John F. Lehman Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Managing National Security Policy: Conversation with
John F. Lehman, Secretary of the Navy (1981-87); April 16, 1991, by Harry Kreisler

Page 3 of 5

Working under Kissinger and Weinberger

You served under two of the most important figures in the national security field, Henry Kissinger and Cap Weinberger. How would you compare them, especially along the lines of these obstacles that you've been talking about and the requirements for leadership?

They're very different kinds of individuals, with many things in common. They're both very bright people, and both with a clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish.

Kissinger was harder to work for, although I enjoyed it immensely. You have to have a thick skin, because Kissinger has a famous temper, although it's not a mean temper. He loses his temper twenty times a day. I guess that's one of his great advantages, he can vent stress. But he vents it on people that are around him.

Like you.

Like me, many times, yes; and so one had to adjust to these temper tantrums. But he was very satisfying to work for, in that if you had good ideas, he made use of them right away. So you really had a sense that you were participating in the process. If you had sloppy work, I mean, the fury was ... and you didn't do it too many times. So he was very satisfying to work for in that sense.

Weinberger is much more sensitive to human factors. He's a gentleman, as Kissinger is a gentleman, but I mean, Weinberger would never want to offend anyone intentionally, or unintentionally, and so he was much easier from a day-to-day point of view to work with.

Both of them shared a willingness and an ability to delegate. Both could give you clear ideas of what they wanted, and then let you go do it, and not micromanage the way you did it. But they held you accountable for results. I always remember and repeat to my subordinates, and have many times, what Kissinger used to say. At first when I used to hear of some disaster that we had to deal with, some crisis that the State Department was doing wrong, or some catastrophe around the world, I loved to come running over to him and say, "Henry, look what these idiots at State have just done." And he always had a pat reply. He said, "Look, I've got enough problems. Don't bring me problems, bring me solutions. Don't come over here until you can tell me how we resolve this problem." So it's something I've always remembered, that everybody can come up with issues to worry about, but very few people can come up with doable solutions.

Weinberger was the same way. If there's one thing in people who have accomplished a good deal in government that I found they hold in common, it's the ability to delegate and still hold people accountable, and keep them going more or less in the same policy direction. That's the way they leverage their time: find good, effective people, and make sure they understand the big picture and where the leader wants them to go, but then launch them off and let them do the task.

Weinberger was much less interested in detail than Henry was. But, again, Henry would pick specific areas like the Middle East and Soviet - U.S. relations, where he wanted to know everything that was going on. He ran it every day; nothing happened in the bureaucracy without him knowing about it either before or after the fact. He held a tight reign on those issues that he was [most concerned about]. The rest of it, he couldn't care less. He let the State Department run Latin America and Africa, and everywhere else, except where he was interested in.

Weinberger was much more interested in ... in many ways, he was very much like Ronald Reagan, in that he had a vision, an idea of what he wanted to do. In terms of the Pentagon, he felt his task was to get more money, and to let the services go ahead and restore the strength by filling up the ammunition bins, and buying the Tomahawk missiles. He didn't try to micromanage that; he's been criticized for that. But he spent his time at the White House advising the president, at Congress arguing for the budget, infighting with David Stockman to preserve the Pentagon's share of the pie.

He accepted the Pentagon bureaucracy as his. He became the pater familius of this 90,000-person bureaucracy. It was the only thing he could have done, given the mandate that he had at the beginning of the Reagan administration. I think that he was ill-served and perhaps a little naïve about the goodness of that bureaucracy and its effectiveness, and as a result, opportunities to reduce it, to make it more accountable, were lost early on. But that's not a criticism, because the job of Secretary of Defense is an impossible job. You have to choose whether you're going to be the president's cabinet advisor or you're going to dig into that enormous, monstrous bureaucracy. You can't do both.

That's what Dick Cheney is doing. I mean, he's not pretending to be running the Department. He is certainly responsible for decisions like canceling a twelve-base closure, and that kind of thing. But actually running the "warp and woof" of this enormous enterprise? No, it's too big for one person to do. In fact, the organization is too big. It is not really an organization. It is a notional collection of independent entities like the Defense Logistics Agency that only exist in the minds of congressmen as a single bureau amenable to a chief executive. It's equivalent, for instance, to the top thirty Fortune-500 companies combined, in assets under management. So, obviously, no one CEO could run such an organization.

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