70. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Executive Assistant (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1


Subject: The Future

As promised here is what I hope is a more thoughtful memo following up on my telegram of yesterday.2 What I will try to do here is lay out as briefly as I can what I hope is an objective statement of your situation, plus some thoughts on themes and how we may be able to cope with current problems. I am substantially more confident of my description of the current situation than I am of the suggestions on what to do about it. Once again I should caution, however, that I will almost certainly exaggerate the more negative elements of your contemporary position than is probably warranted, and downplay the very real strengths you still possess. So let me emphasize now that I do not consider the situation irreparably lost; I do consider that you have a great reservoir of respect (even awe), confidence and popularity around the country, and that you are more respected (and feared) on the Hill than we ofttimes think. Senator Clark told me today, for example, that he hopes to begin a colloquy on the Senate floor next week on détente in support of you and your position. Parenthetically, Clark was on television a few days ago defending you firmly and well on détente.

I. The Problem.

Let me first lay out my conclusions on your present situation. Some of them you will have seen before in the telegram; others are new.

—Détente is in trouble and consequently you, because you are so closely identified with it, are also in trouble. I know how strongly you feel that as this process continues your flexibility with the Soviets (and I suppose the same is true with the Chinese) is being limited. Equally, I recognize that for good and sufficient reasons you therefore do your utmost to be cautious in your public approach. But the net effect, in all honesty, is that you are perceived to be prepared to preserve détente at all costs. I no longer think you can afford this posture, no matter how right it may be in substantive terms. You have to demonstrate to the public that you, too, are tough. You did this on Angola and it has [Page 378] helped your situation; but it has not resolved the problem. It is in this sense that I feel both so frustrated and powerless when issues such as the Moscow Embassy signal3 arise. Because with all of the best will in the world—and with all of the right instincts about its impact on U.S.-Soviet relations—there is no way, in the long run, that you could keep this from becoming a substantial issue. And the harder you try, and the longer you hold off from expressing your outrage, the more damage will be done to you. I do not mean to get drawn off into a frivolous discussion of an essentially tactical problem; nor am I recommending any particular course of action with regard to the signal. I simply cite this as an example of the sort of problem we are going to have more of and warn you that as you address the issue of how to proceed you will need to think more carefully than you have in the past about the impact on your personal position both in Washington and around the country.

—You have, as I indicated in my cable, begun to lose your ability to communicate with the American people. I have explained the reasons in my cable and will not repeat them here, except to emphasize my very strong belief that your speeches from now on must be shorter (20–30 minutes) and must focus in on one or two discreet themes. With all due respect to the quality of the San Francisco4 and Laramie5 speeches, they simply will not grab the headlines in a political year. And, as Bernie Gwertzman6 said to me the other day, your speeches are all beginning to sound alike. While that may be okay in terms of the specific audience to which you are speaking (and which is unlikely to see you again in the flesh), it won’t wash with the press and television.

—Gloom and doom are too much a part of your style these days. Again, I have explained in the cable why I think this is dangerous, and will not belabor it further here.

—An additional (and I think critical) item I did not mention in my cable is a conviction I developed in Pittsburgh,7 a conviction that sev[Page 379]eral others I have talked to since (particularly including Scotty Reston) have tended to confirm: the American people feel we have lost the “moral” basis of our foreign policy. We stand for nothing and are in a totally pragmatic and opportunistic mode. This is not either your fault or of your making but it is a factor in the changing attitude toward you. In a sense you are a victim of your own success. You have demonstrated a remarkable ability in the Middle East, in Europe, with the Soviets, with the Chinese, etc., to deal brilliantly with immediate problems but there is a lack of the Kennedyesque moralism which Americans so like and which gives us a sense of purpose and uniqueness. In a sense we are tired of making money, making love, and making do; I suspect there is a certain subliminal sense of shame over what we seem to have become and a largely unconscious seeking for the moral simplicities of the past. You have great trouble in talking to the American people about these moral verities but they hunger for it and I think we continue to ignore it at our peril.

—The lame duck syndrome is beginning to hurt. You are beginning to be thought of like yesterday’s newspaper simply because everyone recognizes that you will not be next year’s Secretary of State. This is understandable and to some degree inevitable. But there are some things that can be done about this and I will speak of these later.

—We have tended to slip into a reactive posture, and at times a grumpy one at that. In retrospect your last press conference was an important benchmark in this regard because you came across as tired and touchy. Words like “malicious,” “outrageous,” etc must become the exception not the rule because the more you use them the less they have meaning and the more you seem on the defensive.

II. Themes and Actions.

Let me now turn to a rather unstructured listing of themes8 I think you need to play on and actions you might take to counteract and offset the above.

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—First and foremost in my view is a need for you to take on an optimistic tone. As Scotty Reston said today, if you compare the third quarter of this century with the first two quarters thereof, we don’t really look so bad, no matter how painful the period from 1950 to 1975 might have been. We’ve had no world war. Social and economic justice have been strengthened, not weakened in the United States, nations have gained their freedom, etc. Thus for America to go through their bicentennial in a mood of despair is neither sensible nor good history. Our third century can be our best century. And no one else is playing this theme, or at least playing it well and eloquently, and you can. And it will not be out of character for you nor be seen to be a change in your style.

—Another thing that you perhaps more than anyone else in America can bring to this country is a sense of perspective. The American people are now so preoccupied with matters of the moment that they are captured and captivated by anyone who can present them with a sense of perspective, particularly when it is simply and optimistically put.

—I continue to believe in the “don’t tread on me” approach (I have cleaned the language up a bit because Millie9 is typing this). But if we follow this principle it ought to be done on our terms, on the basis of our timing, and not simply day-to-day reactions to outrageous comments. Some of the latter is necessary as well but it ought to be done in moderation.

—The lame duck disability needs to be offset by hints that you will be around and a major part of the foreign policy process for the next two decades no matter who wins the election this year. People need to begin to understand that you will be a force to be reckoned with in foreign policy—your life’s work—whether you are in or out of office. We need to think about ways to get this point across. People need to remember that your teeth are sharp now and are likely to be for some time to come.

—People need to get a sense that you are holding the place together in a statesmanlike fashion while others play their games for their own personal profit. You have nothing to gain by staying other than your deep sense of duty and responsibility to the country. Thus, the important issue for you over the course of the next few months is at least as much what you say as what you do. The great historical accomplishments of the past seven Kissinger years will remain no matter what happens. What you have yet to contribute is a sense of purpose, perspective and hope for the future.

[Page 381]

—I feel very strongly that we must find some way to give you more time to devote to individual and group meetings with Congressmen and Senators, and opinion leaders around the country, and more time to devote to careful and in fact meticulous planning on how you can be most effective in the months ahead. This means, I believe, that you must—despite your strong prejudice against it—consciously turn over more of the operations of this Department to your subordinates. They will make mistakes, yes. But you will have more time to think and give the major issues of the moment a sense of coherence that only you can bring to them.

—Another theme that occurs to me is that when America wouldn’t do a whole range of things at a time when it had either a nuclear monopoly or vast nuclear superiority, how can we expect to do those things in today’s world.

III. Conclusions.

I have rambled but it is difficult not to do so at the current state of my thinking. I very much believe that you ought to do one or two speeches a month picking on these themes as you can and developing them in a variety of ways. I continue to believe that one effective method of getting our point across is to examine alternatives to the policies we have been following for the last seven years. In this regard I still believe that a speech on détente that dwells on alternatives could be a useful thing for you and would no more identify you as defender of détente than you already are. But done properly you could put the opposition on the defensive. And done with humor, directed at your opponents (though not by name) rather than yourself, it might well have a devastating effect.

I know my suggestions sound simple when compared to the magnitude of the problems I have described. But I think it would be a mistake to believe that your situation is more serious than I believe it to be. You are still a major force to be reckoned with and no one—except perhaps yourself—has forgotten that fact.

I include the original of Steve Graubard’s memo10 to me for your review. I did not include the first page of that memo in the cable I sent you.

LSE 11
  1. Source: Department of State, Files of Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Lot 84D204, Chron—February 1976. Confidential; Eyes Only.
  2. Not found. Kissinger was traveling in Central and South America February 16–24.
  3. The media were reporting that Embassy personnel in Moscow had been exposed to “dangerous levels of radiation stemming from some type of sophisticated Soviet listening or jamming equipment.” (Terence Hunt, “Embassy Staff in Moscow Warned of Radiation Leak,” Washington Star, February 8, 1976, p. A–7) The article was forwarded to Ford, and it was returned to Scowcroft on February 9 with the President’s handwritten note: “Please bring me up to date.” (Ford Library, Staff Secretary’s Office, Presidential Handwriting File, Box 23, Subject File, Foreign Affairs—Moscow Embassy)
  4. The text of Kissinger’s February 3 speech in San Francisco entitled “The Permanent Challenge of Peace: U.S. Policy Toward the Soviet Union,” is in Department of State Bulletin, February 23, 1976, pp. 201–212.
  5. The text of Kissinger’s February 4 speech in Laramie, Wyoming, entitled “America’s Destiny: The Global Context,” is ibid., March 1, 1976, pp. 249–256.
  6. Journalist for the New York Times.
  7. On February 18, the first of five “town meetings” in various cities was held in Pittsburgh, where Department officials listened to the views of a cross-section of the public on four foreign policy issues: U.S.-Soviet relations, U.S. relations with developing countries, the values which should govern U.S. foreign policy, and the objectives toward which U.S. foreign policy should be directed. A March 11 memorandum to Kissinger from Eagleburger, Lord, Lewis, and Vest summarized the audience’s reactions. (National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry A. Kissinger, 1973–77, Lot 91D414, Box 20, NODIS Memos, 1977 (January)) In April, “town meetings” were held in Portland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. Summaries of the public’s views in Portland and San Francisco are ibid., Box 1, NODIS Misc. Docs, Tels, Etc., 1973–77.
  8. A similar list of themes to be emphasized in future speeches was created by Lord in a February 25 memorandum to Kissinger. Lord suggested that Kissinger place topics in a specific chronological sequence for his audiences. A handwritten note by Lord at the end of the memorandum reads: “In HAKLord conversation 2/25 HAK indicated this idea would be held in abeyance for the time being.” (National Archives, RG 59, Policy Planning Council (S/PC), Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Director’s Files (Winston Lord) 1969–77, Lot 77D112, Box 358, FEB 16–29 1976)
  9. Mildred Leatherman, Eagleburger’s Personal Assistant.
  10. An undated memorandum by university professor Stephen Graubard, proposing suggestions for Kissinger’s forthcoming March 11 speech in Boston, is attached but not printed.
  11. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.