Jimmy Carter is in danger of repeating the experiences of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon during their campaigns to retain the presidency, and his political strategy could bring him the same short-term benefits and long-range troubles, former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy said today.
"My present concern is that President Carter, in what he has said and done so far about the Persian Gulf, may be poised uncertainly halfway between truth and concealment," Bundy said in a lecture at New York University.
In his failure to tell the whole truth to the people during an election campaign, Bundy said, Carter's "posture is dangerously like Johnson's in 1964 and Nixon's in 1972."
Bundy, who was Johnson's national security adviser in 1964, said that Johnson and Nixon both kept silent about their deepest fears about the course of Vietnam policymaking to ensure landslide victories which they thought would give them added strength in their second terms.
Instead, each later saw these fears about Vietnam borne out at a heavy price to themselves and their successors.
In 1964, Bundy said, Johnson understood that the United States would probably have to greatly enlarge its Vietnam effort, but "at least partly for a reason of electoral caution," he did not talk about the hard decisions to come.
Similarly, Nixon's memoirs reveal that in 1972 he understood that any realistic Vietnam peace agreement would require the United States to make an armed guarantee, but he did not say so, Bundy said in the Charles C. Moskowitz memorial lecture at NYU, college of business and public administration.
What Carter knows and has not fully told Americans, Bund said, is that the Middle East oil problem is only in part a question of U.S. dependence on the oil cartel. What is of far more importance to the American people is the greater dependence of their closest allies -- the Western Europeans and Japanese -- on foreign oil.
Bundy argued that Carter can still tell the whole truth and, by doing so, win himself eventual political advantage, for he would not then run the risk of following Johnson and Nixon to smashing victories followed by an inability to deliver on falsely nurtured hopes.
Bundy points out that Nixon who ran for reelection in 1972 has been the only incumbent since 1964 not to face a serious challenge from within his own party. Intra-party contests have added to the fears sitting presidents have of telling the people how they really see the world.
Too often the electoral reward seems to go to the candidate who says the least, Bundy said.
The foreign crisis of 1980 is authentic, but Americans run the risk of an "essential inauthentic" presidential selection process because not only Carter but his rivals have not dealt sufficiently and openly with the problems ahead, Bundy said.
He applauded Carter for warning that the United States would repel "by force if necessary" any attempt by an outside power to gain control of the Persian Gulf region.
The warning, however, is not sufficient by itself and has been followed by actions that are mostly the product of "the politics of image and not of reality" Bundy said.
Bundy, who resigned as president of Ford Foundation last year and is now a professor of history at NYU, advocates five policy changes in response to U.S. allies' economic dependence on Persian Guld oil and their lack of power in the region:
A stronger energy policy that included more effective efforts to reduce U.S. oil imports.
A different policy toward the Israeli occupation of Arab land on the West Bank to discourage Israel from its "deeply mistaken course" there.
More respect for the interests of oil-producing nations.
Better relations with U.S. allies.
A commitment to the U.S.-Soviet partnership in working to prevent nuclear war, balanced with American resistance to Soviet expansionism.
In Bundy's call for frank discussion of the Persian Gulf crisis, a problem he predicts will continue to the end of the century, he said that Carter understands that internal upheaval in the region -- not a Soviet invasion -- is the gravest threat, and that the United States alone cannot ward off that danger.
This year's political campaign, he said, need not follow the course of the Johnson-Nixon example of landslides followed by presidents buried by events they could not control.
After the fall of France, Bundy argued, Franklin D. Roosevelt took strong steps and was not turned out of office. Neither was Harry S Truman in 1948 after the Marshall Plan and the defense of Berlin nor Dwight David Eisenhower in 1956 after the Suez crisis.
Bundy predicts that Carter -- or any other presidential candidate -- would prosper this year by telling the truth as best he can.