Plain Tales From The Embassy

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“A diplomatic or security briefing consists in approximately equal parts of what one already knows, couldn’t remember, or doesn’t entirely believe.”

Around six, I had a chat with the President. He needed the name of a man with a large reputation for wisdom for a Bolivian mission. I passed on the fears of the people in the Harvard planning project in Iran of a breakup of the government there. We seem to have no ambassador to speak of in Tehran. The President was bone-tired. He offered me a cup of tea and absent-mindedly filled the cup with milk and sugar. He referred to Dick Goodwin Assistant Special Counsel to President Kennedy as “Professor” Goodwin and corrected himself. During our chat, a cabinet officer called and talked at vast length. He put the receiver down once and signed a letter while the talk went on. “Bobby would just tell him to cut the crap. I’m more polite.” He claimed to be not so much tired as on the edge of a cold. He mused that with so many countries opting for a neutralist policy, maybe the United States should be neutral too! I suggested this would be an interesting maneuver but that the term was meaningless. Countries were, instead, Communist or non-Communist. But the notion that there was a distinction between military allies—many not valuable —and non-Communist neutrals was one of Mr. Dulles’ many contributions to confusion.

March 23—Washington . A diplomatic or security briefing consists in approximately equal parts of what one already knows, couldn’t remember, or doesn’t entirely believe. Such was the one by the C. I. A. this morning on China and Chinese-Russian relations. When the geography was being covered and we reached the Tien Shan mountains (which separate Sinkiang from the Central Asian republics of the U.S.S.R.), I pointed out as-matter-of-factly as possible that they were burned indelibly in my memory because, on their slopes, a dog once bit me on the leg adjacent to the left testicle. This put the briefer off balance, and he never recovered.…

March 24—Washington . The hearing on my nomination this morning was crowded with almost everyone but senators. Only Fulbright, Sparkman (of Alabama), Wiley (ranking Republican of Wisconsin), and Lausche (of Ohio) were present—and Hubert Humphrey for a moment. I was tired and in poor voice. I ran interference for the other candidates, and when I left, so did much of the press and crowd.

Fulbright began the questioning by asking—in a voice that implied that he did not have the slightest idea—whether I had had any previous government experience. Then we turned to India, its problems, and the relative prospects for industry and agriculture. Sparkman asked me if I were an “egghead socialist.” I said that the appellation did not sound excessively complimentary; however, I was for having the government do what needed doing.

Then … Senator Wiley asked me where I stood on the recognition of Red China and its admission to the U.N. The only acceptable answer was, Never, never, never. I laid down the modest rule that the Chinese should be recognized and come in when they conceded the independence of Formosa and accepted the Charter. My answer was a trifle wordy. Then I had to repeat it because the Senator’s hearing aid was not turned on—or I was too far from the microphone. He roared disapproval and I explained. Then Senator Lausche came in to ask me how long I had harbored these thoughts. I found it hard to estimate. Sparkman then rescued me with a few well-chosen questions which made it clear that my position was the same as Henry Cabot Lodge’s. I embraced Lodge with unexampled enthusiasm.

“There is only one strategy [when testifying before hostile senators]. That is to speak, not to the committee, but to your friends beyond.”

At the end, Sparkman, who was presiding, excused me, and then Wiley insisted on recalling me to ask about Laos. I came out in favor of a completely non-Communist government to be achieved totally without military intervention. This was wholeheartedly approved.

Aside from my distaste for dissembling (the exigencies of Laos apart), there is only one strategy to follow at these hearings. That is to speak, not to the committee, but to your friends beyond. I might have gained a one-hour advantage by denouncing the Red Chinese and declaring we should never, never, never relent on recognition. But all my friends, remembering what I had previously said, would have known I was a crook. Better to take the medicine.

March 29—Washington . My briefing this morning was by the C.I.A. and on various spooky activities, some of which I do not like. I shall stop them.…