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KING: The Day Peace Broke Out Between Kissinger and Schlesinger

Henry Kissinger has died age 100. I remember him through his archrival, James Schlesinger.

April 24, 1980, was a bleak day for the United States. It was the day we lost helicopters and eight men in the desert during Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the hostages held by Iran.

Two Washington titans were out of office, chafing at their distance from power, their inability to take action and the attendant sense of impotence. They also disliked — no, hated — each other.

These giants were Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. Kissinger had been a national security adviser and secretary of state. He shaped geopolitical thinking for the latter half of the 20th century. He informed foreign policy as no other has.

Schlesinger had been the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, director of the CIA, secretary of defense and the first secretary of energy.

I had started covering Schlesinger as a journalist when he was at the AEC in 1971, and we formed a friendship that would last until his death.

I created The Energy Daily in 1973 and later Defense Week, high-impact newsletters dominant in their fields at the time. I wanted to know what was going on with the failed rescue attempt. Although Defense Week was weekly, we frequently put out daily supplements. Along with The Energy Daily, these were hand-delivered in Washington. We got the news out fast.

I had helped Schlesinger create the Department of Energy as a sounding board and, at times, as the public voice of his frustration with the Carter administration — where Schlesinger, a Republican, didn’t always fit.

I called Schlesinger to get the story on that fateful day in the Iranian desert. He astounded me by telling me that he was in close contact with Kissinger. “Henry has better sources than I do on this,” he said.

I remember that sentence verbatim because it was extraordinary to hear Schlesinger refer to Kissinger by his first name. I had never heard it, and, except for that day when I heard Schlesinger refer to Kissinger as “Henry” all day, I never heard it again. Before and afterward, it was always just “Kissinger,” often preceded by a derogatory qualification.

“Henry may know.” “I’ll ask Henry.” “Let me see what Henry has heard.” Schlesinger had an open line to Kissinger, asking questions on my behalf all day.

I assumed that the rift between two of the most formidable figures in Washington was bridged. Some said this animosity went back to their time at Harvard.

Certainly, it reached its zenith during the Nixon administration when both men were high officeholders with considerable input into national policy.

In 1984, Kissinger published one of the volumes of his memoirs. I asked Schlesinger if he had read the book. (He seemed to read everything.) He responded with a string of invective against Kissinger. Obscenities often flowed from Schlesinger, but this was epic. So much for first names and respect that one day of entente.

When Kissinger famously told The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn at a party that he was a “secret swinger,” he wasn’t far off. Kissinger loved the social world and his place in it.

By contrast, Schlesinger entertained sparingly at his modest home in Arlington, Virginia. My wife, Linda Gasparello, and I were there frequently, and it was always takeout Chinese food and lots of Scotch.

In all the years I knew him, Schlesinger only came to my home once, although I must have gone to his scores of times — especially toward the end of his life when he liked to talk about the British Empire with me and European history with Linda.

That one visit to an apartment I had in the center of Washington wasn’t pure socializing either. The deputy editor of The Economist, the legendary Norman Macrae, was the guest of honor. Schlesinger, then secretary of energy, was keen to meet Macrae, so he and his wife, Rachel, came.

In government, Kissinger thought Schlesinger was too hardline, too reckless in his attitude toward the Soviet Union, Iran and, later, Saddam Hussein. Schlesinger thought Kissinger’s reputation was overblown and he enjoyed the machinations of negotiation without regard to the end result.

I never formally met Kissinger. But at a dinner in Washington where Kissinger had spoken and was taking questions afterward, someone at my table asked me to ask his question on the grounds that asking questions was my job.

I thought it was a stupid question, but I asked it anyway. Kissinger glowered at me, so everyone could see who had asked the question, and declared, “That is a stupid question.”

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POWELL: Remembering Bob Dole

The last time I talked with Bob Dole it was nearing sunset on a glorious late October afternoon in 1988. On that occasion, he displayed his trademark trait, the quality that brought him attention and, all too often, got him in trouble: His sense of humor.

It’s a quality most politicians highly value, but which is sadly lacking in today’s political arena.

It all began on Monday, March 7, 1988. I was a young TV reporter and the Kansas senator was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. (His second of three tries.) Dole was doing a “fly around” on the eve of the next day’s Super Tuesday when 20 states (and American Samoa) would hold their primaries and caucuses. I was waiting when his plane touched down in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which would be voting the next day.

Dole walked up to me on the tarmac, extended his left hand, and said, “Hi, Bob Dole. How am I looking here tomorrow?” I told him my father and then-fiancé were planning on voting for him. He asked, “What about you?” I smiled and with suitable vagueness for a journalist answered, “We’ll see.”

Fast forward seven months to the lovely late Indian summer evening I mentioned earlier. Dole was doing yet another round of fly-around interviews, this time on behalf of George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee, who would be facing Democrat Michael Dukakis at the ballot box a few days later.

Once again there was the outstretched left hand and the friendly greeting. “Hello, I’m Bob Dole,” he said. He did not remember me. Not that I expected he would. I was one of literally hundreds of reporters he had spoken to since our last encounter. And let’s be honest: When you’ve met one reporter, you’ve met them all.

Still, I prompted his memory, hoping it might spark a faint recollection. “Yes, we met here at this very airport last March on the day before Super Tuesday. I told you my father and fiancé were voting for you.”

Dole instantly shot back: “You needed a bigger family.”

That lightning-quick retort was witty, slightly self-deprecating, even a tad charming. It was vintage Bob Dole.

There were times—a lot of times, in fact—when his sense of humor landed him in hot water. There were occasions when he went too far, when the joke was more ferocious than funny, more dour than droll.

You certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his tongue when he was angry, either. Remember what he famously snapped at Bush on live TV during the heat of the ’88 primary campaign? “Stop lying about my record.”

And it didn’t take a psychiatrist to see much disappointment was festering just below the surface, hurts that often came out in ways that bordered on self-pity. That less-than-flattering side of his personality was brilliantly captured in Dan Aykroyd’s devastatingly spot-on “Saturday Night Live” impersonation.

Yet there was far more of the “good Dole” humor than the bad. It was filled with warmth, even a passion, that made this most inside of all Washington Insiders human and approachable. You may not agree with what he said, but you couldn’t keep a smile from spreading across your face when you heard him say it.

Much has changed about politics in general and Washington in particular since Dole’s day. Jocularity has gone the way of the dodo. What passes for humor today is using laughter to belittle the opposition. Politicians rarely, if ever, make fun of themselves anymore. In a climate where everyone sees themselves as utterly right and everyone who disagrees with them as totally wrong, DC is now as merry as Josef Stalin’s Moscow.

That’s truly a pity. Because in an age when there is so little to be amused about, a little laughter would go a long way. Our political leaders could lead by example by laughing at themselves, their flaws, foibles, and failures a little more often.

“You needed a bigger family.” Thanks for the chuckle, Senator Dole. It’s still making me smile 33 years later.

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