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Counsel to the President, a Memoir.

Counsel to the President, a Memoir. Clark Clifford with R. Holbrooke. Random House, New York. 709pp.

Clark Clifford is the real White House veteran, liked and trusted by some. Others feel he is too tough and resourceful. He came to Washington when Truman became President as a young lawyer from St. Louis, Missouri, Truman's state. A good acquaintance of his was a friend of the new President who made him his Naval Aide, and he, Vandarman, picked Clifford as his Deputy. Both were non-sailing Naval Officers and when Vandarman had to join Truman at that place neither of them had ever heard of Potsdam. Clifford took his place. That was the start.

As a sharp-minded, hard working lawyer he moved gradually closer to President Truman as an adviser who could be relied on. He became official Counsellor to Truman and was in on almost everything. He became a speech writer too, and speech writers are now policy makers. He gives straight, often verbal accounts of what went on at the meetings he attended advising the President, for instance when Truman, defying the fierce resistance of his Cabinet and officials, recognized Israel. He was also the adviser who submitted the key proposals that became the Marshall Plan revealing that Trauman called it the Marshall Plan although Clifford urged him to call it the Truman Plan. But Truman argued tht the Republicans would vote for it if did not carry his own name.

He also reveals that Churchhill was Truman's hero and that the played Poker on the train that took them to Fulton for the famous Iron Curtain speech. Truman organized his Poker team, Clifford included, to produce a good show. Clifford did the writing for the Truman Doctrine as well and laid out the main outlines of what he calls Point Four, the aid the US gave from then on to friendly and neutral countries in trouble to stop Soviet expansion. He and others had to work skilfull for Truman quite liked Stalin after the Potsdam meeting. The Korean War made all the difference and Truman did not hesitate to dismiss General McArthur. Clifford makes a point of showing that Truman did not broodd over the Hiroshima bomb although he had not been told of its existence until literally twenty minutes after he had become President. It is curious that Cliffor did not dwell on Attlee's dramatic visit to the White House to stop Truman from using the bomb against Korea.

As a good White--Anglo Saxon--Protestant Liberal Clifford excels in his reaction to Truman's 1948 election campaign that he was not expected to win. But, getting tired of the enormous tensions his work created, he left before the end of Truman's Presidenc but reports that he was the man who urged Truman not to run in 1952.

He became a Washington lawyer and adviser watching everything. He became John F. Kennedy's lawyer and Kennedy asked him to work out a |Transition Paper' settingout what he thought best Kennedy should start with at the White House. Every following President has done the same, Clifford says. Lyndon Johnson sought his advice all the time an made him Defense Secretary when the Vietnam war began to go very wrong. Clifford gives a detailed, passionate account of the Vietnam debacle. He was involved in all the details but claims that from the start he had had his doubts about the whole venture. Again, he persuaded Johnson not to stand in 1968 as he had Truman. Johnson, he discloses, would have made him Secretary of State, the post he always wanted, and yet he persuaded the troubled President, who felt that Vietnam was a grievous personal defeat for him, not to stand. Clifford emerges as a hot-blooded realist.

He served on various Committees under Republican Presidents and also advised Carter. But the Vietnam War, the defeat of the US remains his great trauma as it does for most Americans and he goes into dramatic details about the mistakes an errors of judgement made by the people, civilian and military who were in charge. He was sent to Vietnam and to Paris during the fatal negotiations to report back. He was present, he said, when Eisenhower at the usual take-over meeting, made an overwhelmed Kennedyy start the real American military intervention in Laos and Vietnam that led to everything. He is scathing abouut the South Vietnam leaders who sabotaged a compromise with Hanoi. It had been possible at the last moment.

Clifford, on the scene for so long, gives a personal appreciation of the Presidents, Democrat and Republican. For him Truman and Johnson are the leaders who trie courageously to carry out a policy of economic and social reform. Kennedy had the instinct of leadership but was a pragmatist and not reall a New Dealer and true Liberal. Carter, of good intentions, failed to act as the representative of those sections of the people who had elected him. A President must be the leader of the nation and not just a manager of the Executive. As for the Republicans, Eisenhower, he says, only acted when it became obviously necessary. As for Nixon, he regards him as the man who achieved stability in the Middle East, established relations with China and stabilized relations with the Soviet Union. But he does not really like him.

In a curious way Clifford appreciates Reagan as the President with the right instinct for leadership. About Bush he is doubtful.

Having been in, on the Democrat side, on al election campaigns since 1948 Clifford's observations are useul. He ends his memoirs with reflections. He is scathingly critical of the present situation in the US, charging Washington with ignoring throughout the Eighties |the environmentall crisis, the budgetary disaster, the deca of our nation's infrastructure, the drug problem, AIDS, the decline in our educational system, the deficiencies in health care, our lack of competitiveness overseas, and the most enduring of all our social problems, the continuing racial crisis in America'. He also warns that the US must dropm its |obsession' with being Number One in the world which reallly belongs to the Sport Pages. One is, inevitably, reminded of President Bush who is claiming constantly that the US is that Number One will and must remain so. Again, in his account of the Vietnam troubles, Clifford reveals that President Johnson in his election consideration felt stronglyy that a President must be able to claim a political or diplomatic triump at the end of his term.

The Clifford memoirs show that power in the White House is always on balance between the President's personal advisers, the Cabinet itself an Congress. A President, he warns, should get a third opinion from selected and experienced people he trusts. He would take too many risks by only relying on his staff and the federall bureaucracy. More than any other factor, he insists, Senior Personnel determines the course and character of an administration. Selections were often made without sufficient care.

Clifford does not even hint at the personal goings on and actions of Presidnets and their staffs despite hiis intimate contacts. His memoirs make interestingg reading in an election year.

Leo Muray
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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1992
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