Nixon was considering him as national security adviser, Kissinger reacted, in Kraft's words, "like a totally scared rabbit" and called several times begging Kraft not to tell anyone. He was apparently anxious to keep his options open and appear uncommitted throughout the campaign. His discreet advice impressed Nixon, and at the end of November the President-elect summoned him to his transition headquarters in the Hotel Pierre in New York. Kissinger was asked to become National Security Assistant. Encouraged by Nelson Rockefeller, Kissinger went to the White House.

Even those of whom he had been most critical and had sought-at least in his writings-to displace were delighted by his appointment. In Wall Street, in big law firms, in academe and in the press, his selection was praised, most especially by those who had been apprehensive about Nixon. Did Kissinger's appointment not prove that there was "a new Nixon"? "Excellent . . . very encouraging," said Arthur Schlesinger. "I'll sleep better with Henry Kissinger in Washington" said Adam Yarmolinsky. The Establishment was relieved, wrote Henry Brandon of The Sunday Times of London. ("Establishment relief" was what Brandon again praised in 1976, when another outsider, Jimmy Carter, chose Cyrus Vance as Secretary of State.) James Reston of The New York Times wrote that it was "significant that Kissinger has the respect of most of the foreign-policy experts who have served the last three Presidents." Reston noted that Nixon had chosen his White House adviser before he chose the Secretaries of State or Defense. "This may lead to some friction,'' he suggested. But, after Nixon's friend William Rogers, a New York lawyer with scarcely any experience in foreign affairs, was appointed Secretary of State, Reston wrote that rumors that Nixon wanted to be his own Secretary were wrong. "Indeed the Nixon-Rogers relationship is likely to be a much more equal relationship than the Johnson-Rusk relationship."

When the staff members of the National Security Council and the senior officials in State, Defense and CIA returned to their desks after watching the Inauguration on January 20, 1969, each found a stack of memoranda. On top was a four-page paper headed NSDM - National Security Decision Memorandum One-and signed by Nixon. They were informed that the President was reorganizing the National Security Council system. The effects of the reorganization were to be critical in many areas of foreign policy, particularly Cambodia.

The new structure relocated de facto and de jure power over foreign decision making. It was the work of Kissinger and Morton Halperin, who had known Kissinger at Harvard and had become a critic of the war working in the Pentagon for Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford, Johnson's last Secretary of Defense.

Kissinger called Halperin to the Pierre soon after he arrived there himself. Before the cabinet had been selected, Halperin began devising new procedures by which the President could make foreign policy. There were excellent reasons for reorganization. Under Johnson, many vital decisions had been reached at Tuesday lunches, where the discussions were inadequately recorded and the participants often were unclear as to what decisions had been reached. Moreover, bureaucrats have a vested interest in protecting the policies of the past, however unsuccessful, and an organization like the State Department, disparate in its views but united in self-regard, can prove a serious barrier to new ideas.

Halperin wanted the President to have real power of decision among genuine options. The bureaucracies were to be denied the traditional technique of presenting three choices: you can blow up the world, do as we say, or surrender to the Kremlin. "It was the B-1 and B-2 options we were after," says Halperin.

In theory, the main instrument of foreign-policy making was now to be the National Security Council (NSC) founded by Truman in 1947 as "the place in the government where the military, diplomatic and resources problems could be studied and continually appraised." Eisenhower had used it as a rather loose discussion group for reaching what Dean Acheson called "agreement by exhaustion." Both Kennedy and Johnson had disregarded it in favor of more informal methods. Halperin and Kissinger reestablished it as the principal forum for decision making. Its membership now included the President, the Vice-President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and as advisers, the Director of the CIA and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But it was soon clear that the Council itself was to be less influential than its committees and its staff.

Nixon was anxious to keep meetings of the NSC to a minimum; the agenda were to be set by Kissinger's office, and discussion was to be limited. In the past, officials as humble as cabinet secretaries could occasionally gain personal access to the President. Now anything of importance and any memos to the President had to pass through an elaborate process. The first filter was a subcommittee called the Review Group. This was chaired by Kissinger and included representation of the Director of the CIA, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of State. The group's task was to determine whether a specific issue merited the attention of the full Council. If it decided not, the matter was referred to a new Under-Secretaries Committee representing the departments. Halperin's plan also preserved the NSC's existing interagency groups of Assistant Secretaries whose purpose was to prepare papers for the NSC, and it allowed the President to set up an ad hoc working group on any specific subject.

Two new series of memoranda were now created: National Security Study Memoranda and National Security Decision Memoranda. The Study Memoranda, to. be signed usually by Kissinger, sometimes by Nixon, would direct the agencies to review particular problems or situations for the President by a certain date. Decision Memoranda informed the bureaucracies of Presidential decisions "when," in the words of the original Halperin-Kissinger memo, "the President wants the agencies concerned clearly to understand what he desires and the reasons for his decision."

When confronted with a policy problem the system enabled Kissinger to send a two- or three-page study memorandum, the NSSM (pronounced Nisim), to the appropriate interagency group requesting all views by a certain date. Each member of the group would have officials in his agency submit papers, and these would be collated to be passed on to the Review Group. This body, controlled by Kissinger, worked as what Halperin called a "traffic cop." It could pass the study up to the National Security Council and the President, or it could send it back to the agencies for further work. Eventually, after the Study Memorandum had been discussed by the NSC, the President made his decision, and a Decision Memorandum, also signed by Kissinger, was issued to the departments. To make sure there was no backsliding, its implementation was monitored by the Under-Secretaries Committee, of which Kissinger was the most important member.

On paper, the system gave the President real choice of genuine alternatives for policy making. But even on paper it conferred exceptional powers on the National Security adviser. Access to the President was through him; it was he who, in the President's name, informed the bureaucracies what they were to examine; his staff sat through the entire development of the studies, and when these reached the Review Group he could either accept them, reject them or demand changes in whatever had so far been accomplished. Final papers for the President had his covering memo on top of them. Subsequently, many more NSC committees were created to coordinate different aspects of foreign policy; Kissinger was made their chairman.

Halperin finished the draft of the memo before Christmas 1968, and Kissinger gave it, without telling him, to another new aide, Lawrence S. Eagleburger. Eagleburger's reaction was, "Whatever happened to the Secretary of State?" The way in which Kissinger then managed, in very few days, to have the plan accepted by Nixon reflects considerable bureaucratic skill, even at a time when he was still uncertain of his relationship with his employer.

Among the members of the transition team at the Pierre was General Andrew Goodpaster, Eisenhower's staff assistant during World War II, and then defense liaison officer and staff secretary in his White House. Nixon had liked him in the fifties, and in 1968 he asked him to advise on how the NSC should be reformed. Kissinger, who apparently did not relish the prospect of Nixon hiring such an independent figure as Goodpaster as his military adviser, handed the Halperin memo to the General for his advice. The General had none. Probably unconscious of how useful he was being, he gave the scheme his imprimatur. When Kissinger sent the memo to Nixon he included a cover note: "The attached memo outlines my ideas for organizing the NSC and my own staff. It is based on extensive conversations with a number of people-particularly General Goodpaster, who agrees with my recommendations. I apologize for its length, but the decisions you make on the issues raised here will have an important effect on how we function in the field of foreign affairs in the years ahead. I thought, therefore, that it would be best for you to have as full a description as possible of what General Goodpaster and I have in mind. "

Just after Christmas the President agreed to it all. But then he apparently gave Kissinger a surprise. Nixon insisted that Kissinger secure the approval of both Rogers and the new Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird. Evidently, he was not willing himself to present them with a scheme that deprived them of power. But another Kissinger aide, Roger Morris, has reported that he told Kissinger not to worry about Rogers-he would not object. And he did not. Despite the protests of some career State Department officers around him, Rogers airily endorsed the plan, dismissing the importance of "all these committees." His officials made a wretched attempt to recoup something, and one of them came up to the Pierre to suggest to Kissinger that perhaps a role for the Secretary of State could be worked in somewhere. Kissinger suggested he take any problems he had straight to Nixon.

Melvin Laird should have proved a more formidable obstacle. He was tough, rather brash, and for fifteen years he had represented a Wisconsin district in Congress. He had served on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House and knew something about the Pentagon. More importantly, he was an acute judge of the political mood of parts of the United States into which Kissinger had never ventured and of which Nixon, despite his later talk of the "silent majority," understood little. Nonetheless, Laird also seems to have been impressed by the Goodpaster connection; he too accepted the reorganization. He realized his mistake sooner than Rogers and he subsequently began to react.

But he lost an important first battle when he tried to have Nixon abolish the liaison office that had existed between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House since 1950. He argued that it encouraged the two organizations to deal directly with each other behind the back of the Secretary of Defense, who is required by law to exert complete authority over the military. Kissinger, however, insisted that this channel between the White House and the President's principal military advisers be kept open. In the event, Laird's misgivings were justified-Kissinger did create a close relationship with the Chiefs that, in some important ways, excluded Laird. But even Laird could not suspect to what extent the use made of the liaison office would later reveal the mistrust and paranoia in the White House.

The new NSC procedures went into effect immediately after the Inauguration. The departments found themselves inundated with study memoranda demanding surveys of dozens of different international situations and problems, many to be completed in haste. Some useful material undoubtedly derived from the surveys, and some Presidential decisions were certainly improved by all the research, the compilations, the reviews, the submissions, the re-reviews, the re-submissions. But it soon became evident to Laird and others that one purpose of the many NSSM's was to keep the departments occupied and under the illusion that they were participating in the policy-making process while decisions were actually made in the White House.

Kissinger's intentions were, in fact, fairly clear. Nothing in his academic writings had suggested that he was concerned to involve the bureaucracies in policy making. In 1968 he had said, "The only way secrecy can be kept is to exclude from the making of the decisions all those who are theoretically charged with carrying it out." Early in the administration he acknowledged what he considered to be one of the most serious organizational problems he faced: "There are twenty thousand people in the State Department and fifty thousand in Defense. They all need each other's clearances in order to move . . . and they all want to do what I'm doing. So the problem becomes: how do you get them to push papers around, spin their wheels, so that you can get your work done?"

Kissinger devised the NSSM process but few of the most important decisions that he and Nixon made were subjected to it. There were no NSSMs to discuss whether Cambodia should be bombed or invaded, whether Allende's government should be subverted, whether Kissinger should conduct secret talks with the North Vietnamese, or to plan his first flight to China. Indeed many of those policies that are most characteristic of the Nixon administration's record in foreign policy were subjected to no formal debate at all.


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