June 7, 2017

1968. Defense Secretary Clifford Prepares to Leave for NATO Summit

Clark Clifford Departs for Brussels
Clark Clifford, presidential adviser and future Secretary of Defense, sits down with President Lyndon Johnson, July 14, 1967 (Photo by Yoichi Okamoto - source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

April 17, 1968

One of the first things that became obvious when Defense Secretary Clark Clifford took office some weeks ago was that the new Pentagon chief is no Robert McNamara. And after some seven years of McNamara's regime, the military and civilian leaders of the nation's defense establishment are not sure whether this is good or bad.

McNamara shielded his personal feelings behind a brilliant mind that demanded precision and rationality even in social relationships. Clark Clifford, on the other hand, is a man full of anecdotes and a kind of stately charm.

While McNamara gave the impression that he was either going to or just had finished running the three minute mile, the new Defense Secretary walks into a room with the leisurely air of a man who has just dropped in from a stroll in the park.

McNamara used to irritate his generals and admirals who make a career of military punctuality. When they showed up on the dot for a Pentagon conference they usually found that their boss had arrived ten seconds earlier.

Which brings us to this morning's departure by Secretary Clifford for a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

Pentagon reporters, used to McNamara's habits, showed up well before the 7 AM departure time at Andrews Air Force Base in nearby Maryland. The secretary's four-engined jet and its crew were waiting. So were the Defense Department staff and advisers going with Clifford. 7 AM arrived—no secretary. The time stretched to 7:05, then 7:10, and Air Force captains and colonels began to get nervous.

Finally, down the road from the gate to the passenger terminal came a big black limousine—not driving very fast, either. Out stepped Clark Clifford, blinking in the morning sun. Certainly, he said, he had time to talk to the network microphones. He warned us he couldn't be very specific about his mission to NATO, or the Vietnam peace feelers now underway.

"But I'll tell you one thing, gentlemen," the Secretary of Defense declared. "Next time I'll try to do something about these early morning departure times. 7 AM? It's uncivilized!"

This is Bill Downs in Washington for Information Reports.