American Foreign Policy
No member of the Administration seems to outrank Dr. Henry Kissinger in the esteem of Richard Nixon. The President wholeheartedly shares the common view that the choice of the former Harvard professor as the chief White House Adviser on National Security Affairs is his most inspired appointment. Contrary to general supposition though, the President’s gratitude is probably not so much for Kissinger’s ideas on policy formulations, as for his unexpected virtuosity in expounding Nixon’s own involved formulations to the press and thus, by indirection, to the public.
How could anybody familiar with Kissinger’s style have guessed that almost overnight he would become Washington’s most celebrated exegete? An elaborately anonymous one, to be sure, but all the more effective because of that. There is little in American Foreign Policy or other Kissinger books to suggest this potential, but then his new success is not based on the clarity and precision of his private briefings, but, consciously or not, on almost the reverse. His natural style is marvelously, if momentarily, suited to the ambiguities of Nixon’s Vietnam policies. The result must have surprised the President as much as it has the rest of Washington. And it has altered the arrangement that was contemplated when Kissinger was first appointed last December.
The original offer was for the scholar to play a self-effacing role as a behind-the-scenes adviser, with the new Secretary of State, William P. Rogers, a lawyer and talented advocate, acting as the front man on foreign policy. This entirely suited Kissinger, it is said, because he neither desired nor intended to deal with the press, but that is not the way it worked out. Rogers was handicapped by inexperience and the heavy burden of getting the State Department reorganized. Kissinger, on the other hand, was on top of the situation from the beginning.
He brought to the White House not only his own professionalism, but a large hand-picked staff of assistants who are specialists in almost every field of foreign policy. The Kissinger operation was already functioning before the inauguration. It was inevitable that the President would rely on it during those first months in office when State was still being reorganized.
There were pressing publicity problems from the beginning, notably Vietnam, which called for expert exposition, and the responsibility automatically fell on Kissinger. He was there in the White House; he saw the President constantly; he knew better than anybody else what Nixon was thinking; he had an authoritative but not too explicit way of stating things that Nixon admired; he was respected by the top politicians and members of the press who need and expect regular off-the-record background briefings on the real aims of the Administration. So, almost accidentally, Kissinger began to assume this delicate, highly sensitive responsibility. In foreign policy today, it is not what the President says that counts so much as what Kissinger (at the direction of his Patron, of course) says he meant.
Under the rules of the game …
Kissinger on War October 23, 1969