What foreign policy will arise from the ashes of Watergate-and how it can gain that public consensus without which no foreign policy can hope to succeed-are questions we need to address now. Drift, debate, division are the inevitable aftermath of recent events; and it will take time and leadership-both in short supply-to discover, to create and to build upon a viable consensus.

The problem, of course, is not simply Watergate-though the destruction of presidential leadership and credibility and the confrontation of Executive and Congress which have accompanied that disaster would be problems enough. What adds infinitely to those difficulties is the clear connection between the sordid revelations of Watergate and the conduct of the Indo-china War (at home and abroad), which in turn is related to the sometime excesses of a foreign policy too oriented to cold-war concepts of "national security." The relationship is neither accidental nor coincidental, and it is important to the future of our foreign policy to understand why this is so.

I have come to this conclusion with considerable reluctance for two reasons: First, I would feel personally more comfortable if all that is associated with Watergate could be blamed on President Nixon-if the lawless and totalitarian overtones of his administration could be seen as purely aberrational, without roots in the past. To a large degree I think they are, but unhappily they are not so rootless as I would wish.

Second, I can give no support either to Henry Kissinger, who understandably would like to segregate Watergate from the real need to consolidate and perhaps even institutionalize the Nixon administration's productive advances in moderating our relations with the Soviet Union and China; or, at the opposite extreme, to the revisionists who rewrite the history of post-World War II foreign policy in ways which adjust the past to their present and future preferences. We have to go through a difficult period if we are to build, as we must, on a solid basis of popular support for our foreign policy, and the essentials of that task are candor and honesty.

The thesis of this article is simple. Our foreign policy must be based on policy and factual premises which are accepted by the overwhelming majority of the American people. This means that this President or his successor must reëstablish the credibility of that office; that there must be broad support in the Congress and in the press and public for the policy he seeks to forward, and virtually total confidence that there is no manipulation of facts to prove the wisdom of that policy or, which may often be the same thing, the honest commitment of his administration to it. Today-when confidence in the honesty and integrity of both the President and the Presidency is at rock bottom-that is a big order. We may have to modify or abandon foreign policy objectives supported by many to arrive at a satisfactory level of public confidence. But until an Administration can achieve it, we cannot hope to succeed in any foreign policy, however modest it may be by comparison with either the recent past or the somewhat lesser role which the United States might legitimately be expected to play in the future.


In foreign policy there is no substitute for presidential leadership in formulating and administering our foreign affairs. To say this is not to denigrate the role of either Congress or the public. The President needs support in both quarters, and if, despite his considerable power, he cannot achieve it, then he must trim his objectives to those which will be supported. In the past this basic fact of democracy has undoubtedly restrained and inhibited Presidents from acting in circumstances where later judgment would have supported the wisdom of doing so; the experience of President Roosevelt between the 1937 quarantine speech and the 1940 election was a classic and bitter example to men and women then forming their views. Indeed, this unhappy restraint may well have been a factor in the subsequent assertion of presidential prerogatives, with the result that no President since Truman has felt similarly restrained.

At any rate, the pendulum has now swung back. In recent history-especially in regard to Vietnam and related events in Southeast Asia-the effect of broadly held public views on our foreign policy has been very great indeed. This is hardly surprising. Concern for our national safety and independence are bound to be strong in times of crisis. The influence on the public of a sense of extremely large and unnecessary costs in human lives, or dollars, or risks of even more massive future involvement, is almost as great. One should hardly expect these powerful sources of public motivation, channeled at any given time into particularly widely held attitudes about the outside world and our relations with it, to be anything less than a major determinant of foreign policy in a democratic society.

There is nothing subversive about all this-although it may appear so to a President thoroughly committed to the importance and rightness of a particular course of action. Vocal and widespread dissent may easily frustrate his policy; damage our national security as he perceives it; severely limit his capacity to lead; and encourage the view that such opposition is truly subversive, the work of our enemies, and something to fear and even seek to repress.

Yet in fact the expression of dissent, however vocally vehement, is fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. Those responsible for the creation and execution of our foreign policy must be responsive to public attitudes and cannot seek to repress dissent and disagreement, conceal the truth from the public, or violate the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. There is no "country" whose interests they serve apart from the people of the United States. There are no "interests" of that country apart from the interests of its citizens. However difficult and complex our foreign policy may be, there is no license to free it from the mandates of the Constitution or the constraints of public views, interests and wants, any more than any other difficult and complex problem can be freed from the same constraints.

All of this ought to be self-evident. That it is not-or, at least, that Presidents, and especially the present Administration, do not appear to accept it in fact-is the product of history, of the problems of a relatively open foreign policy, and finally of the rationalizations for secrecy, deception and unrestrained presidential leadership which have resulted from our conduct and national attitudes during the cold war.

First, throughout most of our history the American people have had little concern with foreign policy: there has been no continuing, everyday, costly involvement in relations with other nations. Apart from two world wars, foreign policy had little effect on our daily lives. With the notable and important exception of its negative role between those wars, Congress had little involvement and little interest.

Continuing and widespread public concern over our relations with other countries is really a phenomenon of the last 25 years. Measured in terms of even our relatively short history as a nation, we have not had much time to gain experience or adjust our political institutions to this new state of affairs.

Second, we were thrust into world affairs after World War II in an atmosphere of continuing crisis and virtually total responsibility for the future and well-being of the non-Communist world. We perceived the Soviet Union and its satellites as a major threat to our values, our national security and the continuing existence of a "free world"-and hence to our own national survival. In general, with disagreement only in degree, this view has prevailed until very recently. It may have been painting international affairs with too broad a brush, but I do not think it was essentially wrong, and I believe that the foreign policy which evolved from this thesis was by and large successful until 1965, even in cases where its stated premises were questionable.

As a touchstone of domestic politics, this policy had its vices as well as one great virtue-the capacity to unify Americans behind an expensive, tough, far-flung foreign policy. The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the rehabilitation of West Germany and Japan, NATO, the Common Market, military assistance, Point Four and economic assistance to developing nations, even our Latin American programs-many of them policies of high humanitarian content and internal motivation-all were justified, to Congress especially, in terms of national security related to the threat of world communism backed and encouraged by the Soviet Union.

The vices of this policy-of what became a bloated concept of national security-have been that it has tended not only to over-extend our national commitments but to inhibit public debate and understanding of the complex world in which foreign policy is made and executed. It has, of necessity, given a major voice in foreign affairs to our large military establishment, and for much of the past 25 years there has been a tendency to equate dissent or criticism with disloyalty, with subversion, with being a Communist "dupe." Obviously this repression of dissent reached its peak after the "loss" of China and during the era of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. But appearing to follow the Communist line has been a political risk for critics during most of this period. And, again because of its "national security" premise, the policy has bred a host of questionable practices relating to security clearances, systems of classification of information, lists of subversive organizations, and snooping by security agents into the background, beliefs and associations of many citizens. It is not too long a step from security practices of the past to the ridiculous beliefs of the Watergate "plumbers" and their creators, and to the acts they sought to justify in the name of national security. Indeed-and I think this is a major part of the problem-very little of the protest activity associated with Vietnam would have been tolerated in the 1950s, and repressive measures might well have been accepted by the general public not so long ago.


But I think the most dangerous part of our foreign policy of containment of communism has been the extent to which it has made our Presidents prisoners of popular political passion. Any foreign policy-and certainly one as global as that of the United States-involves inevitable trade-offs among the various costs we must pay for our security and well-being. Some mix of dollar costs, lives, nuclear risks, and risks because of changing allegiances of governments and populations is the daily gruel of those who seek to decide. Dollar costs can be reduced by a policy of massive retaliation, accenting increased nuclear risks. Both costs and nuclear risks can be reduced if we are willing to tolerate the loss of various allies or of influence in countries of marginal importance to us. But costs there will be, and trade-offs will continue to be the grist of our foreign policy. Yet the public has never been made aware of this central fact-and only after the price of Vietnam became so totally unacceptable have many become aware of the costs implicit in our foreign policy as it has stretched down the years and over space from its origin in the time of the Truman Doctrine.

Thus, since China and the McCarthy aftermath, no President has been politically willing to question the basic objective of no loss of territory to Communist regimes-to admit that such an objective cannot be absolute and that it may involve excessive risks of nuclear war or unacceptable costs of limited war (as it did in the end in Vietnam and might well have done in Korea as well). Accepting that objective as all-controlling, we have promoted it by our economic and military aid programs, by our systems of alliances, and to a limited degree by covert activities. We have seen dominoes not only in Southeast Asia and in Greece and Turkey, but also in Africa and Latin America. We have hoped that we could deter and prevent loss of territory by shoring up friendly regimes, giving them the military means to prevent subversion and the economic means to claim progress and prosperity. We have not been able to be selective in the process-as we should and could have been. Our selectivity has been dictated more by crisis than by purpose or policy; wherever the danger of Communist take-over existed, there went the dollars and the arms.

Again I do not suggest that, in the reality, this fire-fighting principle was either all good or all bad. I do suggest that it was motivated as much by the fear of the domestic political consequences of any "loss of territory" to communism as it was by serious security calculations. Legitimate concerns about Soviet expansionism and subversion were converted, after China and the Korean War, into domestic political fears of the consequences of a Communist take-over in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Chile, the Congo, Tanzania, Iran, Vietnam, Laos-the list goes on and on. Since the Communist techniques of subversion, assistance to revolutionary groups, propaganda and exploitation of legitimate complaints have been extremely difficult to thwart or deflect by traditional diplomacy, we have often been forced, for better or worse, to give overt economic and military aid to repressive regimes. Worse yet, we have had to resort to covert means to blunt revolutionary movements aided and abetted by covert Soviet (and Chinese) funds and assistance. We have been forced to deny publicly-almost by definition-the covert assistance, and to defend the overt aid in terms of some threat to our national security-or worse, the democratic aspirations of dictators. Since the threat was often less than obvious-probably based on the assumption (not entirely unrealistic during the early part of the cold war) that Communist governments were totally subservient to Moscow-we reënforced by our words and actions the concept that any "loss of territory" anywhere was a potential threat to the United States. Everything we did tended to confirm the common perception that any adverse result was a disaster for the United States-thus making it a serious potential political disaster to the Administration that let it happen.

My purpose here is not to seek to disentangle the real from the imagined. My point is that no effort to do so was politically possible. Every President felt threatened by any Communist success anywhere, and took steps-some, at least, excessive in retrospect-to insure that the blame was not his. He operated in a climate of opinion where to be "soft on communism"-to lose anywhere, any time-was a serious blow to his status at home. And Presidents acted accordingly.

I have said that Presidents became the prisoners of the cold-war view of politics, even though each also contributed to it. The general public and congressional perception of the cold war-and, incidentally, of an exaggerated American power to influence and control events-made it virtually impossible for any President to be candid about the costs and risks of our foreign policy. The "China syndrome"-the aftermath of Joe McCarthy-meant politically that it was easier to accept the premise of "no loss of territory" in the hope that his Presidency would not be called to account than to attempt to gain public and congressional acceptance that the premise might involve unacceptable risks and costs. There was no hope-perhaps no time without crisis-for a public debate in the 1960s about the premises of the 1950s. Could President Johnson have permitted a Communist take-over in the Dominican Republic or in Vietnam, stating that he did not regard "friendly regimes" as important enough to our foreign policy to warrant military intervention? Was the American public prepared for such a statement? And was it, on the other hand, prepared for the costs which Vietnam demanded?


In a sense, all of this political exposition is prelude to the major point of secrecy. But it is, I believe, tremendously important to the understanding of why we are where we are.

In our political system the President enjoys-or suffers-enormous advantages of leadership. His is an extremely difficult role to share, and to a considerable extent the advantages interact with the problems, one upon the other, to cripple the political system. His principal advantage is that the general public-even the best-informed public-views the world beyond our borders as confusing and dangerous. In the mass of information that flows to us each day, it is harder and harder to tell the players and the teams without a program.

To the extent that the average citizen is confused, he tends to place his trust in the President and in the experts. The feeling of danger-reduced and diffuse today but still very much present-brings with it a strong sense of the necessity for teamwork under a united leadership. And so the President operates from a protected position behind the high wall of the public's desire to delegate trust to one man-a wall built, on the one hand of feelings of danger and confusion, and, on the other, of the fact that the President, as our nationally elected leader and our "sole voice" in foreign affairs, is the natural recipient of that trust. An opponent who would attack the President's leadership must first convince the public to endure the feelings of danger and uncertainty that come when trust and confidence are taken from the President. And that is a risky political endeavor.

Unfortunately, Presidents are inclined to think this blind trust in their wisdom is wholly justified. Having almost sole access to the full range of classified information and expert opinion, Presidents are tempted to think that the opinions of Congressmen, academics, journalists and the public at large are, almost unavoidably, inadequately informed. It is too easy to conclude that the opinions of others lack essential knowledge and that unequal information and unequal background make their views less important. The subtle insights of specialists or classified pieces of information are often accorded a totally undeserved attention and importance in comparison to more widely shared insights and knowledge.

All this reduces the politically healthy feeling of being constrained by the disagreement of many of one's peers. But that might not be particularly serious if the President and the executive branch were bias-free and single-minded in their desire to produce results representing the long-run preferences of the American public. Unfortunately, neither of these conditions is likely to prove true.

For there are biases built into the position of the President-and the advice he receives-that are likely to lead to departures from the needs of the country as perceived by others. For one thing, the very factors which reduce the value of the opinion of others on tactical questions have a way of spreading to questions of basic values. There is a tendency to assume that such fundamentals as the amount of dollar cost the public will bear to reduce nuclear risks, or the loss of lives that we will bear to avoid a particularly offensive weapon, are technical decisions for experts-although these decisions plainly involve only value judgments, not specialized knowledge, once the choices are fairly laid out.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that Presidents in recent years have become increasingly enamored of their role on the stage of world affairs and are likely to resist a more limited role even if the public were to assign it to them. Presidents want to secure an honored place in history and feel that the scope of American power, prestige and influence is a crucial aspect of a historian's memory of their terms of office. This can be a heady business. It is compounded by the relative freedom that the President has in foreign affairs-freedom from annoying congressional restraints and freedom based on the generalized need of the public for unitary leadership in times of danger. It would be going too far to say that a President welcomes a Cuban missile crisis or a Six-Day War in the Middle East. But it would not be going too far to say that the Presidency thrives upon it, as the Nixon Presidency has thrived on his televised visits to China and Russia.

All of these pressures make a relatively retiring presidential role less likely whatever the public interest. When they lead a President to costly or risky policies with which much of the public cannot identify its interests, or which seem to exceed the discretion required by the danger, these biases can cause the President to lose that basis of popular support on which he necessarily relies.

Over the years, then, we have moved farther and farther away from the basic premises of our democratic political system to put important decisions on foreign policy in the hands of the President and, in effect, to charge him with its successful administration. Our almost total reliance on the President's leadership and accountability; the felt need to fight insurgency with counterinsurgency, often secretly; our unwillingness 'to test foreign policy initiatives in the ways in which we test domestic policy proposals-through debate and discussion; the appeal of "national security" as sufficient justification for a vague and extensive foreign policy; and, most of all, the fear of the President that his political popularity, his place in history and his capacity to lead all depend on not having another China, or Cuba, or other major loss to communism-all these considerations tempt a President to go it alone in the hope that the policy will succeed. The temptation to let the end justify the means is clearly present, even if the means requires dissembling or misleading the Congress and the American people. Such conduct can, in the environment of the recent past, be rationalized as necessary to maintain that secrecy on which success depends. And, after all, it is unlikely that the President's honesty and good faith will be brought effectively into question if the policy is successful.

The Bay of Pigs debacle of 1961 is an illustrative example. The idea that, in an open society, one can expect to launch a covert attack on a neighboring country in total secrecy seems patently absurd. For that adventure there are only two explanations: Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy must have assumed, first, that the public would not require a political accounting of the authority of the President to act in secret without formal Congressional authorization or knowledge; second, that total failure of the operation was improbable, and that the secrecy essential to its success could be maintained for a sufficient length of time. And I suspect that President Kennedy, despite his obvious reservations about the whole plan, was extremely reluctant as the incoming President to cancel a project initiated by his prestigious predecessor in view of the domestic political risk which that would involve.

The significant aspect of this incident is the fact that President Kennedy's mea culpa related to the failure of the mission, and the later investigation into how the President could be so misinformed. He felt no need to apologize for undertaking so extensive a covert activity on presidential authority alone.

Was the Bay of Pigs different in kind or quality from the secret bombing of Cambodia (and falsification of records) at President Nixon's direction? True, in the first case there was complete candor after the event, but in both cases the element of total secrecy was overriding at the time of action, because it appeared necessary to achieve what the President (and many others) regarded as legitimate foreign policy objectives. But, however justified by such necessity, secrecy destroys our democratic process when it also deceives the American public on important and controversial matters.

There have, of course, been other covert operations, though perhaps none so extensive as these. Operations in Laos and Thailand were more or less open secrets, better known to Congress and the press than some recent outbursts would suggest. But nonetheless all such operations raise the question of how far the President can go it alone, and especially when the operations themselves have no formal congressional sanction and are unknown to-and undiscussable by-the general public.

The war in Vietnam has raised still deeper questions. Between 1961 and 1964 our operations in Vietnam through "military advisers" were, at most, partially covert. The fact of their number was known, and their roles only modestly concealed. As the operation grew and the possibility of more massive intervention became clearer-and, I am convinced, well before he had made up his own mind how far he would intervene-President Johnson did go to the Congress for authority in the form of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The form, at least, was observed, though unhappily in part as a political response to Senator Goldwater's position in the 1964 campaign.

Yet I cannot, in retrospect, square the Vietnam War with my concept of democratic government. What President Johnson did not do, when he had made up his mind in 1965, was to lay out fairly and frankly for Congress and the American people the choices facing us, the risks we were taking, and the possible consequences of our intervention. His failure to do so led in the end directly to attacks upon his credibility and to a serious erosion of the trust and confidence of the public in the President.

And, of course, as the war unfolded, lack of candor was compounded by miscalculations that I am sure far outweighed conscious deceit. At critical points, the dominant personalities within the Administration reflected to the President a degree of optimism which turned out to be totally unwarranted, and it was that optimism which the President in turn conveyed to the Congress and the public and which so destroyed his credibility. The voices of caution and doubt were not believed by the President, and were not, therefore, reflected in public statements. Added to what turned out to be miscalculation based on wishful thinking was the concern the President felt about unleashing the more militant forces epitomized in the 1964 presidential campaign by Goldwater and General LeMay. Mr. Johnson did not want the war, felt he could not let Vietnam go without overt military assistance, and was genuinely concerned about its potential for expansion. Once committed, he saw no retreat without too great a loss of prestige both at home and abroad.

In 1965 I have no doubt the public and the Congress would have overwhelmingly accepted and supported our intervention in Vietnam, and that any alternative (harsher or softer) course, as I am sure President Johnson knew, would have badly divided the country. There was in 1965 no basic contrary view; virtually no one of any political weight was avowedly prepared to accept the collapse of the non-Communist government in South Vietnam. In these circumstances it would have been difficult for Mr. Johnson to have volunteered all the risks potentially involved, to have prepared the American people for the worst. His primary political interest was the Great Society-not Vietnam-and his political compromise was to downplay Vietnam in the hope that guns and butter were both possible. In retrospect he should have encouraged a Great Debate; had he known his worst fears would be realized, he undoubtedly would have. Yet the harsh fact is he did not, and that he did not importantly narrowed his future options.

Then, as the war dragged on, and as opposition to it became increasingly vocal, the Administration's motivation subtly changed. It saw the opposition as making an already difficult task more difficult; as stiffening the resolve of the enemy; as making the search for an honorable peace infinitely more complicated. Information withheld, promulgated half-truths, propagandizing the good news-all of which were to a degree misleading-were now justified by the necessity to minimize the degree of opposition so that peace could be more rapidly achieved. And so the credibility gap widened farther, and trust and confidence eroded faster. Ironically, the fact that the statements of the government were less and less believed probably gave the domestic opposition a strength it never could otherwise have achieved.

Mr. Nixon-prior to Watergate-recouped some credibility for the Presidency. He did not, however, do so by frankness and candor. His technique was to reduce the levels of U. S. troops and casualties; to seek to focus attention on other matters by his China initiative; and to continue to dissemble and to restrain discussion on Vietnam. His excessive views of presidential power, his seeming disdain for congressional views, and his moving the center of decisions and operations from the State Department to the White House all have tended to reduce public discussion and, consequently, public opposition. And to a completely unprecedented degree he has conducted his foreign policy secretly. He regained considerable trust and confidence in the Presidency, not because his statements were believed, but because many of those naturally in political opposition grudgingly admired the initiatives toward China and Russia and respected the brilliance and competence of Mr. Kissinger.

Unhappily, secrecy in foreign affairs-and particularly in the atmosphere we have lived in for the past 25 years-is easily rationalized. Yet the reasons seldom have much to do with the rationalizations. In recent years, at least, the real motive has been precisely to avoid the difficulties inherent in our political system and hopefully to present the public with triumphant faits accomplis. What initially stemmed largely from confrontation between a growing vocal minority in Congress and the President, as well as increasing public demonstrations, was converted into constitutional principle by Mr. Nixon. In his Administration, neither the Congress nor the public has been informed about foreign affairs except at a level of high generality, and even then without the opportunity for discussion. Indeed, not even the bureaucracy has been consulted or informed. And this in turn has led to a failure to consult with, and inform, our allies abroad, culminating in the insult to the Japanese with respect to the change in our China policy.

Thus, even without Watergate, personal diplomacy conducted in secret, without public understanding or solid institutional foundation within the government, should now be insufficient basis for a viable foreign policy. And if, as I believe, Watergate has destroyed confidence in the President's credibility, much more is now needed.


What must be done today to put our foreign policy on a viable basis is, first, to promote discussion sufficient to establish the domestic consensus necessary to gain acceptance for, and support of, our foreign initiatives. We stand as a badly divided nation and we face some very tough problems. Second, we must restore confidence in the integrity of the Presidency. The Congress and the people need to believe what the Administration says. Both of these objectives mean dramatic changes in the style of the Presidency in foreign affairs.

I would propose the following changes:

(1) The President must indicate that he needs and wants the support and participation of Congress and the public in formulating his foreign policy. He must welcome public discussion and criticism of his proposals. Clearly, he must do the proposing, he must provide the leadership. But he and his principal assistants must be far more willing than in the recent past to lay out candidly the problems, the choices, the recommended actions.

To involve the Congress in this fashion is, despite congressional protestations to the contrary, as much a problem for the Congress as for the President. The unpleasant fact is that most members of Congress find little political profit with their constituents in foreign affairs and in accepting the compromises necessarily involved. The role of critic after the fact is often more politically rewarding than that of a constructive participant. It is easy for opposition-especially in the Congress-to center around short-term considerations rather than long-term policies, to make appeals to national pride, to criticize almost any negotiation on the grounds that the Administration gave away too much in the mutual bargaining. The record of Congress on many foreign policy issues, usually in the form of amendments to foreign aid bills, is far from a distinguished one; and the temptation of the Executive to interpret away crippling amendments to its foreign policy has served to create still another tear in the fabric of constitutional government.

Secrecy in foreign affairs is not, therefore, a one-way street born of presidential ambition for power. Too often it suits congressional politics quite well-particularly in the House of Representatives, with its biennial elections. The temptation in both parties is to let the President assume responsibility, and to let future events determine the length of his coattails.

Nor is a compromise approach-secret consultations with relevant congressional committees and leaderships-much of an answer. If the issue is sufficiently controversial, there will be "leaks" to the press. If it is not-and especially if the matter is likely to become public knowledge in the near future-I do not think secret consultation serves much purpose. As for special "watchdog committees," they have generally done more "dogging" than "watching." Members of Congress feel totally dependent on the information secretly provided by the Administration; they are inhibited by national security considerations in taking their case to the public; they fear the political risk of frustrating executive action on matters they do not thoroughly understand and about which they have no independent information.

I do not wish to put aside totally the wisdom of such consultations and special committees; I only wish to note that they should be used rarely and resisted on both sides as an adequate substitute for a more open process of congressional oversight and decision-making. If the policy in question fails, the fact of this kind of congressional consultation may create as many problems as it solves. Rarely will the members of Congress feel a truly shared responsibility. And the efforts to put them in this position may easily result in recriminations about the nature and quality of the information provided.

No, today there can be no substitute for a general rule of openness with the Congress. Congress must become truly involved in decisions and programs for action, and it must be told what the problems are, what the apparent options for action are, and why the Executive has come forward with particular proposals. If, in the process, nations abroad come to know somewhat more about the way an Administration's mind is working, I think the price-if it is that-eminently worth paying.

(2) It follows that the principal makers of foreign policy decisions must be exposed to Congress, the press and the public. If presidential assistants participate in the framing and execution of foreign policy to anything like the degree that Mr. Kissinger has done, they must be exposed to public view and scrutiny, and fully available to the Congress without subterfuge or the use of devious methods.

(3) We should abandon publicly all covert operations designed to influence political results in foreign countries. Specifically, there should be no secret subsidies of police or counter-insurgency forces, no efforts to influence elections, no secret monetary subsidies of groups sympathetic to the United States, whether governmental, nongovernmental or revolutionary. We should confine our covert activities overseas to the gathering of intelligence information.

I come to this conclusion with some reluctance, because in a few instances such activities have been legitimate and useful. But I believe the impossibility of controlling secret activities-and the public's apprehension about them-outweigh the losses which will be sustained. Much of this activity was phased out under Kennedy and Johnson, and I think the rest can go.

(4) We must minimize the role of secret information in foreign policy.

Many Presidents have sought to tinker with the present classification and declassification system, conscious that the tendency to reclassify and to spawn classified files has been out of control for years. If public proof of that fact were necessary, the Pentagon Papers and the ensuing trial provided it. All the documents involved carried high security classification, yet there was little evidence that any related importantly any longer to "national defense"-the test required by the major provision of law under which the trial was held. On the contrary, there was at the trial much expert testimony that none did relate importantly to the "national defense," and a determined and persuasive defense argument that little of the factual information provided in the mass of documents was in fact new. What made the release newsworthy was less its content than its voyeuristic appeal-the relatively rare public exposure of governmental processes to the public eye.

Prior efforts to revise the system have not worked, primarily because in no instance has major surgery been tried. Classifiers have mixed the desire to keep information confidential and "closely held" for whatever reason, good or bad, with information actually affecting the "national defense." To do this is a perversion of the law. Perhaps worse, it is a perversion of the processes of government, because it does not force officials to consider honestly the reasons for confidentiality or the relevant time frame. And the fact of gross overclassification tends, in turn, to destroy the system itself.

Prior to the Watergate exposures, the Nixon administration had presented to the Congress proposals to codify the classification system and to make disclosure of classified information a criminal offense in itself, with the validity of the classification not open to challenge in court. I assume that, in the present climate, any such legislation is dead-and rightly so. While the law under which Mr. Ellsberg was tried is crude, its essential criteria-that the information relate to the national defense and that its disclosure be with intent to damage the national interest-seem to me those that should prevail in this country for purposes for criminal sanctions.

At any rate, this is and will remain the law-and I believe that the classification system within the executive branch should now conform to it. Essentially, the extremely strict internal procedures of a full-scale classification system, and the threat of criminal sanctions for its deliberate breach, should now be coextensive with the law-while still emphatically leaving to the courts in any prosecution the testing of the validity of the executive classification as well as the question of intent.

What exactly would be covered by such a restricted classification system, limited to matters affecting the national defense? Examples would be CIA and DIA intelligence material on foreign military capabilities, troop dispositions, missile placements, and weapons development; and defense and AEC information on our own weapons systems, future technological developments, current strength and disposition, mobilization estimates, and military plans to the extent such information is not already in the public domain. Even such a drastic cutback as this will result in some overclassification. But it should be more workable than the present morass.

I do not propose that all other information be made public or even generally available. I simply suggest that it not be classified as "national defense" information, carrying such exotic labels as "Top Secret" or "Cosmic Top Secret" or the like. I have no problem with limiting distribution within the bureaucracy of information which is politically "sensitive," or with general rules concerning the confidentiality of discussions with foreign diplomats, ambassadorial or other bureaucratic recommendations as to policy, or personal or investigative records. (In the case of diplomatic exchanges, such common-sense rules long antedate the postwar expansion of classification.) Frankly, I think we can rely on the good sense of bureaucrats to keep confidential what should be confidential most of the time, without employing bloated concepts of national security to do so. I know this worked in the past within the Department of Justice and I see no reason why it should not work elsewhere.

(5) Classification will not stop leaks anyhow. What minimizes these is loyalty to superiors, based not so much on agreement with policy as on respect for their fairness, integrity and openness to recommendations and ideas. A part of the new style of operation must be far greater openness within the executive branch itself. All Presidents fear becoming the prisoners of the governmental bureaucracy, and all Presidents have a healthy distrust of bureaucratic expertise. It is good that they should seek advice elsewhere and that departmental recommendations should be tested in various ways, including the competition of agencies and the interplay between full-time professional officers and those who enter government under political auspices. But to attempt to bypass the bureaucracy has heavy costs not only in the very "leaks" to which I have just referred, but above all in the failure to understand policy, to administer it effectively, to explain it to other constituencies at the appropriate time, and often to make decisions with full awareness of their consequences abroad.


In the present world situation, far greater congressional and public involvement in formulating our foreign policy seems to me not only right but nearly inevitable. There are two reasons for this :

First, problems of trade, investment, resources, development and international monetary stability promise to take on increasing importance in the future. All of these problems will require legislative solutions and therefore extensive congressional participation and action. All will involve a continuity in policy over relatively long periods of time and thus need public understanding and support.

Second, as communism has become less monolithic, as China has emerged as a competing ideological center, as the Soviet Union has become less stridently revolutionary and more concerned with China and with its own domestic progress, and as Europe and Japan have become centers for wealth and power, security considerations in the United States' foreign policy have become less consuming and less global. Mr. Nixon's approaches to both the Soviet Union and China, as well as the modest progress made in the SALT talks, are evidence of a changing security environment. Problems will remain but they will lack the felt intensity of the past 25 years.

Notwithstanding these changes in the world scene, the shift to a more open style in foreign policy will not be without its difficulties. One is the extent to which openness may in fact reduce options or be perceived as doing so. I accept the fact that it sometimes does. But I also think the extent of that reduction is exaggerated, often for improper purposes. I accept, too, that there are circumstances where the President or the Secretary cannot be totally candid without affecting the situation he is discussing. I think the press and public understand this. They know, for example, that high government officials cannot publicly discuss corruption of high South Vietnamese officials, or that high-level expressions of doubt about the viability of a foreign government may bring it down. But these inhibitions are not serious ones, because the underlying facts-if they are important to understanding policy-can be made available to the public in other ways.

The most serious problem of a more open foreign policy lies in congressional response. In Congress controversy can lead to delay, to inaction, to unworkable compromise, to missed opportunities. Minorities can obstruct; special interests can sometimes manipulate policy more easily on the Hill than in the executive branch. The accident of committee leadership and membership can skew policy away from the national interest to more parochial concerns. No one should be sanguine about these risks. The danger of getting hopelessly bogged down in a congressional quagmire is clear and present.

Nonetheless, I am prepared to take some losses in our foreign affairs if by doing so we can restore the fundamentals of representative democracy to our foreign policy. As Watergate demonstrates, democracy is too fragile to be divided into foreign and domestic affairs. We cannot give the President a free hand in the one without eroding the whole of the governmental system that all policy seeks to preserve.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now