211. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to Secretary of State Muskie1

Presenting U.S. Foreign Policy to the American People: Bureau Ideas

In response to your request last week, twenty-two bureaus and offices have prepared the attached memoranda on the ways in which U.S. foreign policy problems can best be presented to the American people.2 This memo summarizes their answers to the questions that were posed to them.

I. What does the public need to know about the world to make it more receptive to the “hard options” of our policies?


Several of the bureaus see a need to convey a greater sense of the complexity of today’s world and the constraints on our freedom of [Page 628] action. We should not minimize the costs or risks associated with our policies, suggest quick or easy fixes, or downplay the degree to which American foreign policy success depends on the support of other nations, such as our NATO allies or Third World countries.

David Newsom singles out four issues that are particularly hard to explain to the American people: Third World demands, unanticipated political change, the relative strength of the U.S. in the world, and the independent views of our allies.

A number of the memos suggest that more can be done to make foreign policy seem relevant to everyday concerns. We can stress the economic stakes we have in foreign relations (jobs, resources and the prices paid for imports are three immediate suggestions). We can relate development efforts abroad to pressures to emigrate to the U.S. (OES), or to narcotics flows (INR, OES). A number suggest that we can do more to explain foreign policy in human terms, without oversimplification.


The growing reluctance of Americans to dedicate sufficient resources to foreign affairs, particularly to economic and military assistance, is a commonly recognized problem. It is also agreed that we should actively seek to build support for aid, stressing that it is crucial to our effectiveness in changed international economic and political circumstances. In addition to the competitive (with the Soviets) and humanitarian rationales, we can show that aid helps create stable growing economies which are increasingly important to us as markets for our exports (H, IDCA, PA). Developing countries are sources of raw materials (AID, H). Helping LDC’s address their pressing social and economic problems can enhance political stability (IDCA). The public bemoans a supposed loss of U.S. influence in the world, yet desires reduced aid levels. We can highlight the cost of aid cuts in terms of influence (NEA). One caveat, however: a tendency to exaggerate the benefits of aid in the past is part of our problem today. We should, therefore, be willing to keep expectations reasonable (EB).

Specific Issue Ideas

Third World needs: dramatize with use of Caribbean area. Poverty at home leads to migration pressures on U.S. (P).

Fault found with U.S. policy “weakness” whenever unfavorable change occurs: recall radical changes which occurred during period of preponderant U.S. power (Nasser, Iraq, Castro etc.) (P).

Strategic balance: selective use of “how does it look from Moscow” (P); sober respect for Soviets but not all-powerful, long run mutual interests (PM, PA).

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Refugees, immigrants: historical success stories, always adjustment problems (RP); need to share burdens (PA).

Congressional relations: agreement on policies takes work but strengthens policy; legislated constraints can be costly (H).

Intelligence: stress role of intelligence community in digestion of mass of data needed for modern policymaking (INR).

Energy: challenge myths, e.g. no energy problem, U.S. deserves subsidized oil, can break cartel with wheat. Stress collateral role of allies, LDC’s (EB).

Trade: economic/political costs of protectionism, injury alternatives available, effective competition not unfair, LDC’s offer markets (EB).

Narcotics: example of modest assistance program with direct domestic benefit (INM).

Human Rights: grounded in U.S. and international law, pragmatic, promotes security, strong card in ideological competition, long term solution to refugee problems (HA, PA).

Arms Control: preserve base; push SALT without catalyzing business as usual attitude; SALT in our interest, not “favor” to Soviets; TNF—keep low visibility / freedom of action (PM, PA).

Terrorism: decade of violence likely—need to attack root causes (D/CT).

Latin America: Unsung success story; convey sense of changing scene and our confidence that we advance U.S. interests by promoting LA democracy; coolness with southern cone only temporary. (ARA)

II. How can the problems confronting U.S. foreign policy be best presented to the American people?

—Use an overall framework or strategy statement; perhaps revive annual foreign policy statements (H).3

—Need quicker adaptation of speaking engagements to changing foreign policy priorities, more aggressive use of FSO visits to hometowns (EUR).

—The Secretary should make a Report to U.S. People on U.S. foreign policy goals and responsibilities. Work in foreign service role in conceiving and carrying out U.S. foreign policy (PER).

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—Need to reiterate themes, particularly those of allies speech (Commonwealth/WAC August 8).4 Make two economic speeches in next two months (EB).

—Require that all Deputy Assistant Secretaries and above make a speech monthly. Add speaking skills section to efficiency report on FSO’s (IO).

—Stress citizen services stories to personalize department, build support, combat ivory tower image (CA).

—Consider establishment of consular services office on Capitol Hill (OES).

—Intensify and institutionalize communications with key interest groups interested in foreign policy. Improve press guidance to avoid cliches, evasiveness. Department Spokesman should be willing to deal with reasonable hypothetical questions. Testify on Hill on interagency agreed positions only. Consider monthly summaries of current foreign policy with Q’s and A’s. Make senior officials available to networks for a series of TV specials on the problems and imperatives of foreign policymaking (AF).

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, Lot 82D298, Box 7, TL, 9/1–15/80. No classification marking. Drafted by C. Ries (S/P) on September 3 and cleared by Berger. Ries initialed for Berger. There is no indication that Muskie saw the memorandum. Also printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 157.
  2. Attached but not printed as Tabs 1–22 are the bureau and office submissions.
  3. The Nixon administration issued annual reports on foreign policy; for information concerning the 1970, 1971, and 1972 reports, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Documents 60, 85, 86, and 104. For a portion of the text of 1973 report, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 1, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1973–1976, Document 9.
  4. Reference is to Muskie’s August 8 address made in San Francisco before the Commonwealth Club of California and the World Affairs Council of Northern California. Muskie asserted: “We in the United States need to be sensitive to the special concerns and vulnerabilities of our allies. At the same time, our allies must accept the growing responsibility that comes with growing strength. They must be prepared to bear their share of our common burdens.” (Department of State Bulletin, September 1980, p. 17)