Behind the Headlines the Making of Foreign Policy
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Behind the Headlines the Making of Foreign Policy

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Now that Cyrus Vance has weighed in with his account of his tenure as President Carter’s Secretary of State, “Hard Choices” (New York, Simon and Schuster, 541 pages, $19.95), all three of the chief architects of the Carter Administration’s foreign policy–Carter, Vance, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was National Security Advisor–have published books.

The Vance book, as did Carter’s memoirs, “Keeping Faith,” and Brzezinski’s “Power and Principles,” confirms that there were differences over foreign policy within the Administration, particularly due to the rivalry between Vance and Brzezinski. But the one area where there seemed to be cooperation and agreement was the Middle East.

Even before Carter took office, he and Vance agreed that the United States would have to play an active role in seeking a Middle East settlement. “Without question, the bedrock of the Carter Middle East policy would continue to be our commitment to Israel’s security,” Vance wrote. But he adds:

“We agreed, however, that the critical importance of stable, moderate, pro-Western regimes in the Middle East and access to Arab oil meant that a return to a passive U.S. posture was not realistic. The United States would have to be a fair and active mediator between the parties if there was to be any chance of a genuine peace. Playing this role would necessarily require serious attention on the part of the mediator to both sides of the dispute and a sincere effort to address the Palestinian problem.

“Because of the intimate American association with Israel in previous Middle East peace efforts, for Carter to adopt an activist, balanced policy carried a significant political risk. He could be seen both at home and in Israel as tilting toward the Arabs and pressuring Israel to make dangerous territorial concessions ….”


Vance goes on to say that “The President and I were convinced that no lasting solution in the Middle East would be possible until, consistent with Israel’s right to live in peace and security, a just answer to the Palestinian question could be found, one almost certainly leading to a Palestinian homeland and some form of self-determination.”

To that end, Vance makes clear the Administration sought for a way to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization into the Mideast negotiations, only to be frustrated, as has the Reagan Administration, by the PLO’s refusal to do even the minimum required of it by the U.S.

The position that Vance outlined as the Carter Administration prepared to take office was essentially the some one it followed for the entire four years. The Carter Administration remained wedded to seeking a comprehensive settlement, rather than a step-by-step approach, a position that the Reagan Administration also believes in principle. The Carter Administration pushed the comprehensive approach after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem, when he realized an agreement could not be reached through a general settlement, and even after the Camp David agreements.

Yet, Vance learned on his first trip to the Mideast, that while Egypt and Israel were not far apart, “the real problem was disunity among the Arabs.” However, it does not seem that Vance ever learned what an Israeli official tried to point out to reporters in Washington earlier this year, that there is no consensus among the Arabs except enmity toward Israel. On everything else they disagree, and so peace can only be made with each country separately.


Vance’s book confirms that the major issue which strained U.S.-Israeli relations during the Carter Administration was the establishment of Jewish settlements in Judaea and Samaria, But Vance does not reveal in his book any of the deep anger over the issue that Brzezinski, in his memoirs, attributes to him.

Vance, who maintains that “Hard Choices” is not a diplomatic history or a memoir, does not go into the criticism of personalities that characterized the Brzezinski book. He has kind words to say for Premier Menachem Begin and for former Ambassador Simcha Dinitz who was savaged by Brzezinski.

But the Israeli who Vance admired most and for he seems to have a genuine affection was the late Moshe Dayan, with whom he dealt as Israeli Foreign Minister. The Israelis, including Begin, always liked Vance above all the Americans with whom they dealt with in the Carter Administration because they considered him to be a gentleman.

It was this characteristic that Brzezinski criticized in his memoirs. Yet one would wish that Vance was less gentlemanly in “Hard Choices,” which was written in the style of a State Department press briefing. While there is no need to go into how U.S. officials really felt about foreign leaders, as Brzezinski did, Vance could have provided more details about the events he covered.

He also left some things out, such as Andrew Young’s resignation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations after deceiving the State Department about his meeting with a PLO official, and the 1980 U.S. vote for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel which Carter subsequently reversed. Vance was directly involved in both controversies and it would have been useful to have his views on such important events.

The dryness of the Vance book has brought it less attention than the Brzezinski or Carter accounts. Yet all these books should be read, particularly by those with a special interest in the Middle East, because they tell not only how an official views the events in which he participated, but how foreign policy is made.

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