19. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Yugoslavia1

13038. For the Ambassador from Bridges. Subject: Official-Informal.

1. Open Forum: “Reflections on the Transition.” Following strictly FYI is a report from EE’s Tom Longo of strictly off-the-record Open Forum comments January 16 by State Department Transition Team head, Amb. Robert Neumann.2 The theme was a personal retrospective by Neumann on the transition.

2. Neumann outlined conceptually three aspects to transition: physical replacement of outs with ins; evolution from vague and blunt campaign statements geared to play well in Peoria to accommodation with hard reality; and “transition from the transition,” i.e., [Page 77] from interregnum recommendations to early policy decisions of the new team.

He explained that the 100-plus Reagan Transition Teams throughout the government had operated under the same mandate from Reagan central: (A) to review personnel and identify who could, might, or should be replaced; (B) to review operating structures and make recommendations on structural changes, and (C) to make policy recommendations for questions which the new team would face in the near term.

3. Neumann emphasized that he had not selected the State Transition Team.3 The Reagan people had, and the selection had been avowedly “political” in that it had aimed to get representatives from the Hill, from the campaign, and from the interested private sector together to interract with each other and get a sense of governance and reality. The idea was to merge a large number of persons, including younger ones, coming from the exuberance and hype of the political campaign, with the career services and with real-world problems. Representatives from the Hill were explicitly included in order to make Congress a full partner in the transition. This input, said Neumann, was “absolutely vital,” given the need for any President in the present day to “negotiate” with Congress. Neumann acknowledged that transition interactions of persons with different bents had been “corrosive, abrasive, and brutal” at times, but the real political world lacked diplomatic niceties. Neumann said that even the more strident individuals from outside State had come away with a high regard for the career people.

4. In a lengthy, strictly personal aside, Neumann said he believes strongly that the American people opted strongly on November 4 for more than just the ouster of the Carter administration. Venting themselves against “the flag burners and the Jane Fondas” of the Vietnam days, the voters were reacting to what had been a type of assault on basic patriotic values. Some of this feeling, said Neumann, had come out during the Panama Canal Treaty debate, and was not really directed against the Panama Canal Treaty itself.4 This resentment or “rage” fed [Page 78] into other things, but essentially antedated the Carter administration and the Carter “non-government.” In the sense of a mandate, the people voted for more than a “mild course correction.”

5. If this is true, continued Neumann, then there must be major change, and persons identified with the old order of things must be removed, lest the electorate get a sense of betrayed promises. (Neumann emphasized that this did not presage a return to McCarthy like persecution of the career service.) Professional diplomats execute the policies of the political leadership, but in human terms the enthusiasm with which they do so varies.

6. In this regard, Neumann emphasized that the wide publicity given early in the transition to a Reagan hit list of diplomats was in fact a highly selective leak of only a part of the first and most tentative of three transition documents mandated by Reagan central.5 Motivation for the leak was “not necessarily advocacy of the public interest.”

7. Concluding his prepared remarks, Neumann reminded listeners that the end product of the Transition Team was only recommendations and not policy, and conceded that some of the recommendations might reflect the excited views of some persons still flushed from the campaign. Drawing on a German saying, he quipped that “You don’t eat it as hot as you cook it.” He invited listeners to adopt a wait-and-see attitude rather than “indulge in the depth of paranoia.”

8. Selected excerpts from the ensuing question-and-answer session follow:

Q. May one infer that in view of the utility Neumann cited of moving gradually from campaign hyperbole to objective reality, he would not wish to see the constitutional transition period shortened?

A. Ideally, perhaps a month would be appropriate. Anything less would “compress the errors.” But in view of the difficulty in amending the Constitution, it would not be worth trying to change the present schedule.

[Page 79]

Q. What is the truth behind the press reports that General Haig dismissed the Transition Team abruptly?6

A. The Transition Team submitted three reports, one on November 24, the second on December 8, the last on December 22. The “hit list” leak was from the first report; there have not been leaks from the others. It was envisioned that after submission of the third report the Transition Team would disband except perhaps for a few individuals. Hence, there was no abrupt “dismissal” by Haig, although some people did misunderstand or take offense and resorted to their “Dissent Channel” leaks. Something abrupt did take place in regard to the Defense Department Transition Team, but not at State.

Q. Could Neumann give an idea of the Transition Team’s recommendations?

A. “Nice try,” but no dice. Neumann said he neither could nor would describe the recommendations.

Q. Could Neumann give an idea of the Reagan administration’s policy orientation, for example, as between military security and third world development concerns?

A. The administration would have a “nationalistic” view, not in an isolationist sense, but in regard to what was conceived to be in the national interest. For example, American national interest would be the yardstick on decisions made in regard to a hypothetical country where there was contention between a neolithic right, a communist-infiltrated left, and a “Kerensky-like” middle. The campaign did stress military security, and there was reason to do so given the previous administration’s “appalling” neglect of the military. The Reagan administration’s thinking embraced the political use of military force.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810025–1157. Limited Official Use; Priority. Drafted by Longo (EUR/EE/HU) and approved by Bridges (EUR/EE).
  2. Rusk established the Open Forum in 1967 in order to facilitate the free exchange of ideas within the Department of State.
  3. For a listing of Transition Team members, see footnote 1, Document 17.
  4. At a September 7, 1977, ceremony held at Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, Carter and Panamanian General Omar Torrijos signed the Panama Canal Treaty and the Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal. For documentation regarding Torrijos’s visit to Washington, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIX, Panama, Documents 94 and 95. On March 16, 1978, the Senate approved the Treaty Concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal by a vote of 68–32. (Congress and the Nation, vol. V, 1977–1980, p. 55) On April 18, the Senate voted to ratify the basic treaty by the same vote. (Adam Clymer, “Senate Votes to Give up Panama Canal; Carter Foresees ‘Beginning of a New Era’,” New York Times, April 19, 1978, pp. A1, A16; Congress and the Nation, vol. V, 1977–1980, p. 56)
  5. References are to the two interim reports and the final report (see Document 17) prepared by the Department of State Transition Team. In a December 3, 1980, article, Richard Burt indicated that both the ACDA and Department of State transition teams had sent reports to Reagan transition headquarters on December 2, noting that the Department team’s report “says that the department is a ‘bureaucratic jumble’ and that it is proposing a plan to give the White House greater control over the selection of career Foreign Service officers for top jobs.” (“Reagan Team Says Arms Agency Neglects Its Surveillance Function,” New York Times, p. A10) On December 10, the New York Times reported on Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White’s criticism of one of the interim reports and its impact on the conduct of foreign policy. The article stated, “In another report prepared by the transition team, Mr. White was on a list of ambassadors to be replaced because of their outspoken positions on human rights and social change.” (“U.S. Envoy in Salvador Charges Reagan Team Is Undercutting Him,” pp. A1, A6)
  6. See “Two Transition Teams End Operations Early,” New York Times, p. A12 and Michael Getler, “Haig Dismisses State Transition Team,” Washington Post, pp. A1, A3; both December 24, 1980. In his memoir, Haig recounted: “When, on my second day as Secretary of State-designate, I dismissed Neumann’s transition team, I had no ulterior motive whatsoever. The team’s final report was due on Monday. It was delivered to me on that day. I read it, noted its many excellences, including a provocative essay by Myer Rashish on economic policy, and called the team together on Tuesday to thank them and bid them Godspeed. A transition team is designed to get you from one point to the next; it is not by definition an enduring institution.” Haig noted that he had asked six of the team members—Burt, Crocker, Neumann, McFarlane, Wolfowitz, and Rashish—to stay on in the Department. He asserted that “by informing Neumann’s team that its mission had been accomplished, I became a sort of culture hero. Headlines proclaimed that I had ‘dismissed’ Neumann and his people and, by implication, had saved the State Department from ideological thuggery.” (Haig, Caveat, pp. 71–72)