President Kennedy was discussing one day the problem of revamping the approach to foreign aid. His chief aid planner, George Ball, asked whether he should try to construct a new setup on the basis of what would be most desirable or on the basis of what might be politically feasible. The president’s reply was instant: “You tell me what it ought to be. I want to see the whole dimension of the kind of program the United States ought to have. And then I’ll make the political decision of what can be done.” Of the many stories about the energetic new president current in the capital, this one tells as much as any about the Kennedy style of running the executive department.
When Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson was called home from Moscow for consultation, he found himself spending a total of seven hours with the president, in contrast to the half-hour calls he used to pay to President Eisenhower. Kennedy discussed the Soviet problem with Thompson and the two other senior American diplomats in that field, Charles E. Bohlen and George F. Kennan. Sitting with them and with Secretary of State Rusk and McGeorge Bundy, his assistant for national-security affairs, the president let the experienced men talk themselves out without so much as giving a clue to his own feeling, which might have induced some to follow his hint. The decision to bring Kennan back into the government as ambassador to Yugoslavia was Kennedy’s own, and it is generally rated as a brilliant stroke.