Clark M. Clifford

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Clark McAdams Clifford (December 25, 1906 - October 10, 1998) was an American lawyer who served Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, serving as Secretary of Defense for the latter.


Early Life and Career

Clifford was born in Fort Scott, Kansas. He attended college and law school at Washington University, and practiced law in St. Louis, Missouri between 1928 and 1943.

Served in the U.S. Navy during World War II; U.S. Secretary of Defense, 1968-69. Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. However, his service in the Navy didn't matter when he was buried at Arlington; it was his service as defense secretary, because he oversaw the armed forces.

He served as an officer with the Navy from 1944 to 1946, including assignment as assistant naval aide and naval aide to the president. After separation from the Navy, he held the position of special counsel to the president from 1946 to 1950. During this period he participated extensively in the legislative efforts that resulted in the National Security Act of 1947 and its 1949 amendments.

Truman Advisor

In July 1945 Clifford attended the Potsdam Conference near Berlin with President Turman.

Throughout 1946 tension between the United States and the Soviet Union grew. In July 1946, President Harry S. Truman asked Clifford, who was serving as special counsel, to compile a list of agreements the Soviet Union had broken or were not living up to. Clifford and his assistant, George Elsey, reviewed every aspect of post World War II Soviet behaviour and American-Soviet relations.

The two aides interviewed senior officials in the Defense Department, FBI, and all agencies of government dealing with the Soviet Union. The Clifford-Elsey report put the blame squarely on Stalin for the breakdown of relations between the wartime allies. It concluded that "the Soviet Union constitutes a real menace to freedom in this world; freedom in Europe; free­dom in the United States. So we must prepare for it."

According to Howard Zinn, Clifford advised Truman to connect the intervention in Greece in 1947 to a blood for oil policy—the great natural resources of the Middle East. Clifford was also one of the principal architects of the National Security Act of 1947, which unified the armed services and in which he wrote the basic legislation establishing the CIA.

After leaving the government in 1950 Clifford practiced law in Washington, but continued to advise the White House occasionally. In 1960 he was a member of President-elect Kennedy's Committee on the Defense Establishment, headed by Stuart Symington. In May 1961 Kennedy appointed him to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which he chaired beginning in April 1963. After President Johnson entered office, Clifford served frequently as an unofficial counselor and sometimes undertook short-term official duties, including a trip with General Maxwell Taylor in 1967 to Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Clifford estimated that in the year prior to his appointment as secretary of defense he had spent about half of his time advising the president and the other half with his law firm.

Secretary of Defense

On 19 January 1968 President Johnson announced his selection of Clark M. Clifford as McNamara's successor.

Clifford replaced Robert McNamara as Lyndon Johnson's secretary of defense in 1968. Shortly thereafter, Clifford convinced Johnson to deny General William Westmoreland's request for an additional 206,000 American troops in Vietnam.

Widely known and respected in Washington and knowledgeable on defense matters when he became secretary of defense on 1 March 1968, Clifford was generally hailed as a worthy successor to McNamara. Many regarded the new secretary as more of a hawk on Vietnam than McNamara and thought his selection might presage an escalation of the U.S. military effort there. Clifford attempted to allay such fears when, responding to a query on whether he was a hawk or dove, he remarked, "I am not conscious of falling under any of those ornithological divisions."


Vietnam occupied most of Clifford's time and attention during his less than 11 months in office. He did not change the management system McNamara installed at the Pentagon, and for the most part assigned internal administration to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze. Clifford made no effort to depart from McNamara's policies and programs on such matters as nuclear strategy, NATO, and military assistance, but he favored the Sentinel ABM system McNamara gave only lukewarm backing. He wanted to deploy the system and supported congressional appropriations for it. One important effect of Sentinel construction, he thought, would be to encourage the Soviet Union to enter arms control talks with the United States. Indeed, before Clifford left office, the Johnson administration made arrangements for negotiations that eventually led to the ABM limitation treaty in 1972.

Clifford continued McNamara's highly publicized Cost Reduction Program, announcing that over $1.2 billion had been saved in FY 1968 as a result of the effort. Faced with a congressionally mandated reduction of expenditures in FY 1969, Clifford suspended the planned activation of an infantry division and deactivated 50 small ships, 9 naval air squadrons, and 23 Nike-Hercules launch sites.

By the time Clifford became secretary, DoD work on the FY 1969 budget was complete. It amounted in total obligational authority to $77.7 billion, almost $3 billion more than in FY 1968. The final FY 1970 budget, which Clifford and his staff worked on before they left office, amounted to $75.5 billion TOA.

Clifford took office committed to continuing the president's Vietnam policies. At his nomination hearing, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the limited objective of the United States was to guarantee to the South Vietnamese people the right of self-determination. He opposed ending the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam but acknowledged that the situation could change. In fact, on 31 March 1968, just a month after Clifford arrived at the Pentagon, President Johnson, in an effort to get peace talks started, ordered the cessation of bombing north of the 20th parallel, an area comprising almost 80 percent of North Vietnam's land area and 90 percent of its population. In the same address, Johnson announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection in 1968. Soon the North Vietnamese agreed to negotiations, which began in Paris in mid-May 1968. Later, on 31 October 1968, to encourage the successful outcome of these talks, the president, with Clifford's strong support, ordered an end to all bombing in North Vietnam.

Clifford, like McNamara, had to deal with frequent requests for additional troops from military commanders in Vietnam. When he became secretary, the authorized force in Vietnam was 525,000. At the end of March 1968 the president agreed to send 24,500 more troops on an emergency basis, raising authorized strength to 549,500, a figure never reached. Even as he oversaw a continued buildup, Clifford preferred to emphasize the points President Johnson had made in his 31 March address: that the South Vietnamese army could take over a greater share of the fighting, that the administration would place an absolute limit on the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam, and that it would take steps, including the bombing restrictions, to reduce the combat level.

Eventually Clifford moved very close, with the president's tacit support, to the position McNamara held on Vietnam just before he left office - no further increases in U.S. troop levels, support for the bombing halt, and gradual disengagement from the conflict. By this time Clifford clearly disagreed with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who believed, according to the Washington Post, "that the war was being won by the allies" and that it "would be won if America had the will to win it." After he left office, Clifford, in the July 1969 issue of Foreign Affairs, made his views crystal clear: "Nothing we might do could be so beneficial . . . as to begin to withdraw our combat troops. Moreover . . . we cannot realistically expect to achieve anything more through our military force, and the time has come to begin to disengage. That was my final conclusion as I left the Pentagon on 20 January 1969."

Although the Johnson administration ended under the cloud of the Vietnam War, Clifford concluded his short term as secretary of defense with his reputation probably enhanced. He got along well with Congress, and this helped him to secure approval of at least some of his program. Besides settling in to his duties quickly and efficiently, Clifford capably managed the initial de-escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict; indeed, he apparently strongly influenced the president in favor of the de-escalation strategy. As he left office to return to his law practice in Washington, Clifford expressed the hope and expectation that international tension would abate, citing the shift in the Vietnam confrontation from the battlefield to the conference table and the evident willingness of the Soviet Union to discuss limitations on strategic nuclear weapons.

Special Presidential Emissary to India

In 1980, as Special Presidential Emissary to India appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Clifford threatened the newly established regime of Ayatolla Khomeini with war for their intransigence in negotiating the release of hostages.


In 1991, Clifford's memoirs Counsel to the President (co-authored with Richard Holbrooke) were published just as his name was implicated in the unfolding Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal. The bank, with Clifford as its chairman, was called First American Bankshares and became the largest in Washington. Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney in New York City, disclosed that his office had found evidence that the parent company of Clifford's bank was secretly controlled by BCCI. The district attorney convened a grand jury to determine whether Clifford and his partner, Robert Altman, had deliberately misled federal regulators when the two men assured them that BCCI would have no control.

Clifford's predicament worsened when it was disclosed he had made about $6 million in profits from bank stock that he bought with an unsecured loan from BCCI. A New York grand jury handed up indictments, as did the Justice Department. Clifford's assets in New York, where he kept most of his investments, were frozen.

The "Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate" led by Senators John Kerry and Hank Brown noted that a key strategy of "BCCI's successful secret acquisitions of U.S. banks in the face of regulatory suspicion was its aggressive use of a series of prominent Americans," Clifford among them [1] ( Clifford, who prided himself on decades of meticulously ethical civic conduct, summed his predicament up when he told a reporter from the New York Times, "I have a choice of either seeming stupid or venal." Indictments against Clifford had been set aside because of his failing health.

External links

Preceded by:
Robert McNamara
United States Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by:
Melvin Laird

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