George Shultz becomes our 60th secretary of state under our 40th president; a little arithmetic suggests that being secretary of state is a hazardous occupation.
Shultz' nomination has been warmly received, and we must all wish him success. We are all in the same canoe and will come through turbulent waters or go down together. President Kennedy once remarked that domestic issues can only lose elections, but foreign policy issues can kill us all.
Since the changing of the guard at the Department of State has occurred in the midst of considerable speculation about tensions and procedures at the top of the administration, it might be well to recall certain simplicities, at least as seen by the senior member of the trade union of former secretaries of state.
We should begin with the often forgotten first sentence of Article 2 of the Constitution: "The Executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of America." This sentence should be framed and hung on the wall of the White House mess; there is only one president in the White House. A secretary of state serves at the pleasure of the president; his resignation is implicitly always on the president's desk. The president, in turn, must give thought to the arrangements that make it possible for a secretary of state to carry out his heavy responsibilities and to remain willing to carry the burdens of that office.
As George Shultz takes up his duties, he will find a five-foot shelf of statutory law organizing his department and setting many policies that he is obliged to pursue. Many of these statutes delegate specific responsibilities to the secretary of state, although it is generally understood that a secretary exercises these statutory responsibilities under the general direction of the president. There will be times when a secretary will have to tell the president that certain things simply cannot be done under existing laws and appropriations. Presidents usually take seriously their own constitutional duty to see that the law be faithfully executed.
The secretary of state must spend a great deal of time in ensuring that our complicated constitutional system functions smoothly in the conduct of our relations with foreign nations. Chief Justice Earl Warren reminded some of us shortly before his death that, if each branch of our federal government were to pursue its own constitutional prerogative to the end of the trail, our system simply could not function; it would freeze up like an engine without oil. The secretary must, therefore, give a great deal of time to his relations with Congress. This means frequent appearances before committees and subcommittees, and he will find that almost literally every committee of Congress gets into the formulation in one way or another. He must keep in regular touch with congressional leaders. He must see that high priority is given in his department to congressional inquiry, whether by mail or by telephone. He must take the lead in promoting legislation, obtaining appropriations, or getting the approval of the Senate for treaties that are of interest to his department. Unhappily, he must also try to discourage Congress from indulging in foolish pranks that affect our foreign relations.
Fortunately, the secretary is backed up by a professional diplomatic service that is second to none in ability, experience, dedication and-- when needed--sheer gallantry. It seems to be fashionable for new boys surrounding a new president to approach the foreign service with a mixture of suspicion and derision. After all, the foreign service does not share their view that the world was created at the last presidential election or that a world of more than 160 nations will somehow be very different because we elected one man rather than another as president. These cheap shots, which are typical of almost every new administration, diminish as a new president and secretary of state come to appreciate the extraordinary capacities of our professional diplomats.
A new secretary of state soon discovers the sheer mass of our communications with other governments. On any working day approximately 3,000 cables, all bearing the signature of the secretary, will go out of the Department of State to our posts and governments all over the world. Of these, the secretary himself may see eight to ten and the president may see one or two before they are dispatched. The remainder are taken care of by hundreds of officers who must necessarily have the authority to proceed with the day's work. It is the secretary's job to see that these professional officers understand the policies that a president and a secretary wish them to follow. Of the more than 2 million cables that went out of the department under my name during the 1960s, I can recall only four or five that had to be called back and rewritten because the authors had missed the point of policy that the president or I expected them to follow--an extraordinary professional performance by colleagues.
The secretary of state is the one who holds press conferences at home and abroad; it is he and our ambassadors, to whom he furnishes guidance, who are our principal spokesmen with other governments; he must see that the interests and attitudes of other departments and agencies of our own government are taken fully into account; he is responsible for seeing to it that our delegations to international conferences, about a dozen on every working day somewhere in the world, are assembled and provided with credentials and instructions with regard to U.S. policy. More than any other person in government, the secretary of state shares the awesome constitutional and public responsibilities of the president in foreign affairs and must be recognized at home and abroad as one who has the full confidence of the president.
It needs to be said very simply that members of the White House staff do not and cannot share these responsibilities. Their job is to assist the president, not to substitute for him. It is one thing for a member of the White House staff to transmit to a Cabinet officer an instruction from the president; it is quite another thing for such a staff officer to try to issue his own directives to major departments of government. If the president himself is not speaking, it is the secretary of state himself who, by statute, long- established custom and common sense, must speak for the United States in matters of foreign policy. If a president tries to inject White House staff into the chain of command with respect to the Cabinet departments, he is asking for a lot of trouble.
At the risk of seeming self-serving, I would suggest that one can search the news media of the 1960s and find a minimum amount of gossip about feuds among those at the top levels of government. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy (later Walt Rostow) and I spent a great deal of time talking things over with each other, in discussions that were infused with the thought that we were all trying to serve the same president.
We were fully aware of the fact that honest men and women can have honest differences of view about complex problems that arise in a tumultuous and contradictory world. We did not translate those differences of view into consideration of personal prestige, competition or the protection of one's own pad, or consideration of personal ambition. Guerrilla war among those at the top of the government is simply too dangerous in the kind of world in which we live. If a president finds anyone in his administration who is going around town plunging knives into the backs of his colleagues, that person should be fired immediately. Such activity becomes readily known because, among other things, reporters do not protect their sources nearly as much as they pretend.
Any new administration must make the sometimes difficult transition from campaign rhetoric to the responsibilities of office in the real world. Political campaigns and party platforms exist in the world of opinion; their primary purpose is to solicit votes. The generalities of campaign oratory and party platforms simply do not deal with real problems in the real world, which have dozens and dozens of secondary and tertiary questions surrounding them. Those who carry public responsibilities live in the world of decisions--a vastly different world from the world of opinion.
A case in point has to do with the administration's attitude toward the contemplated gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Western Europe. The point is not really whether such a pipeline is right; opinions may differ on that, and it is entirely appropriate for the administration to make its concerns known to our friends in Europe. However, no one has appointed our president and secretary of defense to be the den mothers of Western Europe. Their leaders are grown men and women, many with far more experience in world affairs than our own leaders, who are entirely capable of assessing their national interests and the requirements of their national security. It is destructive to North Atlantic relationships for us to try to reach out and impose our own law and policy upon American-owned subsidiaries that are organized under the laws and policies of their host countries in Europe. Our friends in Europe are allies--not satellites.
It was encouraging to hear Shultz underline the importance of continuity in foreign policy and his determination to seek a broad-based, bipartisan approach toward the rest of the world. The United States is too large, powerful, rich and influential to dart about like a hummingbird to sniff at each alluring blossom; we must be reasonably predictable by friends and adversaries alike, or we ourselves can inject disarray into an already troubled planet. Unanimity is not possible, but a broad consensus is there for those who are willing to participate in building it.