19 May 1988 - 21 May 1988

The Next American Presidency: Foreign Policy Agenda and Issues

Chair: Mr John E Rielly

A joint conference with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations at Wingspread, Wisconsin

This conference, the second in the history of Ditchley's partnership with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, was held at Wingspread, Racine, Wisconsin, by courtesy of The Johnson Foundation and the Johnson Wax Co, who kindly accommodated the Ditchley party in the Company's Council House. Our agenda was wide-ranging and did not lend itself to firm conclusions. It was nevertheless an interesting and worth-while occasion, providing for the non-Americans present a fascinating insight into American thinking in the run-up to the two Party Conventions, and for the Americans, I hope, a fresh view of European concerns. It is perhaps worth noting that probably only in the United States could such a meeting be held, even 6 months before an election, without risking embarrassment or offence.   

We opened with a strong affirmation that contrary to public belief, the power of the Presidency remained largely intact: in particular, the War Powers Resolution had never been invoked by any President; and Presidents could usually obtain ratification of their treaties or, if forced to withdraw them, could nonetheless proceed as if they had. The maverick role played by Congress in foreign affairs was remarked on by some but disputed by others.

We then had an optimistic - some thought over-optimistic - assessment of the Reagan Administration, one of the most successful in American history, it was claimed. While no doubt the new Administration would face many problems, none were catastrophic and all were susceptible to rational analysis and solution - force reductions (with a price exacted from the Warsaw Pact), trade, third world debt, to name a few.

In the general debate a number of points were made. The Reagan Administration had tended to react against the US tradition of internationalism by going it alone: Dukakis would return to the tradition, though he no more favoured mindless nationalism than mindless internationalism. The cavalier attitude towards international law of recent years (for example, the withholding of dues to international bodies) would be reversed. In general the US public expected US foreign policy to comport with US ideals in both ends and means, which it had not always done in recent years.

Some suggested that there had been a loss of confidence in the US in American power: for example, it was said, the troubles in Poland were no longer seen as an American responsibility but a matter for the Poles. Others however stressed the strength and confidence of the US which perhaps had still to learn the lessons of the global economy and economic inter-dependence.

It was generally agreed that while foreign affairs would be important in the election campaign, they would not, in the absence of a major event, be decisive, even though a majority of the electorate thought that the US stood less high in the world than a few years ago and would welcome greater US activism abroad. The issues addressed would in any case have little connection with those confronting a new Administration - reality would quickly impose itself. Dukakis was less strong than Bush on defence, opposing SDI, the Trident D5 and Midgetman programmes and the battle carrier groups - no doubt he would find some weapon system to support, though he would place greater reliance on conventional than on nuclear armaments. In his campaign platform Nicaragua and South Africa would figure largely, but otherwise there were great similarities between the two candidates, especially on East-West relations and arms control. On defence expenditure there was a growing consensus that there could be little or no real growth in future. On trade, Dukakis was the most inclined to the free trade tradition of the Democratic Party, a tradition usurped in recent years by the Republicans. On human rights, both parties now took rather similar positions. The real test in any Presidential election however was of personality: was the candidate someone to be trusted to exercise power? Only if he passed that test did other issues become significant.

Despite differing remits of the three groups, there was much over-lapping in their reports. As a backdrop, bi-partisanship in foreign affairs had regrettably broken down and, though some saw hopeful signs, was not likely to be re-established. The foreign policy establishment of the war and post-war period no longer existed: those involved were more diverse and the sense of service was lacking. Points of difference between the US and European electoral processes were noted, with foreign affairs playing normally little part in the United Kingdom, rather more in the Federal Republic. Moreover in those two countries electors were choosing a team, not one person. The American system, it was remarked, had finally produced two credible candidates.

It was agreed that whoever was elected, the new Administration would face as its first priorities the economic situation and trade (while both parties ruled out tax increases, the Democrats had spoken of "revenue enhancement"). Other issues would include the fights against terrorism and drugs, both popular. If a Democrat President were elected, Northern Ireland, which had figured in the 1984 platform and would do so again, and South Africa would be major issues and would generate friction with allies, especially the UK. The Gulf War and the Middle East would present themselves, neither likely to prove any more tractable than in the past. Arms control would be a continuing concern (here the Reagan Administration had achieved the isolation of the Republican right). A Democrat Administration would have to re-learn from scratch the art of handling sensitive allies (it was noted that some 3500 senior staff fall due to be replaced when a new Administration takes office), especially at a time when "burden-sharing" ("mutual assurance" or "shared responsibility" might be better terms) would be a continuing issue in the evolving Alliance, as the European Community moved towards 1992 and greater economic and political cohesion and authority. In this field it would be important to agree on the threat and then define the burdens.

Surprisingly East-West relations did not figure much in the discussion, perhaps because it was assumed that they would continue to have a high place, but perhaps also because, with the exception of developments in East Europe, they were not seen as likely to generate crises, even with Moscow having to learn to deal with new US leaders. The INF Treaty would be ratified (since achieved) and there would be progress on arms control issues, with great emphasis on conventional and chemical weapons.

There was some discussion of the personalities of the two probable candidates. Dukakis was presented as a "conviction politician”, a man who, after listening to his advisers, formed his own views. While it was true that his experience in office had been confined to domestic affairs, he had travelled abroad, to Korea in the war and as a young man to work in Peru, and spoke fluent Spanish as well as some French and Greek. To counter any weakness here in his campaign, he would no doubt play on his opponent's involvement in Irangate and Panama.

Vice-President Bush had great experience in a variety of Federal offices, especially in foreign affairs, but suffered inevitably from the handicap that any Vice-President is tarred by the Administration's failing but given no credit for its successes. He gave the impression of a man trying to live up to the image of his highly successful politician father. He believed in the priority for the US of Europe; and the position of the US as the major adversary of the Soviet Union was deeply felt. Thus Mr Bush would be cautious in analysing the changes in the Soviet Union, where they were to be trusted, where not. In all this he would no doubt seem in his campaign to present himself as the man best fitted to negotiate with Moscow.

Perhaps the last word on the conference might be the remark of one participant that on both sides of the Atlantic we tended to take it for granted that we knew each other very well, which was not entirely true. The meeting went some way towards putting that belief into perspective and substituting greater understanding.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Mr John E Rielly
President, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations


Sir Antony Buck QC MP

Member of Parliament (Conservative), Colchester North; Barrister-at-Law; Chairman, Conservative Parliamentary Defence Committee; Member, Executive, 1922 Committee
Mr Roger Carrick CMG MVO
HM Consul General, Chicago
Mr Brian Fall CMG
Minister, British Embassy, Washington
Mr Nigel Forman MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Carshalton and Wallington; Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer; Vice-Chairman, Conservative Finance Committee and All Party Social Science and Policy Committee
The Hon David Gore-Booth
Head of Planning Staff, FCO; a member of the Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation
Sir John Graham Bt GCMG
Director of the Ditchley Foundation
Mr John Thorold Masefield CMG
Head, Far Eastern Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Mr Tom McNally
Head of Public Affairs, Hill and Knowlton
Professor Adam Roberts
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations and Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford; Member of Council, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Mr George Robertson MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Hamilton; Opposition Spokesman on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Principal Opposition Spokesman on European Affairs; Member, Council, British Atlantic Committee, Governing Body, Great Britain East Europe Centre, Council, Royal Institute of International Affairs; a member of the Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation
Mr John Roper
Research Fellow and Editor, International Affairs, Royal Institute of International Affairs; Vice-Chairman, Great Britain East Europe Centre
Mr Malcolm Rutherford
Assistant Editor and Political Columnist, Financial Times
Sir Ian Trethowan
Chairman, Thames Television Ltd, Horserace Betting Levy Board; Director, Barclays Bank (UK); Consultant and Director, Thom EMI; an Independent Director, Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd; Chair­man, British Museum Society; a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation
Mrs Heather Weeks
Deputy Director of the Ditchley Foundation
The Rt Hon Lord Windlesham CVO PC
Chairman, The Parole Board; a Governor, Vice Chairman of the Council of Management and Chairman, the Programme Committee, the Ditchley Foundation
Mr Robert Worcester
Chairman and Managing Director, Market and Opinion Research International (MORI); Consultant to The Times and The Economist; Member, Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation

Professor John F Godfrey

Editor, The Financial Post, Toronto; author

Dr Gerhard Henze

Minister-Counselor, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Washington DC
Mr Thomas Kielinger
Editor in Chief, Rheinischer Merkur, Bonn; lecturer and broadcaster; book and arts critic

Professor Jeffrey Bergner

Chairman, Berman, Bergner & Boyette, Inc.; Adjunct Professor, National Security Studies, Georgetown University
Mr William Boyd
President, The Johnson Foundation
Mr Donald Clark
Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer, Household International, Inc; Director, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Clarkson University, Lyric Opera, Square D Company, Warner-Lambert Company; Trustee, Committee for Economic Development, Evanston Hospital, Northwestern University
Professor Bernard Cohen
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Professor of Political Science, the University of Wisconsin at Madison
Mr Arthur Cyr
Vice President and Program Director, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations; Lecturer, Public Policy, Political Science, University of Chicago, University of Illinois
Mr Fithian Floyd
Chief of Staff, US Senator Paul Simon
Mr Cyrus F Freidheim
Senior Vice President, Booz, Allen & Hamilton (Chicago); Vice Chairman, Chicago Orchestral Association; Vice President, Chicago Central Area Committee; Visiting Committees for Public Policy, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago; Executive Committee, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
Professor Richard Gardner
Professor of Law and International Organisations, School of Law, Columbia University in the City of New York; Member, Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation
Mr Robert Helman
Partner, Mayer, Brown &Platt(1967-); Co-Chairman, Management Committee, Mayer, Brown & Platt; Director: The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics
Dr Robert Hunter
Director, European Studies and Senior Fellow, Middle Eastern Studies, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington; Special Advisor on Lebanon to the Speaker of the House Of Representatives and Lead Consultant to the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (the Kissinger Commission)
Mr Craig Kennedy
President, the Joyce Foundation; Chairman, Donors forum of Chicago
Mr Robb Kurz
Legislative Assistant for Defense and Foreign Policy, Congressman Richard A Gephardt
Mr Robert McNeill
Executive Vice President, Stein Roe and Farnham
Mrs Harle Montgomery
Member, Board of Directors, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations; Member, Founder’s Council and Women’s Board, the Field Museum of Natural History; Trustee, Scripps Memorial Hospital (California)
Dr Kenneth Montgomery
Counsel, Wilson & Mcllvaine; Visiting Committees, Notre Dame Law School, Stanford Law School, University of Chicago Law School; Trustee, Rush-Presbyterian-St Luke’s Hospital, Lake Forest College, Harvard Law Society, University Club Foundation;
Mr Philip Odeen
Managing Partner, Washington and Mid-Atlantic Region, Coopers & Lybrand
Mr William Pfaff
Political Columnist, International Herald Tribune and Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Senator Dan Quayle
Member, United States Senate (Republican-Indiana); Member, Armed Services, Budget, and Labor and Human Re­sources Committees, US Senate
Mr John Richman
Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Kraft Inc; Trustee, Northwestern University; Chairman, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
Dr John Sears
Principal, John P Sears, Washington DC
Mr Robert Squier
President, The Film Co and The Communication Co;
Mr Jon Vondracek
Adviser to the President and Director of Communications, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC