The number one star at a dinner last night to announce a Henry A. Kissinger chair was neither Gerald Ford, nor Secretary of State George P. Shultz, nor Kissinger--but a dressed-up Labrador retriever named Tyler.
"Word has it that this dog has a real reputation in New York," said David Gergen, the White House communications director who is always happy to compliment administration members and friends.
Just another sophisticated Washington party full of grown-ups.
This one was given by the Georgetown Center of Strategic and International Studies, a leading think-tank, at the International Club on K Street. The new chair belongs to them. But just when Kissinger was about to sit in it, out came Tyler in a cap and gown.
The dog first walked to Nancy Kissinger, who scratched his neck with her long red nails. Then Tyler jumped toward the chair and began chewing on the fake ermine draped over it. (This was part of the Kissinger-as-emperor theme; the chair also came with a crown and scepter.) Everybody laughed.
"I had no idea," said Kissinger, whose staff members were the culprits.
"I had no idea," echoed his wife, who smoked so many cigarettes and looked so skinny in her long black dress that women couldn't keep their eyes off her. She got a good hold on Tyler's leash, then stood up and continued her party conversations as the dog wound the leash around her.
Honorary chairman of the event was Kissinger's old boss, Ford. "There was no one I respected more, no one I trusted more, no one I enjoyed more," Ford said in his accolades. "I happen to believe, others may differ, that if the elections of '76 had taken a different turn, we could have said that Henry was the principal architect of a responsible and successful SALT II agreement in 1977 . . . we could have had the recognition of the People's Republic of China earlier . . . we could have made progress beyond the Sinai II agreement in 1977 . . . "
Wait a minute. Over at Table 24 was Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser who was enmeshed in all that under Jimmy Carter--and who always has had his career compared with the more illustrious Kissinger's. Wasn't he steaming? You couldn't tell, although he was fidgeting with his hands.
"It's a free country," he said afterward. "Everybody's allowed to say what they want." He was smiling and, politicians being politicians, pretty soon Ford came up to say a hearty hello. "I read part of your book," he said to Brzezinski. "I've enjoyed what I've read."
The chair in Kissinger's name is the fifth one the center has endowed since 1981. It is a handy way of raising more than a million dollars, since international financiers and business leaders (Toyota Motor Corp., Fiat, CBS, and Goldman Sachs to name a few) are more apt to give money to something with Kissinger's name on it than they are to a Washington think-tank--even if it does serve as an incubator for members of Republican administrations.
In this case, the as-yet unnamed occupant of the chair will hold it for two years, with his or her salary paid by the interest from the million-dollar endowment. Kissinger has been associated with the center since 1963, and the center has treated its star attraction well.
The dinner was preceded by a cocktail half-hour, where people stood around and watched photographers take pictures of Ford and Kissinger. Listen to what happens when two world leaders have to make chatter in front of the cameras:
"You look good," Ford said to Kissinger.
"You look good," Kissinger said to Ford.
"I'm feeling better," said Ford. "Just getting over some bronchitis. This is a nice occasion. Are you behaving yourself?"
Finally, Kissinger broke out of this swamp. "My capacity to admire people is not my most highly developed trait," he said, "but it's unqualified in this case." Everyone beamed.
The black-tie dinner for 260 people was attended by a lot of important Republicans with a few Democrats and ambassadors thrown in to keep things interesting. Shultz had nothing to say about the peace accords formally signed by Israel and Lebanon yesterday. "I don't have any comments," he said. "I'm out of business." He did, however, accept a compliment on his red cummerbund.
Also there: CIA Director William Casey, national security adviser William Clark, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Attorney General William French Smith and the ambassadors of Germany, Canada, France, Australia, Great Britain and China.
Edward Bennett Williams, the lawyer whose firm represents Georgetown University, was master of ceremonies. He'd prepared his own remarks.
"Kissinger's a pushover to write about," he said during cocktails. " . . . Henry Kissinger is a man of affairs. The affair between Henry Kissinger--and Henry Kissinger--is one of the great love stories in American history."
The Rev. Timothy Healy, president of Georgetown University, gave the invocation. "Almighty and everlasting God," he said, "bless those who are gathered here tonight--and console those who aren't invited."
After all, even a dog was.