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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||9.55(w) x 11.23(h) x 0.69(d)|
On Tuesday, July 29, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Pierre Salinger, author of JOHN F. KENNEDY COMMANDER IN CHIEF.
JainBN: Welcome, Mr. Salinger! Thanks for joining us this evening.
Pierre Salinger: It is a great pleasure to be here. I had a great event at Barnes & Noble last night.
JainBN: Which B&N did you visit?
Pierre Salinger: At the Boston Barnes & Noble. I was surprised at how many people showed up and bought my new book.
JainBN: Here's our first question.
Question: What do you think about President Clinton's role as commander in chief? Though he has not really had to take on that role, how would you say he has done in his limited experiences?
Pierre Salinger: President Clinton is the first president since World War II to become commander in chief without any military background. After 1992 he was heavily criticized for not participating in the Vietnam War. Still, after becoming president, he has solved some very important military problems and done some things that turned out to be successful, particularly in Haiti and Bosnia.
Question: Why do you think President Kennedy has not received the respect he deserves as one of the top commanders in chief?
Pierre Salinger: Well, people should read my book, because John Kennedy was one of the top military presidents in history. If not for his military background, he would not have been able to do some of the important things he did in dangerous crises. For example, we were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis and very close to nuclear war with the Soviet Union, but Kennedy solved that problem In the opening meeting, when they learned of these missiles, there were Joint Chiefs present. General Curtis Lemay said, "We have to bomb those areas immediately." This shocked Kennedy, because he knew that if we had bombed at this moment, a war would have started. Instead the decision was made, with counsel by Robert Kennedy, that Cuba would be surrounded by American ships to make sure that no Soviet ship could bring more difficult things into Cuba. That decision was intelligent, because it allowed us to have days of dialogue to solve the problem before a war exploded.
Question: What are your plans for the future?
Pierre Salinger: My plans are the following As you know, I worked for 15 years in Europe at ABC TV; I was their chief foreign correspondent, in charge of covering some of the biggest world crises that occurred during that period. For example I was the one who got all the information on how the U.S. was secretly working out a plan to get American hostages out of Iran in 1980, and I was very much involved in covering the Gulf War. But different than other journalists, I was looking into why the war started. I was able to discover that if the White House had warned the Iraq people that if they invaded Kuwait, the U.S. would intervene, the war would not have taken place. But the U.S. never did warn them. In 1993, I left journalism and became vice chairman of the biggest public-relations company in the world, Burston-Marsteller. I did global work for them, particularly working for foreign clients in South Korea, Egypt, and Mexico. In September of last year, I left them and am now an independent PR person working as a consultant for people in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world. This is something I want to continue doing, because many of these companies are doing things that can help the future of the world, particularly one U.S. company that has developed strong information on how to cut back on nuclear waste.
Question: What went wrong for Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs? In your opinion, what should he have done differently?
Pierre Salinger: The Bay of Pigs was clearly the most unintelligent thing that Kennedy did. But if he had been smart enough not to inherit a covert operation that had been created by Eisenhower, he would not have been dropped into this problem. The day after he was elected, the CIA showed up to brief him on what the Eisenhower administration was doing in the Bay of Pigs and how they wanted him to continue this operation. They told him that there were strong people in the CIA and the Pentagon who would be his advisers, since they knew how the operation should go forward. The operation collapsed, and it was then that I discovered that Kennedy was frustrated with the manner in which they advised him to go forward on this project. They simply did not understand the strong military power in Cuba at that time. There is one thing for people to understand Kennedy is the only President who, after he made a mistake, went to the public on TV and said that he was the President of the U.S. and had made a very serious mistake, and he took responsibility for it. Two weeks later, a Gallup poll came out showing that he had 82 percent support among the American public. I will never forget when he called me into his office after the poll and said, "I hope I don't have to continue doing stupid things like this to remain popular."
Question: Why do you think JFK was so close to the armed forces of his day, while there is a huge rift between today's armed forces and Clinton?
Pierre Salinger: Well, we must not forget that Kennedy was a World War II veteran and that he won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, which I won as well, for having saved lives during that war. Now, it is true that there were some people in the military who were not great fans of Kennedy, but at the same time, Kennedy organized a very special military operation in the White House, bringing in three top military people with whom he had great trust Army Major General Chester Clinton, Navy Captain Tazewell Shepard, and Airforce General Godfrey McHugh. He also brought in a very special general, Maxwell Taylor, to serve as the White House liaison with the Joint Chiefs. In my book, there is an interesting preface written by Arthur Schlesinger, who was also a top advisor to Kennedy during his presidency. Schlesinger wrote, "For all that is stressed of the top brass, Kennedy as an ex-fighting man himself had the warmest feelings and regard for American soldiers and sailors."
Question: What do you see in the future for the republics of the former Soviet Union?
Pierre Salinger: I am extremely concerned about what is happening in these republics right now. First of all, you must understand that for centuries, what became known as the Soviet Union was dominated by dictators. The way a dictatorship works, it freezes any efforts of different groups to emerge and complain about what is going on in the government. But once the dictators disappear, many of these things become unfrozen. What we have seen in what used to be the Soviet Union has been tremendous violence. The war in Armenia, the civil war in Georgia, the terrible war throughout -- as well as the erupting wars in southern Russia, which are dominated by Muslims and Islamic fundamentalists from Iran -- have penetrated these republics and are playing an important role. Obviously the economy is not doing well. You have millions of people in Russia who have not been paid their salaries for months, even more than a year. And let us not forget that the Soviet Union had enormous military power. That is split up now, and it is dangerous, because in areas where the populations are in difficult financial situations, it is not impossible that there are people who want to sell nuclear arms to countries that remain dangerous in our world.
Question: Mr. Salinger, I agree with you that a rocket did bring down TWA Flight 800. Why do you think the government has gone to great lengths to cover this up?
Pierre Salinger: That is a very tough question to answer. I still do believe -- and am supported by numerous important people -- that TWA 800 was brought down by a naval missile. I think one of the strange things we have seen happen is the attacks by the press and the FBI on what we have been saying. During all these periods that I spoke, the FBI and the NTSB never walked away from the possibility that TWA 800 was brought down by a missile, so it is obvious that it is not just the missile that is causing some people in the government to react, it is the information that it is a U.S. Navy missile that, while doing tests, brought down that plane. I have finished my investigation, I still strongly believe what I said, and I wait in eager anticipation to find out what the FBI and the NTSB will say. When that happens, I will go back and continue my investigation to see if what they say is true or not true.
Question: In your opinion, how has the role of the press secretary for the president of the United States changed since you held that position?
Pierre Salinger: There is no question that the role of the press secretary has changed dramatically. First of all, in the early '60s, there was no communications director. The press secretary was in charge of the media. I had access to the president five or six times a day. When the Nixon administration created the post of communications director, it became the strongest person with the media, and the press secretary lost power. I have known every press secretary since I left, and I know some who would only see the president once a month, because they were overshadowed by the communications director. However, one of the interesting things in recent years was that when Dee Dee Meyers was press secretary, she did not have that much access to the president; but since there were media attacks against Clinton, when he made Mike McCurry press secretary, he also decided that it might be better if he had long and daily links with him. I had meetings with McCurry and briefed him on how we handled the White House in the Kennedy days, particularly on how we opened the White House in such a way that the media had access to everything. This is something that has not happened in many years. By the way, McCurry is about to resign and become an ambassador, so we will see how the next press secretary does his job.
JainBN: Mr. Salinger, how has the media's attitude towards reporting on the private life of the president changed since the Kennedy administration? Is it less fair?
Pierre Salinger: That is an interesting question, because in the '60s, the media was not interested in the private lives of politicians. What happened in 1972 changed the media. Prior to 1972, when a candidate was running for president, we had a small number of primaries in the U.S. When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, there were 16 primaries; 34 states had no primaries, and in each of those states, the Republicans and the Democrats would run state conventions to start thinking about who should be the party's nominee for President. The point was that in those days, the parties were the total selection system. But in 1972, the parties went to 50 primaries, and that was the end of the influence of the political parties on the selection of presidential candidates -- and that woke up the media. If the parties have no influence, we should investigate all these candidates and find out what is happening in their private lives. That had a huge impact on the candidates.Let me close by saying that when Clinton ran for president in 1992, the press were already attacking him during the New Hampshire primary for having a mistress, but the interesting thing is that the American public has completely changed its mentality after all these years. People aren't interested in politicians' private lives anymore. We want to know what they will do for our country. That public view is why Clinton was elected president. And 70 percent of Americans don't care about Whitewater and other Clinton scandals. They only care how he is running the country and saving the economy. If Kennedy had never been elected, if Clinton ran in any year before '92, he would not have been elected.
JainBN: Thank you for joining us tonight, Mr. Salinger. Please come again!
Pierre Salinger: Thanks for having me, and have a great evening!