Leslie H.








INT: If it was a mouse, why was there opposition within America to it?

LG: I think because, by the time... there were so many things involved in it, and so many suspicions about secret deals and repercussions we hadn't thought about, that even though it was a mouse, they had imagined in their nightmares it was a raging bull elephant.

INT: I don't know if this is an appropriate moment to ask you about the Committee on the Present Danger, but what was their influence, particularly as the Administration was reaching its third and fourth years?

LG: The Committee on the Present Danger, which is a group of American conservatives, had tremendous influence on the political debate in Washington and in the country. It included people like Paul Nitze, who had a great deal of credibility with the press and with a lot of American leaders. And when people like that said there was something to worry about in the agreement, generally the public listened more to them than to a Carter Administration that still was regarded as somewhat less than fully apt in dealing with foreign affairs.

INT: Did it have an effect of making the Administration tougher with the Soviets?

LG: I think there's no question that the constant pounding the Administration took from our European allies and from American critics, such as the Committee on the Present Danger, pushed the Carter Administration into taking a tougher and tougher line with the Soviets across the board - everything from human rights to arms control, to Angola, to Nicaragua, to Afghanistan.

INT: What about the danger that the Soviets might gain superiority because of their own rapid build-up of forces? How real was that?

LG: Since the beginning of the atomic age, the bomb over Hiroshima, the Soviet explosion of their first weapons, there have been major debates in this country over who was ahead, the Soviets or the Americans. And in political terms and in security terms, there was no more important debate in this country throughout the Cold War. Now, to me, there was never any doubt that the United States always had strategic superiority overall. You look at the range of our military and non-military capabilities: we were superior to the Soviets; and to fail to see that always struck me as - to put it kindly - bizarre. It was just obvious: the Soviets were half of us economically, or less than that. And when it came to Europe and war in Europe, I never imagined for a moment that the Soviet East European satellites would actually fight on the Soviet side. I always thought that if there was war in Europe, the Soviet armies would have to spend half their time controlling their Eastern European allies rather than fighting us. And in terms of nuclear weapons, I always had a very simple way of measuring whether they were ahead or we were ahead. I'd ask our military men: "Would you trade our strategic nuclear forces for the Soviet strategic nuclear forces?" And I asked almost all of our top military leaders this question over the course o25-30 years, and every single one of them answered no, they would not trade our forces for the Soviet forces. But this was an issue, and it wasn't just a Republican issue or a conservative issue. Adlai Stevenson claimed in the 1956 campaign that there was a bomber gap, that the Soviets had more long-range nuclear bombers than we did. Well, in fact the Soviets had almost none, and we had 1,000 or more. President Kennedy, in the 1960 presidential campaign, claimed that there was a missile gap, thatthe Soviets were ahead of us in intercontinental ballistic missiles. Well, there was a missile gap: we had over 2,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the Soviets had 67. So, you know, people have been raising this all along, and it was one of these bizarre features of American politics. Now, what complicated this was, in my judgment, the fact that the Soviets were genuinely a strategic adversary of the United States, they were our opponents, we were engaged in a very serious international balance-of-power game that would affect our future in the world. That competition was quite serious. But the Soviets never really gained military superiority over us; it was just part of the psycho-drama in America to use that issue to galvanize Americans about this larger legitimate question of the strategic competition between our two countries and two philosophies.

INT: Vienna, the Vienna summit, where you went - can you describe that atmosphere, and did it seem possible at that stage there could be a continuation of Détente, even if the word was not used as much as it had been?

LG: By the time the Soviet and American delegations gathered in Vienna, in June 1979, to celebrate the triumph of the SALT II agreement - this modest but useful mouse we had created by our union - by the time that happened, I think both sides were glad that it was over, (Laughs) and happier for that than for anything else, happier for that than for what we had produced. And when the two leaders met, when Soviet leader Brezhnev sat across the table from President Carter, they rehashed some of the still loose ends even at that twelfth hour, and they talked about the future of the relationship, but the heart was sort of out of it. And it was hard, beside(s), to have much of a conversation, because while President Carter was always quite sharp, particularly in these situations, Mr. Brezhnev was already failing: an ill and waxen figure. In the meetings, he operated almost exclusively from a text in front of him which he read, and if there was anything raised beyond the text, he would turn to Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko, who would conduct the conversation with Mr. Carter or Mr. Vance, and Mr. Brezhnev would stare ahead, maybe comprehending, maybe not. At that point, the Soviets were leading us to believe that he was functioning, he was still in control, although he could only work hard a few hours a day.

INT: Did he look like a zombie?

LG: Well, I saw him first the night before the actual talks began. Our Austrian hosts had arranged for both delegations to attend the state opera house, and Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Carter were to sit in the royal box facing center stage, and I was sitting in the adjoining box. President Carter was there for some time, and we were all waiting for Mr. Brezhnev to come in. And when he finally came in, he looked like a zombie: his movements were very stiff, and his face was out of the wax museum.

INT: Right. Now let's go on to expansionism in the Third World, where there were different opinions between different parts of the Administration. How far was it thought in the State Department that the Soviets were becoming an expansionist threat, and your belief, or not, in the arc of crisis theory?


LG: Some time at the end of the Kissinger Administration, the Soviets had begun to flex their muscles more and more in the Third World: in Angola, in Central America and other places, and that continued in the Carter Administration, and it was a major issue before our Administration and in our Administration. The feeling was that the Soviets, for whatever reason, were testing us and were pushing the envelope in new directions. Now, some people in the Administration felt that they were doing... the Soviets were doing this defensively, that they thought we were closing in on them - human rights issues and the like - and they understood they were inferior to us and they were trying to gain real parity, so they were lighting fires around the world to keep us busy. That was "the Soviets doing this for defensive reasons" theory. Then there was the other theory, that now the Soviets saw a real chance to take advantage of a confused and bumbling America, an America without direction and cohesion, and to really gain the upper hand in the world, and they were inciting these...

INT: ... the short answer to what you thought the Soviets were up to in their degree of expansionism in the Third World.

LG: I frankly couldn't make up my own mind then, or even now, whether the Soviets were messing around in the Third World for defensive reasons, to protect themselves, or for offensive reasons, to try to get the upper hand over us strategically. I don't think the evidence ever really was in, but to me, the motive was irrelevant: we had to deal with the fact that the Soviets were involved in these places around the world.

INT: Some of the other crises that hit the Carter Administration - how far was the ousting of the Shah seen as a blow to America's position in the world?

LG: There's no question that the fall of the Shah was also laid at President Carter's feet. People started to say the reason the Shah fell was because President Carter had been pressing him to make changes on human rights, and that these changes had weakened the Shah's regime. Now I think those charges are quite unfair. Mr. Carter did make an issue of human rights in Iran early on in the Administration, but then he stopped, and the Administration was quite supportive of the Shah in almost every way thereafter.

INT: But when he did fall, what was the knock-on effect for America's position in the world? Here is a client...

LG: The Shah's fall looked like a major strategic defeat for the United States. Iran under the Shah, after all, was our principal ally in the Persian Gulf, central Asian part of the world.

INT: The next thing that befalls the Administration is the actual invasion of Afghanistan. How much did that change your opinion and opinion in the Administration about what the Soviet aims were, and how much was that a turning point?

LG: Afghanistan clearly was a turning point inside the Administration, and I think countrywide, because it seemed proof that the Soviets were truly up to no good, and it was proof because it went beyond Moscow supporting wars of national liberation in Angola or Nicaragua. Here was their sending Soviet troops, for the first time since the end of World War II, into another country and for purposes of combat, and that seemed to convince most Americans that the Soviets had larger strategic designs. A debate immediately flared in the Administration and countrywide: was this a new arc of crisis to which we had to make a maximum response in the area, or was it something serious but calling for less than a rupture in Soviet-American relations? And I think the response of the Carter Administration fell somewhere in between, and people were more or less unified in that response: that we had to respond militarily but not directly, that we would do so but by supplying arms through the Pakistanis to Afghan guerrillas, who would fight the Soviet troops and keep them at bay, and that we would make the Soviets pay for their adventures in Afghanistan the way they were making our friends pay in these wars of national liberation in Africa and Central America.

INT: Do you think in any way Carter overreacted at the beginning of 1980 to the invasion?

LG: Politically he certainly didn't overreact. If he had done anything less, he would have opened himself up to very criticism. So politically he was being protective. In terms of foreign policy, I think a response to the Soviet military move clearly was called for, and we had to supply Afghanis with weapons to take care of themselves and to make the Soviets pay a price. The question is: how much did we know about the ultimate repercussions of what we were doing? Because by supplying a lot of these Afghan guerrillas, whom we knew almost nothing about, we were creating a kind of Frankenstein monster for the future. But as I said, we didn't know it at the time.