Since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the nomination of California Supreme Court Justice William P. Clark as deputy secretary of state, newspapers across the world have ridiculed Clark for his inability to name certain foreign leaders. In fairness, the full exchange at the Clark hearing, excerpted here, was not limited to this point.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: Justice Clark, good morning.
Let me get right to my main point, if I may.
You are and were a fine lawyer, evidenced by the fact that you built an enviable practice.
So I have great admiration for you. But I also have great concern about why the State Department. Why not Agriculture? Why not Commerce? Why not anywhere but the State Department?
I will take two more minutes in my opening remarks to explain my position, to explain my dilemma, before I get to questions.
We questioned Secretary Haig at length on substantive, detailed matters. We did this in large part because he was a military man and he had not been involved in the State Department previously, unlike the last secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, who everyone acknowledged was an expert in foreign policy.
We questioned Gen. Haig extensively. I must say that he made a believer out of me. He has a prodigious knowledge of foreign policy.
But he did state, in response to a question about shuttle diplomacy, that he did not think shuttling was all that bad, that he liked face-to-face confrontation. This leads me to bellieve you are going to be minding the store quite a bit. It further increases, from my perspective, the need for someone to have a substantive knowledge of foreign policy.
I had great concern with Mr. Smith to be our attorney general. He is a brilliant lawyer, but he had no knowledge of the issues. He was devoid of any position, more than any other nominee. The reason I voted for him was he said he guaranteed he would have substantive experts heading up the Criminal Division and every other division, people who had specific backgrounds.
But now I am sort of caught in the middle in terms of the standards which I apply to determine whether or not I will vote for someone. We have here a secretary who says he will be away a great deal and who does not come from a foreign policy background. So, I would look more toward having an expert person at the helm when he is out of country.
I see no indication of that in your background, and you have been forthright in expressing that you have no such background.
I also found, when we ask you or any other nominee for his or her position on a specific issue, that the nominee says, justifiably, he would rather not take a position now so as to prejudice the position of the president or the secretary; but sometimes the person clothes a lack of knowledge in that answer. It is a good answer and it is very difficult for me to penetrate, to say, "Well, why don't you have a position on SALT or on this other issue?"
So, I have decided to take a new tack with you and, in terms of my vote, I sincerely hope you can answer these questions.
I don't want to know your position on any of the issues. I want you to be a professor and explain the issues to me. I want you to set out for me, in each of the areas of the world I want to discuss, what you view to be the compelling issues there and not what position you would take, as I don't really care what that is.
Let me begin with southern Africa -- not South Africa, but southern Africa, such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Angola, and so on.
Tell me, what do you think are the compelling issues concerning U.S. interests in southern Africa? What are the competing forces that we will have to be making decisions on?
JUSTICE CLARK: Senator, from the standpoint of the national interest, I would deem the compelling questions to be two, as stated by Secretary Haig, primarily, and by President Reagan. The first is Soviet intrusion and influence; the second, related to the first, is the problems created which must be met in the area of natural resources and our ability to rely on those resources in the face of that intrusion.
BIDEN: Can you tell me who is the prime minister of South Africa?
CLARK: No, sir, I cannot.
BIDEN: can you tell me who the prime minister of Zimbabwe is?
CLARK: It would be a guess.
BIDEN: Can you tell me what the major bilateral issues are between the United States and Brazil at this point?
CLARK: I am unaware of the priorities. But from my general reading, I think one concern regarding Brazil is definitely balance-of-payments problems, the economy. I will stand corrected, I am sure, from all kinds of expertise when I get back to the State Department, but I believe Brazil is No. 1 in debt at the moment on the international scene.
BIDEN: I really don't like doing this, Justic Clark, but I don't know how else to get at the point.
What are the countries in Europe, in NATO, that are most reluctant to go along with theater nuclear force modernization? From what countries do we have the greatest difficulty getting cooperation in the placement of long-range nuclear weapons on European soil?
CLARK: I am not in a position, as you already have suggested, senator, to categorize them from the standpoint of acceptance on the one hand and resistance on the other.
BIDEN: Well, then, let's talk about England for a moment. Can you tell us, just from accounts in the newspaper, what is happening to the British Labor Party these days?
CLARK: I don't think I can tell you with specificity what is happening to the British Labor Party these days.
BIDEN: I really appologize, Mr. Justice. I know you are on the spot, but I don't know how else I can do my job.
This is one of the most distasteful question-and-answer periods in which I have participated. And, by the way, no one but me, not my staff, suggested that I use this approach.
The staff book is full of specific questions, questions which everyone else has. My staff persons who are not on the committee staff also had specific questions. But the issue with regard to us, justice, in my opinion, is not whether or not you're bright. I think you are a bright man.
I am so sick of establishment-type lawyers, I have had them up to here [indicating]. I started off my practice of law the same way you did. I went out at age 27 and started my own law firm. So I have an incredible regard for you. I really mean it. But you are supposed to be the expert. I am not looking for someone who is a manager. You are going to be running that outfit a lot of the time. You will be heading up interagency groups.
For example, I was going to ask you to tell me about the makeup of the National Security Council, even though it is not your responsbility. But it is a big issue these days. I just don't know how else to go about this. I'm really sorry.
CLARK: Senator, I don't want you to be sorry. Perhaps I can help you with your delemma.
BIDEN: Sure, please.
CLARK: In the first part of your question you said why the State Department. I certainly think that is a fair question. Of course, the best witness for the answer would be the gentlemen who nominated me and asked me to come here today.
But my understanding of the answer to that question is this. President Reagan wants the Department of State returned to its historic preeminence as the place where foreign policy is created, where strategy is created, where it is announced. His analysis has been that this has not been the case. I think it is very well granted that the State Department has had its problems, not only in the creation but in the announcement of foreign policy, during the past several administrations. It has been in the area of communication, primarily within the triangle of White House at the top, State in one corner and Defense at the other.
Looking at the people involved here, based on his past experience, he made this decision.
I worked with the secretary of defense Secretary Weinberger, for over 15 years, not only in Sacramento, but after going on the bench. He asked me to take 10 days away from the bench, between Christmas and New Year's over that holiday, and to come back with him and assist in the reorganization of the Federal Trade Commission. I did that.
I have commnicated with him, not on a professional basis, of course, but certainly two weeks never have gone by in the interim period during which we have not talked.
Senator, the same situation prevails at the White House. I think this wil benefit us. This does not mean that I will be undercutting the secretary. I am told by our operations center that they guarantee my communication with the secretary within two minutes, any time he is either within the country or without.
I do not intend to keep my own agenda or to be acting in any way that not -- and I might add, this has occurred this week. I have not spoken to the president or any of his staff without informing the secretary of the substance and the procedure. So, if that assists your question of why the State Department, I offer it to you.
SEN. CHARLES PERCY: Well, I was reminded of the comment made to me by Ted Hauser, who was chairman of the board of Sears Roebuck. Gen. Robert E. Wood had a habit of calling him into the office when he was vice president of merchandising for Sears. He would bring in some papers to talk over some policy matters. The general would look up at him and say, "What was the percentage increase we had" -- and then he would name some particular line of product -- "for this year over last year?"
Every time they met he would ask some questions like that which Hauser just could not answer.
Well, Hauser went in each time with heavier and heavier files. One time he was asked for the telephone number of the Washington office. Finally, Ted Hauser said:
"General, do you want me to be vice president of merchandising for Sears Roebuck? Then just ask me how we are doing overall against last year, just how we are doing, rather than expecting me to be an Encyclopaedia Britannica of particular facts, of which all of my staff are well aware and which I can get for you very quickly."
I know if some questions were put to Warren Christopher, such as the name of a particular prime minister, he would not have been able to answer. But I think he has performed admirably.
BIDEN: If I could just take 60 seconds to respond, I may be mistaken and maybe I should have pursued a different line. But I suspect, if I or any other members in the second round come back and ask broader issues, such as "Who are the primary movers in the Eastern Bloc countries? What are the issues? What are the questions there? How are we going to handle the debt situation? What is the situation in Germany? What are the major issues they are concerned about?" -- I respectfully suggest that Warren Christopher would have had absolutely no trouble answering any of those questions. I also respectfully would suggest that it is not Justice Clark's background, interest of avocation. It is understandable that he cannot answer these questions, but to me it is not understandable that he can't and still have this job.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: As far as the specifics of who is prime mimister of which government, I think you are well informed of one question we might ask and that is, who is the president of the United States. [General laughter.]
I think the question to follow after that concerns your comment about the urgency of the president's request, to use your own words. The president must have felt a special need or there would not have been that kind of urgency.
You specified your role in the State Department, again to use your words, as one of coordinating and implementing policy, not necessarily as an alter ego to the secretary of state.
In past administration, the position to which you are nominated has served as the secretary's alter ego. The deputy secretary speaks with great authority. You apparently see your job differently. Evidently the president see it in a different role. There is speculation in the Washington papers that you are to be, not so much a policy center, as -- and they put it bluntly -- you are to be the president's eyes and ears over in the State Department, and report back to him what is happening.
Do you see that as your job? Do you see your job as being the eyes and ears for the president in the State Department?
Second, if that is not, how do you view your role? Would you expand on that somewhat.
CLARK: All right, senator. I believe there are four aspects to your question. Let me take the last one first.
No, I have not at any point been told that I am to be the eyes and ears of the president in the State Department. It is the converse, rather, and it goes to the first point of your question, the urgency. The urgency aspect, as I understand it, is this. The State Department historically has been the primary Cabinet position in the Cabinet system. The president recognized that and, in light of our most pressing problems, as he sees them, he wanted the State Department to "get going," if I may use the vernacular. Also, the urgency related to a time frame and hopefully Secretary Haig would be able to put a staff together quickly. He has done this.
Again, historically the deputy position must be appointed and confirmed before the other positions, before under secretaries and some 22 assistant secretaries come before you for confirmation. That is the urgency aspect.
Second, does the role, as viewed by the president, the secretary and me, of deputy secretary of state change from what it has been in the past. The answer is "No."
I believe before you came I received that question, and I used the term "alter ego." It is a statutory position, and in the absence of the secretary of state, the deputy becomes the secretary of state, to consider all issues across the board.
I mentioned before, and I think it is not too different from what has been the case, that the emphasis on administration and coordination will lie in the deputy's office. I understand that is why I was chosen for this spot, based in that background.