BOOK REVIEW

Presidential Judgment
Edited by
Aaron Lobel

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 5, No. 1, 1/1/03.

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Harvard KSG study group on foreign policy decision making:

  This book provides accounts of presidential judgment in action. The accounts are by one of the presidents - Gerald Ford - and by officials with first-hand familiarity with the manner in which presidential judgment was exercised in five other administrations during the Cold War years. These six presentations - to a spring, 1999 study group of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government - "consider foreign policy decisions from the perspective of a president and his staff forced to operate with neither perfect information nor the benefit of hindsight."
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Foreign policy decisions must often be made "with neither perfect information nor the benefit of hindsight."

  Among the most important factors emphasized by these accounts are:

"(1) the structure of the National Security Council ("NSC") and the flow of information to presidents;

(2) the substance of the president's belief about foreign policy; and

(3) the intellectual style, experience, temperament, and character of the president."

  But each President established procedures with their own peculiarities.
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The Eisenhower system for effective policy making:

  Robert Bowie, an NSC member under Pres. Eisenhower, stressed how Eisenhower shaped and used his NSC. (This reflected his experience with his military staff while he was a commanding General during WW-II and in NATO.)
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  Eisenhower opposed Sen. Taft and sought the Republican nomination in 1952 to prevent any return to isolationism - something that he knew would be disastrous. As a fine, experienced General, he was also concerned with husbanding his reserves - political and financial as well as military - for what he knew would be a long conflict with the Soviet Union.

  "While recognizing the Soviets as hostile and expansionist, he was convinced that the Truman strategy misjudged the Soviet threat, set extreme objectives, and sought military means that were not politically or economically sustainable for an extended Cold War."
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  No president after Eisenhower would have this appreciation of the  financial aspects of the Cold War. Failure to husband financial strength led directly to the severe financial dislocations and Cold War reversals of the 1970s and the massive deficits the nation still bears. Of course, throughout this period, a Congress dominated by liberal philosophy played a major role in the uncontrollable growth of government spending.

  Ike had met many Soviet leaders, and was convinced "their top priority was survival as leaders, not the expansion of Soviet control or influence" as the Truman administration envisioned.

  "Unlike Truman's NSC-68 [Cold War strategy], he believed the top priority of Soviet leaders was not 'world domination,' but the security of the Soviet regime and their positions, and that they would  not risk that to achieve their goal of expansion. Thus nuclear war could be deterred by a secure second-strike deterrent. He rejected the NSC-68 objective of coercing the rollback of Soviet power in favor of long-term containment of Soviet expansion, which, [as Kennan had predicted], would eventually lead to the breakdown of the Soviet empire by domestic forces and decay. Thus, the essential defense forces of the United States and its allies had to be designed and scaled to be politically and economically sustainable for the long haul of many years. Containment required the cohesion and viability of NATO indefinitely and assistance for the developing countries in achieving stability and economic prosperity, and to resist subversion."

  Ike was determined to establish staff procedures that would facilitate policy making and response to problems. In general, this procedure included:

  1. Facts fully analyzed prior to any decision making.

  2. Clear recommendations, fully coordinated among interested agencies, with disagreements stated as options "and not papered over or simply compromised."

  3. Policy personnel fully prepared and ready to debate the issues in the presence of the President.

  4. Clear statement of presidential decision - recorded to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty.

  To achieve this, he elevated the importance of the NSC - using it as his key advisory group. This was all a clear departure from practice under the Truman administration.
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  The NSC was comprised of the President, Vice President, Secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury, and the directors of defense mobilization and foreign operations. The CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff were represented as advisors. The principal members were the President, the Secretaries, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ike emphasized the importance of the NSC meetings by attending 173 of the 179 meetings during his first term of office - missing only the 6 that took place while he was out of Washington, D.C.
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The NSC Planning Board was charged with developing "statesman-like solutions" to national security problems, "rather than a compromise of departmental positions." Compromise of views was rejected in favor of candid presentation of alternative views.

 

Competing analyses and debate succeeded in facilitating informed and sound decisions.

  The NSC agenda consisted of NSC Planning Board policy reports.  The Planning Board was established to do "the really deep thinking" that NSC members were too busy for. The Planning Board, in turn, was often the recipient of analytical work performed by teams of experts assigned to particular problems. They had total access to all pertinent information. Alternative positions were displayed in parallel columns for NSC resolution. The Planning Board was charged with developing "statesman-like solutions" to national security problems, "rather than a compromise of departmental positions." Compromise of views was rejected in favor of candid presentation of alternative views.
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  NSC members were briefed by Planning Board members and cognizant department officials prior to NSC meetings. Unlike under subsequent administrations, the chairman of the Planning Board concentrated on managing Board activities, and did not act as an additional presidential advisor.
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  At NSC meetings, Ike would actively question, comment, and sometimes play devils advocate, "to explore alternatives or the consequences or implications of some proposal." This system succeeded in producing active discussions and debates on contentious issues. Competing analyses and debate succeeded in facilitating informed and sound decisions.
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  This elaborate procedure was for strategic questions or long term policy or basic priorities. Grand strategy was developed as a framework for day-to-day decisions. Establishing long term purposes and priorities ensured consistency in day-to-day decisions and coherence over time.
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Even for day-to-day decisions, the NSC process was essential in providing depth of understanding and perspective, clear comprehension of the issues and the risks and advantages of alternative actions and the effects of any particular decision.

  For day-to-day instructions for negotiations or crises, the President would meet in the Oval Office with the relevant top officials. These day-to-day decisions were always made after hearing from all interested officials. If some close advisor like Sec. of State Dulles presented a proposal for immediate action, an Oval Office meeting would be held with the other relevant advisors.
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  But even here, the NSC process was essential in providing perspective and depth of understanding, clear comprehension of the issues and the risks and advantages of alternative actions, and the effects of any particular decision. Bowie reports that President Kennedy later stated that he was "really quite amazed" at how useful these extensive discussions had been in producing a prudent solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis, "instead of the extreme measures urged by some."
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Even when objective - which they often are not - an option paper "seldom makes clear what premises each is starting from, and how that effects the definition of the problem and its analysis, as well as judgments about what could or couldn't be done to influence the outcome, and so on."

  However,  much of this procedure was abandoned by Kennedy and subsequent presidents. The NSC Assistant became a chief policy advisor with a large staff - somewhat like a small State Department. The Planning Board was discontinued, and the NSC became less central. These are inferior systems that often fail to generate an explicit strategy. This "encourages ad hoc decisions at the expense of longer-term consistency and coherence."
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  Mere option papers are far inferior to "multiple advocacy." Even when objective - which they often are not - an option paper "seldom makes clear what premises each is starting from, and how that effects the definition of the problem and its analysis, as well as judgments about what could or couldn't be done to influence the outcome, and so on. You really only get that when informed advisors, who have different views, are forced to answer each other's questions."
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  Bowie asserted that the Bay of Pigs fiasco would probably not have happened if Kennedy had used the NSC procedure to analyze "the premises of the operation and the consequences of the changes he made in the plan for it." Kennedy did organize an ad hoc forum for "multiple advocacy" during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis:

  Theodore C. Sorenson, advisor and speech writer for Pres. Kennedy, stressed presidential judgment and sense of responsibility. Deliberative procedures - the decision whether to act and when - political astuteness - persuasiveness in leading the country - and political philosophy are important - but not as important as judgment.
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Experience - including the experience of dealing with errors of judgment- is vital in the development of good judgment.

  Among the many things that develop good judgment - many quite intangible - Sorenson emphasized experience - including the experience of dealing with errors of judgment. Also, Kennedy was guided by his sense of responsibility,  priority, objectivity, and history.
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  Responsibility included
being comfortable with and determined to prudently fulfill the decision making responsibilities of the Presidency.

   "I think it was this sense of responsibility that caused President Kennedy to decide to seek the removal of the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, (1) without seeking congressional action -- indeed without even briefing the congressional leaders until about an hour before he went on television on the night of October 22, 1962 to announce what his action would be, (2) without seeking the authorization or approval of the United Nations, although he made it a point to go to the United Nations to put the Soviet Union on the diplomatic defensive and to keep the Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, informed as a communications link, and (3) without seeking the advance consent of our allies. The President felt that the United States had no choice but to take that action, that it was important that it not be unduly delayed, our knowledge and our response not be leaked in advance, and the decisions that he took to implement his overall policy not be restrained by others." (Should Pres. Bush be guided by this precedent?)

  The widespread initial view of all - including Kennedy - was that an air strike - followed by invasion - was required. We now know, Sorenson pointed out, that the Soviets were prepared to initiate a nuclear response in that event.
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  When the vast extent of the bombing that would be required became clear, however, Kennedy became doubtful. He thereafter carefully calibrated the extent of the blockade to avoid unnecessarily provoking the Soviets, and refrained from retaliation when a spy plane was shot down on the penultimate day of the crisis.
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Sometimes, all the choices are bad, but the best of the available choices has to be made even if that means losing an election.

  Priorities means a determination to do what is right on major issues - even if that means losing on some subsidiary issues and spending some political capital. Sometimes, all the choices are bad, but the best of the available choices has to be made even if that means losing an election.
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  Khrushchev wanted to trade his missiles in Cuba for ours in Turkey. Kennedy said he could not remove the missiles in Turkey "at the point of a gun," but gave Khrushchev his word they would be removed fairly soon after resolution of the crisis. Sorenson explained that the missiles in Turkey were obsolete and in any event scheduled for removal - to be replaced by far more effective modern Polaris Missile submarines stationed in the Mediterranean. These "were actually a much  more powerful but less provocative threat to the Soviet Union." (Soon, the Soviet Union, too, would have nuclear missile submarines with which to replace missiles removed from Cuba.)
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In conflict situations, Kennedy wanted to keep options open for the other side - to avoid driving an opponent into a corner.

 

 

 

 

 

Each President must have the structure he is most comfortable with.

  Objectivity means the ability to analyze a problem free "of emotions and prejudices and politics." Kennedy was always open to a variety of views, and welcomed presentation of "the widest range of options." In conflict situations, he wanted to keep options open for the other side - to avoid driving an opponent into a corner.

  "He wanted to have the best and the most current and reliable information possible before he made a decision, though information often was very limited. He wanted to separate hard information from speculation, exaggeration, opinion and rumor. And yet he also recognized the very severe limitations in the real world that even a president of the United States faces on information, on the choices he has, on the resources he can spend, even on the forces that are at his disposal; limitations as well upon his experts, how much they know and how much they are simply predicting; and limitations on the amount of time available before a decision was necessary, before information would leak out, before the press and the Congress were on our backs, and on how much time he had before the Soviets knew that we knew and took some unilateral action on their own."

  Kennedy gathered an ad hoc group of officials - including those who had relevant expertise and could be trusted not to leak. This included some subordinate officials. He delayed going public until he was ready to act. The action he took constituted a positive effort to deal with the missiles - ultimately by negotiations rather than by military action that would immediately back Khrushchev into a corner.
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  This kind of decision making structure worked best for Kennedy at this time, Sorenson said. Each President must have the structure he is most comfortable with.
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The removal of the missiles was not celebrated as a "victory," and instead Khrushchev was praised for a statesmanlike decision.

 History meant viewing the national interest in a long-term manner and with a global perspective. Kennedy would have acted anyway, but sought and got Organization of American States approval for the blockade to try to avoid acting unilaterally. The removal of the missiles was not celebrated as a "victory," and instead Khrushchev was praised for a statesmanlike decision. (Bush (Sr.) followed this precedent during the dissolution of the Soviet Empire.)
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  The Khrushchev decision to place missiles in Cuba was "a one-man decision by Khrushchev," according to Soviet officials from that era. Thus, the precise objectives sought or reasons for the decision are not known. Kennedy could not control Khrushchev - a very erratic and unpredictable leader - but he could control U.S. actions and maintained that control throughout the crisis.
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  For all anyone knew, the blockade would result in a standoff lasting an indefinite period, since many of the missiles were already in Cuba. The blockade was chosen as the least bad alternative.
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  While the Soviets did begin a new nuclear arms buildup as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two sides began a series of steps to defuse Cold War crises - including establishing the "Hot Line," the ban on weapons of mass destruction in space, the sale of wheat to Russia, and  the limited test ban treaty. But Kennedy was soon thereafter killed and Khrushchev was deposed. "I think that, had those two men survived, the Cold War would have been over far earlier." 

  Not likely! The post WW-II Soviet leadership generation would never have ended their Cold War challenge to the West before their socialist economy crumbled.

Lyndon Johnson and the art of the possible:

  Francis M. Bator, Deputy NSC Advisor under Pres. Johnson, emphasized Johnson's important domestic and foreign policy achievements, but provided incredible excuses for Johnson's major Vietnam War and economic failures.
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  There were powerful constraints on European policy during the 1960s.

  • The Cold War was in full swing - Europe and Berlin were divided - and the Soviets occupied Central Europe. Favorable movement on these core issues was impossible because of "a post-Khrushchev Politburo that was both muscle-bound and risk-adverse."

  • General de Gaulle stymied movement towards integration of Western Europe.

  • The U.S. balance of payments problem was slowly undermining U.S. options - leading many to counsel withdrawal of conventional forces from Europe and even the nuclear arming of Western Germany. They argued that "a newly rich Europe was perfectly capable of defending itself."

  • However, European welfare politics left too little for effective self defense. The English pound, too, was in intractable difficulty.

  • Then as now, protectionist agricultural policies blocked trade liberalization, imperiling the vital "Kennedy Round" of trade negotiations.

Monetary austerity or monetary devaluation would have threatened Johnson's domestic and international agenda - so they were put off by massive expenditures of the nation's gold and other financial reserves and by any other means possible.

  The balance of payments problem had already dragged on long enough so that any possible remedy would have been seriously disruptive. Such disruption would have threatened Johnson's domestic and international agenda - so it was put off by massive expenditures of the nation's gold and other financial reserves and by any other means possible.
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  Johnson conveniently underestimated the impact of a dollar devaluation crisis and a dollar thereafter in chronic decline. This permitted him to pursue his other agenda objectives and adopt short term monetary palliatives in good conscience.

  Typically, Johnson administration personnel find excuses for the refusal to spend their political capital - putting off for the next administration the hard choices that would have been much easier for them than their successors. By 1972 and 1973 - when the payments problem finally reduced financial reserves enough to force devaluation of the dollar - the disruption was much worse - a decade of economic and financial turmoil. This was ended only by the austerity depression of 1980-1982 imposed by the tight money policies of the Volcker Federal Reserve Board supported by a Reagan administration that was not afraid to spend political capital in the national interest.
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  Bator - to this day - refuses to draw the obvious connection between the rapid devaluation of the dollar and the economic deterioration and instability of the 1970s and the ultimate 1980-1982 austerity depression. Yes, the Free World did not come to an end, but the economic crisis was the worst since the Great Depression, and the financial weaknesses of all the major NATO nations at that time negatively affected Cold War strategy until 1982. If not for the ascendancy during the 1980s of political leaders in all the major NATO nations who were not afraid to spend political capital for major national interests, the situation could have become even worse.

  A "collaboratively managed international money ('paper gold')" was created to supplement reserves.

  This and the subsequent "two tier" monetary reserves arrangement -  both widely hailed by economists like Paul Samuelson - who should have known better - clearly failed to stem the tide running against the dollar. Like all Keynesian remedies, it was a mere palliative that made life easier for the Johnson administration, but it resulted in the failure of equally as important policies during subsequent administrations, with catastrophic consequences only averted by the fantastic and widely unexpected steadfastness of the American people.

  These and various other palliatives did manage to put off the crisis until after the next election (always an important policy objective) and until after many Johnson administration policy objectives were achieved that otherwise would have been threatened by monetary turmoil. (Of course, the next administration's policy objectives were of no concern - especially after the opposing party won the next election.)
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  • The French were accommodated in their refusal to work with NATO. The possibility of their ultimate return to NATO was kept open, and they were included in the NATO protective shield.

  • Cost sharing requirements and force commitments for NATO were adjusted by successful negotiations with Britain and West Germany.

  • Successful negotiation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was facilitated by suitable arrangements among NATO members. (Obviously not entirely successful - but not entirely useless, either.)

  • By surrendering on agricultural policy, the Kennedy Round was otherwise brought to a successful conclusion.

The objective of the "bridge building" effort was "to promote an East-West environment of mutual trust that would maximize the chance of gradual internal political easing in the East."

  "Bridge building" to the Communist countries included - besides the Nonproliferation Treaty - measures to increase communications across the Iron Curtain, support for West Germany's Ostpolitik efforts to engage East Germany, and the Glassboro Summit between Johnson and Kosygin. The objective was "to promote an East-West environment of mutual trust that would maximize the chance of gradual internal political easing in the East." Johnson's contribution was to openly bring the "U.S. declaratory policy into line with what had been the de facto U.S. position for a long time."

  This far sighted effort - pursued doggedly by every President from Eisenhower to George Bush (Sr.) - ultimately helped create an environment in which Gorbachev could contemplate the peaceful stand down of Russian occupation and Cold War forces as an acceptable remedy for the collapse of Russia's socialist economic system.

Johnson clearly adopted the best available long term approach to the problems posed by de Gaulle - but typically failed to clearly explain his reasoning to the many advisors who preferred tougher action.

 

Johnson recognized that powerful political leaders who opposed him on particular issues were often political leaders whose support he would find useful on other important issues.

  Bator provided a summary of NSC staff support for foreign policy analysis and decisions at various levels, including those of the President. It was far more informal and flexible - and shaped by events - than Eisenhower's formal structure. Bator viewed this flexibility as a strength.
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  Johnson's political experience - judgment - negotiating skills - sense of the possible - and sense of process and timing - played major roles in all these foreign policy achievements. Johnson was concerned with the whole picture, while many of his advisors had primarily narrow responsibilities.

  "No one had a surer grasp in a bargaining situation of who held cards, of what was and was not attainable."

  This was especially true in dealing with de Gaulle. Johnson clearly adopted the best available long term approach to the problems posed by de Gaulle - but failed to clearly explain his reasoning to the many advisors who preferred tougher action. This was a typical weakness of Johnson's policy formulation process. Keeping NATO together in the face of difficulties created by de Gaulle and by the financial weaknesses inherent in the welfare state commitments of the major NATO nations provided another decision making example explained by Bator.
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  Johnson instinctively recoiled from frontal attacks on other powerful political leaders who opposed him on particular issues. These were often political leaders whose support he would find useful on other important issues.
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  Bator tried to deflect criticism from Johnson to the Kennedy administration holdovers for the massive economic and military failures of the Johnson administration.

  This effort is certainly not without considerable justification. However, it merely highlights Johnson's failure to get rid of these sorry intellectual clowns - men whose intellectual egos prevented them from contemplating the actual limited scope of their intellectual competence in economics and military matters - and find people whom he could rely upon to competently fill those top advisory slots in his administration. Ultimately, a President must be judged not only on the basis of his own actions but on those of his top administration officials as well.

  Johnson had to repeatedly reject advice received from holdover officials from the Kennedy administration - especially Robert McNamara. - who repeatedly advised taking tough stances on hard issues. McNamara and Dean Rusk preferred to compromise their policy differences rather than present them to the President as alternative options. Johnson had to rely on staff to inform him of these differences. Bator thinks Rusk was the weaker of the two. He said that Rusk didn't like to dispute McNamara. When Johnson did accept their views - it led to disaster in Vietnam.

  McNamara is clearly the worst - most disastrous - top advisor to Presidents in the history of the U.S. He was skilled at process - astoundingly ignorant on military, international and economic substance - but serenely confident in every disastrous decision he made - a particularly deadly combination in any official. A decade later, he confidently presided over the bankrupting of a major portion of the third world while head of the World Bank - accepting the ridiculous Keynesian notion that development can be promoted by lending money to governments.

Bator astoundingly asserted that the war was justified to prevent loss of political capital so as to retain the ability to gain passage of the civil rights and welfare state domestic programs.

  Bator even tried to justify Johnson's halfhearted slide into war in Vietnam. Bator candidly admitted that he has nothing more than informed conjecture as to Johnson's motives with respect to the Vietnam war. However, he astoundingly asserted that engagement in that major conflict while lacking any strategy that might bring victory was justified to prevent loss of political capital and to retain the ability to gain passage of the civil rights and welfare state domestic programs.

  The civil rights laws were certainly important and a major Johnson achievement, but it is incredible to justify the deaths of 50,000 men - over 100,000 other casualties - the nation torn apart - its finances hurtling towards the national bankruptcy of a major currency devaluation - and its entire Cold War position dangerously undermined everywhere - as a legitimate price to pay for any domestic legislation.
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  And, how do any domestic advantages for the U.S. - no matter how important - justify the  tearing apart of the entire Indochina region with a million Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian casualties and vast material loss? With this kind of thinking, it is no wonder that the Johnson administration suffered such massive economic and military failures. It should be remembered that - while Eisenhower sent some financial aid and ultimately some advisors to the region - he determinedly refused to get the U.S. involved in a ground war on the mainland of Asia - even to prevent loss of North Vietnam.
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  Even after passage of his Civil Rights legislation, Johnson continued to pour men into Vietnam. So Bator's incredible search for an excuse fails on its face. Johnson - and aides like Bator - were simply unwilling to spend political capital or risk electoral loss even for such vital national interests as economic prosperity and avoidance of a major conflict fought under terms of engagement that made victory impossible. By the end of the 1970s - because of such weak leadership in all the major free nations - it appeared that it was the West that was disintegrating, and capitalism failing - not the Soviet Union and communism.

A conversation with Gerald Ford:

  President Ford answered questions on a number of interesting subjects during a conversation with study group members.
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  • The NSC was intended by Congress as a "think tank for the benefit of the President" to evaluate data and requests for approval of action coming from various agencies like the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Treasury Department.

  First: It was never meant to be used as staff for field operations - as Oliver North used it under Reagan.
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  Second: The head of the NSC should not be the head of an agency whose requests for approvals it is evaluating. Yet, that occurred when Henry Kissinger was both Secretary of State and head of the NSC under Nixon. That's why Ford removed Kissinger as head of the NSC when Ford became President. It was not in any way a criticism of Kissinger's performance.

The U.S. always tries to demobilize to the greatest extent possible after conflicts.

 

The War Powers Ace is a useless artifact that continues to be ignored.

  • Military manpower is always reduced to dangerously low levels during times of peace. The U.S. always tries to demobilize to the greatest extent possible after conflicts. (The much feared "military-industrial complex" has no power to prevent massive demobilization as soon as military threats subside.) This allows peacetime  commitments and challenges to run far ahead of military capabilities. (It also tempts adversaries to attack in the belief that the U.S. is weak.) With conflicts coming so frequently in the 20th century and now, the rapid seesaw of mobilization and demobilization is both dangerous and inefficient.

  "That's the most expensive, inefficient way to run a Defense Department you can imagine. It costs lives and money, and it is a terrible way to run the Pentagon. But that is the way we have done it in the past, and I just hope we don't make the same mistake again."

  This is true - but there are real national security benefits to these periods of demobilization. Demobilization does permit the U.S. to recover somewhat from the financial strains of one conflict before having to gear up for the next conflict. It also forces considerable rationalization of defense industries that inevitably become bloated and inefficient during periods when military budgets are expanded. It also can force the military to think seriously about how to do more with less.

  • NATO forces are currently in use in Bosnia and Kosovo. There is no superpower for NATO to confront, but NATO remains an important part of national security policy for the U.S. and Europe. Extension to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is strongly approved by Ford.

  • Ford voted against the War Powers Act while in Congress, and remains strongly opposed to it.

  "Since the War Powers Resolution became law, statisticians will tell you there have been seventeen instances where you can argue that the War Powers Resolution should have been applied, either by Congress or the White House. How many times has it been? Zero."

  • Personal relationships among national leaders play an important role in international affairs. Ford was instrumental in establishing the "G-7," whose periodic meetings deal with a wide range of international issues.

  • The two year election cycle for the House of Representatives is strongly supported by Ford.

  "It is important to have somebody in the government in direct contact with the people on a regular basis. So I would not advocate switching to four-year electoral cycles for House members. - - - I think the two-year elections are wholesome for the country and for the people."

  A Congressman is directly responsible to his constituents and must look after their interests. But the welfare of the country comes ahead of parochial interests. One role of leadership is to educate constituents about such matters. When Ford was first elected to Congress, he was an avowed internationalist from a strongly isolationist constituency. But he worked hard to explain his views and turned that situation around.

  • Ford also provided some insight into the Mayaguez incident with Cambodia, the Helsinki Accords that legitimized human rights considerations and the role of dissidents, his view that "detente" was a concept without real meaning, his evaluation of various contemporary leaders, and his pardon of President Nixon.

Ronald Reagan and the winning of the Cold War:

 

 

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  Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.N. Representative and member of the Cabinet and NSC under Pres. Reagan, pointed out that when Reagan became President, the nation was weak militarily - in desperate economic trouble - and faced a Soviet Union triumphantly extending its influence over client states in Africa, Asia, Central America and the Middle East.

  "[The Soviet] military arsenal had grown until it equaled or exceeded that of the United States and was deployed in a more threatening fashion, with SS-20s aimed at the undefended capitals of Europe and Soviet ICBMs targeting America."

Reagan saw all "collectivism" - of which communism was one manifestation - as a dangerous "centralization of power in government." The "growth of bureaucracy and the loss of control by individuals over their own lives" was a worrisome trend.

 

"Democracies are best because they leave most people most free."

 

The President must personally have an accurate understanding of his world and experience with its affairs.

  Reagan had several guiding principles. Where his guiding principles applied, Reagan was deductive and bold. These principles were: 

  "(1) the principle of protecting and expanding freedom, political and economic; (2) the conviction that communism must be contained and rolled back; and (3) his commitment to strengthening the United States."

  Issues that did not fall within these principles could be more difficult for him, and were frequently left for subordinates. Difficult issues in the Middle East - such as the deployment in Lebanon - were the most notable of these.
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  Reagan was not opposed to just communism. He saw all "collectivism" - of which communism was one manifestation - as a dangerous "centralization of power in government." The "growth of bureaucracy and the loss of control by individuals over their own lives" was a worrisome trend.

  "[Reagan believed that] the free individual is the creative principle in a society and an economy; that governments inhibit creativity while free markets and free societies stimulate imagination, invention and effort. Democracies are best because they leave most people most free."

  There must be excellent staff work and analysis of options. However, the President inevitably must also personally have an accurate understanding of his world and experience with its affairs. For three decades - from the 1960s through the 1980s - while many advisors and speech writers came and went - this core understanding shaped Reagan's message and ultimately his policies as President. 
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  Policies of  "deregulation, decentralization, and support for freedom fighters flowed naturally from these principles."
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  Reagan also understood the need for practical politics. He developed the skills required for successful campaigning, negotiating, speaking, writing and governing.
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  As President, Reagan had morning briefings by the CIA and also made use of his National Security Advisor. He attended and presided over virtually all NSC and National Security Planning Group meetings. "Reagan was better informed about foreign affairs and foreign policy than was generally understood."
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Reagan was morally serious - rejected political correctness - and "was not shy about expressing unfashionable views."

  The National Security Planning Group included the inner circle of the NSC - the President, Vice President, Secretaries of State and Defense, the CIA Director, the Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and the U.N. Ambassador. Reagan probed each member for individual views on any difficult subject. He generally did not express his own opinion until the end of the meeting - or he demanded more information - but "he was decisive and had no difficulty making decisions and taking responsibility for them."
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  When Reagan's principal advisors disagreed, Reagan would hear from all of them. He might ask for a second meeting and additional information, but he would never avoid responsibility for the ultimate decision.
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  These meetings were the same kind used by Reagan as Governor of California. They were "small groups, principals-only meetings with an explicit agenda." He was morally serious - rejected political correctness - and "was not shy about expressing unfashionable views." His decision to characterize the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire" was his own - taken against the advice of most of his advisors. Similarly, his statements that events would "consign communism to the ash heap of history," and "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall," were his own personal views.
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Convinced that state socialism couldn't sustain a large population, he and his administration looked for ways to increase pressure on the Soviet Union.

  The result was that he accomplished much of what he hoped to accomplish - including "the dramatic weakening of the Soviet Union itself." Convinced that state socialism couldn't sustain a large population, he and his administration looked for ways to increase pressure on the Soviet Union. "He believed that the Soviet Union would never be able to keep up with the United States in a real arms race." Reagan also reopened the debate on the superiority of democracy and freedom as an ideological challenge to the Soviet Union.
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  He rejected the "Brezhnev Doctrine" and assisted those fighting Soviet clients in Central America, West Africa and Afghanistan. (Here, he was frequently opposed by a Democratic Congress that kept kicking him in the shins as he strove to bring the Cold War to a rapid and successful conclusion.) The decision to intervene militarily in Grenada was a personal one for Reagan. Restoring U.S. and Western military  strength was also a personal decision - as were Pershing and cruise missile deployments in Europe.
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  Of course, the time was right for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Reagan contributed in many ways. Ultimately, the "U.S. negotiation from a position of strength" proved successful as Reagan predicted. 
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Reagan walked out of an otherwise very attractive deal at the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev because "he could not possibly tell the American people that its government could not defend them."

  Reagan became committed to a Strategic Defense Initiative on the basis of the views of trusted advisors. He walked out of an otherwise very attractive deal at the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev because "he could not possibly tell the American people that its government could not defend them." This was a personal decision - which many of his advisors opposed.
 &
  The decision to intervene militarily in Grenada was made for several reasons - the primary one being to avoid having 650 American students become hostages as in Iran. It was also a response to calls for help from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Governor-General of Grenada. The coup in Grenada was backed by Libya and Cuba even though it was against Grenada's Marxist government, and the American students were in clear danger.
 &

  Kirkpatrick also offered her views on several contentious events from the Reagan years.

  1. On the timing of the release of the hostages in Iran - there is "not a scintilla of evidence" of any Reagan administration involvement.

  2. On the Iran-Contra scandal - Oliver North is the only one to have stated that Reagan was informed of the arms sales scheme to fund the Contras.

  3. On the budget deficit during his administration - in no way could balancing the budget take precedence over the needs of the nation's defense. Senator Alan Simpson pointed out that the deficit was primarily due to Democratic control of the House of Representatives, where all tax and spending legislation is initiated.

  4. On the proper use of the United Nations - Reagan preferred unilateral action, but viewed the U.N. as useful for propaganda purposes.

  5. Also, on what Reagan would have done in Kosovo and Iraq - Reagan would have insisted on decisive action with overwhelming force.

Judgment and experience in the foreign policy of George Bush (Sr.):

 

 

&

  Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor under Pres. George Bush (Sr.), noted that Bush grew up in a wealthy family that stressed service to country. His background at the U.N., as Ambassador to China, as Director of the CIA, as NSC member, and as Vice President gave him unparalleled experience for his role as President.
 &
  In addition, the top Bush advisors had all worked together in previous administrations. This facilitated operations, especially when there were sharp disagreements on some particular issue.
 &

Bush was concerned with leaks and internal gossip, so he eliminated the practice of including one aide with each NSC member at NSC meetings. The meetings were "principals only."

  Nixon established the current NSC structure, although some alterations were subsequently made. Kennedy established the active role of the National Security Advisor and replaced Eisenhower's large staff bureaucracy with a very small group of seasoned advisors headed by the National Security Advisor.
 &
  However, presidential personalities affect operations. Nixon disliked meetings, and held fewer and fewer of them. He preferred to review briefing papers. Ford liked to make up his mind after hearing the issues actively debated. Bush did, too, but was concerned with leaks and internal gossip, so he eliminated the practice of including one aide with each NSC member at NSC meetings. The meetings were "principals only."
 &

Bush recognized the importance of keeping other nations informed of what the U.S. - as world leader - was thinking and doing.

  Bush elicited views widely, listened to debates and often entered into them without disclosing his real views. However, he was not afraid of making decisions, and once made, his primary concern was assuring proper implementation. His unparalleled familiarity with world leaders enabled him to get on the phone and discuss matters with them personally. He recognized the importance of keeping other nations informed of what the U.S. - as world leader - was thinking and doing.

  "He elevated personal diplomacy to a status it never had before, and I think has not had since."

  Scowcroft believes that it was this prior communication and familiarization with Latin American leaders that resulted in only muted  "pro forma" objections to the use of force in Panama. His relationship with Prime Minister Mitterrand smoothed sometimes difficult relations with France. "Most importantly, President Bush consulted the leaders from other countries, and especially our allies, beforehand, not after we had made a decision."
 &

  The handling of the end of the Cold War was clearly the highlight of the Bush administration. Everyone recognized that Gorbachev was different from prior Soviet leaders, but most advisors believed he was just trying to make the Soviet regime work better and so wasn't that different. Bush - like Secretary Schultz and English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - sensed that there was more to it. So, he encouraged unilateral initiatives to see how Gorbachev would respond.
 &

Gorbachev is an intellectual - Yeltsin a populist. Both were predominantly interested in personal power.

  Gorbachev and Yeltsin were not democrats, Scowcroft emphasized. Gorbachev ended rule by terror, but was interested in improving the Soviet regime, not ending it. Gorbachev is an intellectual - Yeltsin a populist. Both were predominantly interested in personal power.
 &
  Bush made major reductions in U.S. NATO troop strength and then asked the Soviets to reciprocate. He encouraged East German liberalization - but at a slow pace that would appear nonthreatening to the Soviet Union. 

  "In fact, the pace of liberalization turned out to be appropriate, and Bush's judgment in this respect was a big factor in securing the peaceful and positive outcome in Eastern Europe." - - -
 &
  "He made the end of the Cold War seem so natural and inevitable that it's hard for us to think it could have come out any other way. But if you had asked anyone who knew anything about foreign policy ten years earlier whether it was possible that the Cold War could end with a whimper and not a bang, and our Russian opponents would come out of it not harboring the bitterness that Germany did following World War I, they would have thought you were insane." (Indeed, the dissolution of the Soviet Empire could easily have been like that of Yugoslavia - but with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction scattered about the various segments.)

War is inherently a messy business, with people who do not play by Marquess of Queensbury rules. Preventing communism from sweeping Central America was vital for both the U.S. and the people of Central America.

  Scowcroft defended U.S. support for El Salvadore even though some pretty horrible things were done on both sides during that conflict. El Salvadore is infinitely better off today than it was then or would have been under a communist regime. We did not have total control of Salvadoran troops, but "they were an ally and they are a good friend." War is inherently a messy business, with people who do not play by Marquess of Queensbury rules. Preventing communism from sweeping Central America was vital for both the U.S. and the people of Central America.

  "I do not believe in the theory that the ends justify the means, but sometimes, if you are dealing in that case with communism, or with Muslim fundamentalists, or with terrorists, you may have to put up with some seriously unpalatable situations."

The military intervention in Somalia was practicable as originally envisioned by the Bush administration because it was quick and clean - until it was changed into a nation building effort by the Clinton administration.

  With respect to the Gulf War, Scowcroft reviewed all the familiar reasons for staying with the initial plan and not forcing removal of Saddam Hussein.
 &
  The purpose of the mission to Somalia was mostly humanitarian - but it was also to demonstrate that the U.N. was not interested only in Great Power concerns. That mission succeeded during the Bush administration. Supply routes were opened and relief supplies poured in - and U.S. soldiers were being withdrawn.
 &
  But during the Clinton administration, the mission changed to "nation building," "a very different and difficult objective." It was the Clinton administration mission that failed. (The failure of the Clinton administration to provide the modest fire support requested by the officer in charge on the scene was an egregious tactical error by an administration lacking in real military experience.)
 &
  Nevertheless, there are today tens of thousands of  Somalis alive who would have perished if not for that military intervention. It was practicable as originally envisioned because it was quick and clean - and should have been left as originally envisioned.
 &

  Scowcroft pointed out that Kosovo engages the vital interests of NATO and the U.S. Conflict there can easily spill over into Macedonia - inevitably drawing in NATO members Greece and Turkey on opposite sides. Bulgaria, too, would play a disruptive hand in that game. It is thus vital to be actively engaged and to establish peace and stability in Kosovo and Macedonia.

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Copyright 2003 Dan Blatt