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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
In the abstract it is an unanswerable question. Secrecy carried beyond a certain point runs the risk of weakened credibility. On the other hand, openness carried beyond a certain point contains the danger of sterility and ineffectiveness. Secrecy is obviously not an end in itself. But if ideas become public before one has even thought them through in one’s own government, if fallback positions are made public, the whole negotiating process is undermined.
What is your feeling about the media on this score? Do they go further than you would like in getting and publishing information while negotiations are in progress?
I do not believe that it is the press’s job to discipline itself about what information it receives, or to reject information it can obtain, on the ground that it might harm a negotiation. The media are in no position to make such a judgment. Secondly, it is my experience that the media can be extremely helpful to public understanding if one gets them involved in the conceptual part of policy making. I spent a lot of time explaining to them what I was trying to do. I never gave them classified documents. However, by having me explain what we were trying to do, they could understand what a particular event probably meant, and they were very often right. I don’t consider that leaking. That sort of information is helpful to the public understanding and it permits a meaningful debate.
Would you object to publication of such material regardless of how it is obtained by the press?
If the press broke into a government office, I would think that highly improper. And I have contempt for individuals in government who turn over to the press classified documents in their trust. But I don’t have contempt for those in the press who receive it.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart has made the point that a journal or television channel that obtains stolen information may be liable to prosecution for that action but is perfectly free to use the information once it has it. Do you agree?
I would deplore its getting the information in that fashion. But I do not think the media should censor themselves with respect to information that has come their way, provided they did not commit the act of theft or get somebody else to steal a document. I would regret that, I think it would be wrong. But if somebody takes a document and gives it to them, however ill I think of the thief, it is not the media’s responsibility to police themselves in that regard.
In other words, it was OK for The New York Times and the Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers, but Daniel Ellsberg shouldn’t have made them available.
At the time I was outraged by the whole procedure, which seemed to me to threaten vital and delicate negotiations in which we were engaged. On sober reflection I would go along with the distinction I’ve just made.
What is the effect on the State Department when a President shortcircuits it by using personal envoys in times of crisis—or even just to break new ground—as Roosevelt did with Hopkins and Harriman, as Kennedy did with Bundy, and as Nixon did with you? Does that leave the Secretary of State out in the cold?
Well, it depends on whether the action occurs with the knowledge of the Secretary of State or behind his back. If it’s done behind his back, as occasionally occurred in the Nixon administration, I think it is very demoralizing for the Department, not really a good procedure. It may, in some emergencies, be necessary, but my present view is that if the President doesn’t trust his Secretary of State, he should replace him rather than go around him. On the other hand, it is occasionally desirable to send an emissary who is clearly identified with the President. This should be done with the approval of the Secretary of State—as for example Vice-President Bush’s recent disarmament mission to Europe.
Is it true that both Secretary Rogers and Defense Secretary Laird knew of but were opposed to the initial bombing of Cambodia?
The role of the ambassador in explaining the intangibles of his country to the country to which he is accredited is more important than ever.
Absolute nonsense. They knew of it in advance and approved it.
You know that charge has been made, of course.
Many untrue charges are made. The documents on this are incontrovertible. Rogers and Laird attended the meetings at which the decision was made, and they approved the decision.
The Foreign Service once had a reputation that rested on terms like “striped pants” and “cookie pushers.” Let me ask you if things have changed much in this regard since Roosevelt’s day. How much of a hand does the working Foreign Service have in actual policy making?