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Counsel to the President, by Clark Clifford

- Abstract

The cover of this handsome volume is graced by a somewhat flattering oil painting of the author, and the title is highlighted by a row of five-pointed stars apparently purloined from the Presidential Seal. The message is clear: this is a valediction, intended to climax and celebrate fifty years in the epicenter of power and policy. Yet such are the anomalies of fate (and of publishing) that by the time Counsel to the President appeared in the stores, Clark Clifford, now 84, found himself facing possible indictment for his alleged role in the largest banking scandal in history. Newsweek’s often vicious “Conventional Wisdom Watch” (August 6) put it this way: “Old CW: Eminent statesman. New CW: Craven influence peddler.”

It is regrettable that Clifford’s problems (the political equivalent of a multiple-vehicle accident) came to light at the same time as his book, because many potential readers may be thus inclined to pass it by, when in fact it is one of the more interesting memoirs to emerge from Washington in some time. This is mostly due to the fact that its author, after all, is not precisely a nobody. He has been a key figure since the end of World. War II; he was present at dozens of major historic events—from Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri in 1946 to the reversal of U.S. policy in Vietnam in 1968; and at times he played a crucial role in shaping the outcomes of those events. And the book is of considerable interest in yet another way: the pages are crowded with original material (notes, quotations from cabinet meetings, and so forth) which afford a fascinating sense of texture and much new insight. Most of the time, too, it is a downright good read—a credit to the literary skills of Clifford, or his co-author Richard Holbrooke, or some talented ghost-writer, or possibly all three.

About the Author

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.