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Clark Clifford

The Wise Man of Washington

John Acacia

Publication Year: 2009

One of the most renowned Washington insiders of the twentieth century, Clark Clifford (1906–1998) was a top advisor to four Democratic presidents. As a powerful corporate attorney, he advised Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. As special counsel to Truman, Clifford helped to articulate the Truman Doctrine, grant recognition to Israel, create the Marshall Plan, and build the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After winning the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, Kennedy asked Clifford to analyze the problems he would face in taking over the executive branch and later appointed him chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Johnson named Clifford secretary of defense in 1968, but their warm relationship was strained when Clifford concluded that there was no plan for victory in the Vietnam War and that the United States was in a “bottomless pit.” Even Carter, who kept his distance from Washington insiders, turned to Clifford for help. In Clark Clifford: The Wise Man of Washington, John Acacia chronicles Clifford’s rise from midwestern lawyer to Washington power broker and presidential confidant. He covers the breadth and span of Clifford’s involvement in numerous pivotal moments of American history, providing a window to the inner workings of the executive office. Drawing from a wealth of sources, the author reveals Clifford’s role as one of the most trusted advisors in American history and as a primary architect of cold war foreign policy.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii

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Introduction: Camp David, July 1965

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pp. 1-7

President Lyndon Johnson was about to make the most fateful decision of his presidency. U.S. military personnel in Vietnam had been deployed to train and assist the South Vietnamese forces and to protect the U.S. air base at Da Nang, from which Rolling Thunder, the bombing raids against North Vietnam ...

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1. Special Counsel

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pp. 8-35

Clark Clifford’s life had many characteristics of a Hollywood movie: a handsome leading man arrives in Washington via the heartland; rises to a position of power in the White House through a combination of happenstance, talent, and hard work; participates in some of the most important events in twentieth-century ...

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2. The Elsey Report

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pp. 36-56

For better or worse, the defining moment of the Truman administration was the emergence of the Cold War. The transformation of the United States and the Soviet Union from wartime allies to Cold War antagonists was one of the more significant events in twentieth-century American history. While his foreign policy ...

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3. Cold Warrior

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pp. 57-88

The Clifford-Elsey report marked Clark Clifford’s first foray into foreign policy, but over the years Clifford’s counsel was sought out on a variety of foreign policy matters, both formally and informally. Clifford’s proximity to the president ensured that he had a voice in some of the most significant foreign policy decisions ...

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4. The Recognition of Israel

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pp. 89-118

Clifford’s memoirs begin with his May 1948 showdown with George Marshall over the question of whether Truman should grant recognition to the soon-to-be-declared State of Israel. Clifford tells the story with a dramatic flair, almost in David and Goliath terms, pointing out that Truman regarded Marshall as ...

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5. Mastermind of the 1948 Campaign?

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pp. 119-150

In November 1947, Clifford presented President Truman with a memorandum entitled “The Politics of 1948,” a forty-three-page study that outlined a strategy for the 1948 presidential race. Truman was still considered a caretaker president, and his defeat by a then-unidentified Republican challenger seemed ...

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6. One Foot out the Door

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pp. 151-167

Truman’s 1948 underdog victory was immensely rewarding to Clifford, on both a personal and a professional level. His loyalty and devotion to Truman were genuine, and it must have been satisfying to help Truman win the presidency in his own right. But Clifford was ready to move on. Despite the thrill of victory and the ...

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7. Washington Lawyer

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pp. 168-201

Clifford’s new office was at 1523 L Street, only four blocks from the White House. Clifford took on but one partner, Edward H. Miller, a lawyer from the Justice Department whom Clifford knew from St. Louis. Clifford recalled that Miller’s experience in the antitrust field would complement his more extensive ...

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8. Kennedy's Consigliere

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pp. 202-235

“Sue the bastard for $60 million!” former ambassador Joseph Kennedy shouted into the phone.1 The patriarch of the Kennedy family was furious at journalist Drew Pearson for claiming that his son, Senator John F. Kennedy, was not the author of Profiles in Courage, the book for which he had won a Pulitzer Prize. ...

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9. This Could Be a Quagmire

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pp. 236-282

It was not a foregone conclusion that one of the first persons President Johnson would seek out was Clifford. The two had known each other for years, back to the days when Johnson was an occasional participant in Truman’s poker games. While Clifford served Truman his relationship with Johnson was cordial, but ...

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10. I Search for Why I Find Myself Constantly Alone

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pp. 283-313

“Tonight I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia,” President Johnson had declared on March 31, 1968; yet peace would prove to be elusive. Although he had publicly proclaimed his desire for peace during a primetime television address, and had sacrificed his political ambitions in the process, ...

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11. October Surprise

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pp. 314-327

With the clock ticking down on the Johnson administration, Clifford had convinced Johnson to make one last concerted effort to bring the war to a close. “When in doubt, do right,” Clifford had argued, and with some trepidation, Johnson had agreed. Even steadfast hawks Dean Rusk and Maxwell Taylor would soon ...

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12. The Wise Man

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pp. 328-348

As secretary of defense Clifford had achieved a position of enormous prestige and had served with honor and great personal courage. Once out of power Clifford joined the community of Washington elder statesmen, like the group he had assembled to reassess the Vietnam War in March 1968. He continued to crusade for an ...

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13. BCCI

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pp. 349-364

It should have been the triumphant coda of a long and distinguished Washington career. On May 22, 1991, a long line of limousines pulled up in front of the Georgetown home of Pamela Harriman. Harriman, the socialite second wife of Averell Harriman and a prominent Democratic fund-raiser, was hosting ...

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pp. 365-374

Clark Clifford arrived in Washington in 1945 as a young naval officer serving in a largely ceremonial role. During the years that followed he rose to the highest ranks of the Truman administration and then parlayed his government experience into a lucrative law career, a prototype of the many well-connected lawyer ...


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pp. 375-412


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pp. 413-422


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pp. 423-440

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813173467
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125510

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2009