Tags: Gen. | Vernon | Walters | RIP

Gen. Vernon Walters, RIP

Tuesday, 12 February 2002 12:00 AM

Gen. Vernon Walters, "Dick" to his friends, passed away from natural causes at the age of 84 here in Palm Beach.

Gen. Walters had lived a long and illustrious life, having served every president from Truman to former President Bush.

During his long service to the nation, Gen. Walters held some of the highest positions in the land, including deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Presidents Nixon and Ford, U.N. ambassador to President Reagan, and ambassador to West Germany under former President Bush.

Others can claim a sterling resume of high appointment, but few have had the remarkable impact that Vernon Walters had.

Walters was a key player in the Reagan administration in its Herculean struggle to defeat the evil empire.

Working closely with CIA Director Bill Casey, Secretary of State Al Haig and others, Gen. Walters first served as Reagan's special ambassador, helping to bring U.S. allies together in Reagan's showdown with Moscow.

It was during this time that I first met the general at the residence of the late Cardinal O'Connor in New York City.

Over the years I got to know him personally.

Walters was very fond of recollecting his years as deputy CIA director during Watergate.

These were momentous times for the country, and Walters related how he rebuffed suggestions from the White House that the CIA tell the FBI to keep out of the Watergate burglary because it was a matter of "national security."

This episode of the Watergate scandal, when the White House attempted to obstruct the FBI investigation, was, in fact, the smoking gun of Watergate and the key evidence upon which impeachment was pressed, and for which Richard Nixon resigned.

Maybe it was by some odd, Jungian coincidence that this Sunday, the same day Gen. Walters passed away, I was visiting the Nixon Birthplace and Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.

As I ventured through the library, I came upon the section devoted to Watergate. The exhibits gave a surprisingly fair account of the scandal.

At one interactive display area, visitors could listen to Nixon's secret Oval Office tape recordings. I put on the earphones and pressed the play button.

My ears lit up because the taped discussion was about Vernon Walters.

In this particular tape recording, President Nixon was meeting with his top aides, including Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.

Nixon's aides were clearly worried about the FBI probe of the Watergate break-in.

Haldeman is clearly heard on the tape suggesting that he should call "Dick Walters at the CIA" and ask him to call the FBI and invoke national security to call off the FBI investigation.

Nixon's response to Haldeman's plan seemed exculpatory, as he clearly directed Haldeman not to do this and to in no way impede the FBI investigation.

Later, with or without Nixon's consent, efforts were made to have Walters intervene. Walters courageously balked.

Still, the tapes give an insider's account of the inner workings of government the public never sees.

I was fortunate to have a peek into the inner workings of government from Walters, whose ironclad memory served as a veritable tape recorder of great events.

Walters, as a translator, was oftentimes at the right hand of presidents, vice presidents and other world leaders as they had their most intimate discussions.

Some of his stories were clearly not for publication, but others made it into the several books he authored.

Two anecdotes need repeating now, in this time of war, and should be heeded by Walter's friend, President George W. Bush, as he makes crucial decisions about the future.

The first story involves the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Gen. Walters was tapped by President Kennedy to fly to Europe and brief European leaders, showing them satellite photographs and evidence of the Russian missile sites being built in Cuba.

Walters vividly recalled his meeting with French President Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle was intrigued by the evidence and asked Walters what President Kennedy planned to do.

Walters responded that the U.S. simply wanted the missiles removed and had no plans to invade Cuba if they were removed. A blockade was planned to force the Russians to remove the missiles.

De Gaulle, Walters recalled, was angry.

In fact, his dismay at President Kennedy's timid response to the threat was the main reason he pulled France out of NATO and began France's own nuclear buildup.

Walters quoted de Gaulle: "If the Americans won't fight an enemy 60 miles from their shore, they most assuredly won't fight for France and her European allies if we are attacked."

Fast-forward just over two decades later, to the 1980s.

Gen. Walters is back in Paris, briefing President Mitterand on behalf of President Reagan. At that time the U.S. was preparing to bomb Khadafy's Libya after we had confirmed Libyan ties to international terrorism.

Like de Gaulle, Mitterand expressed some displeasure with American plans.

Walters quoted Mitterand: "If you told me your president planned to remove Khadafy from power and would commit your nation to do that, I would have three French divisions parachute into Tripoli. But if you are going to bomb him and leave him in power, we will have no part of it."

As you may remember, Mitterand and the French even vetoed the U.S. using French air space for the U.S. bombers sent to bomb Libya.

At the time, Mitterand and the French were panned as unhelpful allies.

But the real story was that de Gaulle and Mitterand saw the handwriting on the wall: Half-hearted measures may work in the short run, but in the long run they lead to more grief.

So the lesson here from a great American, who we shall mourn, is that in this new war we now find ourselves, MacArthur's old rule remains: "In war, there is no substitute for victory."

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Gen. Vernon Walters, Dick to his friends, passed away from natural causes at the age of 84 here in Palm Beach. Gen. Walters had lived a long and illustrious life, having served every president from Truman to former President Bush. During his long service to the...
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Tuesday, 12 February 2002 12:00 AM
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