Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976

by Micah Zenko
October 15, 2012

Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger speaks during a ceremony on March 5, 2011 (Joshua Roberts/Courtesy Reuters). Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger speaks during a ceremony on March 5, 2011 (Joshua Roberts/Courtesy Reuters).

Highlights from the recently-released Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXXVII, Energy Crisis 1974-1980


Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Staff Meeting, October 22, 1974

Kissinger: Somebody could do a great book on the decline of the west—between our madness and the European madness, we will manage to destroy the structure yet.


Memorandum of Conversation, December 9, 1974

Kissinger: We have all of these eunuchs from David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission running around town saying that we are trying to confront the Arabs. I don’t know whatever possessed me to give those idiots my blessing. I shouldn’t talk that way about the brother of a very good friend of mine, but it’s true—George Ball, and all the rest, running around saying that we’re confronting the Arabs. What else could you expect? Lehman Brothers is investing in those countries. Even Pete [G. Peterson] feels this way. That’s the New York liberal line and he doesn’t want to deviate from it.


Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting, January 14, 1975

Kissinger: The Shah may not like it, but he is manageable. He’s nothing like the Israelis.


Memorandum of Conversation, April 26, 1975

Kissinger: Did any of you ever see the movie “Sitting Pretty” with Clifton Webb? Tom [Enders, Assistant Secretary, Economic & Business Affairs], you were probably too young. He was hired as a baby sitter but in the film he could do everything. That’s how I see you sometimes Tom, and why I’d like to see you in the Middle East talking to the Arabs.


Minutes of the Rambouillet Economic Summit Meeting, November 16, 1975

Ford: Let me again point out the inordinate proliferation of world bodies dealing with these issues. Whatever the subject, there are at least 15, and sometimes 50, world organizations. I have commissioned a list of them. It is six pages, and excludes all EC organs and commodities. Including them it would be 6½ or 7 pages. I will avoid boring you but will distribute the list which I have prepared. This is an incredible load on officials. They say the same things in different organs. There is also the problem for ministers.

I remember in 1946–47, spending four months preparing the mandate for the FAO. I remember meeting an old curmadgeon in Washington—Sir James Gray. He said that Washington was a town of international beach-combers strolling around trying to form committees or organizations around the pieces of wood which they found. This list really is a challenge to the international community.


Memorandum of Conversation: Iran Oil Negotiations, March 13, 1976

[Energy “Czar” Frank] Zarb: Anyone who can be attacked in one day by both [Ronald] Reagan and [Senator Henry] Jackson must be all good.

Kissinger: They’ve been going around for weeks attacking American foreign policy and accusing us of weakness. And the first time I hit back, they call it unfair. But I’ve got news for them, I’m going to hit them again in Dallas on March 22.

[National Security Advisor Brent] Scowcroft: Even Carter hit back. I understand he’s got Brzezinski working for him. That won’t help him very much.

[Deputy Secretary of State Frank] Robinson: I understand Carter wants your job.

Kissinger: [Zbigniew] Brzezinski is a total whore. He’s been on every side of every argument. He wrote a book on Peaceful Engagement and now that we are doing most of what he said in the book, he charges us with weakness.


Memorandum of Conversation, October 30, 1976

Kissinger: But you know the Shah does not understand.

[Secretary of State Bill] Rogers: He thinks in terms of the myth. He just doesn’t understand how rickety the UK and Italian economies are. We can propose an action program right now, but we probably should wait until Tuesday to decide who we should send out there.

Kissinger: Who did you have in mind?

Rogers: Any of us or maybe Alan Greenspan.

Kissinger: Absolutely not! The present state of our own economy is proof that it would be stupid to send him. He is a slightly more polished version of Zarb, who did such a great job on the Iran oil deal. The Shah will not listen to another amateur in business for himself.


Memorandum From Secretary of Energy Schlesinger to President Carter: Protecting Our Vital Interests in the Persian Gulf, August 23, 1979

Briefly stated, it is necessary to provide adequate military deterrence in the region. That will require a visible and continuing American military presence. If the nations of the region feel a continuing, nearby, and formidable Soviet military presence and the general absence of American military power, it will lead to a steady erosion of our influence with potentially catastrophic results. A stable American military presence should be built up as rapidly as political conditions, and a revived recognition of American will and capacity, permit. This will take time, but the ultimate objective should be clear. Only such a presence has the potential, long term, of dispelling the current mixture of fear and distrust.

Thus, I believe, in providing greater long-term insurance for regional stability and protection of Free World energy supplies, the time is long overdue for a substantial increase of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. The dangers that warrant such an increase can be briefly stated…

An increased U.S. military presence in the Middle East cannot deal with all these dangers. But an increase can strengthen regional stability and help to reverse the growing impression of Soviet omnipotence. What remains at issue is the size and character of the increase. One option is to increase by a few surface combatants our permanent naval presence in the Persian Gulf, to make somewhat more frequent naval deployments to the Indian Ocean, and perhaps to improve our ability to surge forces from the CONUS to the region. A more ambitious course is not only to increase our permanent naval presence and our surge capability—as indicated—but also to maintain, if possible, a continuous deployment of at least one attack carrier battle group and several Marine battalion landing teams accompanied by aircraft in the Indian Ocean. On several grounds, I strongly urge you to adopt this more ambitious objective…

These technical factors are only one consideration. We also have to face the fact that we have drawn heavily (perhaps even overdrawn) on the deterrent account we accumulated during World War II, Korea, and Cuba. It is no longer enough to depend on the awe of American power alone to ensure respect for our interests. We must once again demonstrate the will and capability to protect our interests with military power.

This is particularly the case in the Middle East. For many years a presupposition of American strength—an image of determination as well as capability—pervaded the area. It made unnecessary the visible presence of U.S. power in the Middle East. However, with the overthrow of the Shah and the revolution in Iran, the perception of U.S. will and capability has dimmed; while an important barrier to direct and oblique Soviet penetration of the region is seen to have fallen. If U.S. power remains largely absent from the area, the hovering, nearby presence of Soviet power will continue to change the regional appreciation of the military balance—and not to our advantage. Indeed, the ultimate outcome would almost inevitably be that the region would pass into the Soviet domain of influence or control.

I realize that an increased U.S. presence in or near the Middle East will attract attention and comment in the region. Most such public comment would be adverse, though that should not be taken as representing the underlying desires of those in the region—whose interest in American strength would not out of fear be overtly expressed. Nonetheless, we cannot allow actions to protect the vital interests of the Free World to be decided by transient waves of approval or disapproval emanating from countries in the region. These countries are not up to nor do they want the responsibility for those decisions determining Free World security. That, in their view, is the responsibility of the United States. In these circumstances, they want unilateral decisions for which they need not bear the onus. We ourselves must decide what constitute the essential additions to our military posture in the region and take the necessary steps unilaterally to put them in place. What the times call for and what we need now is the clear demonstration of U.S. fidelity and resolve….

But a surge capability is not enough. We must also have a significant military presence in or near the region. And that presence must be considered normal rather than simply a temporary and fluctuating response to a crisis. We already bear all the political onus in having a fleeting or transitory and minor presence. We obtain none of the strategic benefits from having a significant and permanent force in the area.

In sum, we must look to the long-term threat and recognize that the military balance is seen as tilting against us in the region. Key countries in the Middle East have seen us as their protector; that has been the great leverage we have had in the area. Unless we take steps now to redress the balance, the area will slip increasingly into the Soviet orbit. We cannot risk that eventuality.

Our primary objective must be to eliminate the image of weakness and establish the fact of significant U.S. military power in the Middle East—just as we have done in Western Europe and Northeast Asia. To do so may strain our resources, but an increased military presence in the area is essential if we are to repair our image and contribute to the stability of the region. Without such an increase, the military balance will be seen as eroding still further, and the oil reserves of the region will begin to go elsewhere than to the Free World. Without access to Middle East oil the Free World, as we have known it since 1945, will collapse.


Memorandum From the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (Komer) to Secretary of Defense Brown and the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Claytor), December 24, 1979

1A crucial precursor task is to do a better job of sensitizing the country—and the free world—to the sheer national security impact of the energy crunch. It is in effect “the moral equivalent of war” (the only trouble here was that the President declared war three years too early and then wasn’t politically able to follow through). I see “national security” as the only compelling argument around which to rally the Congress (by appealing to the patriotism of oil state senators). Otherwise we and others will continue fumbling around (like the US Congress) without facing up to the need.

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