Bio on Reagan Advisor Challenges Media Reports, Highlights Achievements
Like many Reaganites, he was no media darling; at least not initially.
In fact, he was intensely ridiculed at home and abroad in newspapers and magazines that frequently called his credentials and his intelligence into question. The media onslaught directed against William P. Clark was replete with misrepresentations and inaccuracies that were nevertheless widely circulated in the 1980s a political science professor, and best-selling author maintains in a recently released biography entitled "The Judge."
Although he was responsible for crafting "highly respected opinions" for the appellate and supreme courts in California, Clark remained "The Forever Unqualified Man" in eyes of the news media, Paul Kengor explains his new book.
When he was nominated as the deputy secretary of state in 1981, it became necessary for Clark to endure a highly damaging interrogation process as part of the confirmation process in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) presented Clark with a "pop quiz" replete with questions about world leaders he presumed the nominee would be unable to answer. Clark was asked the following:
"Can you tell me who the prime minister of Zimbabwe is?"
"Can you tell me who is the prime minister of South Africa?"
"Can you tell me what the major bilateral issues are between the United States and Brazil?"
When the hearing ending Biden pulled Clark aside and said, "Hey Judge, no hard feelings...and don't worry: I didn't know the answer to those questions either."
But the damage had been done. The hearings became fodder for an already hostile press.
"A Truly Open Mind," was headline for a Newsweek article, while Time Magazine assaulted Clark's academic credentials. Overseas, the London Daily Mirror was equally acerbic in its editorial. "America's allies in Europe - Europe, Mr. Clark, you must have heard of it, will hope he is never in charge in a time of crisis."
"Ironically, the same journalists that chided Clark for not knowing basic facts, themselves got the basic facts wrong in reporting on Clark" Kengor points out in his book. For instance, a story appearing in the January 3 1981 edition of Washington Post, erroneously stated Clark had "flunked out" of Stanford.
"Like Reagan his intelligence and credentials were always questioned anytime he acquired a position of power and influence," Kengor said in an interview. "He was called an incompetent and a lightweight. But once Clark moved into these positions he won over his critics."
The spread of communism in Central America was major source of concern to the Reagan administration and Clark in particular. A New York Times piece that appeared in March of 1981 marked a shift in tone in the attitude taken toward Clark. He was identified in the article as a leading architect behind polices the administration implemented to push back against Cuban and Soviet influence in America's backyard. Or, as Clark himself put it, "America's front yard."
"The Judge" as Clark came to be known had a strong ideological and spiritual connection with the president that extends all the way back to Reagan's time as governor in California, Kengor explained in an interview. He often found himself at loggerheads with "pragmatists and moderates" in the White House who did not necessarily share Reagan's vision, he added.
"It was Clark who coined the phrase `Let Reagan be Reagan' and it was Clark who said Reagan can be trusted to act on his own instincts," Kengor said. "One of his favorite aphorisms was that Ronald Reagan was wiser than his entire cabinet combined."
"The Judge" made his biggest mark on history while serving as National Security Advisor in 1982 and 1983. It was doing these crucial early years of the Reagan presidency that Clark helped to shape policies that brought down the Soviet empire at a time when elite opinion continued to favor the détente of the 1970s, Kengor said.
Roger Robinson, who served as a senior member of the National Security Council staff, is quoted as saying that Clark in executing his role was more powerful and influential figure than his immediate predecessors including Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. This can be attributed to Clark's unique and special relationship with an exceptional president, Robinson argues.
News reports appearing in the New York Times and Time Magazine suggested Clark was beginning to exert undue influence at the expense of other top advisors who were viewed as more moderate, according to the book. Clark himself finally concluded that the internal tensions were not beneficial to the president and offered his resignation, Kengor notes. He then went on to serve briefly as Secretary of the Interior before returning to California.
However, the time Clark put in at NSC proved crucial in the long run of history, Kengor contends. Without Clark serving in a national security capacity, it may not have been possible, for instance, to keep Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) a closely guarded secret before it was revealed on the president's own terms, according to the book. There was a very real concern at the time that officials at the U.S. State Department would likely try to scuttle the idea before it found expression, Kengor explains.
"Clark was able to confine SDI to the half-dozen or so people who needed to know," he said.
The media notwithstanding Clark emerged as one most influential and consequential national security figures in American history, Kengor asserts in his book. He identifies Clark as a major force behind the anti-communist initiatives that ultimately secured victory in the Cold War.
But even as history catches up with the achievements of the Reagan presidency, Clark's contributions to cause of freedom remain largely unheralded, Kengor said. For this reason, he felt strongly that a new biography was needed to set help set the historical record straight and to correct media misrepresentations of a leading figure in the Reagan White House.