Differences in Policy between Nixon and Ford Administrations
DR. SUSSER: Perhaps you could comment on the difference in the way the bureaucracy functioned and in the way the White House functioned with the cabinet agencies when the changeover came from Nixon to Ford.
DR. KISSINGER: Ford had never run for the presidency. He was as close to a normal human being as we'll ever get in that office. (Laughter.) He was not driven by public relations. And Nixon had had a very complicated life, and Nixon did not like to face disagreement face-to-face. So if one wanted to have an impact on Nixon, it was much better to do it with memoranda than in a cabinet meeting or in a--or through a--Ford had no such problems. So the interdepartmental process was calmer under Ford than it was under Nixon, and there wasn't that dual system anymore of a Security Advisor and a Secretary of State so that had a quality of calming it down.
For awhile, I was both Secretary of State and Security Advisor, which is a bad system because it gives one person too great an influence. It also creates an anomalous situation when you appear as Security Advisor and the Deputy Secretary of State represents the State Department. But he'd be mad if he disagreed with his Secretary as Security Advisor. (Laughter.) It was not a good system and it was correctly abandoned.
So as it turned out, towards the end of the Ford Administration, however, the country was so divided on the issue of Détente that the governmental process didn't work so well anymore. There was always a lot of discussion about disagreements between Jim and me when he was Secretary of Defense, but in fact we lived in the same universe and we were going to come to an agreement somewhere along the line.
When Rumsfeld came in, and I've said that often publicly, who was a political figure, and we had a disagreement, there was no way of solving the political dispute that had arisen, so that the negotiations became stalemated until there was a new administration. I don't think that would have happened--I said so at the time--when Jim was in office. So one had to consider that. But I had personally huge affection for Ford and I think he contributed enormously toward the healing of the country that was in very bad shape when he took it over.
DR. SUSSER: Dr. Schlesinger, would you like to talk a little bit about taking over Defense from Mel Laird?
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I didn't take it over from Mel Laird, as a matter of fact. I took it over from Elliot Richardson.
DR. SUSSER: Right, right.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Elliot Richardson having been handed the Department of Justice after the departure of the previous attorney general. Elliot, who was always a good soldier, or tried to be, tried to broker, as it were, the problems of the President with regard to the issues of Watergate. But there was only so far that he would go, and so Elliot, through the rest of his life, observed that the best job he ever had in Washington was being Secretary of Defense. And he didn't comment on his opinion about the Department of Justice, but I don't think that he liked it as much as he had Health, Education and Welfare.
Taking over--as Henry mentioned, on many strategic issues he and I saw eye to eye, at least in the large if not with regard to details. So even when I was Director of Central Intelligence he made use of me, if I may put it that way, in dealing with certain of our problems, of our international problems. So when I took over as Secretary of Defense, I was in a position, having known Henry on and off for 40 or 50 years, to share with him many of his strategic goals. As I said earlier, I was for Détente. I was for a balanced Détente.
DR. KISSINGER: I might tell you an instance of the channel breaking down. When I was in Moscow in 1973 at the end of the October war, my strategy was to gain as much time as possible because the Israeli situation was improving and our negotiating position would therefore improve. And so the President had invited me to dinner on a Saturday night just after I arrived and said we have to settle this as quickly as possible. I said to him, "Yes, but of course you realize that I have to check everything with President Nixon and so you have to take this into account." And he pulled out a cable he had received that day from President Nixon giving me full powers to do--(laughter)--so when I got back to the guest house, even though I knew the lines were open, I called up Haig and I said, "Have you lost your mind? Why would a cable like this be sent to me?" And kept going on in my emphatic way. (Laughter.) And Haig said, "Will you get off my back? I have problems of my own." (Laughter.) And I said, "What problems can you possibly have on a Saturday night in Washington?" It turned out it was the night of the Saturday night massacre when everything went to hell.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Incidentally, there was the Saturday night massacre that led to our special concern growing into the so-called nuclear alert that occurred a week later after Brezhnev's stiff letter about moving into the Middle East with us or without us, as he put it. And we feared that after the Saturday night massacre--you had the first calls in the Congress for Nixon's impeachment. There hadn't been such calls, basically, since the impeachment of President Johnson in 1865 or '6, so that was a new experience at that time. Subsequently, cries for impeachment of the President seemed to be quite common. (Laughter.)
And we feared that the Soviets might be concluding that the American Government was paralyzed, that it could not act, and it was for that reason, amongst others, that we responded to Brezhnev's note with the so-called nuclear alert, which incidentally was not just nuclear, it was our forces all over the world.
DR. KISSINGER: And which had been done more or less before in 1970 during--when Syria invaded Jordan and more or less the same procedure was used, except in 1970 it didn't leak until the crisis was over. In '73, it leaked within two hours.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, you can't put a couple of million people on alert all over the world without its passing to the press.
DR. KISSINGER: No, but that was the purpose. (Laughter.) No, the purpose was not necessarily to get it into the press. The purpose was to--
DR. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, was to convey it to the Russians.
DR. KISSINGER: We were sending a message to the Soviet Union and we wanted to make sure that they understood we meant it.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, there was alerting the Air Defense Forces, which were all in the reserves, so at 2 a.m. in the morning somebody would get a call and begin to dress to go down to base, and his wife would say to him, "Where are you going at 2 a.m. in the morning?" And he would respond, "I can't tell you because it's a secret." That isn't the way it works. He would say quite clearly, "I've been summoned back to the base because we've gone to alert status." So there was no way that as far as the domestic scene was concerned that we going to be able to keep this kind of thing secret.
DR. KISSINGER: But before we see horror stories here again of the imminence of nuclear war, it was not an alert status that brought us close to nuclear war. It was an alert status that showed that we were getting ready for the actions that Brezhnev had threatened.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Quite right.
DR. KISSINGER: What we thought Brezhnev had said.