126. Memorandum From the Country Director for Laos (Hamilton) to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1


  • The Country Director—One Year After
Although it would be more appropriate to comment on experience as a Country Director after a longer period in the saddle, I wish before departing on field assignment to record something of the satisfactions and frustrations of this newly established position. I expect that the satisfactions are relatively widely shared by other Directors and that the frustrations are largely peculiar to my own assignment on Laos affairs.
Within the Department, I believe the Director system is working well. It is a great satisfaction to the officer immediately charged with the business of a single country to know that he is directly responsible for the adequacy and accuracy of knowledge about his country and its problems presented at the Bureau level. Working laterally with other bureaus, I have found cooperation and responsiveness without exception.
Similarly I think that removal of the Office Director layer has increased satisfaction to Country Officers, who have much more frequent direct relationships at least to the level of the Deputy Assistant Secretary.
In my own case at least it has been possible to keep the Laos problem “on the fifth floor” except with respect to policy or program questions directly relating to conduct of the Southeast Asian war. I take it that this is what the Secretary desired in establishing the system, and I believe there is great scope for a Director to exercise judgment and leadership. The exception noted above is obviously a large one. It is also a completely proper one. In arguing against various proposals from the parochial standpoint of their potential impact on Laos, I have recognized throughout that larger considerations were frequently apt to lead to decisions contrary to my recommendations. In these matters I have considered my obligation discharged if argument helped to insure that all factors bearing on the question were taken into account in reaching frequently difficult decisions.
There have been no large differences as to policy or program emphasis between the Ambassador and those of us who seek to support him in Washington. By heavy reliance on informal communications, I believe that I have maintained good understanding between the Department and the Mission.
It is not surprising to me that establishment of the Country Director system has made less difference inter-departmentally. There have been some gains, principally in two respects: 1. the generally more senior Country Directors are able to deal across agency lines on a wider basis than the former “Desk Officers”, i.e. with policy officials to the Assistant Secretary level as well as at the working level; 2. there is to some degree an aura of responsibility around the Director’s head and inclination to respect the care with which Country Directors are assumed to have been selected, which facilitates the exercise of leadership and program management. But there is nothing in NSAM 341 which endows officers of other agencies, at any particular level, with authority larger than that which they previously exercised to commit resources or to take policy positions. The key battles are therefore fought at the same, more elevated levels as before. I have had all the support to which I could aspire in such instances. But there may be more frequent opportunities for you and your Deputies to avoid entanglement in specific problems simply by indicating to your other-agency counterparts that, with reference to the particular question, your Country Director will exercise Bureau responsibility.
It does not seem to me that the Director system has resulted in changes in ritual behavior comparable to the actual changes in working [Page 288] procedures. I have seen no recent contributions to a series of memoranda between Protocol and ‘O’ dealing with the admissibility of Directors to White House functions, but have the impression there has been no significant change. When Ambassador Sullivan was last in Washington, Secretary McNamara thought the Country Director should not accompany him on his call. I understand that this decision was born of a desire to obtain Ambassador Sullivan’s views on sensitive Vietnam questions, but as a result I have been unable to resolve practical problems that were discussed because of differences between Ambassador Sullivan’s and DOD’s understanding of what was said. I am somewhat disappointed to have seen the Secretary only twice and the Under Secretary only once in the course of a year’s service—on all three occasions merely to accompany a visitor, but to the extent that this means that Laos has not been a frequent item on the Secretary’s grievously long list of problems, it is a source of satisfaction.
One frustration quite peculiar to Laos has been the distortion of effort on the part of my entire staff in the direction of concentration on military-type questions. In addition to a stream of fairly significant policy matters, there has been the daily necessity to monitor on-going programs in detail to insure or to restore compliance with agreed procedures.
The result of this distortion is that I am somewhat dissatisfied with my own performance in the area of forward planning. I think we have achieved effective inter-agency coordination of operations, but this becomes a matter of watching trees instead of the forest unless the Director can devote a meaningful portion of his time to ensuring that current activities contribute to realization of regularly re-examined future goals. This has simply not been possible to the degree I consider desirable under the weight of daily requirements.

[Omitted here are comments on Laos.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, O/MS-Management Staff Files: Lot 70 D 474, Department of State, 1967, Country Director Organization. Secret.