53. Editorial Note

On March 31, 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Dean Rusk, Cyrus Vance, McGeorge Bundy, George Shultz, Douglas Dillon, W. Averell Harriman, Robert McNamara, David Rockefeller, George Ball, William Scranton, Peter G. Peterson, David K.E. Bruce, John McCloy, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Joseph Sisco. According to a memorandum of conversation prepared by L. Paul Bremer, Kissinger expounded on the difficulties facing the implementation and execution of U.S. foreign policy:

“Now, if we might spend 20 minutes on some other problems. I want to say a few things about my very profound concern about the paralysis which we are inflicting upon ourselves on a global basis. You know most foreign policy setbacks are inflicted by foreigners. Ours instead are being inflicted by ourselves. We probably can’t settle anything about this today and maybe we ought to meet again next week.”

After a brief discussion of the domestic political climate in Portugal, Kissinger turned to the role of intelligence in the conduct of American policy:

“A superpower in this world without effective intelligence machinery is in deep trouble. If these congressional investigations don’t come to a quick end, it will unravel every covert activity over the past twenty years. In fact, many more were conducted before 1969 than after. If these come out separated from their context, it will lead to the destruction of any intelligence capacity.”

Following a brief description of U.S.-Portuguese relations, Kissinger continued:

“We have inflicted a serious setback on ourselves. There have been no new Forty Committee actions since the Ryan amendment, since the President must certify it is in the national interest to undertake a covert activity, and since we must also brief about 50 congressmen on each activity. Now you gentlemen know that no covert operation has ever been ordered which the President wasn’t informed of. He always had a chance to disapprove it if he wanted. But it makes a very big difference if it is done in a disavowable mode where, if something goes wrong, the blame goes to the Assistant to the President or to the CIA Director instead of having something on file which the President has signed. And you simply cannot brief 50 congressmen on a covert activity and expect it to be kept covert.

“This group should know. Perhaps there have been excesses in the past and perhaps covert operations need to be more tightly controlled. But in the last three months we’ve had no Forty Committee meetings and the only thing we’ve even discussed was that damn ship.

[Page 279]

“Even though the myth is that the Assistant to the President generates covert proposals, this is simply not true. He does nothing without proposals and I’ll tell you we are getting none today. Take Saudi Arabia—I would dearly like to know what is going on in the national guard, and in the army and in the court, but I can’t.

“I’m raising national problems here with you. We’ve had eight years of Vietnam and two years of Watergate and these have made this a national problem.”

Kissinger referred to the Hughes-Ryan amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, signed December 30, 1974 (P.L. 93–559), which required explicit approval by the President for covert actions and expanded Congressional oversight and control of the CIA.

After a brief discussion of Cyprus, Kissinger returned to this theme:

“With the exception of Vietnam which I would like to discuss at some point, in all of your experiences foreign policy has been discussed in terms of our overall policy. It is now being handled like domestic policy with every pressure group going up there [to Congress] with their own projects. I had our people look into the restrictions which now operate on foreign policy and I was given a list 21 pages long of restrictions.

“At one point I even showed [Representative John] Brademas all of our cables just to show him we were serious and all he did was second-guess each one of the cables. This policy obviously leads to the disintegration of a coherent foreign policy. We’re not even talking here about the Jackson amendment. The price we paid to promote Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union which in my view is not a legitimate goal of U.S. policy anyway is unbelievable, especially since we had already gotten emigration to go up from 4,000 to 30,000 per year.

“I am profoundly worried about how we now appear to other countries. Our authority has for 30 years preserved the peace of the world. If we behave like the French governments of the Third and Fourth Republics, the peace of the world will be in the most severe jeopardy.

“We can argue how to handle the Cyprus thing, but at some point the administration simply has to be in charge of the tactics of foreign policy. If we do a lousy job, either get us out in the next election or attack the general direction of the policy.

“There is one problem which is that there is no one in Congress we can talk to.

“Mr. Shultz: The broader point is very powerful. Looking at the domestic side of life now, which is being governed by very narrow often noble little cutup groups of people, policy makers are not allowed [Page 280] to make a balanced judgment, but must make narrow ones confined to specific issues. This leads to an incapacity for leadership and to disorganization.

“Secretary Kissinger: Since the Second World War whether you agree or not there has been a basic agreement that the U.S. stands for something. Now people wonder if anything we say or undertake can be carried out.

“Mr. Dillon: Our performance domestically is really just as bad and it too is similar to the Third and Fourth Republics.

“Secretary Kissinger: This group here has given structure to our policy over a long time.

“Ambassador Bruce: I see this only from the NATO perspective. The decline of U.S. prestige is almost humiliating. The causes are not what they appear to be. Many Europeans don’t understand it because they’re accustomed to the parliamentary system in Europe. They continue to say that only the United States can give leadership, but they don’t trust that it will be given at all or that it will be given wisely. Also, we are speaking in a much too defeatist way about ourselves, both in the news or among our congressmen. If you read about the seven senators, all of whom are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who are traveling in Europe, their questions are simply not absorbable. The Europeans are confused about who these people are. One of the men in Brussels I asked said I would be glad to brief these people, but they don’t understand the problems.

“Secretary Kissinger: It seems to me that we are almost inviting some misbehavior from the Soviets. From what I know of the Chinese, there is no sentimentality there. They want us to hold the ring with the Soviets. If they get contempt for us, they could get very tough with Japan, and the Third World. We have to pull ourselves together fast.

“Vietnam is another problem. I’d be prepared to and even eager to meet again with this group on that. I am profoundly worried. I think my basic analysis about the state of the world is right. And I think I can use your help on the Middle East.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry A. Kissinger, 1973–77, Lot 91D414, Box 22, Classified External Memcons December 1974–April 1975)

The suspension of negotiations between the Egyptians and Israelis during Kissinger’s latest round of shuttle diplomacy precipitated his reference to the Middle East. During a March 26 Cabinet meeting, he sketched out the parameters of the negotiating strategy he had utilized during the previous year and a half:

“In 1973, all of the Arabs were lined up against Israel, the radicals were in the ascendancy, there was an oil embargo, the Europeans had come out for the 1967 frontiers, and the Soviet Union was deeply in[Page 281]volved. The United States was in the position where we were completely isolated, and any war and its impact over the world would be ascribed to American and Israeli intransigence. With Sadat’s cooperation, we moved to the step-by-step approach. We kept the Soviet Union and Europeans on the sidelines and we kept the moderates in control. We recommended to Israel that it seek movement with Jordan and in the Sinai. The delays in this process brought about the result of Rabat, replacing Hussein with the PLO as spokesman for the West Bank, and Asad was trying to force global consideration of all the issues.

“So there were two elements in these negotiations: the substance itself and the continuation of a process which would preserve the situation and [that] we had been able to develop. Throughout this period we worked closely with the Israelis and indeed followed their timetable. It brought us to this negotiation.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–77, Box 10, Memoranda of Conversations—Ford Administration, March 26, 1975—Cabinet Meeting)

Prior to his March 31 meeting with the members of the foreign policy establishment, Kissinger transmitted a paper, drafted by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Harold Saunders on March 25, to Ford. In the March 27 covering memorandum, Kissinger noted that the paper was “designed to lay out systematically for your further reflection the issues and choices we face in the Middle East.” He added, “My own tentative inclination is that we will want to develop a strategy which carefully capitalizes on mounting pressures to build domestic support and to move the negotiations forward. This will require a thoughtful though not necessarily high-pressure U.S. role from the start, although we will have to recognize that it is unrealistic to expect major accomplishments very early in the process.” (Ford Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 9, Institutional Files—Meetings, NSC Meeting 3/28/75—Middle East Policy (2))