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ANDREW ELIOT’S DIARY. It was ego-crushing time today
It was ego-crushing time today. The Twentieth Anniversary Report of The Class arrived.
There were some surprises. Although, of course, I read about it last year in the papers, it was still amazing to read Danny Rossi’s entry and to see confirmed that he has actually retired from the piano. I’m in awe at the courage it must have taken for him to turn his back on all that public adoration. He’s also given up conducting in Los Angeles. And will base all his activities in Philadelphia.
Although one of the reasons he gave was that he wanted to compose more, it was evident that his primary motivation was his wish to spend more time with his wife and kids. As he put it, they’re what really matter in this life.
I’m awed by the guy’s humanity. The way he’s put his values into focus.
On the gloomy side, in addition to the handful of deaths announced, I’ve noticed that a lot of long-term marriages have lately broken up. As if one of the partners couldn’t shift his or her gears into the third decade.
I guess the Eisenhower marriages remained unchanged by the Democratic Camelot that JFK created. But probably — to keep on with the metaphor — the Nixon years made couples listen to the tapes of their relationships. To face the truth about themselves and leave.
On the bright side, several of our classmates have kids who’re freshmen.
On the dark side, my son isn’t one of them. Or maybe I should say my former son, since I haven’t heard from him at all.
Even after all this time, whenever I pick up my mail, I pray that maybe there’s a letter or a card from him. Or something. And if I see a longhaired hippie begging on the street I always give the guy at least a buck or two, hoping that wherever Andy is, somebody else’s father will be generous to him.
I can’t let myself believe that I’ve lost him forever.
Naturally, in my own report I didn’t mention that my kid’s disowned me. I simply said that I was tired of Wall Street and, in looking for a change, lucked out. I’ve been asked by the director of the new Campaign for Harvard College to come up to Cambridge and join the team that’s trying to raise three hundred and fifty million for our alma mater.
Needless to say, when Frank Harvey called me with that offer, I jumped at the chance. Not only to leave the concrete capital of all my sorrows, but to start life anew in the only place I’ve ever been happy.
Basically, my job involves contacting members of our Class, reestablishing our old rapport, and, after due ingratiation, getting them to cough up big for Harvard.
Since I really believe in what I’m doing, I don’t look at it as selling. It’s more akin to missionary work. As an added bonus, I’ve been put on the committee that’s planning our big Twenty-fifth Reunion (June 5, 1983)! It’s said to be a high point of our lives — and I’m entrusted to make sure it is.
Naturally, I spoke to Lizzie before giving Harvard my consent. She’s growing up to be a super person —I guess no thanks to me. Although the fact that Mummy lives so far away has, I think, been a help. I see her several times a month and feel we’re getting closer now.
Being a romantic (like her dad), she keeps urging me to find a wife. I kind of make a joke of it. But every morning when I look at that one lonely toothbrush in the glass, I know she’s right.
Maybe being back at Harvard I’ll regain my confidence.
But then I’m not sure I ever had any.
Alexander Haig did not win the Republican nomination in 1980. But Ronald Reagan, who did, and was subsequently elected President, chose him as Secretary of State.
Haig, then head of United Technologies in Hartford, immediately called his fellow Connecticut resident, George Keller, and offered him the government’s second-highest foreign-policy position — Deputy Secretary of State.
“How soon could you start, old buddy?” Haig asked.
“Well, anytime,” said George elatedly. “But Reagan doesn’t even take office till January.”
“Yeah, but I’m going to need you before then to prepare for my confirmation hearing with the Foreign Relations Committee. There are some guerrillas in the senatorial jungle who’ve been waiting years to take a shot at me.”
Haig was not exaggerating. For his examination lasted five days. Questions were fired at him from every angle. All the ghosts of Watergate were unearthed. Not to mention Vietnam, Cambodia, the NSC wiretaps, Chile, the CIA, and the Nixon pardon.
As he sat beside his future boss, occasionally whispering a word or two, George felt the sleeping demons in him start to wake. During his own upcoming confirmation hearing, would some hostile senator or young ambitious congressman discover his little “favor” for the Russians long ago?
But his worries turned out to be in vain. Since the committee vented so much spleen at Haig, all residual anti-Nixon animus was spent. George was not only eloquent and poised but witty. And approved by unanimous vote.
The Haig-Keller foreign-policy team started strongly and impressively, fulfilling Reagan’s promise to put new muscle into the American leadership.
And yet, paradoxically, George found the Secretary of State to be somewhat insecure in private. At the end of one long work session, George felt comfortable enough to broach the matter.
“Al, what’s eating you?”
“George,” he replied, welcoming the opportunity to unburden himself, “how can I run foreign policy when I never get to see Reagan alone? There are always a half-dozen of his California cronies putting their two cents in. I swear if this keeps up I’ll offer him my resignation.”
“That’s a very Kissingeresque gesture.” George smiled.
“Yeah.” Al grinned. “And it always worked for Henry.”
Haig made his move the following week after a White House luncheon for the Prime Minister of Japan. He asked the President for five “completely private” minutes of his time.
Reagan threw his arm warmly around Haig’s shoulder. “Al, I’d be glad to give you ten.”
As George stood watching the two men walk around the White House lawn, Dwight Bevington, the National Security Adviser, was suddenly at his shoulder.
“Say, George,” he said with bonhomie, “if your boss is trying an end run, he’s wasting his time. Besides, we all know who the real brains are at State. In fact, I think you and I should try to make our contacts closer.”
Before George could reply, the Secretary returned, a broad smile on his face.
“I don’t know what it is about Ronnie,” beamed Haig, as they were riding together back to State, “but he sure can make a guy feel good. He dismissed my offer to resign and promised we’d have direct communication. Say, I saw that Bevington was buttonholing you. Digging for anything?”
“In vain,” George said calmly.
“Good man. You know I’m counting on your loyalty, old buddy.”
George Keller was now certain that his boss’s days were numbered. And he began positioning himself to jump ship before it sank.
He started having occasional lunches with Bevington just to offer him the benefit of his own experience. But he always reported the meetings to his boss.
He was never overtly disloyal to Alexander Haig. Possibly because events moved so swiftly that he didn’t have the chance.
Desperate to prove his effectiveness to the Reagan administration, the Secretary of State found a rare opportunity in the spring of 1982.
Argentine troops invaded the Falkland Islands. And to protect their tiny colonial outpost, Britain sent a huge armada steaming toward a military confrontation in the South Atlantic.
Haig got the President’s approval to attempt to avert bloodshed by a Kissinger — like shuttle between London and Buenos Aires.
He woke George in the middle of the night and told him to be at Andrews Air Force Base at 0600 hours.
From then on, there was no day and no night for the two diplomats. They snatched what sleep they could in the jet ferrying them back and forth between England and Argentina, through endless time zones, from frustration to frustration.
Then, just before the British attacked, Haig miraculously convinced Argentina’s General Galtieri to withdraw his troops and negotiate. It looked like a real coup.
As they were fastening their seat belts for the long ride home, George congratulated his boss, “Al, I think you won a big one.”
But just as the plane door was shutting, a messenger arrived with a letter from Prime Minister Costa Mendez.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” George asked.
“I don’t have to,” Haig said with a weary sigh. “I know it’s my death warrant.”
Indeed, the execution of Alexander Haig had taken place while he was still in the air.
An unnamed White House source said the administration saw his fruitless mission as mere “grandstanding.” The press took the cue and began to quote various authoritative sources that “Haig is going to go, and go quickly.”
George Keller had more frequent lunches with Dwight Bevington.
He was sitting at his desk polishing a lengthy telex to Phil Habib, then shuttling between Damascus and Jerusalem, when his secretary buzzed.
“Dr. Keller, there’s a phone call from Thomas Leighton.”
“You mean The New York Times reporter?”
“I think so, sir.”
“Well, put him on.”
If this was indeed the Thomas Leighton, investigative journalist and author of a highly praised book about Russia, it was a favorable signal.
The journalist had possibly been tipped that George was in the wings to succeed Haig. And, like his Harvard mentor, George intended to play the press like a piano.
“Thank you for taking my call, Dr. Keller. I’d like to ask a favor. I’m on leave from the Times to write a book about your former boss, Henry Kissinger.”
“Is it a snow job or a hatchet job?”
“I hope it’ll be an honest job,” the reporter replied. “I won’t say I haven’t heard some nasty things about him. That’s why, if you let me have a couple hours of your time, I might get a more balanced picture.”
“I see your point,” George said, thinking that it would be nice to have such an important journalist on his future team. “Suppose we meet for lunch sometime next week. Is Wednesday good for you?”
“It’s fine,” said Leighton.
“Let’s meet at Sans Souci at twelve.”
The first thing that struck him was the reporter’s youth. He looked less like a Pulitzer Prize winner than a candidate for the Crimson . When George said this to Leighton, he confessed, “Well, actually I did write for the Crime. I was Class of ’64.”
They chatted cordially about their college experiences. Then the journalist got down to business.
“As I’m sure you know, not everybody views Kissinger as a knight in shining armor.”
“No,” George concurred. “But that’s the price you pay when you wield power. What sort of mud are they throwing at Henry?”
“Well, everything from ‘war criminal’ to ‘ruthless manipulator,’ and lots in between. You’d be surprised, he had a reputation even at Harvard.”
“Yes.” George smiled. “I was his student.”
“I know that, too. I also know you deserve your nickname of being ‘Kissinger’s shadow.’ Isn’t it true that you were as privy as any man alive to every significant decision he ever made?”
“That’s a slight exaggeration,” George replied, trying to affect humility. And then joked, “I mean, he didn’t take me into his confidence about marrying Nancy. Anyway, what’s the thrust of your book?”
“I get the impression that your boss was — how can I put it? — sort of amoral. That he played the game of world politics with human beings as pawns.”
“That’s rather brutal,” George interrupted.
“Which is why I want to hear your side of it,” Leighton responded. “I’ll give you a few examples. Some insiders I’ve interviewed say he deliberately withheld arms from the Israelis during the Yom Kippur war to ‘soften’ them into a better negotiating mood.”
“I bet I know who told you that one,” George said with irritation.
“No comment. I always protect my sources. Anyway, I’ve done some digging on my own and found that he was not averse to doing curious favors if it could help him win a point.”
“Could you be most specific?”
“Well, this may seem a small thing, but I think it’s typical of how he operated. Back in 1973, he okayed the sale to Russia of a sophisticated filter for satellite photography. I’m told Commerce had been sort of leery about letting them have it.”
George’s blood froze. He could barely listen to the rest.
“It’s my theory that Henry was trading for something. Now, what I’d like to know from you is — what did he get in return?”
George Keller had often testified before senatorial committees. He knew that the ironclad rule for any witness confronted with a startling question was to wait. And then answer as simply and directly as possible.
“I think you’re going up a blind alley on this one, Tom,” he said quietly.
“I’m positive I’m not.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“The expression on your face, Dr. Keller.”
Leighton paused for a moment and then said politely, “Are you willing to talk about it?”
George’s mind was in turmoil. He had to quash this story or his whole life would be ruined.
What could he trade this guy? A great deal, he decided quickly.
All he had to do to save himself, was… sell out Kissinger.
“Listen, Tom,” he said as casually as possible, “it’s a nice day. Why don’t we go for a walk?”
First George did some off-the-record bargaining. Without explaining why, he simply offered to exchange the insignificant filter story — for whatever other information Leighton would request.
“Can I trust you, Tom?”
“I’ve got a reputation,” the journalist replied. “I’ve never betrayed my sources. And I never will.”
“I believe you,” George said.
He had to.
On June 25, the ax fell. Ronald Reagan called Alexander Haig into the Oval Office and gave him an envelope. It contained a letter accepting the Secretary’s resignation. Now all Haig had to do was formally resign.
The word in Washington was that Keller was going to get the job. The Washington Post went as far as to call him “the best appointment Reagan could possibly make.”
Dozens of reporters now kept vigil around his home, waiting for the moment when the new cabinet appointee and his wife would step outside to be photographed in triumph.
The major wire services had done their research and prepared a profile. The saga of the teenager who fled Communist oppression and had risen to the top. Only in America, et cetera.
Inside, George and Cathy were rooted by the telephone. They dared not speak to each other. All Cathy had said the entire evening — at regular intervals — was that she would love him even if he was not made Secretary of State.
He wanted desperately to take a drink, but she forbade him even a drop.
“You’ve got to keep your wits about you, George. There’ll be plenty of time for booze after this thing’s over, one way or another.”
The phone rang. It was Henry Kissinger.
“Tell me, Mr. Secretary,” he said jovially, “will you still speak to me when you’re appointed?”
George was breathless with excitement.
“What do you know, Henry?” he asked quickly.
“Only what I read in the papers. Just be sure to mention me in your acceptance speech, eh?”
At ten minutes before midnight, the phone rang again.
“This is it,” George said to Cathy as he walked over, took a deep breath, and picked up the receiver.
“George?” It was Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense — and Harvard ’38. The omen was good.
“Hi, Cap,” George said weakly.
“Listen, George, the President’s done a lot of thinking about State —” He paused and then announced as gently as possible, “He’s decided to go with Shultz.”
Seeing his devastated expression, Cathy grabbed his arm.
“I hope you understand there’s nothing personal,” the Defense Secretary continued. “It’s just that Ron feels more comfortable with — you know — the California boys, And I know that Shultz wants you to stay on as Deputy.”
George did not know what to say.
Weinberger tried to assuage his disappointment.
“Hey, Keller,” he said buoyantly, “how old are you? Forty-six — forty-seven? You’re too young to be where you are already, for heaven’s sake. If Reagan wins another term, I’m sure he’ll go with you.”
“Yes, Cap. Thanks.”
George hung up and looked at Cathy.
“I lost,” he said softly.
“You didn’t lose, George,” she said with deep emotion. You just haven’t won yet.”
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