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The China Card

by

Donald Freed


 

January 12, 1984


CRISIS ATMOSPHERE


SENATE COMMITTEE CHALLENGES ADMINISTRATION

SENATOR DELLUMS CHARGES SECRET U.S.-CHINA NUCLEAR DEAL

BY

BETSY JONES-RUSSELL

(SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT TO THE LONDON TIMES)

WASHINGTON—Amidst an aura of alarm not felt in this capital since the Cuban missile crisis, the United States Senate acted today to exercise its constitutional rights concerning the power to make war.

The Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate demanded that Wolfgang H. Manheim, the President's powerful adviser on National Security Affairs, appear before the prestigious Senate unit in executive session. Senator Glenn Bower (R-Tex.), speaking for the minority members, stated that, "There is the smell of Pearl Harbor in the air," referring to the Japanese attack on the naval base in World War II.

In a related development Senator R. K. Dellums (D-Cal.) announced today that he would "go to the country" to tell the public the truth about "the impending and terrifying possibility of thermonuclear war breaking out between the United States and China on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other." Senator Dellums stated that he "had evidence" but "not proof" that the U.S. and China had reached "a secret and unconstitutional agreement" concerning the use of nuclear weapons against the USSR.

(Please turn to page 13, column 2)


1

WASHINGTON, D.C.—JANUARY 13, 1984 (FRIDAY)

BETSY JONES-RUSSELL: Tape one, side one . . . testing, testing . . . January 13, the year of our Lord 1984. At the Watergate Apartments, first interview with the Honorable W. H. Manheim. Dr. Manheim, there is a wire service story that the center ruling party of Japan may be brought down over its support for the U.S. policy of Japanese rearmament, which critics are calling the real China Card, and—these goddamn helicopters are impossible. They are spying on us, aren't they? Really, Dr. Manheim, as National Security Adviser, couldn't you call the White House about these dreadful green machines? I think . . .

She depressed the REWIND button. The big khaki-colored military helicopter hovered in a holding position outside the double windows while a Secret Service agent, inside, pressed a walkie-talkie against his mouth. The concussion from the rotors shook the entire suite. Inside her head, to herself, she shouted over the terrific chopping sound—"Watch out, don't fly into a rage—this mother ain't no piece of cake like little Henry Kissinger"—in what she fancied was an American dialect.

Four aides stood behind his chair, hanging over the high-muscled shoulders of the President of the United States' National Security Adviser. Each held out a memo for the man to speed-read. From the kitchen, she thought she heard the sound of Secret Service agents breaking dishes or something. The helicopter had started to withdraw, but it was still impossible to talk, so she gave her nervous gaze rein to rove about the "power environment"—she would need a more exact phrase—and to make mental notes while Manheim gave his attention to the memos.

The suite was unlike any other, she was sure, in the entire Water-gate Complex. More than six hundred square feet, she guessed, besides the small kitchen and the den or bedroom off of the foyer. No, he couldn't actually live in this laboratory setting, where wide windows seemed to have been designed to allow the surcharged official helicopters constant visual access to the meetings and ma-chinations taking place here. Some GSA designer had captured the big square main room in gray and blue, she decided, so that the inhabitants would be like insects set in wax in a K Box—open at one end so that the flying metallic organisms could scrutinize them at will.

She studied the heads bobbing around the long, almost tragic mask of a face of W.H. (Wolfgang Helmut) Manheim. She was accustomed to earning the enmity of the palace guard of whichever great man she happened to be bearding for one of her celebrated London Times "portraits," but this Manheim National Security staff was particularly grim, worse than the Kissinger groupies (how he had hated that phrase). No, this little cabal, she decided, would be dubbed "a gang of 1984 epigoni."

She watched Manheim's lucid and intelligent face frown and focus on memo after memo in almost lightning succession. This is a man, she told herself, who might appreciate the word "epigoni" and some of the other arcane vocabulary she liked to use in her prize-winning portraits of the great of the world.

The helicopter began its final pivot out of the Watergate Complex so she took the plunge and punched the ON button.

BETSY JONES-RUSSELL: . . . I think a bit louder . . . Uh, Dr. Manheim, the ground rules we discussed are, I believe, a series of, let's say, half a dozen short interviews—no photographs—and a copy of all tapes to your office within one week of completion. I believe that Mr. Kott has all this plus—

WOLFGANG MANHEIM: Plus the actual manuscript and the original of the tapes.

B. J-R: I'm not quite clear on why fair copies of the tapes won't do.

W.M.: You, the great girl reporter, you ask this question about interviews taking place in the Watergate?

B. J-R: Ah, I think I see what you mean . . . "Girl Reporter" I'll let pass. Now, perhaps we should—

W.M.: I hope the presence of the Secret Service people won't bother you. Let's see, you have met Peter Wick, my assistant, who will be keeping track of the time for us. And Andy Kott, and his aides Katy Brown and Ray Anderson, and then there are their aides—

B. J-R: But we're almost out of time already. Ah, Mr. Wick, you will, I take it, deduct any telephone call interruptions from the allotted time? Right. Well, sir, since that day when Mr. Nixon described the United States as a "pitiful giant," your country has suffered the most serious losses in southern and western Africa, at least three humiliations in Iran, reverses across the Middle East—

"Dr. Manheim, the President is on the line."

She watched him rise and stride, the aides scrabbling in his wake, toward the study or situation room or whatever it was. She dug in her tote bag for some notes, and as she looked up she caught one of the Secret Service men staring at her. She glared him down and back into the kitchen. "Horny young Arrow collar killer type," she thought, knowing how she looked in the tailored Ann Klein suit and shirt; how the gray weave set off her steel-blue eyes and honey hair caught in a chignon.

She stood and stretched, smiling as she read, upside down, sev-eral exposed clips from the official folder nearest to her on the large glass coffee table.


January 12, 1984

U.S., CHINA ASSAIL VIETNAM

FOR THAILAND BORDER ATTACK

BEIJING WARNS OF

THREAT TO REGION


BEIJING—China condemned the Vietnamese invasion of Thai-land and apparently put its troops along the Sino-Vietnamese border on alert Wednesday, a sign that Beijing may be prepar-ing to go to the aid of the Thais.

Diplomatic and military sources here predict massive Chi-nese retaliation against Soviet-sponsored Vietnam, for they

Please turn to page 8, column I


MANHEIM REAFFIRMS

PLEDGE TO BANGKOK

BY

BETSY JONES-RUSSELL

WASHINGTON—National Security Adviser Wolf Manheim on Wednesday condemned Vietnamese military attacks across the Cambodian border into Thailand and called on the Soviet Union to restrain its Vietnamese ally.

Manheim's statement pledged that the United States will "stand by its commitments" to Thailand under a 1954 agreement that has been periodically reaffirmed.

That agreement provides that in case of "aggression by armed attack," which endangers peace and security, "each party will act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes."

Meanwhile, it was disclosed that the United States will sell Thailand 35 M-48 tanks and associated equipment, worth $23 million. The sale was re-

Please turn to page 9, column I

MANHEIM PROFILE—B. J. RUSSELL

continued from page 3

A specialist in Soviet-American affairs, Manheim urges us to reflect carefully on the unimaginable destructiveness of military, political and economic forces building up around the world. These forces, he submits, are too much like those that created Auschwitz; for example, a combination of high technology and low regard for human life was necessary to unleash the Holocaust. Today's nuclear arms race involves those factors, too. Weakness only tempts aggressors, and thus Manheim finds no remedy in unilateral disarmament. Instead, he bets on "the expansion of economic ties and human contacts between East and West" as an indispensable first step toward world peace.

In 1945, the President's chief adviser was liberated by a black American soldier. Now his vision of blood and hope prods the United States to do its part to rescue the world. Success in that task depends, Manheim says, on the same traits that helped him to live through the Holocaust: clarity of mind; capacity to endure and to invent; conviction that "the struggle for survival in freedom must begin with oneself."

Who is Wolf Manheim?

"Who's Wolf Manheim, indeed," she repeated to herself. She looked up and away as the other Secret Service man crossed the room toward the bathroom.

"There will be no fraternizing with the bodyguards," she com-manded herself, recalling an episode in Uganda, then she began to muse about Andrew Kott, the one of all the aides she would call human. He was the overweight, balding, nail-biting whiz kid in his early thirties who represented the "left wing" of the National Secu-rity Adviser's staff (and that was a stretch, since Dr. Kott was a Polish Kremlinologist particularly despised by the Soviets). Yet Andy, as she decided she would call him, did throw off the ineluctable scent of a young man with a formidable brain, "and no woman can completely resist that organ," she soliloquized, drumming her slim, unringed hands on her flat belly as she leaned back into the couch, waiting. Then there was Peter Wick. "Danger," she thought, and passed to Ms. Brown, who was black and striking. "Which one or ones is she sleeping with?" Musing, "Certainly the great man, and possibly the runt, Andy Kott." No, Kott wore a wedding ring—if that meant anything. The other aide, Anderson, didn't count, "California type," she yawned out loud and flopped her long body on the divan again as the man of the hour reentered with his staff, laughing. "Newspapers speculating about World War III and they're laughing. I suppose that's good," she thought. Out loud, she merely cleared her throat and jabbed at the RECORD button again.

B.J-R.: You said, Dr. Manheim—Wolf—Oh, does smoking bother you?

W.M.: No, but it drives the SS boys, the Secret Service, into a panic. . . . No, go ahead, maybe they'll leave us alone.

B.J-R.: No, I'm trying to stop. Do you actually call the Secret Service "SS"?—You do? Well, that's good to know . . . Ah, you said that you're not certain whether we can meet again tomorrow, or Sunday. This is no problem for me. I'm staying next door at the Watergate Hotel, and I'll just stand by until I hear from you. I know that with what's happening you'll be pressed-—

W.M.: I'm pressed for time, yes. The President wants me to leave for China within the week.

B.J-R.: Yes, of course. Can you respond to European press charges that China and the U.S.—I'm referring to your upcoming Beijing trip—are drawing up contingency war plans? ... I beg your pardon? Umm, you are not responding to that charge? . . . Well, then let me erase this small talk and we can get started . . .

Peter Wick emerged from the other room to signal that someone of importance wanted to speak to the National Security Adviser. Manheim rose with a sigh and stalked out. In the charcoal Brooks Brothers suit he appeared even taller and leaner than his photograph. Everything about him looked to her to be lean, abstracted, as if he were come to life from a fifteenth-century German woodcut. A medieval knight, she decided, that was what he put her in mind of. His eyes were deep, dark-"haunted," she would later write, his shoulders hunched as if the hand of the God of the Middle Ages were gripping them. The bony face was pale and hard, and, to her, compelling, almost beautiful in a distinctly unmodern way. His hair was light brown and fine, cropped close to the long elegant skull. She kept trying to recall whom he reminded her of.

Peter Wick interrupted her fugue by bumping the table as he passed on his way to the kitchen, so she turned her much written about critical faculty on the lean and hungry Dr. Wick. "All Poles and no Jews," her smoky eyes narrowed, "or maybe Andy Kott was, half." Hmm, that might explain the minor interest that his skinny, poorly tailored figure had caused her. "Stop identifying with the victim," she lectured herself, breaking a cigarette in half, "there's a world crisis unfolding and there won't be time for sex this trip, much less with the entire staff . . . think about something else, something not sexual—like Peter Wick's green skin.

Wick and Kott were Poles left over from Zbig Brzezinski's shock troops. Why were they now attached to the most celebrated American dove since Adlai Stevenson? Wolf Manheim—the "civilized soldier," Time had called him in the "Man of the Year" cover story. American politics had become, since Vietnam, "like the House of Atreus," she had written in the introduction to her verbal portrait of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger had gone down, and the dove Vance had risen, only to be torn apart by the hawk Brzezinski. Then, the Ayatollah and Billy Carter, between them, had destroyed Zbig, and Wolf Manheim had risen from the ashes. Now both the Chinese and the Soviets were insisting on negotiating only with Manheim, and the hawkish Secretary of State, Clare Higgins III, was letting it leak that he would quit as soon as the crisis had peaked. With Higgins would go the ultra-Right—leashed in for four long years, starting to call hoarsely for Manheim's blood . . .

She knew that the dangerous contradiction all across the American power circle was fueled by much more than thunder on the Right. Since the days of Dean Rusk and Walt Whitman Rostow, the balance of diplomatic power had shifted away from the State Department to the National Security Council. A strong president could manipulate and play off State and the NSC against the Pentagon, or against each other. But there had not been a strong president since . . . "And they killed him," she reflected, staring without looking through the wall of windows, waiting for the helicopter to return.

Higgins's appointment had been a political payoff and Manheim had been ordered into the cabinet by the "Bank," as the Establishment was referred to in the 1983 Betsy Jones-Russell/Gore Vidal correspondence featured in Esquire. The great center forces of American capital, the Rockefeller circle, had always feared the Right more than the Left—". . . and what does that say about your liberals and your Left?" she had written, questioning Vidal.

Now, as she broke another cigarette in half and stared out over the stone Watergate vista, she realized how prophetic her published exchange with Vidal had been. For that matter, power had been an out of control centrifuge in America for many years. What did anyone expect?

There would, she knew, never be another John Foster Dulles. The Department of State, "Foggy Bottom," was a huge, elite bureaucracy, full of leaks. Compared to this many-thousand-headed monster, Wolf Manheim's NSC was a tight and effective human computer with a staff of less than fifty.

Before the crisis, even a weak chief executive had sometimes been able to protect his wavering standing in the polls by pitting his hawk, Higgins, against his dove, Manheim. Except that Manheim was the hawk—or a condor or an eagle, in terms of attack and tactics, in terms of power politics—and the "Bank" knew that; and not only Wall Street but Fleet Street, NATO and the rest of the West knew it too.

Behind the scenes, and through a series of leaks to his "elite assets" in the news media, Manheim had ridiculed the hard-line campaign to send a task force to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia to confront Soviet- and Cuban-backed forces. Manheim was reported to have stood to his full height and announced to the suddenly awake President, during a showdown in the Oval Office, "Mr. President, Defense and State can never get it right, for some reason. The Somalis are the aggressors, they started it!". . . Wolf Manheim had won that argument, as well as the one about censuring the U.S. allies following their rapid acquisition of nuclear weapons.

So it, the secret war behind the scenes, had gone on for four years, while the public was almost completely obsessed with the economic disaster that was now reaching into every home in the country. Manheim was a mystery to the public; with inflation increasing dramatically since 1980 and Chrysler and Ford depressed, only the "Bank" really knew what a tall figure of authority Manheim was in a White House close to panic over the upcoming elections.

"Manheim," Betsy Jones-Russell had concluded to Gore Vidal, "is the man to watch in 1984. If he is unable to bring off the hat trick"—(1) face down the Bad Old Boys at State and CIA, (2) psychoanalyze the Chinese, and (3) put the fear of history into the Russians—"then George Orwell's 1984 image of all against all in the name of 'Security and Freedom' will have left the drawing board. The rough beast of the future will be reported as having been sighted in the suburbs, its hour come round at last."

Still, she pondered, if Manheim was in control and closest to the President, why the presence of the kid Kott and skinny Dr. Wick? These two men were Polish Catholic aristocrats like Brzezinski. They hated Russians—not communism, but Russians. And they disdained Americans. Americans were lazy, stupid and corrupt to the foreign-born elite of the U.S. diplomatic and National Security establishment. Manheim was not that type at all—was he? After all, he was a Jewish survivor of Buchenwald, very different, indeed. And he certainly didn't despise women the way the anteater Wick did. Hamlet, she thought, fallen among thieves . . . . Wick dogtrotted across the room toward the kitchen. Were those red socks? A secret solipsist into the bargain. "Guildenstern," she thought.

Peter Jan Wick: predatory, hyperthyroid . . . why did she hate him so on sight? Because she knew the type, male and female. The ones who follow great ones. The psychoanalyst in London had explained it to her once, what was that catchy phrase again? Oh, yes, "The shadow of the object falls across the ego." And when Norman had attacked her and called her "the great man's moll," he had had, as usual, a kernel, a seedling of truth.

Under cover of offering her tea, the younger Secret Service agent was measuring her silk-shirt-sheathed breasts. The standard-issue reflecting sunglasses were supposed to hide the eyes, but she pretty well knew his type too. Though maybe it wasn't even her nipples, perhaps he was actually grasping, in his mind's eye, at her mound of Venus, where he imagined it lay in wait for him under her loosely pleated tweed trousers.

"How nice. Just a bit of milk, please." He moved away, like a cat in a Hickey-Freeman blue suit, toward the half-kitchen. She stacked her notes impatiently against the glass tabletop. "Jesus, just let me get out of this town," she said to herself. She had been waiting in Washington since before Christmas for Wolfgang "Wolf" Manheim, to find eight hours for the long-awaited London Times interviews. "What's this?"

"Milk."

"Milk?"

"You said—"

"Milk! Tea with milk. As in tea with lemon or coffee with . . . ."

She remembered that they were called SS for short as he wheeled and quickstepped back to the kitchen. She looked toward the closed door. Four-thirty already. Again she wondered if it was possible that Wolf Manheim, the power diplomat, actually lived in the Watergate? No, she decided, it was not possible. This—what would she call it in her atmosphere sidebar accompanying the interview?—this "early Watergate," the word was already generic.

"Here you are."

Before she could find just the right words to thank the all-American agent with the yellow and blue plastic insignia in his lapel, the door opened and long-legged Wolf Manheim came across the foyer.

The Secret Service man was gone and she and her quarry were vis-à-vis at last. As if in one of her own word pictures, she could see herself and the man facing each other like leader lions of rival prides. Both tall and lithe, except that he looked as if he had stepped out of a Gothic church window. "Too lean," she thought, "almost a beautiful death's head, or a concentration camp—of course, he was in a concentration camp as a child . . . but that was decades ago." Measuring herself, in her mind's eye, against his rangy frame and relishing the prospect of matching wits with the "geopolitical genius"—as the Times had referred to him—made her hunger for the agon, the combat of ideas that her interviews at their best were known for. "Max von Sydow!" she flashed, "that's who he reminds me of. Max, twenty-five years ago."

"I'll have tea, too. I admire the English," he said, and smiled slowly.

"Just like on television," she thought, and punched the ON button. She spoke in rapid, intelligent clips, wiggling her fingers in the air when quoting from a newspaper or report.

B.J-R: Dr. Manheim, since Christmas the world situation is such that we hear, once again, frightened talk of World War III. You've seen today's New York Times. Richard Nixon's press conference at the Hotel Pierre to announce, for the fourth time in as many years, that "World War III has already begun," finally made the front page. And Henry Kissinger has let it be known that the situation is "more than serious." But the Times is riveted on what you are going to say, calling you the man closest to the President during this, quote, "low-grade panic," unquote. Are you, and is it?

W.M.: I have always worked closely with the President. "Closest" is a subjective judgment that I can't make. Second—is there panic? Not that I can see. But then Congress hasn't returned from its holiday recess yet.

B.J-R: No, and the Vice-President is being accused of waving the bloody shirt, milking the crisis before the first primaries. How serious is it? The President referred to "two fronts." How apt is that figure of speech? Why the war image—"fronts"?

W.M.: Let's take the first "challenge," if you prefer. The President in his speech of December twenty-seventh stated that "if" Cuban agents were involved in the destruction of the American Embassy in Honduras and the subsequent insurgent violence, "if" these reports were true, then it could be characterized as a "warlike act." In relation to the second challenge, the Soviet ultimatum to the People's Republic of China regarding the offshore islands, our position is that the United Nations should immediately dispatch observers to the area. I met with the Secretary General to that end, as you know, on Monday.

B.J-R: Why you instead of Secretary of State Higgins? Is it true that you are going to succeed him in that post sometime between your visit to China and the fall elections?

W.M.: I never speculate on such matters.

B.J-R: No, but your trip to the People's Republic of China is certainly going to be seen as a "tilt" toward the PRC and away from the USSR in the present confrontation.

W.M.: I don't see why. As soon as I return I will chair special meetings with Mr. Arbatov and the Soviet U.N. delegation in order to hear their side of the latest chapter in their long-standing dispute with the People's Republic.

B.J-R: If it's merely another "chapter" in a "dispute," then why the panic? The March Against War last Sunday in New York had over two hundred thousand people out in very cold weather . . . .

W.M.: What about it?

B.J-R: What has the rest of the world extremely jittery, Dr. Manheim, is the uncanny coincidence of nuclear war headlines and leaks. I mean the Los Angeles Times came straight out with a "Thinking the Unthinkable" headline on page one. Time and Newsweek both have issues going on the stands tomorrow—SINO-SOVIET SHOWDOWN—in covers printed in 1950s red, and Richard Harkin in the Washington Post writes this morning that World War III began in Iran when the hostages were seized . . . (Roman numeral III as if there could be a IV or V.) I mean, doesn't it appear that these leaks are designed to prepare the country for the ultimate?

W.M.: For the unthinkable?

B.J-R: Unthinkable but, apparently, not un-doable.

W.M.: I follow you. However, it all depends from where the leaks, uh, sprang—if that's the correct verb—because these kinds of headlines have in fact galvanized the antiwar forces as nothing has since the height of the Vietnam crisis. If I weren't such a notorious east coast liberal I might ask Mr. Nixon's famous question: "Is it a liberal plot?"

B.J-R: Um . . . Look, do you mind if we come back to World War III next time? I feel that you're having a little fun or playing a small game before we—

W.M.: Just the opposite. You've won two Pulitzer prizes for your devastating "interviews"—if you can call the confession of broken men that—and more than one government has almost fallen after your famous presence in the palace . . . . Are you really the illegitimate granddaughter of Bertrand Russell? You're the star; I'm afraid of you. I'm serious. Ask Peter Wick. No, don't, he's petrified, too. You don't know your own reputation, the Secret Service detail cried like babies when they heard—

She threw back her honey-colored pelt of hair and laughed so loud that the two agents in the kitchen came poking around the corner to see what was up. "Broken men, eh? God, I didn't know you were so witty. I thought you had a sort of honorary or, ah, media wit like your old mentor Henry Kissinger, or a more, ah, popular wit (the story about his unzipping his fly was true, wasn't it?) like your predecessor, Dr. Brzezinski."

Now it was his turn to laugh. His lips were held straight but the large hazel eyes showed suppressed merriment. In the further room the aide, Wick, could be heard talking sibilantly on the telephone, but even in the relative quiet she couldn't make out any of the words. They looked at each other out of residual smiles. (Was it true, she suddenly wondered, that only the eyes reflected feeling, all the rest being only muscular reflex?) She met and sustained his bright-eyed gaze easily. Then she let her eyes move at will over his form, sculptured in the soft jersey of the jogging suit. He half-turned to see if the Secret Service men had returned to their coffee, then leaned forward to talk in a purposefully conspiratorial tone.

"Suppose I go for my run, and then when I lose the SS I come over to your place and we continue?"

"Is this off or on the record?"

"However you prefer, Ms. Russell."

"You may call me Dr. Russell . . . and I'll be waiting for you." The hand that jotted down and passed the suite number to the great man was steady and cool and warm as it brushed the President's "left hand."


 

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