Eunuchs and Bosoms: Ambassadorial Appointments in The Golden Age of Richard Nixon

In 1975, Richard Nixon was required to give evidence to a Grand Jury, set up to follow the loose ends from the various investigations set in motion with the Watergate scandals.

These included the thorny question of how did the 18 and a half minute gap come to be created on a critical white House tape, along with allegations that ambassadorships had been “sold” in return for campaign contributions.

On the latter score, Nixon essentially took the line that contributions were neither a qualification nor a disqualification for diplomatic office, but that contributors could at least expect to be considered.

At the time it would have been understood (especially in light of the pardon conferred on Nixon by President Ford) that it was most unlikely that the Grand Jury testimony would ever see the light of day. So, Nixon, typical in situations away from the glare of scrutiny, offered a few unguarded insights into the world of diplamacy, as seen from the Oval Office. However, with Nixon’s usual good fortune, the testimony has now seen the light of day as a consequence of public interest litigation.

Released today, the testimony offers such insights as:

  •  Nixon denies – well, probably denies – that previous Presidents signed off on assassinations:

It seems to me today that when you pick up the papers, and particularly in recent weeks, and read of former presidents, President Kennedy, for example, President Johnson, even President Eisenhower, being accused of approving or participating in discussions in which there was approval of assassination of other people is very much not in the national interest, and probably it is, of course, not true.

  •  Did Chuck Colson go too hard after their “hearts and minds”?:

 As far as career ambassadors, most of them are a bunch of eunuchs, and I don’t mean that in a physical sense, but I meant it in an emotional sense, in a mental sense.

  • Nixon clarifies what ambassadors need to bring in terms of assets:

I would say, looking at the smaller countries like Luxembourg, that Pearl [sic] Mesta wasn’t sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Pearl Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution.

[Perle Mesta was appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg by Harry Truman. A renowned hostess, she is said to be the model of the lead in Irving Berlin’s musical,  “Call Me Madam”, featuring such tunes as The Hostess With the Mostes’ on the Ball” and “Can You Use Any Money Today”.]

  •  But in his case, alas, Luxembourg was taken:

It only meant that Robert Strausz-Hupe had been serving with great distinction in one post — think his post was Ceylon, or some God-awful place, but anyway here think we finally moved him to Europe

  •  You do have to acknowledge that unions like the Teamsters have a long history of sending “emissaries”:

I insisted on a couple labor leaders. You would be interested to know what the reaction of Mr. Rogers was. He said, “You can’t send the ‘deese’ and ‘doose’ guys over there to be an ambassador any place,” and I say, “Look, I am not interested in their grammar; I am not interested in whether or not their syntax is very good or marginal; I am interested in their character and their ability to handle things,”

  • The Nixon White House had a magnificent money back guarantee. Of course you can – when you run your election campaign at a profit!

I must have had reasons for making the policy decision overall affecting all financial contributors, that if they felt they had a commitment and we couldn’t keep it, to return their money. We had a four million dollar surplus after the campaign, for example. There was no problem.

  •  But – I repeat – but, ambassadorships were not for sale. More like rented by the hour:

Fund raisers have gone around the world and over the United States and gotten money from people with the understanding they can use that term, maybe, or with commitments that they would be considered or maybe even appointed ambassador.

  •  Of course, Nixon extended his usual magnanimity to the Kennedy clan:

 None of us are naive enough and certainly we are all aware of the stories that have appeared with regard to an appointment, for example, of Mr. Joseph Kennedy as ambassador to Britain. They didn’t appoint him there because, certainly, he was pro-British. I think he was a pretty good appointment, as a matter of fact, up to a point. After all, at least he increased the Scotch supply here.

  •  What the (no profanity) is it with Luxembourg!

On June 26 somebody came in and said now there is a Mrs.Ruth Farkas,if you just give her an ambassadorship to Costa Rica or Luxembourg, neither of which means no profanity — means anything to us in terms of our foreign policy.

Costa Rica means something to you because Mr.Vesco is there, but otherwise it means nothing to me except San Jose is a lovely city and Luxembourg is important because it is a good place to put a woman who is attractive and likes to be in the social stage in Europe.

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