An Outsider in the White House

An Outsider in the White House: Jimmy Carter, His Advisors, and the Making of American Foreign Policy

Betty Glad
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 414
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    An Outsider in the White House
    Book Description:

    Jimmy Carter entered the White House with a desire for a collegial staff that would aid his foreign-policy decision making. He wound up with a "team of rivals" who contended for influence and who fought over his every move regarding relations with the USSR, the Peoples' Republic of China, arms control, and other crucial foreign-policy issues.

    In two areas-the Camp David Accords and the return of the Canal to Panama-Carter's successes were attributable to his particular political skills and the assistance of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and other professional diplomats. The ultimate victor in the other battles was Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a motivated tactician. Carter, the outsider who had sought to change the political culture of the executive office, found himself dependent on the very insiders of the political and diplomatic establishment against whom he had campaigned.

    Based on recently declassified documents in the Carter Library, materials not previously noted in the Vance papers, and a wide variety of interviews, Betty Glad's An Outsider in the White House is a rich and nuanced depiction of the relationship between policy and character. It is also a poignant history of damaged ideals. Carter's absolute commitment to human rights foundered on what were seen as national security interests.

    New data from the archives reveal how Carter's government sought the aid of Pope John Paul II to undercut the human-rights efforts of the El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. A moralistic approach toward the Soviet Union undermined Carter's early desire to reduce East-West conflicts and cut nuclear arms. As a result, by 1980 the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) was in limbo, and a nuclear counterforce doctrine had been adopted.

    Near the end of Carter's single term in office Vance stepped down as secretary of state, in part because Brzezinski's "muscular diplomacy" had come to dominate Carter's foreign policy. When Vance's successor, Edmund Muskie, took over, the State Department was reduced to implementing policies made by Brzezinski and his allies. For Carter, the rivalry for influence in the White House was concluded and the results, as Glad shows, were a mixed record and an uncertain presidential legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6018-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. A Note on Sources
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-4)

    What happens when an outsider with lofty moral and political goals and little experience or education in foreign policy takes over the U.S. presidency? Clearly, he is going to be very dependent on his staff. But how does he use them?

    Jimmy Carter made some choices along these lines that put him in a place where he did not want to be. As president he started out with the view that East–West conflicts should be less determinative of U.S. foreign relations and pledged himself to drastic cuts in nuclear arms. He wound up with a world in which the...

  8. Part 1 THE PLAYERS

      (pp. 7-17)

      Jimmy Carter was going to be different as president. Running against what he sometimes called the “big shots,” he publicly cast himself as an outsider. As Carter said in a commercial, “There is one major and fundamental issue. And that is the issue between the insiders and the outsiders. I have been accused of being an outsider and I plead guilty.”¹ Certainly, he had pulled off a miracle in his campaign for the presidency. In an October 1975 Gallup poll, he had been the first choice of less than 3 percent of Democrats polled.² Thirteen months and 297 electoral votes...

      (pp. 18-28)

      Jimmy Carter started off his first day in office with the choice of a desk, “the Resolute,” for the Oval Office. Last used by John F. Kennedy, it had been named after a British vessel and presented to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 by Queen Victoria.¹ In subsequent days, Carter would show that the name of the desk underscored his tough management style. In the foreign and domestic arenas he could call cabinet ministers as well as junior staffers to account from time to time.² Once he had confidence in a person, he later testified, he didn’t mind “loading them...

      (pp. 29-40)

      Unlike earlier national security advisors, Zbigniew Brzezinski was a member of the president’s cabinet. He also had a large office assigned to him in the West Wing of the White House and a limousine for his ride to work each morning. With these assets Brzezinski could travel with ease around official Washington, D.C., sit in on major policy meetings at the White House, and drop in on the president several times a day. He eventually met with the president so often that the in-house record keepers gave up trying to keep track of his drop-ins. No other member of the...


      (pp. 43-54)

      Two months after Jimmy Carter took office as president, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) head Paul Warnke, accompanied by an entourage of advisors and media people, arrived at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport with arms limitation proposals in hand. On Sunday, March 27, the weather was mild, with an unusually light scattering of snow on the ground. The greeting from Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko was warm, and Secretary Vance was given the traditional bouquet of red carnations. During the ride into Moscow, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev extended his own welcome to the secretary of...

    • 5 RECOVERY
      (pp. 55-68)

      Shortly after the Moscow fiasco, President Jimmy Carter invited Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to the White House “to discuss ways of getting a SALT agreement back on track.” The following conversation (slightly paraphrased) ensued:

      Carter: Why did [Leonid] Brezhnev and [Andrei] Gromyko reject the American proposals without so much as even discussing them?

      Dobrynin: The Soviet leadership is profoundly convinced that the American proposals could not provide any basis whatsoever for agreement because they had been prepared without reckoning on the Vladivostok accord and carried a definite advantage to the United States.

      Carter: You should assure Brezhnev I have not...

      (pp. 69-76)

      The negotiations with the USSR were complicated by Jimmy Carter’s insistence on confrontations over the Soviet human rights record. The president, in his first meeting with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, stated that he would have a new policy regarding Soviet dissidents. Unlike previous presidents, he might receive Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the White House or issue a statement of support for an individual such as Soviet physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov. Carter would not abuse the right to make such declarations; he realized that to do so might complicate relations. But he would honor dissidents from...

      (pp. 77-87)

      “There is an overwhelming cooperation and compatibility between Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, Harold Brown . . . and others who help me shape foreign policy,” Jimmy Carter declared at a Texas civic luncheon in Fort Worth on June 23, 1978.¹ Three days later Carter underscored this message in a meeting at the National Press Club: “I think it’s easy for someone who disagrees with a decision that I make to single out Dr. Brzezinski as a target, insinuating that I’m either ineffective or incompetent or ignorant, that I don’t actually make the decision. . . . And it gives an...

      (pp. 88-94)

      In a second set of negotiations begun at the beginning of his term in office, Jimmy Carter expeditiously came to terms with a foreign adversary. In early September 1977, Jimmy Carter and Panama’s General Omar Torrijos Herrera put their signatures to treaties that would transfer control of the Panama Canal to Panama by 2000. The representatives of twenty-six other Western Hemisphere nations witnessed the ceremony, including several heads of state.

      A bit of history was introduced into the proceedings with Carter’s presentation of former president Gerald Ford, Lady Bird Johnson (widow of former president Lyndon Johnson), and former secretaries of...

      (pp. 95-106)

      There were harbingers of difficulties ahead as early as the summer of 1977. Driving up to the Pan-American Union building in Washington, D.C., for the original signing ceremony, Special Negotiator Sol Linowitz and his wife, Toni, saw a crowd of people gathered at a corner on Constitution Avenue. Under a huge banner, an effigy of Linowitz was hung. The crowd shouted, “Linowitz! LINOWITZ!”¹ Earlier, the Associated Press had published a story noting that Panama’s General Omar Torrijos Herrera had studied at the School of the Americas and led a 1968 coup against Arnulfo Arias, the democratically elected president.² Jimmy Carter...

      (pp. 107-116)

      Jimmy Carter’s plane from the Geneva Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) talks landed on June 18, 1979, at Andrews Air Base. Two hours later the president was addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress, urging support of the treaty he had just brought back with him from Vienna. The SALT II Treaty, he explained, was not a favor the United States was doing for the Soviet Union. It was a move to serve U.S. goals of security and survival. Militarily, he noted, “Our power is second to none.” Economically, diplomatically, and politically, he said, the United States was so...


      (pp. 119-129)

      On Friday, December 15, 1978, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski invited Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States, to the White House for a visit. He had Press Secretary Jody Powell alert the media so they would be outside photographing him. Brzezinski chatted amiably with a cheery Dobrynin for a while, then “out of the blue” informed him that the United States would announce that evening the full-scale resumption of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Dobrynin looked absolutely stunned. His face turned “kind of gray.”¹ It was a very short meeting, and at the time...

      (pp. 130-136)

      Everyone, it seemed, wanted to meet the diminutive but charismatic Chinese vice premier. But the first dinner, at Zbigniew Brzezinski’s home on Sunday, January 28, 1979, was a private affair. Using good Soviet vodka (a gift from Anatoly Dobrynin), Brzezinski toasted Deng Xiaoping with Leonid Brezhnev’s favorite drink. Cyrus Vance—along with Richard Holbrooke, Leonard Woodcock, and Mike Oksenberg—was merely an invited guest. Washingtonians with sensitive political antennae would note that a shift in power had taken place within President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy inner circle.¹

      At the formal White House affair, Deng dined with former Secretary of State...

      (pp. 137-141)

      On the opening to China Zbigniew Brzezinski employed all the tactics of a motivated tactician delineated in the management literature.¹ We have seen how he employed salami tactics to get to Beijing. Then he set the agenda, introduced decision rules, and controlled access to the decision making process in ways that furthered his objectives. To bolster the desired option, he sought allies on the presidential staff and elsewhere, and in all probability he permitted NSC leaks in an effort to influence public responses. But he did more than that. Brzezinski also framed issues in ways that would have the most...

      (pp. 142-153)

      On Monday, September 18, 1978, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, and First Lady Rosalynn Carter arrived at the U.S. House of Representatives, taking their seats in the front row balcony. When President Jimmy Carter entered the crowded chamber, he was greeted by wild applause. During his twenty-five-minute address, he was interrupted by applause twenty-five different times. Noting that it had been two thousand years since “there was peace between Egypt and a free Jewish nation,” Carter said that such a peace might be secured “this year.” At one point he turned toward Begin and Sadat, saying,...

      (pp. 154-164)

      The “predispositions” of the three major players at Camp David, suggests Harold Saunders, then the assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asia Affairs, were crucial to the success of the Camp David meetings: “Sadat was a visionary; Carter, the engineer; and Begin, the lawyer.”¹

      Jimmy Carter was, as we have seen, at his peak at Camp David. He was tenacious, well-informed, and flexible. He also encouraged and listened to other points of view before making decisions.² “The presidential aides,” as Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan later noted, “showed both respect and genuine affection for Carter. And his...


      (pp. 167-175)

      While Jimmy Carter was at Camp David, events in Iran began to spin out of control. On September 8, 1978, Iranian troops fired on a crowd of demonstrators in Jaleh Square, killing between seven hundred and two thousand people.¹ The next day, Tehran oil refinery workers issued a call to strike to express solidarity with those massacred on the previous day and protest against the shah’s imposing of martial law. The unrest spread like wildfire to Shiraz, Tabriz, Abdan, and Isfahan. In Teheran, the oil refinery workers demonstrated through October, a move that eventually resulted in an oil strike that...

      (pp. 176-186)

      On October 20, 1979, President Jimmy Carter agreed to admit Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi into the United States for medical treatment in New York City. Two weeks later, on a rainy morning, several hundred militant Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran. The women among them cut through the gates in front of the compound, pulling out bolt cutters hidden beneath their chadors.

      Because it was a Sunday, few of the thirteen Marines charged with guarding the embassy were on duty, and none were stationed at the front gate.¹ The Iranian police around the embassy simply faded away, and...

      (pp. 187-196)

      At a press conference in Boise, Idaho, on August 30, 1979, Frank Church, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put the issue of a Soviet brigade in Cuba into the political arena. “The United States cannot permit the island to become a Russian military base, 90 miles from our shores,” he declared. Allowing this, he continued, would provide the Russians a base from which to intervene militarily throughout the Western Hemisphere.¹

      With this, Church unleashed a torrent of demands and critiques, with possible long-term consequences for the ratification of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) that he...

      (pp. 197-205)

      On Christmas morning in 1979, Moscow began to airlift soldiers to Kabul, Afghanistan claiming to “put down the rebellion of conservative Muslim tribesmen.” In the early evening, Soviet troops seized key locations in Kabul, including the radio station. By the next day, Radio Kabul announced that the “repressive” Communist President Hafizullah Amin had been deposed. Former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been exiled and reportedly stashed away in an Eastern European capital as a strongman in reserve, was installed as head of the Afghan government. Moscow would later claim that their move into Afghanistan was at the request...

      (pp. 206-216)

      Jimmy Carter noted with pride that he sometimes excelled where others did not. At one of his foreign policy breakfast meetings with advisors, he said, “There is a tendency on the frazzled edges of government to drift away from the tough decisions we made. I am not going to abide that. We cannot wince now or seem unsure of ourselves.”¹ Later, he would even suggest in his diary that he was cooler about these matters than others were: “I have a lot of problems on my shoulders, but, strangely enough, I feel better as they pile up. My main concern...


      (pp. 219-229)

      The administration of President Jimmy Carter embraced, as CIA director Stansfield Turner has noted, “a series of policies on nuclear weapons that laid the whole foundation for Reagan’s expansion of nuclear weapons, and war-fighting, and war-winning capabilities.”¹ Foremost among these was Presidential Directive 59, issued on July 25, 1980. A recently partially declassified portion of that doctrine reads as follows:

      Our strategic nuclear forces must be able to deter nuclear attacks on our own country but also on our forces overseas, as well as on our friends and allies, and to contribute to deterrence of non-nuclear attacks. . . ....

      (pp. 230-236)

      Looking backward, one Russian observer at a conference of former U.S.-Soviet decision makers in 1995, noted that this renewal of the Cold War might be understood via the Russian concept of shadowing. Players in the game of soccer may get so fixed on following in the footsteps of a particular player that they lose sight of the larger, overall strategic purposes involved in the game.¹

      The relevance of these observations to the two major powers’ territorial hopscotching around the world is quite clear: the Soviets became involved in Ethiopia, so the United States backed Somalia; the Soviets backed Vietnamese involvement...

      (pp. 237-249)

      Jimmy Carter’s human rights policies, too, would be sidelined by the very anticommunism that he had warned against in his Notre Dame speech in May 1977.

      One of the most jarring manifestations of this shift was his praise for one of the worst despots in Eastern Europe, Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. Receiving Ceausescu at the White House on April 12, 1978, Carter noted that he was “a great leader of a great country.”¹ Not only that, but Romania had enjoyed most-favored-nation status in its dealings with the United States since 1975—a privilege Carter refused to extend to the Soviet...

      (pp. 250-260)

      If human rights are the soul of U.S. foreign policy, then the Carter administration sinned in dealing with El Salvador. Jimmy Carter began his presidency by coming to the support of Andrei Sakahrov, the great Soviet human rights activist. He ended up with policies that isolated Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez of El Salvador, a man who took even greater risks to promote human rights in his own polity.

      In an open letter on February 17, 1980, Romero wrote President Carter and urged him to not support the Salvadoran government then in power. Continuing to supply military equipment and...

  13. Part 6 FINALE

      (pp. 263-269)

      On April 11, 1980, Jimmy Carter opened a foreign policy breakfast meeting in the Cabinet Room: “Gentlemen, I want you to know that I am seriously considering an attempt to rescue the hostages.” The president continued, “A team of expert paramilitary people now report that they have confidence on their ability to rescue our people.”

      With these statements, Hamilton Jordan’s heart raced: “He’s going to do it!” he said to himself, “He’s had enough!”¹

      At that point the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Jones, spread out a big map on the table, and Secretary of Defense Harold...

      (pp. 270-278)

      The Democratic Party Conventions opened at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 11, 1980. At this point Jimmy Carter’s renomination as the Democratic nominee for president was secure. By the time of the Pennsylvania primary in late April of that year, he had garnered 1,137 delegates of the 1,666 needed to win the nomination. As president and Democratic Party leader, he would be able to control the agenda and dictate the party platform.

      But Ted Kennedy, who had contested Carter’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for president since the previous November, was not going to give up...

      (pp. 279-286)

      In the American mythos, an outsider goes to Washington, D.C., counters a corrupt establishment, and brings America around to its true and common interest. This story has inspired many politicians and countless citizens to believe in their own abilities to change the country for the better. But as Jimmy Carter found out, the most idealistic newcomer can find his dreams foundering on certain imperatives within the American political system. Moreover, as he attempts to spell out his vision of the common interest, he may well find himself in conflict with both erstwhile supporters and other political actors in the political...

  14. Appendix. AMERICAN AND FOREIGN ACTORS: Specific Issues
    (pp. 287-300)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 301-372)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 373-386)
  17. Index
    (pp. 387-398)