233. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Scali) to President Nixon 1

    • Pre-SALT Strategy2

I have burrowed through the avalanche of favorable comment that has been unloosed in the news media since the defeat of the Mansfield Amendment and the SALT announcement.

At this moment, I believe you are in the curious position of being overly praised by news critics who, just a few days ago, were deeply suspicious of your basic strategy and, indeed, of your desire to reach reasonable agreements with the Soviet Union.

I believe that this praise, instead of subsiding, will multiply in the weeks ahead because it is coming from many of the key opinion molders whose compilation of facts and analyses other less enterprising reporters are quick to adopt.

After a day or two of hesitation, the reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post have joined the chorus. I will mention only a few: Harrison Salisbury, Robert Kleiman, James Reston, Max Frankel and Ralph Lapp in the New York Times; Chalmers Roberts of the Washington Post. There are others: Peter Lisagor of the Chicago Daily News, Tom Ross of the Chicago Sun Times, Stewart Hensley of United Press. I would add today’s news magazines, plus the assorted remarks of network news commentators.

After months of enduring criticism, I would not blame you for sitting back for a period to savor the sweet success your efforts have wrought, while your aides encourage a second and third wave of praise. However, there is a danger.

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Inevitably, and far more swiftly than might have been predicted, a national euphoria is developing that will backfire if, as seems likely, the slow pace of developments fails to keep step with the rosy expectations.3 This could lead not only to deep disappointment later but, in the longer range, make it more difficult for you to achieve the foreign policy agreements you seek as a solid basis of accommodation with the Soviet government. Too much praise, too much talk, will encourage suspicion in Moscow.

I know you sought to anticipate this problem by warning that intensive negotiations lie ahead before there is agreement on SALT and progress in achieving balanced force reductions in Europe. But this has not been enough to discourage newsmen from talking about a triumphant summit conference in Moscow later this year, to look ahead optimistically to a Berlin settlement, reduction in ground forces, even to speculate hopefully on a settlement of the Vietnam War. They may encourage a belief that a train of events is building up which can produce an instant heaven, only to have these hopes dashed. It is not that the newsmen are seeking to be deliberately mischievous—they believe they are old hands in spotting important developments in the making, despite disclaimers and warnings that tough negotiations are in store. Predicting the outcome is part of the game.

Therefore, I recommend that:

At your next news conference you seek to cool off the air of great expectations by stressing the enormously difficult, time-consuming negotiations that lie head.4
You again generously credit the Soviet government for its contribution in making it possible for the negotiations to begin and that you give notice that secrecy is indispensable to a successful result.
Now that you have earned the first wave of high praise for your efforts, you instruct your aides to low-key rather than accentuate further hoorays.5 I have detected a tendency to re-emphasize the initial breakthrough. I do not propose to suggest what your aides do for domestic, political purposes. But, it strikes me that there is plenty of time [Page 690] to unleash the superlatives after you have achieved the solid results which will speak eloquently for themselves.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 881, SALT, SALT Talks (Helsinki), Vol. XV. No classification marking. A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. Butterfield advised Scali in writing on May 28 that Nixon had read his memorandum, fully agreed with its recommendations, and wanted a copy sent to Kissinger. Butterfield forwarded both memoranda to Kissinger and explained in a handwritten note: “I have rewritten the President’s comments precisely as, & where, they appeared on the original.” The original memorandum has not been found. The President’s comments, as indicated by Butterfield, are provided in the footnotes below.
  2. Nixon wrote in the margin: “K—note.”
  3. Nixon underlined this sentence, marked the passage in the margin, and wrote: “right!”
  4. Nixon wrote “OK” in the margin next to each of the three numbered paragraphs.
  5. Nixon underlined this clause.
  6. Nixon wrote “(correct!)” in the margin. Nixon elaborated his position during a meeting with Kissinger and Haldeman at 10:08 a.m. on May 26. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to Haldeman: “[Nixon] got to talking about the fact that foreign policy was not doing us any real good, although we had accomplished a lot of things. And he explained that to Henry’s country—the intellectuals and the social jet set, etc.—we’re doing an outstanding job; but in what he referred to as ‘my country’—that is, the plain folks out in the middle of America—they don’t know anything about what you’re doing on SALT and all these other things. They just want things to simmer down and be quiet, and to them we have not accomplished very much. Then he got to talking about election issues and made the ironic point that of all the major issues, the only one that is a sure thing for us is Vietnam.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)