Clark Clifford

Clark Clifford: The Wise Man of Washington

John Acacia
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Clark Clifford
    Book Description:

    One of the most renowned Washington insiders of the twentieth century, Clark Clifford (1906--1998) was a top advisor to four Democratic presidents. As a powerful corporate attorney, he advised Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. As special counsel to Truman, Clifford helped to articulate the Truman Doctrine, grant recognition to Israel, create the Marshall Plan, and build the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After winning the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy asked Clifford to analyze the problems he would face in taking over the executive branch and later appointed him chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Johnson named Clifford secretary of defense in 1968, but their warm relationship was strained when Clifford concluded that there was no plan for victory in the Vietnam War and that the United States was in a "bottomless pit." Even Carter, who kept his distance from Washington insiders, turned to Clifford for help. In Clark Clifford: The Wise Man of Washington, John Acacia chronicles Clifford's rise from midwestern lawyer to Washington power broker and presidential confidant. He covers the breadth and span of Clifford's involvement in numerous pivotal moments of American history, providing a window to the inner workings of the executive office. Drawing from a wealth of sources, the author reveals Clifford's role as one of the most trusted advisors in American history and as a primary architect of cold war foreign policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7346-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Camp David, July 1965
    (pp. 1-7)

    President Lyndon Johnson was about to make the most fateful decision of his presidency. U.S. military personnel in Vietnam had been deployed to train and assist the South Vietnamese forces and to protect the U.S. air base at Da Nang, from which Rolling Thunder, the bombing raids against North Vietnam begun the previous February, had been launched. The pretense for the bombing was retaliation for a Vietcong attack on a U.S. installation near the city of Pleiku. As of July 1965, U.S. ground forces were not engaged in combat, and the onus for a military victory lay with the corrupt...

  4. 1 Special Counsel
    (pp. 8-35)

    Clark Clifford’s life had many characteristics of a Hollywood movie: a handsome leading man arrives in Washington via the heartland; rises to a position of power in the White House through a combination of happenstance, talent, and hard work; participates in some of the most important events in twentieth-century U.S. history; and ultimately suffers a tragic fall. Relegated to a largely ceremonial role when he first arrived at the White House, Clifford succeeded in parlaying proximity to power into an actual position of power. When President Harry S. Truman was confronted with his first major crisis, the labor wars of...

  5. 2 The Elsey Report
    (pp. 36-56)

    For better or worse, the defining moment of the Truman administration was the emergence of the Cold War. The transformation of the United States and the Soviet Union from wartime allies to Cold War antagonists was one of the more significant events in twentieth-century American history. While his foreign policy contributions pale in comparison to those of Dean Acheson, George Kennan, and George Marshall, Clifford’s intimacy with the president guaranteed him a place at the table. Although his contribution may have been overlooked by historians, it was not overlooked by Clifford.

    Clifford believed that the Cold War began on September...

  6. 3 Cold Warrior
    (pp. 57-88)

    The Clifford-Elsey report marked Clark Clifford’s first foray into foreign policy, but over the years Clifford’s counsel was sought out on a variety of foreign policy matters, both formally and informally. Clifford’s proximity to the president ensured that he had a voice in some of the most significant foreign policy decisions of the early Cold War, but as with his role in the Clifford-Elsey report, his foreign policy contributions were often exaggerated. The formation of foreign policy was primarily a function of the State Department and the military. With State and the Pentagon controlling foreign policy Clifford could only influence...

  7. 4 The Recognition of Israel
    (pp. 89-118)

    Clifford’s memoirs begin with his May 1948 showdown with George Marshall over the question of whether Truman should grant recognition to the soon-to-be-declared State of Israel. Clifford tells the story with a dramatic flair, almost in David and Goliath terms, pointing out that Truman regarded Marshall as “the greatest living American.” The implication is that Clifford’s stature paled in comparison to Marshall’s. While it is true that Marshall was a war hero revered by Truman, and indeed the nation, Clifford’s influence with Truman was at least equal to, if not greater than, Marshall’s.

    According to Clifford’s account, Truman and Marshall...

  8. 5 Mastermind of the 1948 Campaign?
    (pp. 119-150)

    In November 1947, Clifford presented President Truman with a memorandum entitled “The Politics of 1948,” a forty-three-page study that outlined a strategy for the 1948 presidential race. Truman was still considered a caretaker president, and his defeat by a then-unidentified Republican challenger seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Truman, however, would eventually score the greatest political upset of the twentieth century when he defeated Thomas Dewey in November 1948. The Clifford memorandum was incredibly prescient, accurately predicting that Dewey would be the Republican candidate and that Henry Wallace would run as a third-party candidate. In some cases it badly missed...

  9. 6 One Foot out the Door
    (pp. 151-167)

    Truman’s 1948 underdog victory was immensely rewarding to Clifford, on both a personal and a professional level. His loyalty and devotion to Truman were genuine, and it must have been satisfying to help Truman win the presidency in his own right. But Clifford was ready to move on. Despite the thrill of victory and the belief that he had been engaged in a “noble quest for the highest honor to which an American may aspire,” Clifford also, he admitted, “found most of the actual work of a campaign tedious or inconsequential.”¹ He was also under financial pressure: his $12,000 annual...

  10. 7 Washington Lawyer
    (pp. 168-201)

    Clifford’s new office was at 1523 L Street, only four blocks from the White House. Clifford took on but one partner, Edward H. Miller, a lawyer from the Justice Department whom Clifford knew from St. Louis. Clifford recalled that Miller’s experience in the antitrust field would complement his more extensive knowledge of the government.¹ In addition to his experience, competence, and work ethic, Miller had another attribute that made him attractive to Clifford: Miller understood his position as the unequal partner. Clifford was the marquee figure whose reputation and experience would draw clients to the new firm. Miller appealed to...

  11. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  12. 8 Kennedy’s Consigliere
    (pp. 202-235)

    “Sue the bastard for $60 million!” former ambassador Joseph Kennedy shouted into the phone.¹ The patriarch of the Kennedy family was furious at journalist Drew Pearson for claiming that his son, Senator John F. Kennedy, was not the author ofProfiles in Courage, the book for which he had won a Pulitzer Prize. Pearson had appeared two nights before on theMike Wallace Interview Showand asserted that Kennedy had not even written the book for which he received the prestigious prize, that it had been ghostwritten for him, presumably by aide Theodore Sorensen.² Ambassador Kennedy had a reputation as...

  13. 9 This Could Be a Quagmire
    (pp. 236-282)

    It was not a foregone conclusion that one of the first persons President Johnson would seek out was Clifford. The two had known each other for years, back to the days when Johnson was an occasional participant in Truman’s poker games. While Clifford served Truman his relationship with Johnson was cordial, but not especially close; once Johnson became Senate minority leader, however, he began to call on Clifford with greater frequency. First and foremost Johnson was a legislator. He was drawn to Clifford’s White House experience, political instincts, and Washington contacts, especially Senator Robert Kerr of Oklahoma. The correspondence between...

  14. 10 I Search for Why I Find Myself Constantly Alone
    (pp. 283-313)

    “Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia,” President Johnson had declared on March 31, 1968; yet peace would prove to be elusive. Although he had publicly proclaimed his desire for peace during a primetime television address, and had sacrificed his political ambitions in the process, Johnson did not move decisively to bring the war to an end. The president’s vacillation, emotional outbursts, and unpredictable behavior were an endless source of frustration for Clifford, who could never be certain that he had the president’s support. In sending mixed messages Johnson also exacerbated the rivalry...

  15. 11 October Surprise
    (pp. 314-327)

    With the clock ticking down on the Johnson administration, Clifford had convinced Johnson to make one last concerted effort to bring the war to a close. “When in doubt, do right,” Clifford had argued, and with some trepidation, Johnson had agreed. Even steadfast hawks Dean Rusk and Maxwell Taylor would soon come around. It had been an almost impossible task for Clifford to impose his will on Johnson, but through sheer perseverance he had carried the day. Unfortunately for Clifford, the South Vietnamese could not be persuaded to come to the bargaining table, and without two willing partners a peace...

  16. 12 The Wise Man
    (pp. 328-348)

    As secretary of defense Clifford had achieved a position of enormous prestige and had served with honor and great personal courage. Once out of power Clifford joined the community of Washington elder statesmen, like the group he had assembled to reassess the Vietnam War in March 1968. He continued to crusade for an end to the war, and because of his stature his words commanded significant attention, as well as the enmity of the Nixon administration. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal the Democrats regained the White House, and he would be called upon again, although with far less...

  17. 13 BCCI
    (pp. 349-364)

    It should have been the triumphant coda of a long and distinguished Washington career. On May 22, 1991, a long line of limousines pulled up in front of the Georgetown home of Pamela Harriman. Harriman, the socialite second wife of Averell Harriman and a prominent Democratic fund-raiser, was hosting a book party in honor of Clark Clifford, who had recently published his memoirs,Counsel to the President. More than four hundred people were in attendance, including such Democratic Party luminaries as Virginia governor Douglas Wilder; Speaker of the House Tom Foley; Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown; Senators Ted Kennedy,...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 365-374)

    Clark Clifford arrived in Washington in 1945 as a young naval officer serving in a largely ceremonial role. During the years that followed he rose to the highest ranks of the Truman administration and then parlayed his government experience into a lucrative law career, a prototype of the many well-connected lawyer-lobbyists who followed him. As a result of his carefully cultivated reputation, Clifford was sought out by Democratic presidents for the next twenty years. During that time he served his country in an official capacity for only one year, but he served with distinction. Late in his life he was...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 375-412)
  20. Sources
    (pp. 413-422)
  21. Index
    (pp. 423-440)