The Nixon Seminar – March 2, 2021 – Dr. Kissinger on Presidential Transitions

Mar 3, 2021 | National Security | 0 comments

In a live 75 minute session with 12 emerging national security experts, Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, kicked off the first monthly Nixon Seminar last evening by taking unfiltered questions on how to ensure America’s national security throughout periods of presidential transition.

In response to questions from the Seminar Members, Dr. Kissinger reflected on the three presidential transitions that he was closely involved with. He also shed light on the policy-making mechanisms that allowed for the implementation of the Abraham Accords in 2020, and the potential future impact of Artificial Intelligence in national security policy.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Ambassador Robert O’Brien —co-chairs of The Nixon Seminar— both shared insights as well, including how they staffed and operated their respective departments in the Executive Branch of government.

Nixon Seminar participants include co-chairs Mike Pompeo and Robert O'Brien, Honorary Chair Dr. Henry Kissinger, and 12 emerging national security experts.

Nixon Seminar participants include co-chairs Mike Pompeo and Robert O’Brien, Honorary Chair Dr. Henry Kissinger, and 12 emerging national security experts. 

Below is a rushed transcript. 

 >>HUGH HEWITT: Good evening, I’m Hugh Hewitt, the President of the Nixon Foundation in Yorba Linda, California. I’m at the Nixon Library tonight, and this is the first meeting of the Nixon Seminar on Conservative Realism and National Security. We are honored that all three of our co-chairs are with us tonight – Ambassador Robert O’Brien, formerly the National Security Advisor;  Secretary of State Michael Pompeo; and Dr. Henry Kissinger, the 56th Secretary of  State. Originally I was going to go directly to questions to Dr. Kissinger and then from members of the seminar, all of which you can read about at But I spoke to Secretary Pompeo before the program, and he’s going to introduce Dr. Henry Kissinger. Secretary Pompeo

>> MICHAEL POMPEO:  Hugh, Thank you.  Welcome everyone to this inaugural event. It’s a lot of fun to be with all of you. I know so many of you are doing great work these past four years, and many of you before that. But it’s an enormous honor to get the chance to introduce Dr. Henry Kissinger. An Amazing man who helped me in my time as Secretary of State and  CIA director as well. We all know him. He was born not far from where I served in Germany – he was born in Bavaria, and I spent three years of my life as a young Cavalry officer there.  He went on to become a refugee and then also serve in the United States Army.  And then had an amazing run as a National Security Advisor and as Secretary of State, serving multiple presidents of the United States during an incredibly important time in American history.  But then Dr. Henry Kissinger, that was not enough for you. Even today, government leaders all across the world, business people who are trying to conduct international business all seek out Dr. Kissinger’s advice on a wide range of issues.  It will be an enormous benefit for each of us to get a chance to hear from him tonight and over the weeks ahead about all the experiences he had.  I just want to take this moment to thank him personally too, for such kindness and generosity to me during my time serving in the Trump Administration, trying to execute America’s foreign policy during those years. Thank you Dr. Kissinger, thank you for agreeing to be part of this important seminar. Thank you.       

>>Hugh Hewitt: Dr. Kissinger.  Welcome, it’s good to have you.  Tonight, we’re talking about transitions. It’s an Evergreen program, people can watch it forever.  So I like to start with your first transition on National Security when you took over from Walter Rostow America was at war with 550,000 troops in Vietnam.  How did that transition work for you and President Nixon, and the Secretary of State at the time William Rogers?

>> DR. HENRY KISSINGER:  Well let me thank, first of all, Michael Pompeo for his very generous introduction.  We worked together in Washington in the previous  administration.  And has performed great national services and so it means a great deal to me to hear his kind remarks. And I understand also that Bob O’Brien, the last security advisor, is here. And we too had an opportunity to work together on a number of occasions.  And so thank you for this.  And to be at the Nixon Library has a very special significance for me.  It’s President Nixon who introduced me into the active operation of national policy.  And it’s President Nixon who has been an inspiration to me, and I believe in time it will be fully understood, the degree to which he introduced a principle of geopolitical foreign policy into the operations of our government.  And that will be his great contribution in addition to what he did for the various specific issues with which he dealt.         

Now, I’ve been asked to speak about the transition from the Johnson administration to the Nixon administration.  And you have to understand that, that was a different world from the world we know today.  And that my particular transition was one that would be absolutely impossible today.  Let me speak about my transition first. I had never met Richard Nixon when he asked me to be his security advisor.  More than that, I had been the principal foreign policy advisor of his principal opponent in the Republican Party for 15 years.  The only time I had ever met President Nixon was at a birthday party — a Christmas party— for literally 5 minutes, he was coming in as I was going out.

And before that, he had written me a letter commenting on a book I had written called Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, that was the only contact with Richard Nixon when he appointed me.  And the way the meeting occurred was, I was having lunch with Nelson Rockefeller discussing what position Nelson Rockefeller should look for if it were offered to him.  And we were discussing the possibility that if he might be offered something, which he wasn’t, that he should consider Secretary of Defense.  Well, anyway, whatever we set was irrelevant.  When I received a phone call that Richard Nixon wanted to see me, and I don’t know whether there’s anyone in this room who knew Richard Nixon.  Richard Nixon was a man of brilliant intelligence and great ability to express himself,  but he had an enormous reluctance to be in a position where he would be rejected or refused.  So he always avoided trying to get into that position.

So, when I saw him, we spent about two hours reviewing foreign policy, which he knew extremely well having traveled a great deal, and having read a great deal.  But he never told me what he wanted.  And even when I left, he just said to Haldeman who was his chief-of-staff at that time, and who had come in to keep in contact with me.  I didn’t know what that meant.  So a week later, I received a phone call from John Mitchell who became the Attorney-General.  And John Mitchell said, “well, are you going to take the job or not?”

And I said, “what are you talking about?”  And so Mitchell said, “oh my God!  It got screwed up again.”  And so I was called to come back.  And this time, he had offered me the job.  And I know there’s several people among you who have in the back of their minds, someday you might be in a position where the President offers you a position like security advisor, which is the top position in the government in terms of interest – not in terms of hierarchy, but in terms of interest.  And so I did something you must not do.  I said, Mr. President, I have been with your opponent for 15 years.  And I cannot simply take a job with you. I need to have an opportunity to think about it and talk to Nelson Rockefeller.  So in 999 out of 1,000 cases that would end the interview, but Nixon was generous enough to say take a few days.  So I went to see Nelson Rockefeller the next day, and Nelson Rockefeller said what I should have known. “When the President of the United States offers you a position of trust, you cannot tell him your personal problems and your other obligations.  You have to say yes.  And also, has it occurred to you that Richard Nixon is taking a much bigger chance on you than you’re taking on him?”

So, that was the atmosphere at that time.  Of course, that settled the issue.  And so, after that, I became Richard Nixon’s security advisor.  And we worked in a really close relationship, which except for the difference in hierarchy, I would say it was kind of a partnership for the six and a half years that he served as President.  And I’ll be glad to answer questions if there is time afterwards. Now, the transition itself.  The reason I say it was a different time… When I first started getting interested in national politics or policy, which was in the late ’50s, —the Republicans— the Democrats were attacking the Republicans for neglecting national defense.  And even though Eisenhower was President, still the argument was that Eisenhower was neglecting defense.  And so, in ’68,  when President Johnson transitioned to President Nixon, I think it’s safe to say that Johnson was more worried about his Democratic opponent than his Republican opponent.  And it was in the middle of the Vietnam War, and the Vietnam War which he had ended, Kennedy had ended.  And we had 550,000 troops in Vietnam.

And so, the Johnson Administration was not, I would say, unhappy with the outcome of the election in 1960.  So cooperation was perfect.  And we did not ask for much.  I had one meeting with Walt Rostow and another meeting with President Johnson and we spent most of our time,  “we” meaning President Nixon and I insofar as I interacted with him, had to do with the organization of the White House and national security policy under his stewardship.  And he had General Goodpaster as an advisor, because General Goodpastor had worked with President Eisenhower as a kind of National Security Advisor.  And so President Nixon urged me to call on Eisenhower, together with Goodpaster to get his recommendations.  

I had been a Harvard professor and in Harvard, the consensus was that President Eisenhower was a little bit slow in intellect, and had a little difficulty expressing himself because he used so many complicated sentences. 

That Harvard view lasted about 3 minutes because Eisenhower was a man of great dynamism with an extraordinarily expressive face and very strong speaking voice and manner. And he began the conversation by saying that he wanted me to know that he had told Richard Nixon that professors don’t make good policy directors, that professors are more interested in ideas and policy has to focus on outcomes. And He just wanted me to know that.  He also wanted me to know that he would give total support to whatever I was trying to do.  This took place in Walter Reed Hospital,where President Eisenhower was confined with a heart problem that took him away about 2 months — 2 months later. And so he made recommendations for the kind of security posture and organization posture, which actually every succeeding President and Secretary of State has executed in some way and essentially in the way that it is now organized.

There were a number of subgroups that were following the geographic department at the State Department, plus a number of subgroups following the subject matters like economics and immigration and issues like this.  

They all had a — had a Chairman, and the Chairman under the Eisenhower proposed Nixon was always the White House person. 

In theory that they were the ones that understood what the President most needed. But then they reported through a deputy committee.  It is very similar to today.  There was no real — there was no real difference. 

In the actual execution of this, Nixon tried to make a distinction between analysis and decisions. That is to say that in the meetings, he encouraged every department lead and other person who was kind of institutionally part of it to state their views. He did not like to debate phraseology of decisions.  He did not — these discussions under Nixon’s chairmanship were always about substance, and then he would go away and say — he would make a decision and notify the people with his decision. That came through my office as Security Advisor.

So, of course, the people who were — who did not get everything that they wanted assumed that the Security Advisor had sort of played it out with the outcome or influence to the President or whatever you might read in actual sector. Those that have been in the White House know that this is not the way that things worked. The Security Advisor, whatever influence he has with the President depends on the fact that the President can be sure that the Security Advisor doesn’t play any games and so that he can be sure that the Security Advisor reports to him straight and reports about him equally straight. 

So, this is in essence how it was — 

>>  HUGH HEWITT Secretary Pompeo, do you have a question or comment for Dr. Kissinger?  

>> MIKE POMPEO:  Yes.  Thank you, Hugh.  There was a transition you came alongside President Nixon and had a second transition where you became Secretary of State and wasn’t first job in the administration and replacing an existing secretary of state and doing it against a backdrop of tremendous domestic turmoil and tremendous complexity around the world certainly in Asia and other places as well as in Latin America and the Middle East as well.  Tell me about the relationships and change and how you thought about the transition of roles in your place and helping President Nixon to be successful against the backdrop of the times in early 1973 and beyond?

>> HENRY KISSINGER:  Well, I think that period is one of the saddest in American history because in the first term of the Nixon administration, he had achieved some remarkable successes.

Then in the second term as a result of Watergate, it was — it became more and more complex. So, at some period in his last 6 months in office, President Nixon decided to appoint me as Secretary of State.

I had to make a transition with Bill Rogers. Bill Rogers was a wonderful human being who took place with great generosity, especially because President Nixon, as he had said very often before he became President had decided that he was going to run for foreign policy, and so the Secretary of State was in a difficult decision as a result of the determination of Nixon not only to make the final decision but to run the process also. 

But, Rogers took this and I tried to help manners along by making all of the Assistant Secretaries Of State in my period of office all of the Assistant Secretaries of State that dealt with areas Foreign Service Officers so that there were no political appointments. 

So, actually, the transition between me and Rogers went very smoothly.  And I didn’t replace — I kept everybody in place but replaced them within the first 3 months if they were not Foreign Service Officers or not Foreign Service Officers that I knew with Foreign Service Officers that I had confidence in.

And because of Watergate, I had for about a period of a year to play an unusual role in relations with the Congress. 

As a basic principle in the Nixon Administration, the domestic issues and foreign policy issues were kept totally separate. I had great influence on foreign policy. I was never invited to the discussions that involved domestic policy.  

In the — in that transitional period in the end of Watergate and at the beginning of Ford, I had to deal with Congressional leaders for the purposes of foreign policy. I still didn’t deal with domestic policy. 

But, I would have meetings with the leadership normally at least in my time, the Secretary of State dealt mostly with the committees that dealt with these issues. 

In the last period of the Nixon Administration, I spent a number — quite a bit of time, let’s say weekly meetings, with the leadership and speaker, the majority leader who was a democrat who was Mansfield on that sort of discussion, in order  to make sure that foreign policy would go through a smooth transition. 

Once Ford became President, he, of course, knew the Congress much better than I did, and so my Congressional role became the normal secretary’s role of briefings or committees that affected his conduct.

>>  HUGH HEWITT: Let me go now to Ambassador O’Brien,  Dr. Kissinger. O’Brien is here with me in Yorba Linda, your successor after a few of the national security council. 

>>  ROBER O’BRIEN: Thank you for the seminar and bringing together a distinguished group of scholars and policy makers and I am honored to be here with two great Secretaries of State. I was privileged to work with Mike and Henry during my time in office and national security advisor and as national security advisor I worked closely with Dr. Kissinger. I don’t think I took  an overseas trip for negotiations and talks without consulting with Henry first.  Thank you both.  

Dr. Kissinger, you were there for detente and national arms talks and secret talks with China and talks with Pakistan and India and shuttle diplomacy to end the Yom Kippur role.  These are some of the most consequential negotiations and diplomatic talks that took place within the last 100 years.  Asking you for the young diplomats and lawyers and business folks who are involved in international negotiations, what advice and counsel do you have for them as they go about their talks and negotiations, whether in the private or public sector to achieve successful ends to their negotiation processes. And if you have some time, maybe you could let us know which of the negotiations or deals that you were involved in was the most meaningful to you personally. 

          >> DR. HENRY KISSINGER:  Well, I want to say one more word about the transition from Nixon to Ford.  Which is to pay tribute to President Ford who came into a very difficult situation, in which many demoralized people.  And he introduced a level of calm and commitment that stabilized everything and performed extremely well as President.

          Now, the question of the negotiations.  When I became security advisor, I had never conducted a negotiation internationally before.  I was assigned by Nixon to do many modes to keep the negotiations.  Because he felt that I understood what he was trying to achieve.  So, let me talk about in response to your question: I attempted in any negotiation I conducted, first of all, to be absolutely sure that I understood what the President had in mind.  And to understand not only the formal position of what we should say at the next negotiation, but what he was trying to achieve. And not only the tangible, but the intangible  ones. And so I had many conversations with Nixon. I saw him practically every day we were both in town.

          And so I made sure that I knew that.  And I made sure before I left on a negotiation to leave substantial memo to him on what I understood what we’re trying to achieve, and how I was going to do it.  But once I was on the road, I reported to him every day.  But we were never in a position where I had to say to my negotiating partner, I have to take this back in Washington.  I went ahead.  He got his report at the end of every day.  He could have stopped the negotiation, or he could have said, you should have said something else. He never bothered with that as long as he was convinced that we were going in the direction that he wanted to go.

          Everybody has their own negotiating method. And in my case, it was an effective person in this way.  And maybe he followed some of the same principles. I tried to understand what the opposite member was likely to want to achieve.  And so, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on tactical issues at the moment.  And I usually began my conversations, my negotiations, by telling my opposition member what I was trying to achieve.  And I was quite honest about it.  

I told him what I wanted to bring about. And so I said that, you can understand what I’m trying to do. On my first trip to China, we haven’t had any contact for 25 years.  If you read the discussions between us, they sound like two college professors. They’re all public now. Discussing academic issues. And we were both reasoning without agreeing the same way, namely, I would encounter him very often in the future and I wanted to know where he was heading them.  

And anyway, it was the first meeting after 25 years.  And I had to bring back a report on whether it was useful to continue. So that was my general approach. And I tried to leave details to the point when we had an agreement in principle. But I’m not saying that this is the only way to negotiate. 

I can only tell you, now, you asked me what was an important moment. Of course, there were many dramatic occasions. But there was one occasion —  on national debate, it was always assumed by our critics that the President loved to continue the war.  And that he was war-like.  And so I knew how dedicated every President I met on the subject,  Democrat or Republican, was to get the war ended. When we talk about Nixon, we had developed a principle, an absolutely key principle was that we would not sell out to people who had in reliance on America committed themselves to defend their freedom. We will not sell them out in the final moment. 

And, in 1972 an election year, it began with all out North Vietnamese

attack. And Nixon had abandoned all the restraints that had held us back. He resumed bombing, and he blockaded Vietnam. And he made a speech in which he said these of our principles, and we will settle when we get those and not before. It was January of ’72.

          So I went on and realized that could be very difficult.  But by September ’72 we had achieved our strategic objective, and then in October ‘72, Le Duc Tho who was my opposite member in the negotiations, made a proposal in which the South Vietnamese government could stay in office after peace was made. And he said basically, the proposal [inaudiable]. Well, when the meeting was over, I turned to my associate Winston Lord and I said, we’ve done it.  It was a special meeting because Winston Lord wanted to resign over Cambodia. And I said you could resign and walk out the door out of this office, or you could stay here and help me make peace.

          Well, it turned out it was not the end, because, as a result of Watergate, we lost the ability to enforce the agreement. And so, we had a period where we absolutely, on the basis of Nixon previous fulfillments, whenever he was challenged to walk away, he took a step forward to (audio is low) and we lost the ability to enforce the agreement. and gradually,Vietnam relaxed. It was dramatic over in China and dramatic to make peace in the Middle East and other places, but what moved me the most was that moment when he took his memo out and handed it to me and said, ‘I’m ready to discuss this about making a proposal that President Nixon made eight months ago.’  It didn’t go out quite — but it was — 

 >> HUGH HEWITT Thank you, Doctor Kissinger.  I want to go to Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is one of our members. We have 15 members in our Nixon Seminar and our Co-Chairmen, the three people you see on screen with me.    

Congressman Gallagher is the only elected member, he is on armed services of the representative and also like Dr. Kissinger, a Ph.D, from the University of Wisconsin. Congressman Gallagher, your question for Secretary  Kissinger.

 >> MIKE GALLAGHER:  Secretary, a more contemporary question.  China, Russia and the U.S. have all identified artificial intelligence as a potentially decisive resource in the 21st Century balance of power. The national committee on AI issued a report this week, warning China could pull ahead of American AI by the end of this decade.  

You have written extensively about the geopolitical and philosophical implications of AI. Given that China is likely to use this technology for nefarious purposes, how do you think we should think about this challenge and place in the intensifying rivalry with China?  How should the U.S. ensure ethical use of AI going forward?

 >> DR. HENRY KISSINGER: I’m going to try to keep all my future answers shorter than I kept the previous ones. It’s so exciting being back at the Nixon library and with my colleagues from Washington.  

My knowledge of artificial intelligence results from attending a speech at some conference where somebody spoke about artificial intelligence of which I had never thought before.  And it struck me that the impact of that presentation on the evolution of history was very crucial.  And, therefore, I had to learn something about it.  And I went to Eric Schmidt – former Google head –  and Dan Huttenlocher who is Provost of MIT and in charge of all their computer work.  And we’ve been meeting for the last four years every Sunday.  So, the impact, I think, of artificial intelligence is on an ultimate level.  Since the enlightenment, the rest has learned by reason, and the evolution of experiments.  In the artificial intelligence age, one learns by the experience of results without knowing exactly how the process operates.  That if you can work the right algorithms, and the right knowledge, that’s relevant to that field, you can solve problems which have proved insolvable.  So if you ask me a strategic question, namely, can we afford for other countries to get ahead of us in that field? The answer by definition is no, we have to stay ahead in that field.  Because if we are not, we do not know what answers will emerge out of, I could give you a number of examples, but this is the conclusion to which I’ve come. A commitment to developing artificial intelligence – knowledge in that field and to apply it to a wide range of fields – especially to the fields that have strategic and foreign policy implications is absolutely imperative in our relations with any major country.

>>HUGH HEWITT:  I would like to go to Matt Pottinger, Dr. Kissinger, whom  you know – Formerly the deputy adviser under Robert O’Brien, at the end of the previous administration. Matt, you are up. 

>> MATT POTTINGER:  Great.  Thanks Hugh.  Dr. Kissinger, it’s great to see you.  I wanted to ask you in the 1970s you made very good use of the concept of triangulation and to the benefit of the United States you were able to pull the United States and China closer to one another than either country was to the Soviet Union.  I would like to know your thoughts about the concept of triangulation today. 

Should we be pursuing closer ties with Russia?  

If so, how?  

Would efforts by the United States to grow closer to Russia actually be reciprocated as long as Vladimir Putin is in power in Russia and how long do you think the partnership between China and Russia is likely to last? How deep will it go? Thank you. 

>> HENRY KISSINGER:  Great question and thank you for the wonderfully cooperative way you worked with me and served in the previous administration. I’m very happy to see you in this context.  

The idea of triangulation that we followed developed because when we — when I came into government, I thought China was the more aggressive because of Mao’s rhetoric, but Russia was the more powerful, but then through a series of events – and I thought they were together – but then through a series of events it became apparent that they were opponents.

So, when Nixon and I considered that, Nixon called a cabinet meeting and said to the cabinet, I’m going to try in effect to play them off against each other.  That required positive relations with both of them.  You can’t do the triangulation unless you have meaningful operations with both of them.  

So, the principle which we followed when I was Secretary of State and what I instructed my subordinates to do was to make sure that you place the United States closer to both China and Russia than they are to each other.  

If you know nothing else, just do that. That way both of them had a greater incentive to deal with us than they had to deal with each other. 

But, you know, under those circumstances, and I don’t prescribe that necessarily. But, my general approach in the national situation would be to have a maximum of options for the United States vis-à-vis the largest number of strong players. 

So, in that position, you can create a situation or you can drive for a situation where nobody can count on your hostility. 

But, nobody can be sure that they can turn on you either. 

So, that is the basic — so, in that situation, I think Russia is a country of considerable magnitude, but it is no longer a fully major country, but it is considerable.  It is not in our interest for it to be tied to China. 

I would think as a general rule, I would prefer to have options to expose China and Russia, and I would want to be in dialogue with both of them. 

I would hope that our governmental structure is organized well enough and that we have enough good people in it so that we can calculate the options at least as well and hopefully better than any possible opponent. 

So, that is what I would generally try to achieve. I’d be open to talks with Russia.

>>HUGH HEWITT:  I would like to turn to Kimberly Reed the former Chairman of the export and import bank in the former administration.  Kimberly, you are up. 

>> KIMBERLY REED:  Good evening.  I would love to hear your thoughts comparing transitions over the years when it comes to dealing with issues in the Middle East and any thoughts you have on recent successes in the Middle East. 

>> HENRY KISSINGER:  Well, in the transitions in which I was involved, it was at the very beginning of the experience of the Middle East crisis and it was right after the ’67 war and things were very frozen.  We followed the same — we — our position in Israel was fixed. 

We were not changing that.  To which we tried to — the goal we set ourselves in that long ago period was to make sure that the Soviet Union couldn’t achieve specific objectives by arming Middle East countries. 

And therefore in every crisis in which the Soviets appeared in defense on behalf of some Middle East country, we saw to it to that, that Middle East country could not succeed. And when the ’73 war started, I sent a message to Sadat on behalf of Nixon and said ‘you are now starting the war with Soviet arms.’ 

Remember, you have to make peace with American diplomacy. This was our guideline then. 

Now, we can talk about the current situation. I think that one of the great successes of the previous administration was that they had lined up, that they had achieved two things in the Middle East. One, to separate the Palestinian problem from all of the other problems so that it did not become a veto over every thing else– and secondly, of lining up the Sunni states in actual or potential combination against the Shiite states, which is Iran, that was developing a capacity to threaten them. 

I think that this was a brilliant concept. We were just at the beginning of it.  

It was like the beginning of the China opening. The evolution of it was just beginning.

So, in the current situation, it is important that we don’t slip into a — in diluting this pattern that has been created and which should be — which at an appropriate moment can even lead to discussions with Iran. We should not give up the pressures that exist on Iran until we know where they are heading. 

And I think that is something that we need to consider carefully with current period. If we break out the Iranian issue from the overall Middle Eastern issue, we run the risk of losing the two achievements namely of separating the Palestinian issue, which removes it as a veto over everything else and the Sunni cooperation with Israel, which is unique in its openness.  

So, that is how I would handle that. 

>> HUGH HEWITT:  Thank you, doctor.  I would like to call on Alex Gray former chief of staff with the national council under Ambassador O’Brien.  Ale, you have the floor. 

>> ALEX GRAY:  When you came into the National Security Advisor role during the 1968 transition, what were some conceptions you had going in about the appropriate size and role of the NSC staff and how did that change and how did your conceptions change by the time of the transitioned out of the National Security Advisor role in 1975?  Thank you. 

>> HENRY KISSINGER:  Well, I came in with no particular idea of the size of the staff. What existed — what — I did not think of the NSC staff as an operation staff.  I thought of the task of the NSC staff was to develop the strategic concepts for the President, and secondly, to make sure that the various departments that are getting out their tactical policies stayed within the strategic concepts of the President. 

So I forget what the size of the staff was when I came in.  When I left, it was around 60 or 70.  

We didn’t have huge staffs. We had — we were small enough so that we could form a pretty — a pretty coherent group.  I don’t think that we ever exceeded 70.  That can be checked.  

It was small.  

It didn’t participate — when we had a policy direction, and when Nixon was fully behind it, which he was 99% of the time, we then relied on the departments to execute it.  We did not get involved in the execution very much.  

We very much got involved in the strategic planning and in the steps that led to the breakthrough.  Once a breakthrough was achieved, we did not fool around with every daily tactical issue that came along.  

>>HUGH HEWITT:  I would like to go to Christian Whiton.  Christian, you get the last question for Dr. Kissinger tonight. 

>> CHRISTIAN WHITON:  I appreciate that.  Thank you.  Dr. I had another question about the 1969 transition.  It seems that with more recent transitions it has become controversial for those transitions to talk to foreign governments and you’ve had things like the Logan Act that dates back to the John Adams administration thrown around.  I was curious in your ’69 transition, did Nixon or others at a senior level or did you have discussions with foreign governments and I was particularly about South Vietnam. But also other governments.

 >> DR. HENRY KISSINGER:  Well, we had no discussions with any foreign government.  There was one exception.  That was not a discussion.  I had been heading — a year earlier — I had been carrying messages for the Johnson Administration indirectly to the Vietnamese.  And so I had access to the North Vietnamese, though, I had never talked to them personally.  And in the transition period, President Nixon sent a message to the North Vietnamese saying that he wanted them to know he was open to negotiations.  He did not say on what, in what detail, and he did that in order to create a condition.  It was actually a mistake, and it was my mistake.  It was I who recommended it to him. It was a mistake in terms of internal politics.  We didn’t need to do it.  But there was no reply.  And there was no direct negotiation.  It was simply transmitting the letter from Nixon to the North Vietnamese, as I have done previously transmitted the letter from the American President at the time, and reason I got into that position was because I was at an international academic meeting where one of the participants was a French scientist, and whose house Ho Chi Minh had stayed while he lived in Paris.  It was one of the accidents and so we used that French scientist to deliver them, we being the American government.  But we had no discussions with any ally or Russian or Chinese before Nixon’s inauguration.  And I think as a general rule, it is better to let the outgoing administration carry the responsibility.  But one shouldn’t get in its way and we try not to do that.

 >> HUGH HEWITT:  So Dr. Kissinger, I want to end by asking each of the three co-chairs the same question, we’ve got twelve members of the Seminar  and there are hundreds who could be here and would want to be involved.  What did you look for when you put together your staffs, gentlemen?

           When you organized the National Security Council, Robert, or Secretary Pompeo the Department of State or CIA, or Dr.Kissinger the  NSA or the NSC and the Department of State,what were you looking for in national young security professionals?

  >> ROBERT O’BRIEN: So the first thing I was looking for were people that were smart and  hard-working.  And you can’t coach speed and you can’t coach, you know, vertical jumping ability.  And there’s some things you can’t coach.  And I felt one of those things was having highly intelligent people around.  I thought it was important to have people that worked very hard.  But I also thought it was important to have people that had a proper temperament and the right judgment that could, you know, look as Kipling said the twin imposter of victory and defeat, or triumph and defeat, and handle them with the same equanimity.  And I thought, especially in the White House, that was an important characteristic.  So those were the three things I looked for and I think we put together a great team when I was at the NSC and Secretary Pompeo did something similar at the State Department and I was privileged to be on his team.

   >> HUGH HEWITT:  Secretary Pompeo, what were you looking for?

 >> MICHAEL R. POMPEO:  Thank you.  I think Robert encapsulated the characteristic of individuals that any good leader would look for in any institution. You’ll remember, much like Dr. Kissinger took over in State, I came into a State Department that was already on its ways to formation within the Trump Administration.  So I wasn’t part of the original transition from President Obama to President Trump.  

It was also, given all that was going on with the challenges being presented by Congress with the impeachment threats and all these things, we needed to make sure we had a group of people that understood this was a President that came at foreign policy problems in a unique way. And I heard Dr. Kissinger talk about that too, as he made his transitions from Presidents Nixon to Ford, I had come to know President Trump’s operating style pretty well when I briefed him nearly daily as a CIA director.  I wanted to make sure the senior people, at least,  I brought around to the team understood the environment which we were going to be working in and how we were going to effectively deliver operationally President Trump’s foreign policy.  So I wanted to make sure while we know Washington is occupied by a lot of folks and a lot of big egos, there were people who were prepared to make sure they were working as part of the team that President Trump wanted to deliver on Foreign Policy he had put forward to the American people.

          >> HUGH HEWITT:  Dr. Kissinger, I want to turn to you and before that, I want to say thank you for your abundance of time and in the first meeting of the Nixon seminar, we appreciate it and every member does.  And now I like to ask you about young people on the NSC and people you’ve gone looking for in situations like that, not only when you were in government but out of government?

          >> DR. HENRY KISSINGER:  It’s a tremendous honor to work in the White House or at the State Department. And the greatest service one can render is to ask one’s self about the future of the country and not to one’s personal views, and try to adhere to one’s policy to serve the need of the national purpose best. So in addition to the qualities that were mentioned, I would say character is of great importance to keep in mind. That one’s own winning or losing battle is not the key.  It’s whether one can inspire enough confidence in the country that we have a clear purpose and that let our enemies know they can’t divide us.  

And anybody who has the privilege of making contributions has been very lucky, because I feel like I was with Nixon (audio is low) and gave me an opportunity.  And there are members who might be on that same level of quality and partnership, Bob, Mike who have done that for the country. I want to thank them and I wish all of you good luck.

          >> HUGH HEWITT:  Dr. Kissinger, thank you so much.  I like to thank Secretary Pompeo and O’Brien as well.  We’ll be back on the first Tuesday in April.  I believe the subject will be whether or not the Olympics ought to be in China in 2022.  And, hopefully, it will be the same sort of meaningful and memorable conversation.  Thank you, all, and goodnight from the Nixon library from Yorba Linda.