Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kissinger Remembers Making Foreign Policy with Ford

Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State when Gerald Ford became President in 1974. Ford retained Kissinger in that office until the Ford Administration ended. Ford's high regard for Kissinger is clear, because Ford did not automatically keep cabinet-level appointees in their offices when he took over the White House. Kissinger had earned Ford's respect, and so Ford kept Kissinger in his important foreign policy role.

Many years, speaking at Ford's funeral in 2006, Kissinger recalled:

In recent days, the deserved commentary on Gerald Ford's character has sometimes obscured how sweeping and lasting were his achievements.

Gerald Ford's prudence and common sense kept ethnic conflicts in Cyprus and Lebanon from spiraling into regional war.

He presided over the final agony of Indochina with dignity and wisdom.

In the Middle East, his persistence produced the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt.

He helped shape the act of the Helsinki European Security Conference, which established an internationally recognized standard for human rights, now generally accepted as having hastened the collapse of the former Soviet empire.

He sparked the initiative to bring majority rule to southern Africa, a policy that was a major factor in ending colonialism there.

In his presidency, the International Energy Agency was established, which still forces cooperation among oil-consuming nations.

Gerald Ford was one of the founders of the continuing annual economic summit among the industrial democracies.

Throughout his 29 months in office, he persisted in conducting negotiations with our principal adversary over the reduction and control of nuclear arms.

Kissinger indicated that although Ford was a man of the highest integrity, and most noble character, it took more than integrity and character to make good foreign policy. President Ford had long experience with negotiation, and a personal acquaintance with important diplomats. Ford's strong analytic mind allowed him to retain focus on central issues amid a sea of details. He used his brief "honeymoon" period as a new president to ask for, and get, an unprecedented concession from the usually-inflexible Soviet Union. Kissinger recalls:
Gerald Ford was always driven by his concern for humane values. He stumped me in his fifth day in office when he used the first call made by the Soviet ambassador to intervene on behalf of a Lithuanian seaman who four years earlier had in a horrible bungle been turned over to Soviet authorities after seeking asylum in America. Against all diplomatic precedent and, I must say, against the advice of all experts, Gerald Ford requested that the seaman, a Soviet citizen in a Soviet jail, not only be released but be turned over to American custody. Even more amazingly, his request was granted.
Ford knew that results like that wouldn't always arrive so quickly or easily. But he did continue to get good results like that by means of hard work and patient negotiation. For the rest of his presidency, he continued to do well in foreign policy:
Throughout the final ordeal of Indochina, Gerald Ford focused on America's duty to rescue the maximum number of those who had relied on us. The extraction of 150,000 refugees was the consequence. And typically Gerald Ford saw it as his duty to visit one of the refugee camps long after public attention had moved elsewhere.

Gerald Ford summed up his concern for human values at the European Security Conference, when looking directly at Brezhnev he proclaimed America's deep devotion to human rights and individual freedoms. "To my country," he said, "they're not clich├ęs or empty phrases."

Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the cold war. Few will dispute that the cold war could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role.

Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State during some of America's most complex foreign policy situations. He earned a Nobel Prize for his diplomacy, diplomacy created in teamwork with President Gerald Ford.