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“Explaining What You Are After Is The Secret Of Diplomacy”
This century’s most powerful Secretary of State talks about the strengths and weaknesses of the Foreign Service, the role of the CIA, the rights of journalists, the contrast between meddlers and statesmen—and about the continuing struggle for a coherent foreign policy
August/september 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 5
When I was Security Adviser I frequently bypassed the State Department because I was afraid that its cumbersome machinery and its tendency to leak would thwart the negotiations in which I was engaged. On the other hand, when I became Secretary of State, it became rather clearer to me that one could not in the long run bypass the Department of State. You have fifty thousand people with assignments that they will carry out—either in ignorance or after being adequately briefed. Still, I do believe that the State Department will ultimately have to be transformed into a more policy-oriented apparatus.
In your most recent book, you said that you had become Secretary rather too late in the Nixon administration to make substantial changes. Would you explain that?
The trouble any Secretary of State has is that when he comes into the Department, he doesn’t understand it well enough, and by the time he understands it well enough, it is too late in his term to affect it. For me that problem was compounded by the fact that I was immediately faced with the Middle East War.
Could you say roughly—you must have thought about this when you took the office—what major changes you would have made if you had had the opportunity?
I had not, in fact, thought about how I would reorganize the State Department before I took the position because I quite frankly never thought that I would be appointed Secretary of State. And even to this day I haven’t fully thought through what I might do. I operated with a small inner Cabinet, so to speak, of top advisers through whom most papers were screened and with whom I met regularly to discuss long-term strategy. They then had the responsibility of imposing that on the various bureaus. I believe that some mechanism has to be found to break through the current procedure. Right now the State Department is a cable machine with every desk officer or country director forwarding his preferred policy in the form of a draft cable to the Secretary of State. Some of these cables don’t survive the relevant Assistant Secretary, but many do. Typically the Secretary of State faces, therefore, a daily sheaf of cables in which he’s asked to give instructions on very disparate situations. Even if he’s an expert, which not all Secretaries are, he would have great difficulty appreciating the real significance of each instruction in each area. So most Secretaries of State spend nine-tenths of their time on the tactical issues and too little on where we are trying to go.
Couldn’t some of these day-to-day tactical decisions be delegated? Don’t the Assistant Secretaries and the Undersecretaries meet with the Secretary of State on a regular basis, in order to make their contributions to policy?
Each Secretary of State has to operate according to his own personality. I had four or five, maybe as many as seven, very close advisers, among them the head of the Policy Planning Staff, Winston Lord; the present Undersecretary for Political Affairs, who was then Deputy Undersecretary for Management, Larry Eagleburger; the Soviet expert, Hal Sonnenfeldt; the Political Undersecretary, Joe Sisco; and later Phil Habib. Then we brought in the appropriate Assistant Secretary as the case required. That core group met more or less regularly in my office to discuss long-term strategy and also to discuss tactics in the light of the long-term strategy. But that was my own creation and didn’t survive my period. I’m not saying it should have, because it had no official status.
What do you see as the proper role for some of these other agencies that were not created for the purpose of making policy—like the ClA?
I don’t want the CIA to be involved in policy making at all. The CIA should be confined to making factual analyses of political situations and to giving its views about the likely consequences of proposed courses of action. Now that second role is admittedly close to the area of policy making, but I am extremely distrustful of getting the CIA involved in the policy process as a chief player, because there is the great danger that Intelligence will then tend to follow policy rather than guide it with objective information. I would think a major effort has to be made to keep Intelligence and policy making as far apart as possible.
Would you say that that has been achieved? Is that the relationship between the CIA and the Department?
No, I’m afraid it’s gone the other way. I shudder every time I see a CIA report published in order to support a policy, because that really means there is a subconscious pressure on the agency to write reports that fit in with official preconceptions. Furthermore, no CIA report should ever be declassified for any purpose until maybe ten years after the event. The CIA analysts should write their reports for the President of the United States, and the President should never use them in a public forum to support his position. He might use their information but he should not identify it as coming from the CIA.
Could you say whether this is the tack that you took with regard to the ClA? Say, in Latin America?