Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Of Ideas and Politics, Part I

VTR Date: July 13, 1985

Guest: Moynihan, Daniel Patrick


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Patrick Moynihan, US Senator
VTR: July 13, 1985

Heffner: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. The last time today’s guest was at this table was almost a decade ago. Then I reminded our viewers that while two centuries before in the Declaration of Independence our best minds had argued that a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires always that we state our causes. Well he, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Ambassador of the United States of America to the Untied Nations, was doing so everyday to a fare-thee-well always declaring America’s causes boldly, enthusiastically, unequivocally. And much to chagrin of traditionalist diplomats much more with an eye to expressing this nation’s historic beliefs than to placating its foes. Which is as true now as it was then. For the day after we last sat at this table, Pat Moynihan resigned as our Ambassador to the UN ultimately moving on to the United States Senate from a career in which he had already served four presidents, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Had taught, had written, had lectured prolifically, had been our Ambassador to India, too, and as he does even now, had generally disturbed those who look always for calm and restraint in our political leaders. Particularly in that most interesting of phenomena, the professor in politics. Recently someone wrote of Senator Moynihan, he combines a restless and iconoclastic mind with a temperament that is essentially conservative. SO let’s ask him how accurate the observation is. True or false, Senator? Iconoclastic mind, conservative mind, temperament one way, mind the other?

Moynihan: Well you know that word conservative is always a relative one. Conservatives conserve. And you can be a conservative member of the Politburo in Moscow and you can be a conservative liberal who wishes to see that positions that liberals have staked out over the years are preserved. You can be someone who has a sense that the stability of institutions is more precarious than we know and that tending to our own is more important than we sometimes think. You mentioned the United Nations, Dick. Something from THE OPEN MIND… a thought… one of the perils of that job which Adlai Stevenson once described as a combination of Geritol, protocol, and alcohol is… you go to these long lunched… oh, they can go on forever and then finally the champagne comes when the Secretary General toasts whoever the luncheon is for. Then comes the afternoon and sometimes you can get a little sleepy. You can get sleepier if those speeches were in the bright dawn. But I was sitting in the General assembly one afternoon trying to pay attention to the speaker, having difficulty, and started playing some word games with the names of the U.N. members who were up there listed on in effect a score board on either side of the podium. There were then 148 members of the Untied Nations. I asked myself, how many had both existed as countries in 1914 and had not their form of government changed by violence since 1914. Of the 148 the answer… seven. We live as Americans in a world of such stability. I’m serving in the 99th Congress. Next year will be the 200th Congress. Oldest constitution on earth. Oldest constitution in the history of the earth. You know, a stable society is something granted by God even though it’s made by man and very few have it. Hence, am I in that sense conservative? Yes. I’d like to conserve the society.


Heffner: What is also made by man, by us, is our continuing willingness to participate in the United Nations. Does the statistic that you just offered us indicate that perhaps the value of the UN is minimal rather than maximal? The value to us?

Moynihan: No, no I don’t. TO the contrary. They’re now about 157 countries. Tuvaru… Dick, Tuvaru?

Heffner: Don’t ask me where. Don’t ask me where.

Moynihan: Kirabotti? Come on, Kirabotti?

Heffner: You’re not even going to ask me to spell them.

Moynihan: These are some of the Polynesian Islands. The south…

Heffner: Well do you say that with pride? Do you list the number with pride or concern?

Moynihan: No, no. How do you keep in touch with a world of 157 nominal and in some respect very real sovereignties? You have the President thinking about them everyday, meeting their heads of government, writing letter? You cannot. Something that the Secretary General, a very fine Secretarial General, Perez de Cuellar, a Peruvian, said on the 40th anniversary… we are now just s few days away from the 40th anniversary of the first General Assembly… few weeks… something like that… the United Nations has created a world community in the way that never previously existed. And I think he’s right. A while ago I made the point, oh, it would be ten years ago, that while no one has been noticing it, a kind of world political party system has grown up. You go to the General Assembly and, oh, there are a lot of members in the House or the Senate but there are in fact only three parties. There is the Western democracies, the Communist countries, a somewhat divided China and Soviet Union, but on most things surprisingly united… (Inaudible)… and there are the nonaligned. What the French call… what we call the Third World from the French tiers monde. And they have party structures. They have party Chairmen. They have conferences. They draw up platforms too… it’s the emergence in a quiet way of the world party system. Now with most of these countries the only real relationship the United States has is in these United Nations organizations. Our bilateral relations are very weak. You’d be surprised how thin they are. Oh, a few travelers, a little trade, a bit of investment, perhaps, but not much. On the other hand, they all have a vote. They will all be signatories to the Nonproliferation Treaty that says they won’t produce a nuclear bomb. And if anybody ever wanted to do so in most of those places, it could be arranged. Not most of, but you know, but 20 of, surely. We meet them here in New York. And we can hear what they have to think. And we can influence back home what they do here. Our most important relations are in these multilateral UN settings.

Heffner: Yes, but among these three parties, which one is the dominant party? As you make the comparison to our own party system?

Moynihan: Oh well there you have the problem of voting. The dominant party is the nonaligned, which is the beginning to change from its period of profound pro-Soviet orientation. Now that is drifting… that’s changing…

Heffner: Why?

Moynihan: Well, time, people… There’s no longer of the four heads of governments… I guess it was Yugoslavia, Tito, and Nehru in India, Sukarno in Indonesia and Nassar in Egypt who called that first meeting in Columbo. They’re all gone… (Inaudible)… in India which is the second most populated country in the world and a democracy. A political democracy. Let’s not forget that. You now have Rajiv Gandhi as head. Now the nonalignment is very important to him. But he came to a joint meeting of our Congress in June which we in New York had a lot to do about. You know I claim I represent as many Indians in our 18 million New Yorkers as a member of the … (inaudible)… sometimes represents in India. I told him that and he liked it. Then he said we want… he stood up before us and said, look we want a non-aligned Afghanistan. Independent. Sovereign.


Nonaligned. Well that’s… for the first time the nonaligned almost in the first instance almost without exception… Yugoslavia being the only one I can think of… had achieved their independence from European empires. And they, the leaders of those governments, had in some respects like Nehru been in opposition to those countries. Had been put in jail by the British. And so they saw their enemy as… they saw themselves as distinct from certainly the West. And they wanted to be in between. In recent years for the first time they found that the aggressor comes from the Communist world. And suddenly real nonalignment is more important to them.

Heffner: But this does sound like true realignment, and if I remember correctly in the period when you were our Ambassador to the UN, I remember that Ambassador Moynihan was spending a good deal of his time, I thought, protecting us against these smaller nations and their attacks upon the United States.

Moynihan: It was the most feverish point of a bitterness about the United States which seemed to have no… (Inaudible)… it’s always a problem. You know you get into trouble fighting with the Soviets somehow or other… (Inaudible)… there’s always a Communist party in a country and that can cause you trouble. The notion that there’s be a big transfer of wealth was still around North and South. The intense hostility to Israel which still’s there, but is moderating so much since Egypt made peace at Camp David… was there… Israel the issue by which you attacked the United States. Well, a couple of things have happened. They’re not… things are not that much different. But there are some things different. For example, the Egyptian peace with Israel. …(Inaudible)…

Heffner: DO you credit President Carter with that?

Moynihan: Well, I credit him in two ways. One, when he came to office the first thing they did, one of the first things they did was oppose the reconvening of the Geneva Conference on the Middle East which included the Soviet Union. And Anwar Sadat fought as between going to Geneva and putting his fate in the hands of the Soviets… he decided it was clever, you might have though that up… I think that it wasn’t that way… I don’t know how we lucked out there. But then the President at Camp David did some heroic negotiating. And of course I credit him and honor him for that. I credit the Israelis. Heavens above. I mean, they made the… took great risks for peace… gave back vast amounts of territory, MR. Begin did. And Mr. Sadat… it cost him his life, in a way.

Heffner: I asked that question because there seemed to me to be comparatively few leaders in your party, the Democratic party, who today credit the former President with anything.

Moynihan: That’s true. Don’t lose your bid for reelection. IT doesn’t help… I’m sorry, but with great respect to the present administration is there an equivalent diplomatic achievement?

Heffner: You think not?

Moynihan: I can’t see it. I mean I hope there will be. But I… I’ll put it to you. Could you?

Heffner: Well I… you know I was thinking, Senator Moynihan, that some of the people I know that… who are your friends… people who are generally associated with… though you may not wish to be… the neo-conservative movement… have been quoted recently as being if not disdainful of the present administration’s foreign policy, at least being very much concerned with it and having hooted and hollered at Jimmy Carter and hoped that something fundamental would change with Ronald Reagan are finding that indeed the way you stood up at the UN is sufficiently being imitated by the present administration. IS that a fair statement?


Moynihan: That certainly is a fair statement of the views of many of my friends. They are my friends. Were my friends. I spent my life talking with them, writing in their journals, generally, my generation of men and women. A lot f it has been a seeming conversion of the President to arms control process. I was… I’m a member… I’m one of the Senate observers, they say, of the Geneva negotiations. I was over there not long ago. And the administration was trying to get an arms control agreement which they were, you know, they were wholly adversed to… the administration has not been able to reverse events in Afghanistan, has very much accommodated to events in Poland. My first real question about how strong they were was in 1982 when Poland was on the verge of bankruptcy. And I stood on the Senate floor for about three days saying let them go bankrupt. That government is a despicable government. It’s a crushing of Solidarity and such like. How can we possibly want to sustain that government by providing them money? But in the end that’s what we did.

Heffner: But you know the in’s point with pride and the out’s view with alarm. Our neo-conservative friends now are viewing somewhat with alarm what the present administration is doing. Again the question to you is, are you deeply sympathetic with that point of view? IS there some alternative? Is there any alternative to the fact that when in power one doesn’t tread, though one may speak as boldly, one doesn’t tread as boldly?

Moynihan: All right.

Heffner: In other words what would you do?

Moynihan: Look, could I say on this something… my political labels no one need better… no one need be told more than you, that this is… I’ve got that completely mixed up.

Heffner: (Laughter)

Moynihan: No one knows better than you how inadequate labels are for… but they serve something. When I was elected to the Senate I said look, I ran as a liberal and I will serve as a liberal. And I have my friends who are being called neo-conservatives. That was a charge made from the left, incidentally. And in DISSENT MAGAZINE by a well-known Socialist, a perfectly decent fellow said, these people aren’t liberals, they’re neo-conservatives. Well, a very familiar pattern of people on the extremes… being angry with people… (inaudible)… near them as against people on the other side. I have felt that some of the attacks on the previous administrations, I mean before Mr. Carter came along… it was poor Mr. Nixon whose policy of détente was seen as a collapse before the Soviet Union. And Mr. Ford’s thought worse than whoever is in office gets this criticism from some certain perspective. And it’s certainly an intelligent criticism. But in government you reach certain… you confront certain restraints. And one of our problems with government recently, it seems to me, is that the out’s don’t just view with alarm, but they point with contempt to government and to the restraints under which it operates. And then they get in and they have to do the same.

Heffner: Which is, of course, what Jimmy Carter did.

Moynihan: Yes sir.

Heffner: Ran against Washington and what Ronald Reagan did.

Moynihan: Yes sir. And that is not the best equipment to govern. TO arrive in town saying I am contemptuous of government. I mean, of all human institutions government is the most precious. And no one thing can be more important than to preserve its continuity and its integrity and its respect.

Heffner: But our friends at PUBLIC INTEREST and our friends at COMMENTARY, they’re not running for office. And they are very much concerned in the field of foreign policy about what the President is doing, has done, has not done. And I really want to ask you whether you would have functioned far differently from the way he did. You talk about your being as a Senator, an observer at Geneva. And I thought for a moment there that you were being somewhat proud of the efforts being made now to achieve some accommodation. Straighten me out if I’m wrong.


Moynihan: Well we’re bound by an understanding that we won’t talk about the actual negotiations. I’m glad to see the world see us there. And I’m glad to see the Soviets realize what a mistake they made in walking out of the START talks, Strategic Arms Reductions talks. And that they had to come back. And we had to develop this theory, well it’s not the same set of talks its three different talks. And so you can come back. You’re not coming back, you’re coming to something new. But the world looks at us. Remember we have had a very special relationship in regard to nuclear weapons. The Soviets, the United States, the British persuaded 145 countries in the world to sign a treaty, the Nonproliferation Treaty that says they will never develop a nuclear weapon. And in exchange for that commitment all have kept that have signed. WE committed ourselves to get rid of our nuclear weapons. And fifteen years later there’s no sign that we have done that. And that whole world out there is restless. And if you want 20 countries with nuclear weapons, keep it up. Keep it up the way we’re going. We’re getting close… I can name five that are five years away or five months if they had to press it… On foreign policy, you know I’ve a view on this, and with the present administration, I guess. I was very proud of the President’s initial response to the hijacking of our TWA 847. I was on television one morning and I said, you know there’s been a kind of… the President the night before had said, look what can I do? There are limited things I can do. And I said, good. That was a manly, sensible statement because there are limited things he can do. And that there’s been a kind of leakage of reality in Washington. As if, you know, they… you fantasize powers that aren’t there. And that’s a great mistake. I’d like to go back to Lebanon… would you… not go back, can you give me a moment on that?

Heffner: I’ll give you more than a moment.

Moynihan: When in September 1983 we considered in the Senate a joint resolution that authorized the use… sending of our Marines into Lebanon… had been written in the White House. I stood on the floor for three days talking about this, and I didn’t get much attention. I said, listen, I am entirely in agreement that we should g into Lebanon. The forces of stability and that fast fractioning government need us. Need the French if they can help. Which was the mandatory power. See, none of these countries are old. None of them existed 50 years ago. Lebanon was created in 1944 by a free French colonel. There’s never been a country called Lebanon in history. There’s never been a country called Syria, which was created in 1947, in history. You reading the Bible and in history books about Assyria. But Assyria was all part of the Ottoman Empire that carved up after World War I and given to the French and the British, Israel and Jordan, the British, Egypt with the British… (Inaudible)… Well, that resolution said it is the United States policy… no I’m sorry… IT is an essential objective of American policy in the Middle East top remove all foreign forces from Lebanon. And I simply said, now wait. Remember what Walter Lippman wrote in the foreign policy, the shield of the Republic it was just 40 years at that time… (Inaudible)… you obviously remember…

Heffner: In fact two of my recent guests have made reference to that.

Moynihan: Is that right?

Heffner: Yes.

Moynihan: He said you can’t… the essence of a foreign policy and indeed in the absence of this, you don’t have a foreign policy, is that you keep a balance between your commitments and your power. And with a little comfortable extra part of power. And I said, now listen, it is not entirely within our power to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon in the entirety. We could, sure, land five Marine divisions and force them to the Syrian border. Then we’d keep the Marine Divisions on that border like some Roman Legions of two centuries. Because the minute we left, the Syrians would come back again. I said we can move them out of the Beirut area. WE can insist that they cooperate to some degree in the maintenance of a stable Lebanese government. But to declare that they have to get out of there altogether is to declare a certain kind of war on them. And we had said this is an essential objective. I said, to declare as essential what cannot be achieved is to insure failure.


Heffner: Okay. Well you talked leakage of reality, too. And what you’re saying, I gather, is that there is a considerable leakage of reality… what to do. In Washington, do you think that’s true? And we have just a couple minutes left to this program, but you promised me you’ll stay where you are and we’ll do what I really intended to do, talk about the Godkin Lectures and talk about domestic policy at home. Family policy, etc. Do you think that our conservative friends are experiencing a leakage of reality?

Moynihan: I would like to think that my friends are asking the people in government right now, the present administration, either to conform their actions to their rhetoric or change their rhetoric. And I think they have the right to do that. I think they would behave and they are entirely right to say you don’t behave that way. Well, if you are not going to behave that way, stop talking in such a manner as to expect our support. I think they’re entirely right in that.

Heffner: Bu, Senator Moynihan, if they say that are they also saying if you don’t do what we think you should be doing, we are going to look elsewhere for heroes?

Moynihan: I think… I think that’s a fair judgment. And I think it is entirely their right. And I like a certain amount of fuzziness in politics and government because… only one time we’ve had a clear division of opinion in this country. WE had a civil war. But still I have great respect for those folk. They are my friends. They are flesh and blood. And I know how deep their feelings are. And I don’t like to see them treated as people who will be satisfied with words.

Heffner: Fair enough, Senator Moynihan. And if you will stay where you are, we’ll go on and tape another show after we bring this one to an end. And then we will talk about…

Moynihan: This was a half-hour?

Hefner: A half-hour. And now I’ve got to sign off. Thanks for joining me today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I do hope you’ll join us again next week.

And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, please write to THE OPEN MIND, PO Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.