106. Draft Letter From W. Anthony Lake and Roger Morris of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Dear Henry:

With this letter we submit our resignations from the NSC staff effective ______. We do so with regret and upon long reflection.

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In view of the closeness and apparent mutual respect of our working relations in the past, we naturally want to be completely honest in describing the reasons for our resignations. They involve some very strong feelings about this Administration. As we have said before, we sympathize with your difficult position and the pressures you are under, and do not intend this letter as an attack on you personally. But the strength of our feelings requires our writing this.

We are leaving the staff in order to take positions at ______2 in which we hope to make a contribution in an area of need. Yet we leave at this time only after judging that this is possible without seriously embarrassing you or placing an undue burden of work on other members of the staff.

As we told you in February, we find ourselves increasing alienated by the domestic and many of the foreign policies of this Administration. Because of our continuing personal loyalty to you and what you are trying to do, however, we have no desire for our resignations to become even a minor public issue.

We do indeed believe, as the Annual Review suggests, that a new era requires a new quality of leadership. It demands above all an understanding of urgent needs in America and abroad and a commitment to meet them. We have found neither. We have often heard courage equated with standing up to criticism. But it is not enough to dismiss the critics for their motives or manliness, nor to ridicule them with the catch phrases of the Right.

We think real courage means recognizing the validity of the problems, however they are raised, and leading an effort to resolve them. We think Presidential politics should be the means to that end and not, as we see it practiced now, an end in itself through obsession with public relations.

From past discussions you are aware of the nature of our specific disagreement with a number of the Administration’s foreign policies, particularly with regard to Southeast Asia. We must also say that we are appalled by the attitudes of leaders in this Administration on racial issues, and their cynical approach to other domestic problems which demand immediate redress rather than political maneuver.

Moreover, we are deeply disturbed by the process of policy making as well as the policies themselves. While we continue to have the highest respect for your intellect and what you are trying to accomplish in forging a rational and disciplined means of making foreign policy, it is equally clear to us that you have not and will not be able to accomplish this goal single-handedly. Under the best of circumstances, [Page 233] this would have been an enormous job in this Administration. In any case, it would have required a genuine joint effort by you and a closely-knit staff acting for you, with and in your full confidence. But we think they can only act effectively for you if you share with them what it is that you are trying to accomplish and the information you hold, trusting them and giving them support.

Finally, our disagreement with the Administration’s approach to foreign and domestic problems is compounded by its working atmosphere. Relations among the highest officials establish the atmosphere for the whole government. We have both worked for senior officials in the Johnson Administration. Whatever that Administration’s faults, we were left unprepared for the atmosphere of suspicion, manipulation and malice which we have seen over the past year. Working this near the center of power should be, we believe, an exciting and, in some measure, gratifying experience. Instead, we have been increasingly depressed by it.

During our time on the staff, we have always made an honest effort to act in your interests, even when they may have been costly either in terms of our relations elsewhere in the government or through conflict with our own personal or intellectual preferences. We hope you will accept this letter for what it is: the candor which you would expect and which our personal regard for you required.


  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Staff Files— Lake Chron, Box 1047, Tony Lake Chron File [Jun. 1969–May 1970] Personal; Eyes Only. The letter is unsigned and was not sent. In a much briefer version of the resignation letter, sent to Kissinger on April 29, Lake and Morris spoke of their “grave reservations about the value of using U.S. troops in Cambodia” and their “increasing alienation” from the administration that predated and went beyond the Cambodian problem, but they did not explain their disaffection in any greater detail. (Ibid.)
  2. Omission in the source text.
  3. Following the departures of Lake and Morris from the NSC (Halperin also resigned as an NSC consultant in May), Kissinger opened the NSC staff meeting on June 15 with the following comments on the NSC system:
    “Dr. Kissinger noted the departure from the norm of the last few weeks, acknowledged the extra burdens which had been placed on some staff members, and said we should now return to the regular pattern. He stressed the necessity of cranking up the NSC system and said he would discuss this with Col. Kennedy. He also noted there would be new staff members. He emphasized that NSC staff members cannot be spokesmen of the bureaucracy—they are spokesmen only of the President and must carry out both the letter and the spirit of the President’s intentions. The President must have available to him every significant point of view, but once his decision has been made, the staff must see to it that it is carried out. The staff must stay conceptually ahead of the bureaucracy, must ask the questions that no one else is asking. We cannot be ratifiers of the bureaucratic process. He thought in the areas where we had taken the lead, such as SALT, we had been successful and had served the President well.” (Memorandum for the Record by Jeanne W. Davis, June 16; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 314, National Security Council, 1969–77, Meetings, Staff, 1969–71)