White House Years I
THE Inauguration took place on a bright, cold, and windy day. I sat on the platform just behind the new Cabinet and watched Lyndon Johnson stride down the aisle for the last time to the tune of “Hail to the Chief.” I wondered what this powerful and tragic figure thought as he ended a term of office that had begun with soaring aspiration and finished in painful division. How had this man of consensus ended up with a torn country? Johnson stood like a caged eagle, proud, dignified, never to be trifled with, his eyes fixed on distant heights that now he would never reach.
There was another fanfare and President-elect Richard Nixon appeared at the top of the Capitol stairs. He was dressed in a morning coat, his pant legs as always a trifle short. His jaw jutted defiantly and yet he seemed uncertain, as if unsure that he was really there. He exuded at once relief and disbelief. He had arrived at last after the most improbable of careers and one of the most extraordinary feats of self-discipline in American political history. He seemed exultant, as if he could hardly wait for the ceremony to be over so that he could begin to implement the dream of a lifetime. Yet he also appeared somehow spent, even fragile, like a marathon runner who has exhausted himself in a great race. As ever, it was difficult to tell whether it was the occasion or his previous image of it that Nixon actually enjoyed. He walked down the steps and took the oath of office in his firm deep voice.
MY own feeling of surprise at being there was palpable. Only eight weeks earlier the suggestion that I might participate in the Inauguration as one of the new President’s closest advisers would have seemed preposterous. Until then, all my political experience had been in the company of those who considered themselves in mortal opposition to Richard Nixon. I had taught for over ten years at Harvard University, where among the faculty disdain for Richard Nixon was established orthodoxy. And the single most influential person in my life had been a man whom Nixon had twice defeated in futile quests for the Presidential nomination, Nelson Rockefeller.
It was Nelson Rockefeller who had introduced me to high-level policymaking in 1955 when he was Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Eisenhower. He had called together a group of academics, among whom I was included, to draft a paper for the President on a fundamental diplomatic problem: how the United States could seize the initiative in international affairs and articulate its long-range objectives.
It was a revealing encounter. Rockefeller entered the room slapping the backs of the assembled academics, grinning and calling each by the closest approximation of his first name that he could remember. Yet this and his aura of all-American charm served at the same time to establish his remoteness: when everybody is called by his first name and with equal friendliness, relationships lose personal significance. Rockefeller sat down to listen as each of us, intoxicated by our proximity to power—and I daresay wealth—did his best to impress him with our practical acumen. One professor after another volunteered clever tactical advice on how to manipulate nations—or at least the bureaucracy; how to deal with a President we did not know; or (the perennial problem of national security advisers) how to prevail over an equally unfamiliar Secretary of State. As we finished, the smile left Rockefeller’s face and his eyes assumed a hooded look which I later came to know so well and which signaled that the time for serious business had arrived. He said: “I did not bring you gentlemen down here to tell me how to maneuver in Washington—that is my job. Your job is to tell me what is right. If you can convince me I will take it to the President. And if I can’t sell it to him I will resign.”
Rockefeller proved to be true to his word. We wrote a report; one of its ideas, the “open skies” proposal, was accepted. The sections spelling out long-range objectives were stillborn, partly because of the prevailing mood of self-satisfaction in the country, but largely because of the opposition of a powerful Secretary of State pressing his own convictions. At the end of 1955 Rockefeller resigned.
I had been part of a typical Rockefeller venture. Of all the public figures I have known he retained the most absolute, almost touching, faith in the power of ideas. He spent enormous resources to try to learn what was “the right thing” to do. His national campaigns were based on the illusion that the way to win delegates at national political conventions was to present superior substantive programs. He spent an excruciating amount of time on his speeches. Untypical as he might seem to be, he was in a way quintessentially American in his boundless energy, his pragmatic genius, and his unquenchable optimism. Obstacles were there to be overcome; problems were opportunities. He could never imagine that a wrong could not be righted or that an honorable aspiration was beyond reach. For other nations utopia is a blessed past never to be recovered; for Americans it is no farther than the intensity of their commitment.
Nelson Rockefeller, I am certain, would have made a great President. He possessed in abundance the qualities of courage and vision that are the touchstones of leadership. But at the moments when his goal might have been realized, in 1960 and again in 1968, he uncharacteristically hesitated. In the service of his beliefs he could be cold-blooded and ruthless; he was incredibly persistent. Yet there was in him a profound ambivalence. A kind of aristocratic scruple restrained him from pursuing the prize with the single-mindedness required and led him to exhaust himself in efforts to make himself worthy of the office. His entire upbringing made him recoil from appearing before the people he wanted to serve as if he were pursuing a personal goal; being already so privileged, he felt he had no right to ask anything more for himself as an individual. So he sought the office by trying to present to the nation the most sweeping vision of its possibilities and the best blueprint on how to attain them.
In a deep sense Nelson Rockefeller suffered from the hereditary disability of very wealthy men in an egalitarian society. He wanted assurance that he had transcended what was inherently ambiguous: that his career was due to merit and not wealth, that he had earned it by achievement and not acquired it by inheritance. In countries with aristocratic traditions—in Great Britain, for example, until well after World War II—an upper class moved in and out of high office convinced that public responsibility was theirs by right. Merit was assumed. But in the United States, the scions of great families are extremely sensitive to the charge of acquiring power through the visible exercise of influence or wealth; they believe that they must earn their office in their own right. But no more than a beautiful woman can be sure of being desired “for her own sake”—indeed, her own sake is inseparable from her beauty—can a rich man in America be certain what brought him to his station in public life. If he is lucky he learns in time that it makes little difference. In high political office he will be measured by the challenges he met and the accomplishments he wrought, not by his money or the motives of those who helped him get there. History will judge not the head start but the achievement.
Nelson Rockeller never fully resolved this dilemma. After his untimely death it was said that he failed to win the Presidency despite the fact that he was a Rockefeller. The opposite was more nearly true. He failed largely because he was a Rockefeller. He was not above spending vast sums for his political campaigns, but at the same time he felt an inordinate obligation to justify his ambition by his programs and an extraordinary reluctance to realize his dreams by what he considered the demeaning wooing of delegates to national conventions. It is not quite the way our political process works, geared as it is more to personalities than to programs.
Through three conventions Rockefeller fought for what he considered respectable party platforms in defiance of one of the surest lessons of American political history: that party platforms serve the fleeting moment when delegates come together to choose a party’s candidate and then quietly fade from public memory. In 1960, he advanced a major and comprehensive program a bare three weeks before the Republican National Convention, when his rejection was already foreordained and there was no practical hope of altering the outcome. By this device he forced Nixon into the famous “Compact of Fifth Avenue”—a document drafted in Rockefeller’s apartment—tilting the Republican platform in a direction compatible with his views. But he paid a grievous price in terms of his standing in the party. In 1964, he opposed Barry Goldwater beyond all the dictates of prudence because he was genuinely convinced that Goldwater in those days was a stalking horse for a dangerous form of conservative extremism (though he came to admire him later). And Goldwater’s less temperate adherents reciprocated by seeking to jeer Rockefeller off the stage at the Republican convention. In 1968, he withdrew from the race in March when he still had an outside chance and then, when Nixon had assured himself of a mathematical majority, reentered it by publishing a series of detailed and thoughtful policy positions.
The contrast with the style of Richard Nixon could not have been greater. In contemporary America, power increasingly gravitates to those with an almost obsessive desire to win it. Whoever does not devote himself monomaniacally to the nominating process, whoever is afraid of it or disdains it, will always be pursuing a mirage, however remarkable his other qualifications. With candidates for the highest office, as with athletes, everything depends upon timing, upon an intuitive ability to seize the opportunity. Convention delegates live the compressed existence of butterflies. For a brief period they are admired, wooed, pressured, flattered, cajoled, endlessly pursued. The day after they have chosen, they return to oblivion. They are therefore uniquely sensitive to any candidate’s self-doubt.
The qualities required to grasp the nomination for the American Presidency from such a transient body may have little in common with the qualities needed to govern; indeed, as the demands of the nominating process become more intensive with each election the two may grow increasingly incompatible. The nominating procedure puts a premium on a candidate skilled at organization, who can match political expression to the need of the moment, a master of ambiguity and consensus, able to subordinate programs to the requirement of amassing a broad coalition. A man who understands the complex essence of the nominating process, as Nixon did so supremely, will inevitably defeat a candidate who seeks the goal by emphasizing substance.
As a personality, Nelson Rockefeller was as different from Adlai Stevenson as it was possible for two men to be. Rockefeller was made of sterner stuff; he was far more decisive. And yet their destinies were oddly parallel. In the face of opportunity they hesitated, or rather they disdained to fashion their opportunities by the means required by the new politics. If this was dangerous for a Democrat, it was fatal for a Republican, whose party, having been out of power for a generation, had turned inward to an orthodoxy and discipline that made it highly suspicious of bold new programs. All the frustrations of the two men flowed from this flaw. Just as Stevenson was defeated by the Kennedy organization in 1960, so Rockefeller was defeated by the Nixon machine in 1960 and again in 1968. Rockefeller’s intense dislike of Nixon came from many factors, but crucial was the intuitive rebellion against the politics of manipulation that may yet be the essence of modern American Presidential politics.
In addition, the rivalry between Rockefeller and Nixon was not without an ingredient of personal antipathy that transcended even that automatically generated by competition for a unique prize. Nixon thought of Rockefeller as a selfish amateur who would wreck what he could not control, a representative of the Establishment that had treated him with condescension throughout his political life. Rockefeller considered Nixon an opportunist without the vision and idealism needed to shape the destiny of our nation.
In 1968 I shared many of these attitudes toward Nixon, although I had little direct evidence on which to base a judgment. I attended the gallant press conference in which Rockefeller conceded to Nixon and I was sick at heart. My feelings were very similar to those of a journalist who had covered the Rockefeller campaign and who broke down in the bar of the Americana Hotel when it came to an end. “This is the last politician to whom I will become emotionally attached,” he said. “Politicians are like dogs. Their life expectancy is too short for a commitment to be bearable.” A man who could have been one of our great Presidents would never achieve his goal. This knowledge was all the harder for his friends because we knew deep down that but for tactical errors and hesitations, it should have been otherwise.
The Phone Call
SOME months after that depressing day—with Richard Nixon now President-elect—I was having lunch with Governor Rockefeller and a group of his advisers in New York City in his small apartment on the fourth floor of the Museum of Primitive Art. It was Friday, November 22, 1968. The museum, which he had endowed, was connected with Rockefeller’s gubernatorial office on West Fifty-fifth Street by a covered walkway traversing a back alley. The apartment had been designed by the architect Wallace Harrison, who had also built Rockefeller Center. Its dramatic curved walls done in red were covered with pictures by Toulouse-Lautrec; invaluable paintings which he had no room to hang were stored in closets. In this splendid setting we were discussing what attitude Rockefeller should take toward a possible offer to join the Nixon Cabinet and what Cabinet position he should seek if given a choice.
Views were divided. One group of advisers held that Rockefeller’s influence would be greater as governor of a major state controlling a political party organization and patronage. Others considered indirect influence illusory. A governor could scarcely sway national policy consistently or across the board, and any attempt to do so was likely to reopen old wounds in especially unfavorable circumstances. Rockefeller leaned toward the first opinion, arguing that he would find it difficult to serve as a subordinate, especially to Nixon.
I was of the view that if given the opportunity Rockefeller should join the Cabinet; I further urged that he would be happiest as Secretary of Defense. I thought that the President-elect would almost surely carry out his announced intention to act as his own Secretary of State. The State Department, moreover, did not seem to me to offer the autonomy required by Rockefeller’s personality. As Secretary of Defense he would be able to implement his decades-long interest in national security. From the example of Robert McNamara, I thought also that the Secretary of Defense could play a major role in the design of foreign policy.
We were debating these considerations in a desultory fashion when we were interrupted by a telephone call from the office of the Presidentelect. It was a poignant reminder o...
Présentation de l'éditeur
Kissinger’s invaluable and lasting contribution to the history of this crucial time. One of the most important books to come out of the Nixon Administration, the New York Times bestselling White House Years covers Henry Kissinger’s first four years (1969–1973) as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Among the momentous events recounted in this first volume of Kissinger’s timeless memoirs are his secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris to end the Vietnam War, the Jordan crisis of 1970, the India-Pakistan war of 1971, his back-channel and face-to-face negotiations with Soviet leaders to limit the nuclear arms race, his secret journey to China, and the historic summit meetings in Moscow and Beijing in 1972. He covers major controversies of the period, including events in Laos and Cambodia, his “peace is at hand” press conference and the breakdown of talks with the North Vietnamese that led to the Christmas bombing in 1972. Throughout, Kissinger presents candid portraits of world leaders, including Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, Jordan’s King Hussein, Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman Mao and Chou En-lai, Willy Brandt, Charles de Gaulle, and many others.
White House Years is Henry Kissinger’s invaluable and lasting contribution to the history of this crucial time.
Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.