WASHINGTON – Embittered by career diplomats during his first term, President Richard Nixon said he wanted to "ruin the Foreign Service" before leaving office, according to newly released State Department documents.
Days after his re-election on Nov. 7, 1972, Nixon vented his frustrations about the diplomatic corps during a meeting with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.
Just before saying he was going "to take the responsibility for cleaning up" the department, the president told Kissinger on Nov. 13 that he was determined that his "one legacy is to ruin the Foreign Service. I mean ruin it — the old Foreign Service — and to build a new one. I'm going to do it."
Months later, Kissinger would become the chief U.S. diplomat as secretary of state, and major changes were never made to the Foreign Service.
Earlier, Nixon had questioned the loyalty of career diplomats to his policies and particularly was outraged by the State Department's performance on international economic policy.
"I don't know of one man, a soul that's worth a goddamn as an economic adviser. Not one. Not one at all," Nixon said at a White House meeting on Jan. 18, 1972, the documents said.
The documents shed new light on the tensions between the Republican administration and the State Department's permanent foreign policy establishment.
It was a period dominated by dramatic developments overseas — the winding down of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the beginning of a relationship with China and the continuing Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union.
Winston Lord, a top aide to Kissinger during the 1970s, said Nixon looked on the Foreign Service as dominated by liberals and as generally "cautious, unimaginative, slow-moving and risk-averse."
He said Nixon was given to hyperbole and his "extreme" comments about dismantling the Foreign Service should be seen in that light. At times, he said Kissinger simply ignored instructions from Nixon that Kissinger felt were given out of pique instead of careful consideration.
During the early years of Nixon's presidency, Kissinger dominated foreign policy, causing friction with the marginalized secretary of state, William P. Rogers, a longtime Nixon friend.
According to the documents, Nixon disagreed with Kissinger on both Rogers' intelligence and the worthiness of the career diplomatic corps.
"Henry says Bill is dumb — not smart. He is wrong. Bill is smart as hell. Bill is not a clown," Nixon said at the January 1972 meeting.
As for State Department officials, Nixon said he has "much more suspicion of them and much more contempt for them than he (Kissinger) has."
When Rogers was informed shortly after the 1972 election that he was being relieved of his duties, he protested to Nixon that it would look like he was being forced out by Kissinger. Nixon relented and permitted Rogers an elegant exit after Kissinger's appointment to replace him nine months later.
Kissinger, notified that Rogers was being allowed a grace period, responded that it was "a disaster for the P (president) and the country and unworkable for the administration and our foreign policy," the documents show.
"Our problem is not the Foreign Service, it's the secretary and he operates independently of the White House, won't carry out orders and won't do the work, the preparation of his own materials," Kissinger is quoted as saying.