A reader writes:
You asked, “There are no parallels with this kind of direct undermining of the president on foreign policy that I can think of. Am I wrong?”
I can think of at least two from the Washington administration and one by Nixon against LBJ.
In 1791, Secretary of State Jefferson was involved in talks with the British ambassador. Hamilton, fearful that Jefferson would take too hard a line, “secretly informed British officials that the secretary of state’s views did not represent administration policy and hence implied that they could be disregarded with impunity.” (Alexander DeConde, A History of American Foreign Policy, p. 49) Three years later, he undermined John Jay, who had been sent by President Washington to negotiate a treaty with the British: “Fearing any action that might endanger relations with the British, Hamilton blunted the only coercive weapon Jay possessed. He told the British minister in Philadelphia that American policy was predicated on the principle of avoiding entanglement in European affairs and hence the US would not join the new armed neutrality. Hamilton thus weakened Jay’s already shaky bargaining position.” (DeConde, p. 55).
More recently, and infamously, in October 1968, fearing an “October surprise,” the Nixon campaign used Anna Chennault to communicate to the Thieu government in South Vietnam that it should resist pressure from LBJ to participate in peace talks with the North Vietnamese. Vice President Ky wrote: “out of the blue, Nixon’s supporters stepped into the picture. Approaches were made to Bui Diem, the Vietnamese ambassador in Washington, to the effect, Hold on! Don’t accept the invitation to go to Paris. If Mr. Nixon is elected President he promises he will increase support for the Vietnam War.’” (Larry Berman, No Peace, No Honor, p. 33.)
These were all secret, of course - not public. But sadly we have a history of undermining a sitting president’s foreign policy, all talk of politics ending at the water’s edge notwithstanding.
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