The Russian Military’s People Problem
It’s Hard for Moscow to Win While Mistreating Its Soldiers
THE United States, in this second half of the twentieth century, is not a raft tossed by the winds and waves of historical forces over which it has little control. Its dynamic power, physical and ideological, generates historical forces; what it does or does not do makes a great deal of difference to the history of man in this epoch. If realism requires us to avoid illusions of omnipotence, it is just as important that we not underestimate the opportunity and the responsibility which flow from our capacity to act and to influence and shape the course of events. Involved is not merely a benign concern for the well-being of others but the shape of the world in which we ourselves must live. The range within which the nation can make deliberate choices is wide; if we do not make them deliberately, we shall make them by negligence or yield the decisions to others, who will not be mindful of our interests. When the emphasis of discussion falls too heavily for my taste upon the limitations on policy, I recall from early childhood the admonition of the circuit preacher: "Pray as if it were up to God; work as if it were up to you."
The foreign policy of the United States since World War II, seen in broad historical terms, has been responsible and constructive. Surely we can say, quietly among ourselves, that it is a matter of no small moment that a nation with so much power has used it with restraint and toward the purposes which dominate this great democracy. If there are occasional suspicions abroad about our motives, they arise in part from the difficulty of comprehending so strange a phenomenon. On the other hand, a very high standard of policy and conduct is imposed upon us by our power and hopes, by the expectations of others, and by the necessities of our situation. But we are not likely to achieve significant improvement in the conduct of our foreign relations simply by thinking up new ideas but rather by serious attention to the manner in which we make policy and translate it into action. Men of long experience in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government have serious doubt about whether our present procedures are adequate to the conduct of the public business in our foreign relations over the next quarter century. It is my own view that there is much which can be done within existing constitutional arrangements and that our first task is to exhaust these possibilities before diverting our energies into deeply divisive debates about constitutional change.
The foregoing remarks take on added significance because we are already in a period of more rapid and fundamental change than we have yet experienced as an American nation. A sense of crisis is a recurrent phenomenon in human affairs but at least two factors suggest that our own period may lay special claim to breathlessness. The one is the rate of change in science and technology. The other is the emergence of scores of independent nations not yet firmly set upon their course and the multiplication of those who must be taken into account in our thinking.
These three premises compel a fourth, namely, that our tasks, our unique constitutional arrangements and the external environment place a special premium upon leadership. I have more confidence than some commentators do in the wisdom of our people and their capacity for understanding the essentials of policy. But public opinion can neither devise policy nor carry it out. It cannot debate it effectively unless the issues are framed and presented for discussion, accompanied by the factual background. It cannot even follow and support, in our kind of society, unless it knows where we are trying to go. The President, with the aid of his Secretary of State and the support of the Congress, supplies the leadership in our foreign relations. Criticisms, direct or implied, are inevitable in discussing this matter, but the problems are bipartisan. Not presumptuously, I hope, but as a restraint upon partisanship, I try to think of these comments as being addressed to the next administration, whatever its political complexion.
While Mr. Truman's remark, "The President makes foreign policy," is not the whole story, it serves very well if one wishes to deal with the matter in five words. Most of us have long understood that the powers and responsibilities of the Presidency have grown significantly since 1789 by constitutional interpretation, statute, custom and changing circumstance. What many of us have not fully recognized is the extent to which the office has been transformed during the past three decades under the impact of two historical changes. The one is the massive involvement of the federal government in the economic and social life of the nation, an involvement to which both political parties are committed. The other is the revolutionary change in the world about us and in our own place in it. Although men like Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson helped to reduce the shock of the change when it came, the modern Presidency under Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower has become an office of almost unbearable responsibility.
Since even the old and familiar words carry so much new meaning, it might be revealing to recall briefly the burdens undertaken when a man swears that he "will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States." To save time and to look at the full sweep of the office all at once, let us paint with a light and fast-moving brush, taking for granted much of the detail which is or ought to be the common possession of an educated citizenry.
The President is our Chief of State, the formal and symbolic head of the American nation. To the rest of the world he embodies the dignity and sovereignty of the Federal Union and has much to do with the image of America projected beyond our borders. He leads our solemn observances and sets the tone of our national life. Whether we move with zest and confidence in our public and private affairs or plod along in apathy or bewilderment turns in large part upon the morale which flows from the White House. The deference instinctively paid to the office and to the man who holds it is itself a source of power and influence and enhances his ability to act, to persuade and to mediate.
The President is the Chief Executive of the Government of the United States, the administrative head of its ten departments and dozens of independent agencies, staffed by almost two and a quarter million civil servants. Charged by the Constitution to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," he must recruit competent leadership for the vast machinery of government and, through evidences of his own interest and concern, inspire the federal service with devotion, pride and a passion for good performance. Since the chain of administrative command cannot, for both good and bad reasons, keep him fully informed about how things are going, he must take advantage of other lines of communication as well—his personal staff, the flow of mail to the White House, the press, observations of members of Congress and of his party colleagues. To counteract the inertia of large organization, he keeps it alive and alert by pertinent questions to Cabinet colleagues, by the unexpected phone call, the scribbled note of commendation or criticism, a comment at a press conference.
He soon finds that making policy is not the end of his task, that policy can be negated by what Elihu Root gently called "unwilling subordinates." He will discover attitudes and practices in the bureaucracy which become unconfessed laws of public administration. One, for example, is that where an exaggerated emphasis is placed upon delegation, responsibility, like sediment, sinks to the bottom. Now that Professor Parkinson is in this country, he might accept as his own the law that in any large organization the proportion of time spent upon central tasks varies inversely with elevation in the bureaucracy. Another is the law, which has semi-respectable roots, that no department or agency can be coordinated by a parallel department or agency; it is to defer horizontally rather than vertically. Still another is the law that everyone affected by a decision must participate in making it.
The departments and agencies of government are each concerned about a part of the whole. The President, assisted by his White House staff and the Executive Office, must weld the parts into an effective national effort. He cannot hope to achieve nice consistency in leading a vigorous and diverse people concerned with conflicting interests and aspirations, but he can try to achieve a broad political consistency in the main directions of movement and to limit the waste and frustration which occur when one hand tears down what the other is laboriously trying to build.
The Constitution provides that "The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." Borrowed from the powers of colonial governors and probably influenced by the prospect that George Washington would be the first President, the provision is an independent source of constitutional authority and places the President in direct personal command of the armed forces. Although Woodrow Wilson did not, Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman assumed personal charge of what has come to be called "the higher direction of war." The nation looks to the President to play the primary role in deciding the types and scale of military power it needs to defend itself and to support its policy. He cannot escape the crucial task of weighing risks and burdens, of finding the elusive and hazardous line between too little and too much. He must look to the morale of our fighting men, assure them of the nation's appreciation and support, and build their pride in their exacting service. On the other hand, he must firmly assert the principle that the first mission of a man in uniform is to do what he is told to do, regardless of the number of stars on his shoulder, and that the military establishment is an instrument, not the master, of policy. Only the President can resolve inter-service rivalries and disputes about their respective roles and he, working with the Congress, must seek to restrain the growth of independent political constituencies in support of particular services as deeply repugnant to our constitutional system. As Commander-in-Chief the President can deploy the armed forces and order them into active operations. In an age of missiles and hydrogen warheads, his powers are as large as the situation requires and the contingencies perhaps the most awful with which he has to live. In a period when men are groping toward the control of armaments and the nature of war has changed beyond recognition, the role of the President as Commander-in-Chief has entered a new phase.
The President is the head of his political party. Indeed, his election is its principal raison d'etre as a national party, and has been since the time of Jefferson. Our federal structure and our constitutionally prescribed terms of office deprive party leadership of some of the instruments of party discipline known to parliamentary systems. Once the moment of quadrennial unity has passed, our parties tend toward aimlessness and factions arise out of regional or special interests and the accidents of personal ambition. But the party to which the President belongs can expect a measure of leadership. His party is drawn together by a common interest in the public response to his performance and a common aversion to the thought that the rascals across the aisle might name his successor. The President can persuade and cajole, threaten and scold, and offer occasional morsels of political advantage. But the vigor of his partisanship is often restrained by his need to cross the aisle and seek support for his policies from among the opposition, especially when the latter controls one or both houses of Congress.
The President is our Chief Legislator. His proposals make up the central agenda of Congress. Important bills are drafted by or in close consultation with the Executive departments and the Bureau of the Budget. The box scores on "must" legislation which appear toward the end of a Congressional session are used to judge the Congress as well as the President. His veto power, his party leadership and his ability to mobilize public support for his point of view make him a formidable partner in the legislative process.
The President is our Chief Budget Officer. Congress acts upon the budget he proposes and, when all the hubbub is over, passes it with changes of a few percentage points. The Federal budget, about a fifth of the national income, and the fiscal and monetary policies of the government deeply affect the economic and social life of the country—its incentives, its priorities, its directions of growth and of public and private investment, even the nature and extent of its voluntary effort.
The Founding Fathers saw clearly that the health and stability of our political arrangements would turn upon the President's role as the Protector of the Constitution. They singled him out for a prescribed oath that he will to the best of his ability "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." He controls the raw power of the state—the armed forces, the F.B.I, the C.I.A., the Secret Service, the U.S. marshals. Congress may pass laws, even over the President's veto, but the President must look to their prudent and impartial application. The Supreme Court may sustain the Constitution in deciding between the adversaries before it, but the President must conform the conduct of government to the Court's interpretation of the basic law. A national respect for constitutional process is the glue which holds us together and is properly the brooding concern of the man who holds our highest office. In a constitutional system which cannot possibly work unless those who exercise its powers are determined to make it work, the President must anticipate constitutional crises and bring all the resources of his office to the prevention of situations for which there can be no tolerable answer. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was effectively rebuked by the nation for resorting to a ward heeler's device to settle his difficulties with the Supreme Court; President Eisenhower failed to use the possibilities of his office to forestall the necessity for bayonets in Little Rock.
In a unique sense the President is the custodian of the national interest. Elected by a national constituency, he speaks to Congress and to the people on the needs of the nation seen as a whole. His audience is understandably more intimately concerned with personal, local or regional affairs and needs his help to understand what is required of citizens of the United States.
But the modern Presidency cannot limit itself to a national interest narrowly defined. Recorded in solemn treaties and rooted in common interest and circumstance, we are a partner in great coalitions which now include more than 40 nations. Our power has reduced our sovereignty and our decisions must take into account the needs and hopes of those whose fates are linked with ours. If the President fails to meet the demands of leadership of a nation-in-coalition, a reluctant or resistant United States cannot be dragged along by others and coalitions as now constituted would rapidly disintegrate.
I have been describing the powers and responsibilities of the highest office in a nation which acts and moves by consent. In only a limited sense is the President in a position to command; it is the essence of our system that the Constitution confers upon him a license to lead. If we are inclined to think of the President as an executive who sits at his desk and strikes off great decisions, we must balance it by the picture of the President as our chief servant who, somewhat as a sheep dog, must round up a free people and persuade them to move in a given direction for a sufficiently long period to make it possible to act upon a policy. This does not mean that he is limited by public opinion as he finds it, or fears it to be. The people who elect him are capable of understanding and concern and are likely to be responsive to his lead. If the issues are critical and there are marginal doubts, many are resolved when the President goes to the country and asks for its support. When we assess the possibilities of action in terms of public opinion it is crucial to understand the difference between desultory impressions and responses to vigorous leadership.
The powers and responsibilities we have been discussing are those which engage the thought, time and energy of the President himself. By statute and executive order provision can be made for large delegations of function, but ultimate responsibility comes back to the office which has led some to call ours a "presidential system" of government. He is indispensable, even if he is not irreplaceable.
Against this background of what we have called unbearable responsibility, the question arises as to whether the President of the United States can wisely undertake the burdens and hazards of personal diplomacy at the summit. This is not a moment when it is easy to discuss the problem with detachment. But it needs discussion. Earlier American skepticism and reluctance about summit diplomacy have apparently been brushed aside with the warm approval of public opinion here and abroad. The prospect is for a series of summit meetings during 1960 and beyond. The next President of the United States may find himself limited in his freedom to determine how he is to discharge his awesome duties by commitments made by his predecessor in the closing phase of an eight-year administration. If the President of the United States is to assume an active role in negotiations, this will have a serious bearing upon proposals for the reorganization of the higher echelons of the Executive branch of the government. Indeed, it may affect the definition of the circumstances under which the "inability" of the President should open the way for the Vice President to discharge the duties of the office. Meanwhile, public opinion is moved by desperate hope and the fascinations of the spectacular, and we shall face the problems of distinguishing form from substance and of avoiding the slippery slope of relaxed effort which can lead to disillusionment and critical danger.
To put my readers on an equal footing with me immediately, let me anticipate my conclusion. The President, as Chief of State of the United States, can and ought to undertake a limited and carefully planned program of state visits, short in duration and aimed at the exchange of courtesy and respect as a tangible expression of the good will of the American people. But negotiation at the chief-of-government level is quite another matter. It is not easily accommodated among the peculiarities of our constitutional system; it diverts time and energy from exactly the point at which we can spare it least; it does not give us effective negotiation; such experience as we have had with summit diplomacy does not encourage the view that it contributes to the advancement of American interests. For reasons to which we shall now turn briefly, I conclude that summit diplomacy is to be approached with the wariness with which a prudent physician prescribes a habit-forming drug—a technique to be employed rarely and under the most exceptional circumstances, with rigorous safeguards against its becoming a debilitating or dangerous habit.
It is not surprising that the reasons for American reluctance to go to the summit have not been fully explained, either to our own people or to our friends or enemies abroad. Some we could not expect a President to confess; others would appear tactless to our friends; still others would concede certain tactical advantages to our adversaries. In any event, understanding would be difficult for those who have only the most casual or inaccurate knowledge of our political system, which includes almost everyone beyond our borders. The result is that we are under periodic pressure to appear at the summit ("Isn't negotiation a Good Thing?") and our oversimplified defense ("We must have prior proof that a meeting would be worth while") appears a bit lame. Perhaps an irresponsible private citizen may risk offense by observations which are denied to responsible statesmen.
Why the reluctance? It rests upon an interlacing of political and constitutional factors with notions about effective diplomacy. The first difficulty is that the President of the United States can take the time to prepare himself as a negotiator on serious subjects only by deferring or neglecting some of his central constitutional and political responsibilities.
The principal negotiator must be much more than a mouthpiece for the sheets of paper put in front of him by a staff, however competent the latter might be. Questions worth discussing at the summit are presumably important questions; if so, they require the full involvement of the negotiator before he reaches the table. He must understand the full scope of the issues, and their innermost detail. He must gnaw at his own position and become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. If he is to use obscure words, he must understand why he does so and in which directions he can afford to clarify. He must know intimately the positions of others who are to be present, especially where a common front among allies is a major objective of policy. He must be aware of the impact of the issues upon nations not present at the table and upon American interests in all parts of the world. Prudence requires that he anticipate as best he can the most probable attitude of his principal adversary and the range of alternatives with which his opponent might confront him. He must think carefully about his conduct away from the table itself—the social arrangements, his informal conversations, and, very important, his relations with the press and public opinion. Staff can render invaluable assistance, particularly if by staff we mean the Secretary of State and three or four Assistant Secretaries; but the principal negotiator is in the position of a task force commander who cannot be well served unless he himself fully grasps the situation and knows where he wants to come out. The type of commitment which is required for important high-level negotiation is illustrated by the handling of the first Berlin blockade by Ambassador Philip C. Jessup, the negotiation of the Japanese Peace Treaty by then Ambassador John Foster Dulles, and the development of the Austrian settlement by Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson.
But, it will be replied, this is surely not the type of negotiation which occurs at the summit. Exactly. Let us concede in passing that the summit may have other uses, such as to celebrate or confirm agreement already reached through other channels, or as an arena to contest for propaganda advantage, or to "keep talking" to postpone the precipitation of a dangerous issue. If one would add that the summit is conducive to agreement in principle, it might be well to ponder the remark of Secretary George Marshall to a colleague, "Don't ask me to agree in principle; that just means that we haven't agreed yet."
The physical absence of the President from his post in Washington is of enough consequence to be placed upon the scale. The President is as mobile as a jet aircraft, but it is not clear that the Presidency is equally so. One can accept the pleasant and necessary fiction that the White House is wherever tbe President happens to be and still recognize that prolonged absences from Washington impair the effective performance of the office. Unless the President is accessible, decisions on important matters are postponed by sympathetic subordinates or settled at the level of the common denominator among the departments and agencies concerned. On his own side, the President will be partially cut off from his Cabinet officers, his personal staff, his usual flow of information, the leaders of Congress and of his own party. In addition, he cannot act with regard to many of the formal and informal aspects of his office which we have earlier discussed. A President must be free to leave Washington, on business or on vacation, but the effect of his absence is greater than his personal staff would have him believe. The Presidency is not quite the same in Warm Springs or Cairo, Key West or Potsdam, Augusta, Moscow, Kabul or Santiago, as it is in Washington, D.C.
We are not concerned here about purely technical problems. In the autumn of 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had an extended exchange about the site of a Big Three meeting. Mr. Stalin preferred Iran and cited his duties in the conduct of the war on the Eastern front. Mr. Roosevelt preferred North Africa and repeatedly insisted that he must be sufficiently close to Washington to be able to deal with legislation sent to him by Congress within the ten days prescribed by the Constitution. His objection to Tehran was that uncertain flying conditions at that season might seriously interfere with this constitutional duty, Stalin refused to budge, even as far as Basra, and the meeting was held in Tehran. In finally yielding, Mr. Roosevelt told Stalin, "You will be glad to know that I have worked out a method whereby, if I receive word that there has been passed by the Congress and forwarded to me a bill requiring my veto, I will fly to Tunis to meet it and then return to the Conference." The charming solution must have confirmed to Stalin that the point had not been serious. It should not be difficult to arrange with Congressional leaders, as a matter of constitutional comity, that bills not be forwarded to the President when he is out of the country or, failing that, to insist that the ten-day meter does not begin to run until the bill reaches the President, wherever he might be. Such problems will not bear the freight which Mr. Roosevelt attempted to load upon them; the real issues are more substantial.
Some of us recall that time was of the essence in the decision to interpose American forces against aggression in Korea. Had the series of decisions been postponed on a scale of, say, 24 hours we should have faced a wholly different situation on the Korean peninsula. President Truman, in Missouri when the first report of the attack reached Washington, could nevertheless authorize immediate reference of the matter to the Security Council and arrive in Washington on the following afternoon to assume full charge of the situation. Jet transport has reduced the difference between Missouri and, say, Western Europe, but guided missiles and alert bombers have almost obliterated the other side of the time equation. Since constitutional arrangements are designed to cover many contingencies which happily never arise, it is not necessarily a sign of panic to suggest that the present strategic situation places a considerable premium upon the immediate availability of the President and Commander-in-Chief. His absence from the United States, in a personal situation which he himself cannot surely control, suggests a contingent "inability to discharge the powers and duties" of his office and revives under new circumstances the discussion of the same point which arose at the time of Wilson's visit to Europe. It is not unreasonable to consider, if eventually to reject, the possibility of providing by statute that the Vice President shall serve as Acting President during the absence of the President from the United States, leaving it to the two of them to determine which matters, short of great emergency, would be forwarded to the President for an indication of his wishes or held for his return. The great departments of government make provision for acting responsibility during the absence of department heads, and the practice is common with private corporations and institutions. However remote one hopes the contingency might be, it is difficult to shake off an underlying uneasiness that one of the most critical duties of the President might be suspended by his inaccessibility, frustrated by the failure of his chief subordinates to agree to act in unison, or usurped by a politically irresponsible general. A provision that the Vice President serve as Acting President during the absences of the President abroad would, of course, mean that Presidents would go abroad only on the rarest occasions—to me one of its most appealing features.
Returning to summit meetings and their capacity to yield constructive agreements, there are lessons from the rich lore of diplomatic experience which are neither controlling nor negligible.The parties can be expected to come to the table in the hope of obtaining an agreement, each on its own terms. The crucial question is whether these terms fit or can be made to fit each other, opening up the possibility of an agreement which each might find advantageous or at least more tolerable than the status quo. To explore this question is the chief purpose of negotiation; if it be known in advance that there is no such possibility then the proceedings, whatever they are called, are not negotiation.
The experienced diplomat will usually counsel against the direct confrontation of those with final authority. Negotiation ad referendum offers greater opportunity for feeling out the sitution, exploring the opposing points of view, trying out alternative approaches without commitment, testing general propositions by meticulous attention to detail. The process needs time, patience and precision, three resources which are not found in abundance at the highest political level. The direct confrontation of the chiefs of government of the great powers involves an extra tension because the court of last resort is in session. The costs of error or misunderstanding are multiplied by the seriousness of the issues and the power of those present.
Picture two men sitting down together to talk about matters affecting the very survival of the systems they represent, each in position to unleash unbelievably destructive power. Note that the one is impulsive in manner, supremely confident as only a closed mind can be, tempted to play for dramatic effect, motivated by forces only partially perceived by the other, possibly subject to high blood pressure; the other deeply committed to principles for which his adversary has only contempt, weighted down by a sense of responsibility for the hundreds of millions who have freely given him their confidence and whose fates are largely in his hands, a man limited by conscience and policy in his choice of tactics and argument, a man with a quick temper and a weak heart. Is it wise to gamble so heavily; are not these two men who should be kept apart until others have found a sure meeting ground of accommodation between them? Is there not much to be said for institutionalizing their relationship?
The skepticism of the diplomat about the blessings of togetherness among heads of government and foreign ministers is well known. The fifteenth century advice of Philippe de Comines that "Two great princes who wish to establish good personal relations should never meet each other face to face but ought to communicate through good and wise ambassadors" is matched in our own century by Sir Harold Nicolson's reservations about the "habit of personal contact between the statesmen of the world." Discounting generously for wholesome professional bias, their views point us toward a well-grounded generalization. Thinking broadly and over the long run, the course of wisdom lies in reducing the impact which accidents of personality have upon the relations among nations. We may recall with satisfaction the personal harmony in which George Marshall, Ernest Bevin and Robert Schuman labored for allied unity and may try to forget the painful results of the personal difficulties between Anthony Eden and John Foster Dulles. But neither friendship nor aversion is an adequate basis for high policy. Personalities change, sometimes rapidly; but the great tasks of building a tolerable world order endure and national interests reach far beyond the idiosyncracies of holders of public office.
I must confess to idle speculation about the extent to which the course of world affairs may have been affected by illness among those holding high public office since, say, the time of Woodrow Wilson. I say "idle" because it would probably be impossible to isolate the effects of illness and we cannot know what might have been. But the international list of those who have carried great responsibility while ill is a long one and there are fleeting glimpses of decisions which good health might have turned another way. The point is mentioned because one of the purposes of diplomacy, including its elaborate formality and high style, is to exclude from great affairs of state the many irrelevancies which spring from human frailty.
If personalities make for complications, these are magnified by the circumstances of a summit meeting. When the Big Three consulted about wartime meetings they seemed much less concerned about getting away from the Germans than about getting away from the press. Apart from the harrowing insistence of the most competitive of the professions, the general atmosphere is that of the football stadium. Is our team winning? Did our man throw him for a loss? Who wins the most valuable player award? But beneath the surface lie the desperate hopes that tensions will be eased, that somehow things will get better. The result is a pervasive pressure toward the creation of illusions—at worst an illusion of victory, at best the pretense of accomplishment where none was achieved.
I must confess that I do not see my way through the inevitable entanglement of summit diplomacy with domestic politics. Can there be any doubt that a summit meeting in the spring and the visit of the President to the Soviet Union in June will give Mr. Khrushchev a chance to influence significantly our coming presidential election? Were not some of us just a bit embarrassed when Mr. Macmillan announced a general election almost before the vapor trails of the President's jet had dissolved into British skies? Is the President of the United States to be caught up personally in the difficult task of satisfying General de Gaulle's appetite for grandeur? Can we not anticipate cables from still other quarters reading, "My government will fall unless you come to see us"? And how shall we handle the chain reactions which prestige factors will set off if summitry becomes a habit—the demands of other NATO partners to have a share, the need to show that the exclusive club is not limited to white nations and great powers, the resentment in Latin America if left at the bottom of our interest and concern?
One of the arguments made in behalf of summit meetings is that heads of government can talk things over directly with freedom of action and power to come to agreements promptly and decisively. But the President of the United States is subject to what might be called the Woodrow Wilson Effect—he must keep in mind his ability to make good on his commitments when he gets home. If the summit means bold diplomacy for some, it may well mean timidity for us. A President in Washington, in direct touch with his departments and Congressional and party leaders may be able to react more promptly and more confidently than if he himself were present at the table.
A formidable argument for summit diplomacy is the one endorsed by President Eisenhower and repeated by Ambassador Charles Bohlen and others, to the effect that "If you wish to negotiate with the Soviet Union you must talk to Mr. Khrushchev." Standing alone, the argument is not wholly persuasive. Is there point in allowing the Soviet Union to set the style of international negotiation at the cost of disrupting the established political arrangements of other nations? Have we not already made a major concession in yielding to a procedure which works to his advantage and our disadvantage? If he insists upon having a Foreign Minister to whom he does not wish to give his confidence, is he to impose the same ignominious status upon the Secretary of State of the United States? Can we not insist that it is up to each nation to determine for itself who its highest ranking negotiator is to be? Or cannot Mr. Khrushchev find even one high-ranking colleague whom he can trust to represent him loyally and effectively?
Something else has to be thrown into the scale—and because that "something else" may be present, I have been unwilling to criticize the exchange of visits between the President and Mr. Khrushchev and the one summit meeting now firmly arranged. It is just possible that significant changes are taking place in the directions of Soviet policy. It may be that the frightfulness of modern war has made itself felt, that the severities of a police state have revealed their dead end and that public opinion is exerting a moderating influence upon Soviet policy by shifting its priorities. It may be that the Communist revolution is reaching the point which other revolutions have reached, where the dogma is enshrined but not very much is done about it. It could even be that Mr. Khrushchev "needs" summit diplomacy to enable him to bring about certain changes in policy within his own system. If there is substance in these speculations, I would suppose that none of us would regret the President's effort to find out about them. But the risks are as high as the stakes. We are moving into the period in which we have anticipated that we would be at a temporary disadvantage in the strategic field. We are presenting the periodic uncertainty and confusion of a presidential year. In so far as the public record is concerned, there is little to make us think that Soviet objectives have changed, and much to remind us of the growing strength through which they can pursue them. Dissension weakens the unity of the free world. The President is entitled, on the basis of all the information available to him, to take the risks but one can hope that he will be alert to the dangers of illusion. A democratic people can generate their own false hopes very efficiently; the task of leadership is to confront us with our duties in the light of unpleasant reality.
Let me sum up briefly. What we say and how we should like to appear are of transient importance compared with how we conduct the public business in our domestic and foreign affairs. No propaganda is so effective as an earned reputation as a vital society, offering expanding opportunities for its own citizens and basing its relations with the rest of the world upon mutual respect and underlying decency. If we are entitled to a measure of self-confidence, there are insistent problems which demand our attention: the solidarity of our alliances, our relations with newly independent peoples, the suitability of our armed forces for our needs, the orderly growth of our economy, the competitive position of our products abroad, our desperate needs in education, deterioration in our transportation and our great urban centers, the acceptance of our minorities as full-fledged citizens, and, in every vocation, profession or service, our shortage of competent men for leadership. Each can make his own list.
The crucial, indispensable contribution which the President can make to the conduct of our foreign affairs is to enter fully into his office, to use its powers and accept its responsibilities, to lead a people who are capable of responding to the obligations of citizenship. He holds a unique office in a unique constitutional system, which offers him vast powers in exchange for leadership—powers which are as large as the situation requires. With deep compassion we can acknowledge that his are burdens which no man ought to be asked to bear, that the problems before him may reach beyond the capacity of the mind of man, and we can be grateful that there are men with the temerity to seek the office. It is respect for the Presidency which leads one to believe that visits to 20 or more countries in the course of a few months, interspersed by periods of preparation and rest, take too much out of the man and his office. A presidential system cannot easily adjust to an interregnum; a nation moving with such great mass and velocity needs the engineer at the throttle.
Finally, the President must prepare himself for those solemn moments when, after all the advice is in from every quarter, he must ascend his lonely pinnacle and decide what we must do. There are such moments, when the whole world holds its breath and our fate is in his hands. Then every fragment of his experience, all that he has read and learned, his understanding of his own nation and of the world about him, his faith, conscience and courage are brought to bear. It is in this realization, not in petty criticism, that we can be jealous of his time and energy and resistant to every influence which comes between the man and his burdens.