With Presidents to the Summit

By Nordquist, Myron H | Naval War College Review, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

With Presidents to the Summit


Nordquist, Myron H, Naval War College Review


Clift, A. Denis. With Presidents to the Summit. Fairfax, Va.: George Mason Univ. Press, 1993. 211pp. $23.95

This book provides an insider's recollections of a decade of presidential summit meetings. The author was the consummate staffer on the National Security Council during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Convincing evidence of Clift's professionalism came when newly elected Vice President Walter Mondale selected Clift to stay on in a Democratic administration to handle for him foreign policy, intelligence, and defense affairs. The reader is not left to wonder why Mondale decided on Clift. The author explains the pitch he made for the job, in pages 130-134.

Clift's career in staffing summits began with preparations in 1971 for the 1972 U.S.-Soviet summit and ended in mid-1980s meetings with four African heads of state. Notable activities in between were a succession of visits by foreign leaders during America's Bicentennial and the 1978 Camp David summit on the Middle East.

Clift conveys a genuine flavor of the atmosphere that surrounds summits. For example, he describes Cyrus Vance whizzing back and forth on a golf cart between the courtly Menachem Begin and the reclusive Anwar Sadat, in a Camp David version of shuttle diplomacy. At the same time, this book is about process, not substance. The author lists the agenda, but he does not provide blow-by-blow accounts of negotiations or in-depth analyses of policy outcomes. However, his attention to detail is sometimes incredible, such as the exact weight of a cannon ball or the number of chandeliers and varieties of wood in a drawing room. …

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