340. Editorial Note

During a conversation in the Oval Office on January 18, 1972, President Nixon and George Shultz, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, both expressed concern about and criticism of the Department of State and Secretary of State Rogers’ leadership. A selection of their comments, taken from different points of the conversation, appears below. The comments were made during a discussion of Senator Warren Magnuson’s Export Expansion Bill, which proposed to transfer the commercial and economic responsibilities of the Foreign Service to the Department of Commerce. For excerpts from the discussion of the Magnuson Bill, see Document 380.

Shultz began by saying “I certainly have the feeling that the State Department is in a very fragile and serious state and it needs a, it needs a strong and fresh hand in there in the second term I think, ’cause it seems to me anyway—I’m not here or the expert on this—but it seems to me that you need a State Department that’s good in order to do the work, and they have lots of talented people but they’re not, just not being used and it’s hard to get at them and use them effectively.”

President Nixon then added that “the trouble with the State Department people is they lack guts, principle and, frankly, knowledge, in the fields that really amount to anything,” and argued that the problem was only exacerbated by the fact that Rogers “just constantly defends the god-damned Department, and he says nothing is wrong. Well, the Department is not always right. The Department’s in a hell of a shape.” He continued: “The problem that we have here is that Bill has made a fatal error in terms of his own place as Secretary of State. He has pandered so much to be liked by his colleagues at the State Department that the State Department runs him rather than his running the State Department. He has pandered so much to be liked by the press that cover the State Department that the press runs him rather than [he] them. Now the net result of all this—if you were to ask people of the State Department and the people of the press who cover the State Department, ‘Do you like Bill Rogers?’ he’d get about 90 percent. If, on the other hand, you were to poll the country in terms, ‘Do you know Rogers the Secretary of State—who he is—or, do you consider [Page 757]him a strong Secretary official State?’ you might get 30. Now, that’s a tragedy, a tragedy ’cause the man’s so able.”

Later in the conversation, Nixon told Shultz that the “Kissinger operation, in view of my own lack of confidence in the State Department FSOs, has been indispensable to me, and of course very helpful.” But he added that the Kissinger operation has also been “very detrimental to State and detrimental many times needlessly so,” adding that “Henry says Bill is dumb—not smart. He is wrong. Bill is smart as hell. Bill is not a clown.” Nixon also pointed out that while both he and Kissinger distrusted the State Department, what distinguished his views of the Department from that of Kissinger’s was that Nixon had “much more suspicion of them and much more contempt for them than he has. He’s one of them in a sense. He has great respect for their liberal background and training.”

Schultz concluded by saying: “They don’t realize that under [Rogers’] leadership, the Department has fallen into total disrepair and that is I think, that’s the problem in the long run, and maybe it ought to be allowed to just disintegrate, but I think that if we don’t have a State Department we have to invent one.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 650–12) The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.