Miller Center

Interview with Roman Popadiuk

Introduction

Photo of Popadiuk, Roman

Ambassador Roman Popadiuk reflects on his service in the Reagan and Bush administrations and focuses on President George H. W. Bush’s foreign policy skills as the Cold War drew to a close, especially his reaction to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.

Transcript

Young

This is a President George H. W. Bush oral history interview with Roman Popadiuk, and we have here Stephen Knott and myself, as well as our respondent. Let me just talk a little bit about the interview. We might want to put this off the record, but let’s keep it on the record right now.

We have read the [Martha] Kumar interview and you had told me over the phone that you ought to look at this. We told Martha that, and so she shared with us a copy. We can’t make this part of the briefing book because it is really her material and the briefing books become part of the interview record. I thought it was a very good interview, and a lot of what Martha covered I don’t see any need to repeat here unless you want to get some of it on the record. Let me say that it seems to me that that’s a very good interview where you’ve talked about the job and the nuts and bolts of being a press person in your position. Steve and I have been thinking—I mean we would like your input on this, too—we don’t want to neglect the central job that you did, but we'd like to branch out and get your observations and reflections on some things that I feel weren’t fully covered in that interview.

You didn’t talk very much about the [Ronald] Reagan experience and the transition to the Bush White House, and your observations on some of the differences. There was a great deal of difference from the outside in the way the national security team—if it can be called that—under Reagan, worked. A lot of changeover, different people coming in and out, with a great deal of difference on the Bush side when he came in with his team.

I guess to some extent, you were also kind of a fly on the wall or at least have some personal knowledge of Bush’s own way of dealing at Malta, at Panama, and others, so we would like your reflections on those things as well. We really hope that sometime the President himself will consent to give us some thoughts and reflections, but in the meantime that’s a big hole in this oral history. So we make it a point in all of our interviews to try to get a multidimensional, accurate portrait of Bush the President from the perspectives of those people who interacted with him, who saw him in various aspects of his job and his concerns. Maybe toward the end of the interview we would like to have you talk about George by way of giving some portrait of him, what he was—what really grabbed him, what he didn’t care so much about, his special characteristics as a President very different from Ronald Reagan. How does that strike you?

Popadiuk

That’s fine, but what I would say, Jim, is that my recollection of specific events is going to be colored by twelve to fifteen years of distance, but I would be happy to try to address any questions that you may raise. The best way to proceed is probably just to ask the questions and let me see how I fumble with them, and if I am fumbling with some, maybe as I go on, the recollection will become stronger and we could keep coming back and forth, if you don’t mind making this a conversation.

Young

Okay.

Knott

Sure. Sounds good.

Young

We like the conversation, not the quiz-type. Why don’t we start at the beginning, at least, of your political career? That is, you move into the Reagan administration from the State Department. You are a Foreign Service officer and this may or may not have been a choice on your part, but you chose to stay in the Reagan administration—to do that, rather than stay in the Foreign Service career line. Was that the way it was? Or did you find yourself in the position that became a kind of temporary career for you?

Popadiuk

As best as I recollect it, there was no forethought or career path to go into this. I was happily ensconced over at the State Department Operations Center doing my work there. At that time, as it was explained to me, they were looking at broadening the experience of people who were working in the White House Situation Room. I should say—not the experience of the people—but broadening the number of people that worked there, the agencies and all. Mostly military and CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] dominated the intelligence work in the Situation Room, and so they were going to bring an FSO [Foreign Service officer] in.

I went and interviewed and I got the position and that’s basically how I got into the White House, so to speak. That was almost a process of default because of all the people who were in the Op Center. I think only two people wanted that position, applied for it—me and a colleague of mine—and I was selected. It was seen as not a way station to career growth in the Foreign Service, as kind of stepping outside the traditional—

Young

Anything but, probably.

Popadiuk

Yes, and you know that was kind of taking yourself off the main track of a career in Foreign Service. I looked at it differently. What are the chances of ever working at the White House again? And then, you know in the old traditional Foreign Service, or obviously in the current Foreign Service, you have the bidding process. After your tour of duty is over you’re supposed to bid and try to get another job. Well, the jobs I was getting weren’t looking that great.

Ed Djerejian was the Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the White House at that time and he needed someone to help him out. I had known Ed from State and was interacting with him at the Situation Room and he said, Would you be interested? I spoke to him and I said I’d be interested and he said, Okay, if you’re interested.

He had me talk with Larry Speakes, who was then the Press Secretary, and Larry hired me on the spot. He didn’t know me by name or anything. But he knew me by recognition because Reagan held his NSC meetings in the Situation Room, so we would help out there. When Larry would come down to those meetings he would see me, and so that’s basically how I started. There was no great wisdom on my part. It was basically just a lot of people who didn’t want to work those hours. And at the same time I was at the right place at the right time.

Knott

You’d had no prior press experience?

Popadiuk

No. None, whatsoever.

Young

But you knew what you were doing? And that kind of fascinated you?

Popadiuk

Yes, I had two good people—I worked very briefly with Ed, because he left almost immediately to go back to State, but Dan Howard came on from USIA [United States Information Agency] and he replaced Ed. I worked under Dan and Dan was very good and it was basically a baptism under fire. They said, Here’s the desk. Here’s the phone. Answer the questions. A lot of it was good humor and common sense. I found out very quickly, you know?

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

I remember the first few phone calls I took. Dan would listen to the phone calls and he would kind of nod—Good work, or not, and then afterwards he said, You did well. You got your baptism under fire, you felt confident, and you just kind of went to work. There was no manual for it.

Young

Martha quizzed you on that point quite extensively about how you learn this job, and you said exactly what you said here—you learn it on the job.

Popadiuk

You learn on the job. That’s right.

Young

But you do have to have a talent for it. Certain qualities that are very important.

Popadiuk

I found out very quickly that some of the qualities—As I mentioned, a sense of humor—and you have to know the subject matter, first of all, so that when someone talks with you they know that you are talking substance and not just giving them a party line or trying to make things up. The other thing is, obviously, credibility. You have to be credible. If they ever catch you misleading them or you didn’t warn—your credibility is the only thing you have as a press officer. One of the most important things is that you have to just basically develop a rapport with the people. Your sense of humor, your knowledge of the substance, and your credibility kind of develop a sense where you are almost a friend to these people. A lot of these people that I dealt with on a professional level actually turned out to be friends and those friendships continue to this day.

So there's a comfort level that you have to establish. And once you have that kind of comfort level you are able to do your job very well, and the journalists feel very comfortable. They feel comfortable if they don’t get the information, because they know there is not going to be anything there. And they are comfortable with the information that you do give them—that it’s going to be solid and they are not going to be misled.

Young

That means, really, that you have to have a good network or group of people inside the administration unless you, yourself, are an expert on the subject.

Popadiuk

Yes. Right.

Young

Or know what they know. And you are dealing with very secretive types of people, I think.

Popadiuk

Correct.

Young

They want to guard their information and you don’t want to get want to get your—I won’t use the phrase—but you don’t want to get yourself in a sling with the press because you have unintentionally misled them.

Popadiuk

Sure.

Young

Why don’t you talk a little bit about how you developed that network—who was in it— those that were your sources inside the administration.

Popadiuk

Well, there are two parts to the question. Let me answer it this way, Jim, if you don’t mind. When you talk about expertise, I was at that time a career Foreign Service officer, so I knew the system. You have to remember the two jobs I came out of were the State Op Center, which dealt with the raw intelligence and the cables coming in that we summarized for the Secretary every morning, and at the same time we did the same thing for the President and the NSC staff in the Situation Room. As a matter of fact, it was even more sensitive because during the time I was in the Situation Room we had the Lebanese hostage situation and so there was compartmentalized information on that specific thing. I had a kick telling people I went from a job where I knew everything and couldn’t talk about it, to a job where I knew nothing and was supposed to say everything—the two extremes.

I had a base of information—contacts, and knowing how the system operated, who to call and how to do it—that provided a vast amount of information. That, I think, was very key to that position. Basically, when I came in, I knew—for example, a good situation would be when Larry Speakes and Bud [Robert] MacFarlane had the issue of the cake and the missiles come about back in 1986. People started making fun of all this, and Larry was out in California coming back on Air Force One. I sent Dan Howard a message—I said, Dan, don’t let Larry talk about this stuff, because there’s more.

I had been in the Situation Room and I knew what was going on. I remember when Larry came back, I met him in his office. He had a habit of taking a baseball bat and swinging it in relaxing talk. I had been on the job just a few months and we started talking about the story and he goes, Aw, this will go away in 24 hours. And I said, Larry, you have more press experience than I do, but I don’t think so. Here was a case where the guy had absolutely no knowledge of what had been going on. I didn’t know the whole story, but I knew the foundations of that story very much.

As a matter of fact, as the story started developing over the next few days, Larry would go to [John] Poindexter’s office—he didn’t want to put me in a hot boat because I had dealt with secret information—and he would come back and say, John, the Admiral told me XYZ. And I said, Larry, go back and ask him something else. He would come back and say, Yes, it was missiles. And I said, You got it.

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

So with that kind of information I was able to help the principal very much. But that information didn’t come from any knowledge. It came from that particular job I had. I’m just trying to illustrate how important that job was. On the other side, I realized that information’s going to be the lifeline, because I saw how information worked when I worked in the Situation Room—how that information helped me help the Press Secretary at the same time, and would prevent me from committing a major error. So when I started working in the office I made a point of contacting all the NSC staff and having good relations with them.

I wasn’t much of an e-mail guy. As a matter of fact, if you go back to my secretaries, I’d have maybe 300 e-mails on my machine I never answered—you know, very rarely. I used the phone or personal contact. I walked over to the office and said, Hey, I need this information, When you walk in on somebody, there is a personal relationship and there is less of a hesitancy to share information, whereas on e-mail it is very impersonal. On the phone, also, if you are talking to someone it shows an interest and willingness to talk and an interest in the subject matter.

I developed a personal contact along those lines and I found that that was very good because you got more information that way. I went the route of the repeat personal contact and I didn’t use the e-mail system that much. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if I sent too many e-mails during my whole tenure in the White House.

Young

Aren’t you glad?

Popadiuk

In hindsight, I probably am.

Young

Okay, you knew the system already and you learned on the job how to preserve the contacts you’d already made, for example in State, and to develop good sources of advice or guidance, as you would call it, or information. You also helped—what did the National Security Advisor under Reagan use you for? How did you serve the National—there were, let’s see, you had Poindexter, you had—

Popadiuk

Well, Poindexter. I didn’t come to the position of being the head guy until [Colin] Powell. Colin was the National Security Advisor the last year of the Reagan administration. He elevated me to Ed Djerejian and Dan Howard. He tapped me to be the head guy.

Young

Okay. But you were already connected with Marlin [Fitzwater]?

Popadiuk

Oh, yes. Marlin had replaced Larry Speakes and I was still on the staff and everything. Yes, absolutely. Whether it was in the Bush administration or the Reagan administration, the roles were basically the same. I did the mundane things such as setting up press interviews for the National Security Advisor. I gave recommendations on press requests—whether we should talk to someone or not, depending on the subject matter, the sensitivity of the issue. Also, I funneled information in two ways. Number one, in terms of information that I got from the reporters as a heads-up to the National Security Advisor—this is coming down the pike—as well as information that they might want to pass on without having to deal directly with the National Security Advisor.

I thought I had a very good relationship with Powell. Powell had his few people that he spoke with directly, who could call him directly. Whenever they would call, he would write me a note or buzz me and say, I spoke to so-and-so, but I didn’t tell them anything. He would laugh. Basically, that was it, setting up interviews, just the general stuff, nothing fantastic. Also, at times for Powell I would take a hand at writing some draft speeches and stuff and he always got a kick out of it, because I would try to write about experiences in the Bronx. I’m from Brooklyn. He would always wind up rewriting everything, but we had a good personal relationship, I thought.

Young

That’s good. And, you were also a help to the Press Secretary in the White House, so you had really two—

Popadiuk

What happened was after the Iran-Contra situation and other things, and when Frank Carlucci came on board—prior to that time you had basically two sources of information in foreign affairs. You had the White House Press Office and you had the National Security Press Office. The NSC Press Office was kind of autonomous of the White House Press Secretary. If he didn’t want to give information, the information didn’t go forth. Even though that person would attend meetings with the Press Secretary, that person was autonomous.

One of the recommendations that were made was that that should be abolished and the Press Officer for the NSC should come under the control of the White House Press Office. That’s what happened and that really worked very nicely, I thought. When I had the job, I was Marlin’s deputy in the White House system, and I was also head of the NSC Press Office. I had my own staff, but everyone was Marlin’s staff. We all worked for Marlin. Powell felt comfortable with that, and Brent [Scowcroft], when he came into office, felt—

Young

Who instituted that change? Was that a result of the Tower Commission?

Popadiuk

I don’t know if it was a result of the Tower Commission. It was a result of our recommendations from Dan Howard and people in the Press Office to do that. When the new Chief of Staff came in, and the National Security Advisor, they had no problem with it.

Young

It sounds like it was very compartmented.

Popadiuk

It was. Because at times you would have the NSC spokesperson say something and we wouldn’t know about it, you see, because there was no line of responsibility to communicate, and so that was not very good. It didn’t work out. Quite frankly, I couldn’t see why it was set up that way originally. I mean, it just made no sense, to see that it had operated for such a long time that way. I guess it probably came from the flow of authority, in that the NSC sees itself as separate and doesn’t report directly.

Young

Actually, historically, the NSC staff, the National Security Advisor has—that person did not always have a press office. That person did not always have a congressional relations person. I don’t know how this happened historically, but it began over time so that the National Security staff became its own full-fledged—

Popadiuk

Boss of its own institution.

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

Why it developed this way I have no idea, but to this day I don’t think that was a good system. I think the system we had in the last year of the Reagan administration and the Bush administration was probably the best. It served the President best.

Young

Do you think the Reagan administration or President Reagan would have had fewer problems if it had worked this way throughout his administration?

Popadiuk

Well, I don’t think the problems were press. They were policy.

Young

Well, sure.

Popadiuk

There’s only so much you can do, you know. I know, because I was the Press Officer for Iran-Contra, and I worked with David Abshire very closely on this issue and did a lot of his advising and press and dealing with the press. I think, absolutely, going through that experience, you can handle the issues a lot better and you can deliver your message a lot better. At the same time, like I said, it depends on the amount of information that the Press Officer has.

Now, I was maybe not unique, but at that time, given the background in the Situation Room that I had had and all of that, I had a lot more to offer than just an ordinary Press Officer would. So I was able to help on the Iran-Contra and things of that nature.

Knott

You had said that this was a Bush oral history, not a Reagan oral history, but I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about the Reagan National Security Council and just some general impressions.

Popadiuk

That was ages ago, but I’ll try.

Knott

You worked essentially for three National Security Advisors: Poindexter, Carlucci, and Powell.

Popadiuk

Right, and there was that fourth guy—I forget his name. There was a guy who was there for about two or three months.

Knott

Right at the very end?

Popadiuk

No, right after Poindexter resigned and before Carlucci and everybody came in. I forget his name. Strike that from the record.

Young

Okay.

Popadiuk

I feel good if the professors forget his name.

Knott

Yes, I didn’t realize there was an interim—

Popadiuk

Yes, there was.

Young

So there were more than we’ve been counting.

Popadiuk

There was. You can check the record.

Knott

Well, could you tell us a little bit about the National Security Council under John Poindexter? Was it distinctive as opposed to Carlucci and Powell, or was life generally the same throughout all three or four?

Popadiuk

No. Well, there were a lot of personality differences. You had Oliver North and all those people, and—what was that other guy’s name? I’m trying to remember.

Knott

Michael Ledeen was there, wasn’t he?

Popadiuk

But there was another guy there. See, you’re bringing back a lot of old memories. The bottom line—I would find two things. Admiral Poindexter, for example, since you mentioned his name, was more bureaucratic-inclined in terms of running things. He wasn’t as interested, for example, in press or news. That could be a drawback. He was a great guy, a very nice man, but I just don’t think he had the interest or saw that as having an impact on policy. He was more bureaucratic, running the meetings and getting the typed papers in—that’s the impression he seemed to give me.

Carlucci, when he came in, was a little bit more sensitive on the issues—not only of the policy, but also how policy can play on press and how press can play on policy. I remember one of the first decisions Frank made was, We are going to take the President out of the hostage business. We always highlighted the role of Reagan, but Frank was going to say, you know, We’re out of the hostage business. We’re not going to highlight this and tie it that closely to the President or anything. One of the other things that struck me—now, mind you, I was new in the Reagan administration. Also, at that time I was in the Situation Room a good part of the time and I had learned a lot of the things under MacFarlane and all, but my impressions would be from no matter what chair I was sitting in, was that there was more of an openness among the staff in the Carlucci/Powell kind of milieu. Colin set a very high standard, but in a very relaxed manner. It seemed to be more cliquish and secretive in the Poindexter and MacFarlane type of environment. I’m not saying that in a negative way. That worked for them fine, because a lot of it was the people around them and you can’t—

Young

Sure.

Popadiuk

I would say those were the two basic differences I found in terms of structure and how the two systems operated.

Young

You were in the Situation Room. That’s where you observed the Reagan meetings of the National Security Council, actually with Reagan in the chair.

Popadiuk

Right, he did a lot of those meetings himself. Yes, absolutely, he was down there. And once in a while he would pop his head in and say hi to the guys while he was there and move on out. He was down there quite a bit compared to Bush, who really never came down there.

Young

Bush didn’t— He didn’t use that?

Popadiuk

No. He’d hold them up in the residence or in the Oval Office and things like that.

Young

Why do you suppose Reagan chose that and Bush didn’t?

Popadiuk

That’s a good question. I think it was a number of things. It goes back to what I mentioned about the way MacFarlane and Poindexter ran it. It was a very bureaucratic Situation Room and NSC; therefore, we held the meetings here. That was the impression that I got, and Reagan was also very accommodating. He didn’t seem to have a preference one way or the other, and so they would come down there. That’s the impression I got.

Also, during that time you have to realize the type of issues they were dealing with were very concrete, START [Strategic Arms Reduction Talks] negotiations. A lot of traffic was coming from our negotiators overseas and I remember having to synthesize that for them. Given the nature of the type of issues that we were dealing with, they wanted to go more into that. Not to take away from President Bush, but when you talk about the Iraq War, for example, that was more philosophical at times—whether we do this, what do you think the Saudis—

I think in the Reagan administration some of the specific issues were very concrete and nobody wanted to tip their hands, I guess, and they figured that was probably the most secure area. But that’s just my impressions on those two points. There is no great insight as to why Reagan decided to go down there.

Young

So you would witness Reagan and [Caspar] Weinberger and [George] Shultz and—

Popadiuk

Yes, [Edwin] Meese and some of the others would come down. Ed Meese would sometimes come down at night—a very nice man—he’d come down and say hi to us and things like that, and get information. The Vice President, Bush, would call in quite frequently on the phone and try to get updates on situations. The Gipper was always in charge down there. We always got a kick out of seeing him down there. I should say the President, not the Gipper.

Young

Reagan was good at this? Or uncomfortable at this? In having a substance and options and making decisions?

Popadiuk

Obviously, we didn’t hear what he said, because once they were in the room we could observe them on closed camera. We would go in if we had information and stuff, but he always appeared to us very engaged. The assumptions that the public had of him were just not there. You have to realize that he was an old man so he didn’t do cartwheels. He didn’t move like a 20-year-old man doing cartwheels. He was an older man, but he was very much engaged. From our impressions—we were always very impressed, you know, by the way he sat behind a chair and ran meetings—a very nice man.

Knott

So the image of him as detached, coached?

Popadiuk

No, no, no. I tell you, the man was not detached. I had an interview once with him in the Oval Office—me, him, and a reporter from the International Herald. We had the interview and I had a hard time breaking the interview off—finally, I got the guy to leave. He winks at me and says, Get over here. You come over here. He beckoned, and I went over to the desk in the Oval Office. He went behind the desk. I stood in front and he picked a folder and slammed it down on the desk in kind of mock anger. He said, You know, it was nothing like you guys told me it would be in here.

So I told you—he read the stuff, he remembered the stuff. This thing that this guy was out to lunch, pardon the expression, just wasn’t there. At least, I didn’t see it. A lot of the impression was that he was an older man when he was President. He didn’t run around like a 20-year-old, and I think that kind of left an impression that he was not on top of the issues. But he was.

Knott

What did you say to him when he threw the folder down?

Popadiuk

I think I mumbled something. Well, Mr. President, I think I’ve got to go to lunch now.

Young

That’s a nice little story.

Popadiuk

I think I told him he did well and that kind of stuff. He always had a gracious word for everyone. I remember one time I was over in room 450 with him for an event and we were coming back and he stopped me in the middle of West Executive Avenue. He tapped his chest and said that when he got up to the podium he was not sure if he had the right speech. I said, Yes, the right speech, right audience. By his attitude and remarks it made me wonder if he has butterflies before a speaking engagement. I’m standing there saying, this is the Great Communicator. You realize that he’s only human and he gets nervous and wants to make sure it was the right thing, that everything went well, and you felt good.

You just assume that people in these positions are immune to these feelings. When I get up to the podium I have that knot in my stomach at first. Obviously, he has those things too. It’s kind of funny to realize that—to see that this man who is considered the Great Communicator would have these kinds of doubts or concerns. I said, Everything went well? And he said, Yes, fine.

Young

It’s really interesting how these stereotypes of a President get to become the accepted wisdom. Of course, sometimes they have to change the accepted wisdom when it doesn’t quite fit. That is one of the pleasant things, interesting things, about doing oral history. That is, you see the human side, and you hear from the people who had everyday or frequent contact, and what you begin to see is something substantially different.

Popadiuk

He was totally human and a very nice man. That same day before we got into West Executive, we were taking the elevator back down. It was him, myself, and the Secret Service agent. Reagan always had a little story for you—always. So we were going down and he says, Well, there’s this guy in a brown suit, and he tells the story. I couldn’t get the punch line. I was maybe thinking of something else, and so we gave it a polite laugh. But I didn’t wear my brown suit after that. He always had a nice story. He was a very nice, nice man.

Young

We’ve heard that in his morning meetings that he would have—who was it—Vice President Bush and the Chief of Staff—

Knott

Chief of Staff.

Young

They would have these morning meetings, and they’d all have jokes, and we heard that Vice President Bush had a good source for his jokes. I think he called his brother or something for some help while he was waiting to go in. And we have seen this interesting, funny photograph of Reagan giving Bush the dollar that he won—the prize for the best joke. Those little vignettes show that he’s human.

Popadiuk

Yes, very much so.

Knott

Do you have any recollections from any specific, perhaps high-tension events of the Reagan years? I’m thinking of the bombing of Libya in April of ’86. Were there any moments that particularly stand out in your mind when there was perhaps not a crisis atmosphere, but a tense atmosphere in the National Security Council? There were a number of terrorist incidents.

Popadiuk

Well, there were a lot of incidents. There was a lot of tension at the time when the French didn’t give us over-flight rights. I remember because I did the translation of the French message when it came in at that time.

There was tension on the ground in Sigonella, but a lot of that was driven by individuals. It wasn’t from the top down. I remember Ollie was in the Situation Room during the evening of Sigonella. We got the President on the phone with [Bettino] Craxi to resolve the issue, but Ollie seemed to be running off in a direction that I didn’t think everything else was going. He was calling various contacts and demanding action and immediacy. I remember sitting there scratching my head, saying, What are you doing? to myself. And that was obviously a forerunner of what was to come to a certain extent. Those kinds of tensions—yes.

I don’t remember ever witnessing clashes of individuals over policy in those kinds of situations. We did have some concerns back in Reykjavik. I remember that because I was in Hofdi House when the meetings broke up. When the President came out, he was flushed. He was not a happy man. He just didn’t look like everything went—and he said, We’re going. Everybody came down the stairs and ran out into the motorcades and everything. I remember [Mikhail] Gorbachev. They just didn’t look like happy guys and obviously we know from hindsight what had happened. It was kind of an abrupt ending to the meeting. We were all pacing outside and the door slid open and everything just moves. The President came out.

After that we had the problem of the briefing, because George Shultz went on, and Shultz kind of made it a downer to a certain extent. We all didn’t think it was that much of a downer. I remember getting Ken Adelman and others to get briefings. We did a lot of work on the ground and as the President was taking off, to get the story off that this was not as down as a lot of people were led to believe at first. We had some major repair work there. But that was more of a self-inflicted wound—the way the NSC officials reacted to the failure of the negotiations at that time.

Young

But there was considerable disagreement about whether this whole thing was a good idea or not, wasn’t there?

Popadiuk

Well, yes, in that situation. But I think a lot of people were under the expectation that there would be an INF [Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces] agreement when we came into there. They were being—irrespective of that, they had to deal with speculation. And of course the President upped the ante there, and there was a lot of concern about that what are we doing here type of thing. I wasn’t in on the bathtub meetings or anything like that, so I can’t tell you that.

Young

But Reagan knew what he was doing. It wasn’t an accident.

Popadiuk

I think Reagan knew what he was doing. I guess the story I’m trying to tell you here is that he had his vision and he was going to proceed with it. A lot of the criticism came—if you didn’t agree with him on policy you kind of regarded him as an old man who didn’t know what he was doing, and that’s unfair. He also tended to want to explain things in the simplest terms. Life doesn’t have to be complicated. Life is very simple.

Just to give you one story I remember—this is turning out to be a Reagan oral history, I think. I remember one time we were in Camp David and he was going to do his radio address. I was sitting like here, and he was sitting like where you are, Jim, with the microphone and everything. It’s broadcast live, and he said that sixteen lines equals one minute exactly. Big deal, I thought. And he starts, Good afternoon, or whatever, and he starts reading, and he always had a habit of putting his watch like this, you see, so that when he’s reading he can see it and at a minute he looked over at me and winked, as if to say, See? Told you so. Right in the middle of a live broadcast.

What I am trying to say is life is simple—he knows what’s got to be done and how much effort is needed. He had control of his environment, and he knew which way to go. Because he made it look so easy, people thought he didn’t know what was going on, and that is very unfair.

Young

Well, instead of going down into the bushes right here, let’s go to the Bush. You’ve been talking about Reagan and that he knew what he was doing and so forth. Yet here was a guy who didn’t have any of the networks, the broad experience in foreign affairs, to warrant a lot of self-confidence in the area, although he had it. Bush did. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about President Bush in the same frame of reference you were dealing with Reagan? Was there a big gap between the real person and the perceived person, in foreign affairs? He didn’t have that problem, did he?

Popadiuk

Absolutely not. We don’t have to go down the whole litany of positions that he held before he became President. He obviously was well plugged in, in terms of knowing on a very personal level a lot of the world leaders, or second-in-charge, or ministers. There is no doubt about it.

One of the problems—this is just hypothesized—One of the problems that the President had coming into office was the Reagan legacy. I could take it into the press relations specifically—there was almost a desire to go totally opposite of what Reagan did in press relations. Reagan did a lot of staged East Room type of events. He did preparation for his events also. At Camp David we’d send a book up for him so that he could go over the issues and just refresh his memory and all. Bush was opposite in those respects. I think we only had one East Room news conference. Everything else was in the briefing room or in 450 or just in the Oval Office, not a very big show.

And the preparation time for the President was very brief. I remember Marlin would call and say, Give me the top five or top seven foreign policy questions. We’d walk over into the Oval Office and he would look at the sheet and say, Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay, with Brent there and [Robert] Gates, maybe, and his Chief of Staff, and that’s it. It would take fifteen seconds. Very rarely would he get stuck, and if he did get stuck it wasn't that he didn’t know the substance. He would just wonder how it tied into something and he would give a hypothetical answer. We would say, Sounds great. He knew his stuff is what I’m saying.

The one thing that Bush had—and I work for him now, I love the man and I have had great opportunities with him, and I think he’s had a wonderful Presidency. One of the problems he had—he just didn’t feel comfortable as a public speaker. I had this impression. He’s a lot better now. He’s anecdotal, relaxed, very humorous, he can ad-lib. I don’t know if that’s a function of the office or a function of the Reagan legacy that he always tried to battle. He didn’t want to look like he was trying to emulate the Great Communicator or to be compared.

He tried to be his own person, and I think that had a lot to do with how his Presidency went forth. There were a lot of times we’d all be sitting there and he would walk on his applause lines. He’d walk right past them, and we’d all groan. Or he’d have that little grin at the most inopportune times, and we’d all say, Not now. I think he just felt uncomfortable as a speaker and I find that strange because he is such a competent speaker, and a very good speaker.

But relating this back to foreign policy—yes, he knew this stuff inside and out. To a great extent he had two things going for him—number one, the personal contacts, but number two—and here I am being just academic and philosophical. Steve, we can debate this—the typical, maybe Republican, vision that foreign policy is something that you have to run. Domestic policy has so many actors in it that you kind of set a line and you really can’t manage it. Therefore, his fingerprints were so much bigger on foreign policy because of that philosophical view. I think he had that kind of view.

That’s not to say that he didn’t go into domestic policy. He did. I think he had very successful domestic policy, and if you permit me—you know, the Clean Air Act, the Transportation bill. I think he is being considered as one of the best environmental Presidents since Teddy Roosevelt, quite frankly.

Young

That’s right. It wasn’t—he didn’t play that card.

Popadiuk

Right, right. He didn’t play that card or anything. I think history will judge him extremely well on that side. I think it was the management style where foreign affairs is something that you need to manage and, for him, it was reinforced by the simple fact that he did have all these personal contacts.

Now, he did have personal contacts on the domestic side, no doubt. He had been a Congressman, head of the RNC, so obviously he had all these contacts also, but I think the view was that domestic policy is something that—there are so many actors involved that you really can’t manage it day to day. You’ve got to have a Chief of Staff and others and you set the overview of it.

Young

There was also the nature of the world that he had to deal with, which was somewhat changed. The Cold War was over and you’re entering a new kind of situation in which you have very little historical—in other words, it’s a turning point. How do you, as an old guy used to the old system, know how to work? How do you apply that to this unpredicted, brand new situation where the Soviet Union was no longer your—

Popadiuk

You’re absolutely right, but it was even a little step beyond that, Jim. It was also that Gorbachev was always throwing challenges: I’m taking down this many troops. I’m doing this. We always seemed to be on the defensive, and that’s where Marlin got himself into hot water with Drugstore Cowboy, because he tried to parry some of this and throw it back on Gorbachev. So, it seemed like we were always on the defensive and that’s why we had to come up with something like in ’89 in June, the announcement at NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], the troop build-down, and stuff like that, because we always felt that Gorbachev was ahead of us in the PR game and that we looked like we were just trailing.

So, yes, he had all these kinds of pressures, but at the same time you had this great pressure that you couldn’t push it too far. That’s one thing I have to give the President a lot of credit for. He was the right guy at the right place at the right time. His sense of judgment, his self-effacement, not wanting to take credit, was perfect for that time in history.

The classic example was when the Berlin Wall came down. We brought the press pool in, in November of ’89, I think it was, and they wanted his reaction to the Berlin Wall. His reaction was kind of lackadaisical, you know, like, Yes, well, the wall came down. It’s great. You probably remember all the stories that came out after that—Bush Unenthused—you know? How could you not be dancing on tabletops?

Young

And claiming credit.

Popadiuk

Yes, and claiming credit. The bottom line was there was a lot more to do. You had to make sure that Germany was reunified peacefully, the whole NATO experience, the whole situation of the Soviet Union, how’s it going to go? The Baltics and all that. He really had a big, broad, vision and he seemed to know how all these little pieces fit in together. It was amazing.

Young

But communicating it—

Popadiuk

Communicating it was difficult.

Young

Getting the public on that wavelength—it seemed to me to be sort of missing.

Popadiuk

Well, it depends on who you look at. John Sununu would say that we did a great job on foreign policy but we didn’t do it on domestic policy. I remember having the discussion with Sununu. One of the problems you had was what is traditional of any Presidency. There is a tendency for secrecy, and to try to compartmentalize information in a few hands. When you start doing that you can’t get the story out as well.

Another part of it is a lot of stuff we just couldn’t talk about, like the Berlin Wall. Marlin and I couldn’t go out there and start claiming credit, because we knew that was not how we wanted to portray this. Basically, you were in a defensive posture in many of these situations. But, given the circumstances under which we were operating, I think we did the best job we could. He gets a lot of credit for being a good foreign policy President and not enough credit as a domestic policy President. That’s unfortunate.

Young

Let me come at this a somewhat different way.

Popadiuk

Okay.

Young

Everything I say is what it looks like from the outside. Given all the difficulties of domestic policy and so many players involved, it looks like Reagan had a fairly well-organized operation or advisory system and a communication strategy for domestic policy. Though the President, on the foreign policy side and national security side, may himself have known what he was doing and what he was about, the appearance is that there was considerable disarray, disorganization, lots of press play—at least to the conflict between Soviet issues, particularly between Shultz, Weinberger, hard-liners, negotiators and so forth. And it looks to be sort of the other way around in the Bush administration, where the domestic policy doesn’t seem to have the kind of team and organization to get on top of those issues that he did in foreign policy. Is that correct?

Popadiuk

Yes, I think that’s a fair assessment. You have to realize that in the Reagan administration you had a number of individuals, particularly [Michael] Deaver, who were very keen and didn’t have the expertise on the foreign policy side.

Young

Correct.

Popadiuk

And—not taking anything away from Deaver—you also had a President who seemed to be—I shouldn’t say more interested in domestic policy than foreign policy to make comparisons. I don’t want to make comparisons because each had their strengths. If you look at SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative], he obviously had a foreign policy interest. To a great extent it was a function of staff. You see?

Young

Persons.

Popadiuk

Yes, staff. If you look at the staff in the Bush administration, on the foreign policy side you had Dick Cheney at Defense, Brent Scowcroft at the NSC, Jim Baker over at the State Department, and then you had Bob Zoellick there, Dennis Ross with him, and then Bob Gates with Brent, for example. He had a very strong team. If you compare that to the Reagan years—I mean you had Jim Baker again as Chief of Staff for a while, and you had Mike Deaver for a while there before he left, and Ed Meese. You had very strong personalities, and people that knew him very well, and at that time most of those people knew the domestic side very well.

Young

That figured very large in his campaign.

Popadiuk

I think so.

Young

In his public message.

Popadiuk

Oh, I think so. You play to your strength. I’m not taking anything away from the domestic side in the Bush administration—don’t get me wrong—but you had a lot of strong personalities, and personalities sell, just like any product, if you’re looking at it from a PR perspective, for example.

You also had a lot of people who had a lot of credibility. For example, take Scowcroft. His credibility was, and is, just great. The work that he did before he became National Security Advisor—between the [Gerald] Ford and the Bush administrations—the various commissions—the credibility that he developed along with the practitioners, as well as people on the Hill and in the press, carried over into the Bush administration.

Jim Baker, obviously, had all the credibility from the Reagan years of how he ran Treasury and how he was Chief of Staff. All of those were huge strengths. The other thing you had was that they all got along very well. There is no doubt that they all got along very well. They were either on the phone with each other, or—I know they met once a week in Brent’s office, for example, and had a breakfast and discussed the issues. So, a lot of it was a function of the type of personalities in those areas. It might have been partly the interest that the President showed. But you go back to Reagan, as I mentioned—SDI. He really had the Evil Empire concept. You can’t tell me that he didn’t have any interest in foreign affairs, or giving up all your nuclear weapons.

Young

Yes, but it started with the Evil Empire in the public message, and then it turns into something else and he brings the country along with him.

Popadiuk

There’s one thing that Reagan had—I hate to use the cliché of a Great Communicator, but Reagan could deliver a message very nicely. Reagan also had that grandfatherly or great-uncle ambiance about him. He made you feel comfortable when you were around him. When you were around him you knew he was President, but yet he wasn’t President, he was just a nice man and he always had a kind word for you. That came across on the TV or on the radio in his voice. You could never imagine him not telling you like it was, is what I am saying.

When you look at the notion that the Reagan White House, with Deaver and the others, tried to present his views in the best settings possible, that compounded it. I think Bush moved away from that somewhat, and that was self-inflicted. Here I am playing amateur psychologist, because I’ve never discussed it with President Bush, you know, Why didn’t you do it this way? I get the impression that he just didn’t want—

Young

It wasn’t his way, was it?

Popadiuk

It just wasn’t his style.

Young

There was Reagan’s way and there was his way.

Popadiuk

If you go on personalities simply, Reagan—it could be because of his age—had something to do at each particular time. He did that and he didn’t seem hurried. Take the coffee cup. Move it. Okay, turn around. Talk to you—everything. George Bush as a personality can’t sit still. George Bush—you know, a typical morning would be a power walk, a round of golf, tennis, fishing, and that’s before breakfast, you know what I mean?

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

He was just constantly—go, go, go. And he’s always doing something. He is a fidgety type of guy. He is always moving about.

Young

Marlin tells about—sort of in contrasting his experience with Reagan and Bush—at 5:00 in the morning, Bush would get up—he says Bush was a lot more attentive to what was being said in the press, and on the television, and on the news, and that was how his day began. He’d call up Marlin at 6:00 am and say, Marlin, did you see this story in the New York Times? And Marlin said, Sorry, I’m not even awake yet. Well, we’ve got to do something about this. Call me about this as soon as you get in. And Reagan was not that way at all. He really didn’t—he was a Great Communicator, I suppose, but he didn’t have that intense interest in what was being said in the press.

Popadiuk

He knew what was being said. To go on what Marlin said, the President would come in sometimes, because Marlin and I would stick around and catch the early news shows from Baltimore—6:30, I think they would come or something, and the President, going back to the mansion, would pop his head in and say, How’s it going, guys? What’s on the news? What are the early returns showing? that type of thing. So yes, he was interested, there was no doubt about it. But Reagan, overall, whether it was press relations, domestic or foreign policy, was more relaxed, or tempered, or measured, whatever word you want to use. There was a time to do everything.

With Bush I always got the impression that he tried to crunch the whole day into two hours. He was always, Get me this guy on the phone. Marlin, what are you going to do about this? Maybe we should react to this, or Get me this guy—I gotta talk on the Hill with this guy. Get me this guy for lunch. It was always motion with him. I don’t know what that was a function of. I know then he had the thyroid problem—when he got ill on that—and that kind of slowed him down after that. Although, I was just up in Kennebunkport with him this past weekend—you could fool me—he’s going out on the boat, and sat in on meetings, and yesterday he caught a plane to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame induction. This guy is going to be 80 years old next year, and he’s still—

Young

He’s not going to jump out of any more airplanes, is he?

Popadiuk

Yes, he is, on his eightieth birthday. Now see, I couldn’t see Ronald Reagan doing that.

Young

No.

Popadiuk

You know what I mean?

Young

No. He’d go to the ranch and that’s it.

Popadiuk

You know—meeting here, boating here, go catch a plane. The temperament is different, and I don’t think Reagan was that active even as a young man. I didn’t know him, obviously, as a young man, so I wouldn’t have any way—but I just get the impression his personality is not like that.

Young

It has been said about Bush, by some, that he had a thing against selling himself. I don’t think the word pandering is used, but it’s not that he was too busy doing other things, it was that he didn’t think that this was a good use of his time, or appropriate to the dignity of the office. Is that a fair statement, or is that overdoing it?

Popadiuk

I think that’s a very fair statement. It goes to something that was inbred in him as a child. You hear him even to this day—if I hear that speech one more time about how his mother told him, Don’t be a braggadocio, George. Don’t ever take credit. You know—it’s always a team thing. Don’t ever stand out from the crowd or say you did something real well. Even to this day he gives that speech, because people always ask him, for example, now, How does it feel to be the father of a President? And he says, Well, Barbara and I are very proud and humble and blessed by God, but we’re not braggadocios. We take everything in measured steps.

That goes to something of how he was brought up, and even though I am playing amateur psychologist here, I think that’s a very fair assessment. He would not want to be the one to be singled out, to be bragging about his success, or trying to portray something as a success. His whole image is, you do your job, you do it the best way you can, and you do it the right way, not for political gain or something like that. You do it the right way and then things will take off on their own.

Young

But how does a man like that get down into the dirt of a campaign and fight to win a nomination, win the Presidency? I mean if you don’t put yourself—

Popadiuk

Well, I understand what you’re saying, but I never ran his campaign. We did some campaigning for him in 1988, when Reagan—but I saw it from the Reagan side. That was Reagan going out and giving speeches. In campaigns there is a whole layer of people, Jim, that run these kinds of things, as you know.

Knott

So you get a Lee Atwater to do the kinds of things that perhaps you may find somewhat distasteful?

Popadiuk

Well, here I’d be hypothesizing, because I never was involved in campaigning, so I wouldn’t be able to—here it would be just my own—and I don’t think that would be fair.

Young

Yes, I understand.

Popadiuk

I never was in a campaign for Bush.

Young

We’re just speculating, too.

Popadiuk

I understand what you are saying. I understand the question perfectly. I can give you probably twenty academic answers but that’s all they would be because I didn’t—I knew Lee and had some interaction with him before he became ill and everything, but I was not in the campaign mode in that sense. I can tell you right now that before I went out to Kiev in ’92, the campaign was in full swing for the reelection. Some meetings were held in Marlin’s office and people came and I didn’t notice any of that kind of stuff that you describe—the getting down into the mud and stuff like that. Maybe those meetings were not those kinds of meetings that took place there. That’s about the only touch I had and I was basically on my way out the door then, back in the spring of ’92. I left in May of ’92 before the full swing of the campaign and everything.

Young

But his political career after his—you know, going way back to Harris County where he did a good job of battling the machine and winning the post that he wanted to win, and then his successful campaign for Congress. But after that he sees that he is not an electoral politician. He’s not a politician who makes his career through winning elections. Instead it’s a very different kind of career.

Popadiuk

It was all appointed, as you pointed out, until the Vice Presidency and the Presidency.

Young

It was all appointed, right. So then he comes up to the Presidential level and he has to win against a field.

Popadiuk

You know, just to take the bait and go with it a little bit—I think anyone in those positions makes a distinction between winning and governing. That’s very fair, and you’d see that in any campaign. I’m not trying to say all’s fair in love and politics, but, as an academic, you can make that distinction that winning is one thing—

Young

A lot of academics do, and I was surprised to hear you—

Popadiuk

And, I say that in a very positive way, Jim. And that the governing is a whole different thing.

Young

Okay.

Popadiuk

As I mentioned, I was never involved on a day-to-day basis on the campaign with him so I couldn’t really answer that question. If you were asking me, I would say that there are two things—one is winning, one is governing. The other is the type of individuals that you surround yourself with, and as you know, there are a lot of things that go on in a campaign that the candidate doesn’t even know about.

Young

Oh sure.

Popadiuk

That’s not much of an answer, but that’s the best that—

Young

Some seem to enjoy it more than others, some Presidents. But this would suggest that once you have made it, and your job becomes governing, leading the country, and so forth, that you can’t think, you don’t think, in terms of what some academics today call the permanent campaign. Governing is in effect almost having to continue running or campaigning on issues, or campaigning on something or other to get anything done, so that the distinction begins these days to get blurred.

I made an observation years ago about Jimmy Carter and his campaign for reelection, that he was surprised that the campaign was not over when he got into the White House. He’ll tell you this. He made that distinction. It was very hard. The hostage crisis, of course, was one reason. But he found it very hard to be a President and then to go out and have to campaign. I am wondering whether there is that kind of parallel with Bush—that it was hard for him, as President, with what he had to do, in doing his job, in leading the country. This again is speculative.

Popadiuk

Yes, we’re speculating here. My impressions are that he obviously liked governing better than he liked campaigning, irrespective of how you saw the first campaign in ’88, or the ’92 campaign. There is no doubt about it. George Bush was a leader and not a campaigner and you could see that in the way he presented himself. And you could see that in how he governed. The 1990 tax situation was a classic example. He did what he thought was right, irrespective of what the rhetoric was of the campaign, and he paid a price for that.

Young

Yes, that’s a very good case. He did what was necessary to get the nomination and start the campaign, and then he did what was necessary—and he paid a big price.

Popadiuk

And that goes back to your issue—Was he a hard campaigner? Well, yes. Read my lips. On the foreign policy side, also, if memory serves me right, with the Israeli settlements. He had a hard line on that even though he probably thought that might cost him votes and some support in elections. But he thought what was necessary for the peace process, he would do. What was necessary for the U.S. economy, he would do. He always thought that doing the right thing would be reward in itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way in many cases.

Young

Were there some who believed that? I’m thinking about Sununu and Darman, in the White House. Darman strikes me as an inside-the-beltway politician with a lot of experience who seemed not to think about what people thought outside the beltway, or to think that if you succeeded here, it was a shoo-in out there.

Popadiuk

Well, Sununu was a classic case of this—that you could ride a success. One of the problems that John had—and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, because you probably spoke to him about this, so I won't talk about it—I remember this quite clearly. One of his assumptions or his points of view was that we were so successful on foreign policy that that would ride us right into a general election victory and there was really no need to gear up the domestic side, to bandy the domestic side, because foreign policy was such a big success. It turns out that that was not the case.

And there was no sensitivity to what was going on. I remember back in June of ’91—this is 18 months before the election so the press was already coming and talking about, There is no domestic policy. The war is a success. We’re at 91 percent approval rating in some polls, and the press is already changing its gears. I was speaking to Andy Card about this and I said, Andy, I think we might have a problem here, because this one particular reporter came, and to me it sounded like the opening of the dam—there’s something brewing here. And that’s when Andy said that Sununu feels that foreign policy is such a success—whether it’s the Soviet Union, or whatever—the Gulf War—that we would ride this. This would help the President ride right in. There was no need to try to touch other issues, which kind of seems like a contradiction. To hear Sununu talk about how we’ve had such a great domestic record—well, we should have sold it, then. And so it seems like a strange thing to me.

Young

It’s strange to my mind for two reasons. One was that Sununu was very much involved in the first Bush campaign, and he was very much tied in then with the Governors, I think—the gubernatorial—basically strategy and getting them on board. John had said our domestic agenda was developed out of conversations with what the Governors wanted to see. They wanted to see the Clean Air [Act]. They wanted to see this stuff. He was perfectly well aware of a campaign and how it runs and how you went in. I don’t know what his guidance would have been on the second campaign, because suddenly, Clean Air and the Disabilities Act and those things—was it that they were too liberal and you have to play to a conservative base? What was it?

Popadiuk

I just don’t understand that. I know one thing is that these dichotomies, where you go right to foreign policy and kind of bypass domestic policy when domestic policy was very strong—But at the same time, I remember him saying that it was because Marlin and the press office wouldn’t sell domestic policy that we fell apart in ’92. You can’t have it both ways.

Young

No.

Popadiuk

You know what I mean? So it’s kind of confusing in here. If you get the answer, let me know.

Knott

I had the impression at the time that things like ADA and the Clean Air Act and so forth were so distasteful to perhaps the old Reagan base—that a decision was made that we’re going to keep our distance from these things even though we were believers in them and wanted them to pass. Was there anything to that at all? Particularly after the tax reversal.

Popadiuk

I understand what you’re saying. I don’t think so, because otherwise we wouldn’t have gone in for it, to be honest about it. We wouldn’t have gone in for it. The President’s signature is on it. I know the people who got those bills and worked those bills—as a matter of fact I just spoke to one of them who helped on the ADA—and they were very hot and heavy on that. I understand what you’re saying, I just wouldn’t agree with that notion that we had to, because that legislation was signed by the President. The administration stood by it.

I don’t know what broke down. Maybe Sununu is right. Maybe we didn’t sell it right. Some people would say—and Sununu was one of them—that Sununu did not want to push the domestic agenda for those reasons as well as other reasons. I just can’t figure that one out. I personally thought we had a good domestic agenda, and a good domestic outcome in terms of the bills. I don’t know why we just didn’t sell it as such.

Young

I think the historical perspective will not be the perception at the time. I think it will be different. That, given the environment—the Democratic Congress, and all this—this was a fairly effective Presidency on the domestic side and didn’t get credit for that.

Popadiuk

As well as on ADA. You’re absolutely right. The transportation bill was great.

Young

And yet, Roman, if you look at the ’92 campaign—where are the foreign policy successes playing in that campaign? I understood that there was a lot of nice film that might have been used that wasn't.

Popadiuk

Well, because the agenda had been set—domestic—and he had to play for that. So it was a conscious decision—

Young

Okay, so he couldn’t talk about foreign—

Popadiuk

It was conscious decision. You couldn’t talk about your strength, because number one, your strength was past already. You’re going to talk about, I won the Gulf War? We took care of the Soviet Union? A conscious decision was made. You had to play—and that’s where the famous Detroit speech in September came out. Why we never followed up on that, I don’t know. It just kind of went up and came back down. Baker tried to do everything he could to move into the mainstream concern of the economy and domestic policy, et cetera—the I care type of thing.

I think there were a number of things here. The President was kind of under the weather because of his illness—the thyroid. I think he was feeling he was being packaged for this. He felt uncomfortable, and that showed itself. The classic case was the wristwatch at the debate—that he was being too packaged and he just, by temperament, is not like that.

There was also the concern deep down in his heart, and it was a valid concern, that things were not as bad as people portrayed it. I remember Michael Boskin almost every morning saying, It’s right around the corner, guys. It’s right around the corner. And as we know in hindsight, it was.

Young

It was.

Popadiuk

It was. Actually it started going up at that point.

Young

The public perception—you know, there’s always a lag.

Popadiuk

That’s right. Absolutely.

Knott

That’s where the media may have come in as well, right?

Popadiuk

Absolutely—and I love the media and I still deal with them—in ’92 the media was tired of twelve years of Republicanism and what they referred to as part of the twelve years of Reaganism, with President Bush. They were tired of that. With the end of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War, there was really nothing in foreign policy to write about anymore, basically. Everything had fallen apart here in ’92. At the same time you had a very—how would you describe Clinton? A very newsworthy candidate came into the fore.

Young

And a younger generation.

Popadiuk

Yes, both by his own personality, and as a candidate that was changing or riding the wave of how American society was changing—his points of view on the draft, on the military service, on patriotism, on war, on personal relationships, how our society was changing. When you spoke earlier about a turning point—I think our society was at a turning point. Clinton didn’t create it. He was reflecting that turning point. The press became enamored with all those issues, and George Bush just appeared to be a guy out of place in history.

Young

He had passed.

Popadiuk

Yes, out of place. It’s funny, because we needed him for one more term to solidify everything, I felt. But at the same time, if he had won I doubt we would have had a Republican Congress and I doubt his son would be President today. I suppose that’s one of the ironies of history.

Knott

You’ve mentioned—jumping around a bit here—but you’ve mentioned his health a couple of times, in ’92. Could you elaborate on that a little more on that?

Popadiuk

Well I think he had that heart fibrillation in ’91, I guess it was—May of ’91, I think. It was right after the Gulf War. He had to take some medication and stuff and that slowed him down a little bit. That might have, you know, I had seen him. He looked a little tired to me.

Knott

So you did notice a change?

Popadiuk

Oh yes. There were times he just seemed a little out of it. I don’t know—maybe he was worried about things, or maybe it was the medications.

Young

He could no longer do a dozen things at once.

Popadiuk

Yes. He wasn’t hopping around like the Energizer Bunny at times. My assumption is that that played a role. Maybe the juice wasn’t there—the energy, because he had to take care of that issue. But that’s a multiplicity of things. The health thing probably played a role for him because it definitely slowed him down. As you know, the thyroid gets slowed down, and your whole energy level—Graves’ disease.

[BREAK]
Young

We are resuming about President Bush and some examples of foreign policy.

Popadiuk

Taking off on what you said about the judgment of history—I have no doubts that as time goes on, history will judge his Presidency very highly. Putting the domestic house aside for a while, because we touched that point, if you look at foreign policy, if you look at the multiplicity of issues that he was involved in—people don’t seem to realize that, and the juggling of all that.

There is the standard thing of the demise of the Soviet Union, but the reunification of Germany peacefully within NATO, which people don’t realize—what an accomplishment. The end of apartheid. And the elections in Nicaragua. People forget what a big issue the Contras and Sandinistas and everything were in Nicaragua and yet how that was solved through an election that we supported. People just forget about that. Or the loans to the Latin American countries to stabilize the economies, which affected world markets and everything.

When you take all those pieces and put them together, you are going to see a Presidency that shaped the world very much. Also, you had a Presidency that not only shaped the events, but did them in such a way that didn’t threaten the structures of the international system, and that is very important.

As a matter of fact, the President—this is a bad term to use because it has become a kind of negative term—but the new world order that he was speaking about, which, if you permit me to identify, was kind of an inclusive system of all the states cooperating. The coalition was an example of the new world order. We’re all in this together. We all have to cooperate, and we all have to work things out together. That was a very important direction that he was trying to take the world, where he got the UN so involved in this, individual states through the UN— however you want to look at it. All these things were going on in Europe, in Africa, in Latin America, in Central America, and he handled all of this with—except for the Gulf War— basically no shots fired.

Think of it. The Soviet Union fell apart with a few unfortunate deaths in the Baltics, but basically it just fell apart. And it was managed so peacefully without, you know, sticking a thumb in it. Quite frankly, there was a lot of concern that you had to manage it—forgive me for the word—in a prudent manner, because otherwise you could create the very forces that would stop that process from going forward. I don’t think he’s been given enough credit or that there has been enough understanding about how difficult it was to mange that—to make Gorbachev look good but at the same time have Gorbachev bring an end to the Soviet Union and not have the radical forces come to the fore, which they did, when they arrested Gorbachev. And yet we got through that with [Boris] Yeltsin. All these things were very important.

Young

Well, yes, not just in global terms a new world order, but the internal sort of crisis in what was the Soviet Union or was ceasing to be the Soviet Union, with a coup or Gorbachev kicked out and Yeltsin coming in. I have heard that there is quite a story to be told in terms of Bush’s own management of that transition within the Soviet Union—the two leaders. Do you know anything about that?

Popadiuk

Well, suffice it to say, there was a lot of skepticism regarding Yeltsin in the early stages.

Young

Oh yes.

Popadiuk

A lot of skepticism. I remember when Yeltsin was brought over to the West Wing one time and the President came by Brent’s office to say hello to him. Yeltsin was quite a politician. I was in Brent’s office, in the outer office standing in a corner, and Yeltsin went out of his way to come over and shake my hand. He didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, you know, but to show me that here was a politician who was probably going to do something quite dramatic. Some people in the National Security apparatus were very skeptical about Yeltsin—that he was more of a demagogue than anything. They were not very keen on him, or they weren’t very positive that he could pull off whatever it was that he was trying to pull off in terms of democratization, et cetera. He surprised a lot of people.

To a certain extent, you have to give credit. You have to stand back, Jim, and look at this. Everyone knew that the Soviet Union was changing. The bottom line is, and I’ve spoken to Brent and other people about this, no one knew what kind of shape it was going to take. When people get criticized now for not supporting Yeltsin in the early stages or not pushing hard for the Soviet Union to fall apart, I think that is very unfair. They have the benefit of hindsight. At that stage, we were living this thing. I remember going back and just thinking about how dramatic those changes were, but none of us really knew how quickly they were taking place. I think Brent’s even been on public record as having called Yeltsin a demagogue so that’s—or on a background briefing or something, he got identified as doing that. Some of the impressions are wrong.

I think the President did play an important role in terms of when Yeltsin did go on the tanks and we sent a message out that we’re supportive. I think that was very crucial. We needed to support the process. But we also knew after that, that Gorbachev was basically finished. It was just a question of time. That was very vivid in Madrid in ’91—I think it was October of ’91—we had the Madrid Peace Conference and Gorbachev came and, to play it loosely, he basically didn’t have enough money to cover his own bills. Yeltsin was taking over everything. The handwriting was on the wall. It was just a question of time.

But the President always handled it very nicely. I remember the day that Gorbachev resigned, which was Christmas Eve. He sent a message in that morning to the President, to Barbara Bush, from him and Raisa [Gorbachev] saying, Goodbye, George type of stuff, and then he went on to graciously just resign. I always thought that the President—you talk about generous things, the President wanted to give Gorbachev a peaceful way to bring an end to the whole thing.

Young

Yes, that was one of the things I was talking about.

Popadiuk

Yes, he wanted to make sure that Gorbachev left with honor. Here was a guy that basically lost his country between August of 1991 and—in November, it was obvious the whole thing was gone. But yet he had brought about such dramatic changes in the world—support of the Gulf War, support of German reunification, supportive of pulling things out of Cuba—cutting aid and that kind of stuff. The President wanted to make sure that Gorbachev left, not on a high ground, but at least on his own terms, with honor, and I think that’s what Gorbachev basically did. He just kind of faded away. He gave his resignation speech and went. And that’s the side of the President that people don’t realize. He accepted victory graciously, but not vindictively or with pride. He always gave the people he dealt with an opportunity to leave, to be on the stage with honor, even if they were declining. That’s the mark of the type of individual he is. He carried that out very successfully.

Young

I think, I’ve heard at least, that he was in touch with Yeltsin about the treatment of Gorbachev. Be nice.

Popadiuk

Yes. I’m trying to recollect, because there was a phone call. I’m trying to recollect, Jim. You’re bringing back memories. I know there was a phone call that I remember talking about and I just can’t give you that kind of detail. You know—this is the wit of the staircase, as [Denis] Diderot said. Come Wednesday morning, I’ll say, I remember now.

Young

Marlin said, I can’t tell you that story. I’m sort of breaching security here because I don’t usually—

Popadiuk

That's okay—

Young

Marlin had some part of it and it was the way Bush privately talked with Yeltsin and talked with Gorbachev about achieving this result, letting him sort of leave with honor—give him his institute, give him a car, and to Gorbachev, you be nice to him, or something.

Popadiuk

There was a phone conversation the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I think it was, or the Saturday, if that’s the one. I’d have to go back, because I remember parts. There was very serious conversation with Yeltsin and then with Gorbachev the same day. The part that I focused in on was the end of the Soviet Union because that was a big crux of the phone conversations where Gorbachev complained to the President about a story that had come out in the newspapers.

The President—that Wednesday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving—I think we’re on the same phone conversation here—I’m recollecting now, but I will give you a different side of it. There was a news story. The President had met with a group of Ukrainian-Americans and had spoken about Ukraine and they all wanted Ukrainian independence and all of that. Ukraine had declared independence pursuant to a referendum, and things of that nature.

That weekend the New York Times ran a big story saying, U.S. Declares Ukraine to be Independent, or, Will Recognize Ukrainian Independence. In that phone conversation, it was interesting because Gorbachev kind of seized on that. You declared independence for Ukraine? The vote hasn’t even—How could you do this to me, George? That type of stuff. Yeltsin didn’t say anything about that part, so the handwriting was on the wall. Here was a guy who was kind of—here I’m interpreting—who was grasping for straws, you know? And Boris Yeltsin saw that this was in his benefit.

I remember talking to a number of Ukrainian activists in Ukraine after this, the activists that were active in Ukraine saying that the news of that spread like wildfire in Ukraine, that the United States was going to—Basically, Gorbachev was lamenting that you had declared independence and pulled the rug out from under the whole thing, with this type of thing. I think that was all part of one conversation. I’ve got parts and pieces of it all jumbled up in—and, like I said, by Wednesday I will probably remember the whole story.

Young

Write it down.

Popadiuk

Yes, well, who’s going to read it?

Young

We’ll use an appendix in the transcript.

Knott

You mentioned the reluctance of the President to celebrate the fall of the wall and not wanting to be seen as kind of rubbing it in. Were there individuals within the White House who thought otherwise? You know—that this was an occasion for celebration, both of the administration and of the United States policy for the past 40 or 50 years?

Popadiuk

If there were any, I wasn’t aware of them, or I didn’t sit in on those. The people I dealt with were Condi [Condoleezza] [Rice], Bob Blackwill, the late Ed Hewitt, and Dick Cheney from Defense. There were some people at DoD [Department of Defense] that were a little bit more proactive, who saw this as a great opportunity for the United States. Here was the great enemy for so many decades and they were willing to help push it over the hill, but I don’t think there was the kind of chest thumping that you’re referring to. There was a steady glee, and that’s only natural, particularly in DoD, because there’s the arms conflict and the arms race and things of that nature. But I didn’t detect it from Cheney or the individuals at the NSC. I just didn't detect it of the NSC staff.

Knott

I was wondering if you might give us your own impressions of Gorbachev. You’ve talked about him a bit here, but you saw him both when you worked for President Reagan and then for President Bush.

Young

You were at the first—was it Malta?

Popadiuk

I was at Malta, yes, in December of ’89, I think it was.

Knott

You were at Reykjavik as well.

Popadiuk

I was at Reykjavik in October of ’86. The only thing I remember about Malta is the horrendous storm. Everyone barely survived.

Gorbachev—how would you describe Gorbachev? Gorbachev struck me as an individual who was very sure of himself, very glib and articulate. Also, an individual who tended to be a little bit of a showman, you know, turning to people and through his gestures and all, and the way he walked, kind of—he’s short of stature but kind of on the stocky side, not muscular but just a little stocky. Always very sure of himself, but he always struck me as a guy who was presiding over things that got out of control, things that got out of hand, and he wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. His front was the cover for all of that—that’s the impression that I got. I think Gorbachev also didn’t have a great understanding of how the West operated—

Knott

Did not?

Popadiuk

Did not. How the West operated, or did not operate, particularly the economic system. I remember the President at Malta gave him a whole list of—I think he even gave him a document about capitalism or economic things of that nature so that Gorbachev could read up on stuff and get to understand how things operate. I just don’t think he really understood it. Obviously, he does now. He’s a good capitalist, I would say, at this time.

To go back to what I said earlier, Gorbachev started something he wasn’t able to control—I really get the impression from being around him that he just didn’t—he wasn’t riding the horse. He just didn’t have control of the events. By not having control of events, he tried to utilize the public, the press, or the public perception, to try to mold events, to bring the public, to control the events on the ground. I may not be articulating very well. Glasnost and Perestroika—those things kind of sprung up out of his leadership, but then he lost control of it. In order to gain control of it he tried to use public perception to bring the perception to the reality.

The whole place started falling apart, so he tried to make the best use of it—that’s the impression I got of him. What’s the best deal I could get now—now that the Germans are no longer going to be part of the system? And they’re no longer going to be part of the system because I broke it somehow, so I need to get the best deal to explain it at home, and to get something out of the West, and the Americans. He always seemed to be in that kind of—and the reason I say that is because I remember one time in conversation we were talking about this—it seems he had a new economic plan every week or something. Literally, for a while there were just new economic plans—how the economy was going to turn over and stuff like that.

He struck me as a guy who knew the system was broken, needed fixing, but once he started, the whole thing just got away from him and he had no idea how on God’s good earth to hold this thing together. He just started thrashing out there and trying to bring the public perception to the reality that was happening. I say that, because I had a similar—and let me digress here—my experiences with Ukraine.

Young

Yes, we want you to talk about that.

Popadiuk

When [Leonid] Kuchma was Prime Minister, before he became President back in 1992—in October, I think, of 1992—he was appointed Prime Minister. I had my first meeting with him and I had to talk with him. He started talking, and for some reason we got into economics and capitalism and he says, You don’t have to lecture me. He said it in a nice way, you know, we were talking one-on-one and everything. You don’t have to lecture me, he says. I’ve been a Communist my whole life. I’ve got medals and everything. And I know it doesn’t work. The question is—how do you go into the future? We don’t know what to do.

That’s like Gorbachev. I mean, that just is classic. I know it doesn’t work. It broke. I helped break it, but man, I haven’t the slightest idea what to do now. He always struck me as that kind of figure.

Knott

So he did not want to save—Gorbachev did not want to save the Communist system? He realized that?

Popadiuk

Let’s put it this way—if you are asking me to put on my academic hat, I don’t think Gorbachev wanted to make a Jeffersonian democracy and a Keynesian economic system, okay? But at the same time, I think he did want to change the system, because it wasn’t working. There’s no doubt about that. What kind of hybrid he wanted and at what stage was that process going to stop—was it going to stop when the Balts were let go, or when the Germans were let go? That I have no idea. I had an impression that what turned out to be, what we see now, is not what he wanted. That I can tell you. I think that he would have been comfortable and preferred if he had been able to keep the old Soviet system intact—forget Eastern Europe and Germany, because that was a goner, and then reconfigure the internal mechanism somehow, but not here.

My impression would have been that that’s what he would have preferred, but the thing just totally got out of hand and he couldn’t control it. It got out of hand for a number of reasons. The Kuchma analogy is classic—they don’t know what to do because they never had that kind of experience. And they’re old. Smart men, but the one key problem they all had—they were educated and smart, but they were all educated the wrong way, with the Marxist economics and all this other stuff. When you have those blinders it is very difficult to see how to shape the future, and Gorbachev fit that classic case of the old Communist system. If he had had more experience with the West, could he have done it? If there had been a leader like him before him, and he could have built on those experiences, I think he would have had a whole different situation. You might have had a Soviet Union still intact, not the way it was—totally different. Who knows?

Young

Maybe he wanted to—he was a reformer, because he knew things were broken. He didn’t know exactly where to go—but it could be that he wanted to preserve the Party, the Communist Party, as a mechanism for perhaps keeping control, or as a stabilizing element, but that never worked.

Popadiuk

But he destroyed the Party.

Young

Yes, that’s my point, because he kept declaring this, but in fact, he didn’t do that. That’s kind of interesting.

Popadiuk

There’s the guy you really want to get an oral history on. Mikhail, what went wrong here?

Young

Well, you know, the original document says we should try at some point to do some of this. They were going to do some oral history out at Stanford, I mean, at the Hoover Institution, I think. This was an earlier project. I think Condi Rice was somewhat interested in interviewing the Soviet leaders.

Popadiuk

Well, that will be interesting. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Knott

Oh yes.

Popadiuk

He developed a personal relationship with the President, as I mentioned—the letter that he wrote before he resigned. It was refreshing to see a Communist leader—Soviet, I should say Soviet leader—come to a point where you could actually have a conversation, a free-flowing conversation. They were always—you know, [Leonid] Brezhnev stands to mind as very standoffish and impersonal. And there was a human side to the person in terms of personal correspondence. That was a very refreshing thing that he brought as a personality. As a personality, he was unique to the Soviet system, and as a reformer, he had his head on right in what needed to be done. It just got away from him and he didn’t know how to bottle it after that. It was a classic case of a guy hoping that maybe this is the last thing, and then everything would stop and stay—

Young

It kept rolling.

Popadiuk

And the next thing he knew, it kept going, and kept going—first Germany, then the Warsaw Pact, the Balts, and then independence of Ukraine. The whole thing just kept going and going and you couldn’t stop it. Then Yeltsin, of course, pushed him over and that was it.

Knott

Just out of curiosity, did Yeltsin have any understanding of the West, Western economy, capitalism? You said that Gorbachev really didn’t understand. I’m wondering if Yeltsin had a clearer picture.

Popadiuk

Yeltsin came from the same mold, but Yeltsin might have had a better understanding of it for a number of reasons. Not because he was innately smarter than Gorbachev, but the experiences that Gorbachev was going through—and at the same time I’m going to be very Machiavellian here—in the sense that Yeltsin also wanted a key position in the wake of Gorbachev and he saw where the handwriting was on the wall. From that, as a political animal, he had an instinctive understanding of the forces of how the West was going to operate and how the economy would operate, and he took advantage of that.

I would say there were two things to Yeltsin—number one, the reform side that he saw as the result of the failures of Gorbachev—or the successes, depending upon which side—But also there was a side where he understood he had to use that card if he was going to succeed against Gorbachev within that system. I don’t want to impute motive, but I’m sure there was a desire to be a leader in Yeltsin, so through those two sources he had a better concept of it.

You also have to understand that at that time, Yeltsin didn’t have the sense of responsibility that Gorbachev had to try to keep the whole thing together. Yeltsin was able to play the card more toward the West in the type of reforms within the Soviet system that the West would favor, because that was seen as undermining Gorbachev further and at the same time maybe procuring favor with the West. Here I’m playing minor psychologist, but I think those are the kind of views I would have of Yeltsin—a very masterful politician.

Knott

Did you have more contact with him after? You mentioned the handshake incident.

Popadiuk

Well, I saw him at Camp David when he came to visit the President, and we saw him at one of the—I forget when it was—we were in Moscow and we saw him. Gee, I’d have to look at the dates we saw him in Moscow. I had seen him on a number of occasions. Very forceful individual, very sure of himself just like Gorbachev, very much like Gorbachev.

But if you do a comparison of him and Gorbachev, Yeltsin always struck me as an individual who had more control of his environment than Gorbachev. Maybe that was more personality. He had that big Russian bear personality. Gorbachev doesn’t fit that Russian bear image. Yeltsin does fit that image of a strong, big personality, and maybe it was a result of that. If I did a comparison of the two, I would feel that Yeltsin had more control, as I mentioned, of his environment than Gorbachev had. At least that’s my impression.

Knott

How about the Soviet-Russian—your media/press secretary counterparts? Were they good at what they did? Were they easy to trump, in a sense, because you guys were more used to dealing with more open, adversarial press? How would you characterize that?

Popadiuk

They were good, and they had some weaknesses. They were good in the sense that they were able to portray the big picture ticket items like the UN speeches that Gorbachev would give. I don’t want to take anything away from them, but those stories were so big that the rest of the international media would take those stories for them, so you didn’t really have to portray—

They were still very weak as an institution, and I will tell you why. They had some good spokesmen. [Gennadi] Gerasimov, for example, was a good spokesman who understood the Western ways and was able to sympathize with the press and get in good with the press. I remember a few times they came to Marlin and me, and we met with them on how to organize a press office. The Soviets came—literally, when they visited and were at the White House—they wanted information from very simple things of how it operates, to how many people we had on the staff and staffers we had in the press office. They tried to set up a similar organization. Marlin and I always joked that they never seemed to get beyond the stage of knowing how many people, because they never seemed to be able to get their act together to set anything up.

Two or three of their press secretaries —or their representatives—came in various successions to discuss how the press operates, the Press Office in particular, which indicated that they were not as sophisticated—I hate to use the word sophisticated. They didn’t know how the Western press operated and how to do things.

One of the issues was, I remember in Malta—when the principals couldn’t get off the boats and we wound up doing a backgrounder—we got our side of the story out and the Soviet side really didn’t do anything. I just don’t think they knew the mechanics as well as the people who had been dealing with the Western press in the past. They realized that, and they tried to make up for it. On an individual basis, they did have great people like Gerasimov, but that was on an individual basis, not as an organization. So, the short answer to your question is there was a lot lacking on their press side.

Knott

What about the Soviet—and later, Russian—journalists, when you would have interactions with them? Would they ask intelligent—did they seem to have an understanding of the West, or were they tending to ask what you might characterize as propagandistic questions?

Popadiuk

The Soviet/Russian journalists, if you want to mix them all up into one—some of them had an understanding of how the West operates. You can’t talk about them without comparing them to Western journalists. A lot of them, you would find, while they had an understanding, they were not as inquisitive as Western journalists. That’s the baggage that they carried with them from the censorship back home. Their questions were pretty much straightforward. They didn’t look for the nuancing so much. It was, Are you going to give up the missiles? That type of thing, pretty straightforward questions. So they were fairly easy to deal with.

You have to realize the audience that they were playing back to, particularly the Soviet ones. Even after independence or after the Soviet Union broke up, there was a lot of baggage from the days of censorship, which basically continues to a great extent. What you witnessed was a lot of self-censorship, a concern of how do you deal with the subject, and how do you write about a subject, because you don’t know how it’s going to be looked on back home.

So on an individual basis, I would say, yes, they understood the West. They enjoyed the West, but they were still hampered in their styles because they were not trained as Western journalists and the audiences that they had to report back to or play to were not the type of audiences that we in the West are. It was more factual.

Young

Less entrepreneurial?

Popadiuk

Yes. Oh, yes. Absolutely. I mean you wouldn’t have a fellow doing the exposés or something. As I was telling Steve, it was more factual. Are you going to give up the missiles? When are you going to give them up? That kind of stuff. That’s what I found, basically, overall.

Knott

Was it the same when you went to the Ukraine as ambassador?

Popadiuk

Yes, basically, it was the same. There is a lot of self-censorship, I would have to emphasize again. They would remember the old days. No one was really going to take a chance with the old days. The questioning was more factual rather than exposé. The government still controlled a lot of the press through the newsprint and subsidies and things of that nature, so there was always that hanging over your head. There was violence against individual journalists, some leading to death of journalists, which no one knew who to ascribe to, but people could draw all kinds of conclusions. So, yes, compared to the Western press, I would say that the overall Soviet press, the Ukrainian press, and even the Russian press in those early days was docile, and looked to be fed information, rather than to pull out information.

Young

Gorbachev had a—have you already talked about this?

Popadiuk

We spoke, yes.

Young

Gorbachev’s Press Secretary?

Popadiuk

I spoke about Gerasimov and how they always—good people but the system was broken. They just didn’t know how to operate a system. I mentioned to Steve that they came to us to try to get a structure on how to organize it. We gave them information but nothing ever came of it.

Knott

Nothing ever came of it?

Popadiuk

I never noticed anything come of it.

Young

Didn’t some people go over to advise Gorbachev about how to organize?

Popadiuk

Oh, that was Sununu, on how to organize. But I was talking with Steve—they actually came to us, to Marlin and me, on how to organize a press office. They never got beyond the meetings, as far as we could tell.

Knott

I wanted to ask a question that I should have asked when we were talking about your time at the NSC, and that is, how do you get facts from a sort of secretive—how did you do your job?

Popadiuk

I’m not going to tell you. [laughs]

Young

That’s either a national security secret or a trade secret—

Knott

I want a trade secret. You’re in an incredibly awkward position to be a press person for people who deal with highly sensitive material. How do you do that?

Popadiuk

Well, you got information in a number of ways. Number one, as part of the Press Office operation, you would get a summary of intelligence in the morning. Marlin would get it and I would get a copy of it. We were cleared for that, so we would get intelligence that way. But the other thing is—and this is where I said working in the Situation Room was helpful—I could always go down and say, Hey guys, what happened? Or, Can I see this? That would go a long way. That kind of personal contact helped a lot.

Also, having worked there, I knew who to call because I knew what the issues would be—I mentioned about the missiles and Poindexter. I knew the story so I knew where to go, and that carried over. Having clearance, also, and being a career Foreign Service officer, you could call at State and get information very easily, also.

So, through a variety of written products that were provided, the contacts at the Situation Room, and then the contacts throughout the State Department—you put that all together. You might read one thing, call one guy, and read a third thing. Then you’d get a fuller picture than Marlin would, because Marlin would be only provided one piece of information, which would be the written product. Then you can go and what you do is you can leverage that, sometimes. You go to the relevant NSC person, or to Scowcroft, or to Gates, and you tell them X, Y, and Z. Then they say, How do you know? Then they give the rest of that, and then you’ve got the whole picture, you know? And then you paste it together.

That way I tended to stay ahead of the game and gave Marlin a lot of heads-up on things that were coming down the pike so that he wouldn’t be caught with his pants down or something. But that’s basically how it would operate. You basically had to chum, and do a lot of trolling of the waters. It wasn’t one piece of information. Because, in intelligence, there is no one piece of information. It literally is getting a little bit from everybody.

Knott

So you had a network, essentially?

Popadiuk

Yes, exactly. Yes, you had a network, and at different levels, and you would talk to people. Sometimes you would have a puzzle where you have two pieces of very classified information and somebody gives you something that’s unclassified that just makes the whole thing perfectly clear. It’s one of those odd things sometimes. Or sometimes you have three pieces of classified, and you call one guy and he gives you the fourth piece, which, if he knew you had the other three, he’d have a heart attack giving you that fourth piece. It was basically networking.

I would come in a little before 7:00 in the morning and start the process. But the good place was the Situation Room right there, because that information would be coming in 24 hours a day. If you had access to that, that really helped, because you knew what phone calls took place, who called—you saw the information coming. I had all my clearances, still, obviously. You could see all the latest intel coming and get the briefing from the guys.

Young

Isn’t it also necessary to have an effective relationship with the press people? To demonstrate to them—not only for you to just get the facts, so that you know—but to demonstrate that you do know what’s going on, so they respect what you have to say, and also the bounds beyond which you won’t go.

Popadiuk

Well, that goes two ways. You have to show the press that you know what you are talking about, but also, you have to show the people that you are getting the intelligence from that you are not abusing it—that you’re not giving away troop movements or something. So when that relationship develops—Hey, I gave Roman this bit of intelligence and he worked it okay that it didn’t hurt anyone or anything—then you have a sense of confidence. I can give more. And they give you more each time, because they know you know how to handle it.

Knott

I would think it would be somewhat stressful to know how far you could go in terms of talking with reporters.

Young

Are you talking background, or are you talking briefings, or both?

Knott

Yes.

Popadiuk

Well, there are a number of things. Number one, first of all, you have to use common sense. As long as you didn’t get anyone in trouble or get any state secrets out, you know, that we’re deploying—there were some no-brainers—that type of thing.

Knott

Sure, sure.

Popadiuk

So you had to use your judgment on those kinds of situations. You also had to look at what the objective was of the particular policy—if you want to stop something, if you want to further something, you understand? Then you’d have to use information. If the President wants to push—let’s say, hypothetically, the President wants to show that Gorbachev’s a real nice guy. And you have access to the phone conversations. Then you would use those parts to push that forward.

The other part of it is, as you mentioned, you would go into different modes. You would be on the record. You would be on background. You would be on deep background. As a matter of fact, I was all three on one story. Literally. I was on the record by name, and then I was on background as an unnamed White House official, and then I was on deep background as an informed source. Depending on—so, yes.

Young

So, occasionally, if you read between the lines of a report, you can sometimes pick out that all three are the same person.

Popadiuk

Sometimes you can. But you understand what I’m saying?

Young

Sure, yes.

Popadiuk

You use various rules to get the information out. The main thing is don’t tip the hand, like, obviously, troop movements, rules of engagement, things of that nature. The criterion was what the policy was, and what can you do to advance that policy. Then you would use your bag of goods—on the record, background, et cetera—in that situation. And don’t forget a lot of this stuff was intramural in the sense that it was within the administration—White House versus State or DoD—so you’d have to do that because there was a lot of jockeying. It was not always outward directed. That’s where the press would be used to send signals and things.

Young

To others within the—

Popadiuk

Right, within the administration.

Knott

Were there people on the NSC staff who were, I don’t want to say suspicious, but you were the contact with the media. Were there some who were more cooperative than others or some who may have seen you as a potential—?

Popadiuk

Yes, some were cooperative more than others, but we reached the point where I felt that I got as much information as I needed from the NSC staffers. There was reluctance, sometimes, at the very top, like with Brent sometimes. He’d say, Aw, Roman, do you really need to know? Or Gates. You know, not knowing that I had already gotten the stuff and I was just using it for another stepping stone, to see what more is out there.

But usually the staffers worked out okay. You have to realize that a lot of the staffers did press interviews on background—we facilitated those. We worked a lot, kind of hand-in-glove, for their press relations and their talking to the press. They had policies that they wanted to get across, and when we facilitated that for them they were appreciative and things worked out. They understood the mechanisms of the press. Brent understood the mechanisms of the press also, but he tried to—when you’re at the top you try to control information. You also try to curtail press information, sometimes, and it doesn’t always work, as I always pointed out to him. He’d always laugh. But I’d say overall the cooperation was pretty good on the NSC staff. I wouldn’t complain about it. I got pretty good cooperation.

As a matter of fact, there was one case—I remember there was a Washington Post story—and I forget if this was the Reagan years or the Bush years, because you’ve got me mixing both administrations now. It must have been the Reagan years. There was a front page story on the START negotiations. We read the story and I went to the fellow on the NSC staff on the story and I came back a little bit later, and he says, You can’t talk about this, Roman. And I said, What do you mean? He had each paragraph highlighted, Top Secret, Secret, Confidential. I said, You’ve got to be kidding. It’s in the front page of the Washington Post. He said, Yes, but the public doesn’t know if this is secret or not. This is the kind of stuff you ran into sometimes. I said, It’s in the front page of the— Yes, but if you don’t admit to it, then it’s— I said, You’ve got to be kidding, guy.

Sometimes you have those kinds of funny situations where people try to control what was said about stuff that appeared in the press, but that was very seldom. I remember that one particular incident was quite funny.

Young

Back to our question of how do you decide what to let out and when, things at the Presidential level, where it would be decided, or the President would stipulate, how do we let this out, who does it, as well as what is the story. Is this something that ought to come from the Defense Department, not from us? Or something that ought to come from State?

Popadiuk

Well, yes. Marlin would make a lot of those decisions, and he would make it sometimes right from the podium or he would say, That’s a DoD issue. I’m not going to talk about that. Then he would talk to his counterpart, Margaret [Tutwiler] over at State, or Pete [Williams] over at DoD and say, You guys handle this however you want to do this. I’m sure Brent and Cheney spoke about who would take care of these things in those situations. There were definitely things that we wouldn’t want to deal with at the White House and kind of push off—

Young

Marlin said in his book that he resolved, after looking at the hostage rescue mission and the Jody Powell situation, that he would never talk about military operations. He would always answer, No comment, because he couldn’t know about those and there was nothing but grief to come from that.

Popadiuk

There were certain questions—Iran-Contra was one of them, things under investigation—where Marlin would say, We have nothing to say. That’s our line and we’re going to stick with it. We don’t discuss rules of engagement. That was absolutely—and that’s a very wise thing to do because, number one, you’re absolutely right, you don’t know how it’s coming down, how quickly it’s going to come down. And secondly, that’s not something that you really want to talk about, because you’ve got lives at stake. Even though the press may want to know, you try to stay away from that as much as possible.

Young

Did you have anything to do with, or, what do you think about the press policy in the Gulf War—the reporting of the Gulf War? There wasn’t embedding then, and it was a different situation about how coverage of the operation—

Popadiuk

Oh, you’re talking about the DoD thing? No, that was Pete Williams. I think Pete spoke to Marlin about it, but Pete—basically, that was DoD. Embedding is the new term. From my best recollection—I know Marlin spoke to DoD about these things—but that was a DoD issue.

Young

So that was left up to—

Popadiuk

That was a DoD issue, yes, on how to do this kind of stuff. Marlin may have different recollections of it, but the last thing he wanted to do was have the White House look like it was managing the news. If it’s military, the DoD should deal with it, and work out the ground rules with them. As you know, there was a lot of criticism of that at that time. But we tried to stay away from those things.

Knott

So the policy of No comment—it prevailed even during the Gulf War?

Popadiuk

No comment on?

Popadiuk

Any sort of military related matters.

Popadiuk

Well, Marlin announced the war, as you know, The liberation of Kuwait has begun. We responded if there were particular things that would cause a negative public perception of the war. We didn’t respond on troop movements and things of that nature. A good example was the baby milk factory, or which the Iraqis claimed was a baby milk factory. Marlin and I talked about it and Marlin said that we have to go out there and nip this in the bud, and he was absolutely right. This was a military target, but you know, you are always uncertain in these kinds of situations because, who knows? Our guys—Marlin—as any Press Officer will tell you—your guys tell you one thing and the truth may be sometimes in between there. I remember Marlin calling Colin directly on this and getting assurance that this was a baby milk factory. With that, Marlin felt comfortable and he went out and he briefed on that, and he did the right things. He expressed sympathy for the loss of civilian lives and things of that nature, but he outlined what the role of the facility was.

In those kinds of situations, we took the lead on that because we didn’t want the image of the conflict to be tarnished, that we were out there to kill innocent Iraqi civilians and things of that nature. But on the troop movements, once it really got started going, we stayed away. The basic role that I had is I dealt with the foreign press on this issue, like, go over to the foreign press center on 14th Street and do briefings there for the foreign press, and backstop Marlin whenever he needed to be backstopped. But going back to your original question, I would say that DoD did all the embedding, so to speak.

Young

There were some instances in the run-up to the Gulf War in which it appeared that the U.S. agenda was—again, I am just remembering reading and hearing, and reading the press. It’s about oil, it’s about jobs, it’s about this, it’s about that. I don’t know how this came about, but it looks from the outside that there was a period when not everybody was on message about what the war was about. Was that the case? I am trying to look for an example of where the reports are that the information being given to the press was somewhat in conflict, and how those situations were handled.

Popadiuk

I had the impression in the early part, from August to October of 1990, that there was a little confusion as to what this was going to be. I think that the critics of potential war had the upper hand in calling this. This was oil—blood was being spilled for oil. Baker came out with the term, jobs, jobs, jobs, and that really didn’t help any. I think he was the one who said it, and three times, jobs, jobs, jobs.

After October, things got more solidified in terms of what the objectives were. I think it was October or November—around that time the President came out and announced the augmentation of the troops, saying that he was going to send 200,000 more troops, and it became a little bit clearer as to what we were going to be undertaking. The President started describing it in a much clearer fashion about what was being done to Kuwait, what Saddam [Hussein] was. If you remember, the President hooked on to this thing that he was another [Adolf] Hitler, and so the conflict was becoming personalized, in the sense of signaling out Saddam as an evil type of individual. The conflict started being more explained for the American public—what it was in terms of the people in Kuwait who were being killed, the young children, et cetera.

Young

And there was an invasion—no mistake.

Popadiuk

There was an invasion, yes. That we can’t let another state invade. Then we described how it was a threat to Saudi Arabia. Also, this guy—he did Iran first, then he did Kuwait, and then he might do Saudi Arabia. As a result of that it started to solidify a little bit better, and there is no doubt about it. In the early stages, it was kind of—I hate to use the term disarray, but people were talking out of different sides of their mouths, or different departments—I’m pretty sure it was Baker. You guys probably know better than me.

Young

He was the one who said jobs.

Knott

That’s right.

Popadiuk

But he said, jobs, jobs, jobs. You guys remember better than I do, I’m remembering this on the spur here as you ask these questions.

Young

You know, Jim Baker hasn’t told me this. I just read it in the press, but he was quoted, and there were other people quoted, and then the reporters, editorialists, sort of said, Lookee here, look at all these—does the administration really know what it’s doing here?

Popadiuk

The President knew what he was doing, but a lot of people didn’t know how to explain it to the American public. They were looking for something that would resonate in the American public. Baker figured the jobs thing would resonate, but that just became code for oil and blood and all that stuff, and that wasn’t going to work. Then the notion of hostages came up also, but people realized that you can’t really play this, because that plays into their hands—that you’ve got—you know—the hostages. And so there was a little bit of disorganization in the early stages.

But I’d say after the augmentation was announced, we became clearer. You’re right, you know, the international boundary, the Iran thing, then Kuwait, then Saudi Arabia, the abuse of Kuwaiti people, and the notion of Saddam being a Hitler. That was something that started to gel and something that the American people were able to understand.

Young

I have the impression that Marlin was very much behind getting—defining—these purposes more than Bush himself was.

Popadiuk

To a certain extent he was. I remember having a meeting with Marlin at the end of October, saying, Marlin, what are we going to say about all this? We sat there and we mulled about it, and we said we had to have a better concept of what had to be done. Then Marlin agreed, and put his thinking cap on, and we had the augmentation, and then the rest of the stuff flowed.

Young

Well, Marlin tells this story about this person—this girl in his office who is pointing out that, Americans don’t go to war for jobs. They go to war for God, mother and country. And a light bulb lit up, and Marlin says, So we’ve got to have a better reason. Of course, there might have been no such girl, but—

Popadiuk

There were a lot of people. The jobs thing was not going to work. That we all knew.

Young

Well, basically, that thing was for economic reasons, and then oil became a part of that. It was economic self-interest and it was all that—that’s the noise that went around. I don’t think anybody took it seriously except the critics.

It’s 12:20. Can we have a short break for lunch?

[BREAK]
Young

As we mentioned at lunch, Sununu goes, [Sam] Skinner comes in, the situation changes, and some months later, you leave and go to become the Ambassador to the Ukraine, which we’d like to also hear about. Your survival and the story of those who moved out of or from the Reagan administration into the Bush administration, and generally the nature of that transition—its difficulties and so forth. And reflections on some key figures in the Bush administration.

Popadiuk

In general, the transition was very friendly and nice. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard stories to the contrary, but you look at the—I wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of people who worked for Reagan. [James] Cicconi, for example, worked for Reagan. I think Fred McClure, Andy Card—everybody was somehow in the Reagan administration, obviously not at the same upper levels as they had in the Bush administration, for example. But a lot of them had positions. The transition was nice. There was a lot of carryover, depending on if you consider that level a good carryover. I don’t know what ranks you’re looking at.

Would I be misleading you if I said there was no one—there were people who wanted to stay over that weren’t held over. But the people that I know of personally who had wanted to stay, or expressed an interest in the possibility of staying over—there were no gripes when the notice came that they were not going to stay over. They just left peacefully. They saw it as part of a family transition. I didn’t notice anyone in particular from my contacts who indicated anger that they were not being held over, or, Why this person and not me? From my perspective, I felt it was fairly nice, given the awkwardness of a Vice President taking over and the expectation that maybe people in the Reagan administration would all stay en masse. But everyone realizes that the guy has his own people.

Young

Maybe some of this feeling was in the outer departments.

Popadiuk

Well, that could well be it. I would say that my own personal situation—and I don’t know what the issue was, but I can only surmise—You have to realize, Marlin himself was a holdover. But then again, Marlin was part of the Vice President’s staff before he went over to the Reagan staff, so there was that relationship.

Some of the things that probably led to my being held over were, number one—not in any sequential order—my being a career official. I wasn’t seen as a Reagan person or a Bush person. I was being presented as a career person and also as a person who had an expertise that could not necessarily be provided by a political person in terms of intelligence, as we had spoken about earlier. So, career, and in a position that someone would not necessarily have any type of access to information, coming straight in as a political appointee. Those were probably my two greatest strengths.

I remember it was quite whimsical, because I remember Marlin speaking to Andy about me. Andy came in and was the Deputy Chief of Staff, and Marlin telling me to keep a low profile. Don’t let Sununu and all the other guys see you or anything because they’ll wonder who you are, and that kind of stuff. Kind of, If you’re going to stay on, you’ve got to keep it low. I found that quite humorous. I never ran into a problem with Sununu or anything like that.

Young

Did you know Colin Powell from before?

Popadiuk

Yes. I knew Powell because I remembered Powell from the Reagan years.

Young

Right, okay, and what about Brent Scowcroft?

Popadiuk

No, Scowcroft I did not know. Marlin expressed an interest to keep me on, and I think Andy Card had no problem with that. I think it was presented as a fait accompli to Brent as Marlin’s recommendation. Obviously, Brent could say, No, I don’t want this guy, but the first day we were in office—I forget what day it was—but the next morning, or two mornings later, I walked up to Brent’s office and introduced myself to Brent and to Gates, who was sitting in with him. I said, I’m press, and explained the whole thing, and, I would be happy to work with you, and things of that nature. We seemed to have hit it off and there was never any—as far as I know—any doubts from Brent’s side that he wanted to change people, so that’s how that worked.

Young

That worked very well, according to Martha Kumar’s interview with you. It went into detail.

Popadiuk

I thought we worked real well with Scowcroft. From day one I enjoyed working with him and I didn’t see any problems with him at all. As far as I know, he never went to Marlin to see if he wanted someone else. He accepted Marlin’s judgment and after meeting with me, he said, Fine, and that’s basically how I stayed on.

But the decision had been first made at Marlin’s level and Andy Card’s level to keep me on. And, like I said, a lot of people stayed on, whether it was Marlin, or—Fred McClure was one of the ones, if you look back, who had some kind of role in the administration, and Cicconi, Andy Card—so a lot of people stayed on. I’m not saying that it was a wholesale transfer, but there were enough there that there was a continuation of some of these people who were considered Reagan or Bush people in the Reagan administration, you know what I mean? But they were still in the Reagan administration staying on to the Bush administration. So it’s kind of hard. All these people are Bush people that I mentioned, by the way.

Knott

Correct.

Popadiuk

What was the other question?

Knott

The Sununu/Skinner Chief of Staff transfer.

Popadiuk

Sam Skinner is a great guy.

Young

We’ve interviewed him, by the way.

Popadiuk

I think it’s been about two years since I’ve seen Sam. Sam Skinner is a great guy. Sam kind of ran into a problem from almost day one on the way he approached the Office of Chief of Staff. I remember the very first senior staff meeting. For some reason, Marlin wasn’t there and I attended it. Sam came in in his shirtsleeves and didn’t sit at the head of the table. He sat to the side, and was trying to be a buddy-buddy. He asked Andy, What have you got to say? Andy was Deputy Chief of Staff and I think Andy felt kind of awkward to be in that position. I remember thinking to myself, I don’t think this is going to work. He just turned out to be a nice guy, when you needed at that time someone who was going to be taking the bull by the horns.

I’m not saying that he wasn’t capable of that. By no means. I’m just saying that maybe his tactical approach to how to take that job on was not the best approach at that time. You have a lot of strong personalities around that table, who shall remain nameless, who liked to get their ways, or push their ways. As a Chief of Staff you need to be pretty tough at times. The first impressions that you generate, sometimes, are the lasting impressions, and I think that Sam might have just sent the wrong signals the first few days.

Young

Too much Mr. Nice?

Popadiuk

Yes, that’s the impression I got. Too much Mr. Nice Guy, rather than, We're here to set the President’s agenda. This is what I expect of you, boom, boom, boom. You do this. You do that. Get back to me. Andy is going to be my Deputy. I expect everything to go to him. I’ve never been a Chief of Staff, but I have run organizations that I would want to show everybody who’s in charge, what I expect. I just got the impression that that wasn’t there in the first few days.

Young

But he did not choose to keep Andy. Andy Card left.

Popadiuk

No, I’m not saying that. But I am saying that the—

Young

The first.

Popadiuk

The first, yes. Andy went to be Transportation and he went on and everything, but what I’m saying is that whether it was going to be Andy for the first few days or not, he had to establish a framework of, This is what the President’s agenda is. This is what I expect of you. I just didn’t get that from him. As a matter of fact, from the meetings that I was at, I just didn’t see that from him. He seemed to be deferring to the staff. Maybe he felt that he was too much of an outsider at first. You know, you’re three years into an administration at that stage—I think this was December of 1991, or something like that.

Knott

Right, right, correct.

Young

Yes, Sununu left in ’91 and he came in in January.

Popadiuk

January, okay, so I’m off by a month or so. So you are really, basically, into the tail end of the administration. You’re into an election cycle and there’s a lot on your plate. I can’t speak for Sam, but maybe the impression was that he was too far along to get the bull by the horns at this stage, and try to do the best he can. Maybe that was a judgment on his part.

Young

I wonder if he had a brief of that sort from the President. That’s something we find very difficult to find out—to find out, yes, there was, or there wasn’t. Or there was some doubt about what he thought he was supposed to do.

Popadiuk

That I can’t answer for you, because I was in, myself, for most of the transition phase, because by January I had gotten word about the nomination and everything, and Sam didn’t stick around too long.

Young

No, no.

Popadiuk

And when did Andy leave, exactly? Was it—he left in May ’92, or earlier?

Knott

Some time that spring. I don’t remember.

Popadiuk

That spring? Nobody stuck around that long after that. There was a lot of transition. I don’t think Sam lasted more than four or five months. Baker came in August.

Young

August.

Popadiuk

August. You know, there was some quibbling, and now I was leaving, so I don’t know that Sam might—he could have been a little more attentive to detail, also, in terms of policies and things like that. But that’s—

Young

Now, he brought in some management person, didn’t he, from Transportation, or someone to—

Popadiuk

Rings a bell that he brought someone in.

Knott

Actually, I thought it was a team, but maybe it was just one person.

Popadiuk

I can’t remember.

Young

To review everybody’s jobs and what they were doing.

Popadiuk

Yes. That didn’t go anywhere, really.

Young

I didn’t think it did, but there was a big play of that in the press as an unfriendly comment about Skinner. He was also quoted in the press at the time as saying that, There have to be some changes here, and he was clear that it was Darman who would have to—

Popadiuk

Sam never got his arms around the job, I think. That’s the impression that I got. I don’t know what you get from your research, and I’m not criticizing him. I think that he was so far into the administration—and with a campaign coming—that it was just too difficult for him to get it in. And he entered into a world of pure politics rather than a world of management. You can’t be a nice guy to everybody. You’ve got make some hard decisions. This is only hearsay—As I was leaving, people’s words were that, as I said, he kind of dropped the ball on a few things, wasn’t too attentive to detail, and kind of missed some cues on the Hill, and things like that. I don’t how legitimate that is.

Young

There was apparently a real morale problem at that point on the White House Staff, at the White House, in the office. I’m pretty sure that must have been the case. I mean, look at the situation. There was a lot of frustration.

Popadiuk

Let’s put it this way, there wasn’t a sense of clear direction. Fair enough? And the reason I don’t want to go into too much detail is because by that time I was starting to head out, and I don’t want to report on hearsay.

Young

I’m not really asking you that. I’m saying that you were seeing this change, and what were your observations?

Popadiuk

Yes, those were my observations. I think that it seemed to be very loose. There was no cohesive—

Young

Probably at the wrong time.

Popadiuk

At the wrong time, when you are going into a campaign. And you just had a very strong-willed Chief of Staff leave, and you had almost an opposite type of personality come in, or at least a projection of an opposite type of personality, which could have sent a wrong signal at a time when you needed tightening in a tight grip. I think all of that is not to take any credit away from Sam as a manager. It probably led to some of the—how would you say it—some of the problems and some of the lack of direction that we had during the spring of ’92.

Young

What made a lot of editorial columnists’ comments was bad blood between Sam and Dick Darman from the word go.

Popadiuk

Yes, but Darman—there was bad blood between Darman and everyone. You know, Dick is a very strong-willed person. He had an opinion on everything at the staff meeting. I remember one time we were doing a discussion of who was going to be on the Sunday shows. I was at the senior staff meeting. I said, Well, Dick, you’ll do this, and he says, I do what I decide to do. That’s Dick Darman. And so you laugh that off and go on. But that’s Dick Darman. You deal with it, or you bend back from it, and you’ve just got to meet it head on. So, was there bad blood between me and Dick Darman? No, I didn’t see it that way. I just saw Dick Darman being Dick Darman. I’m easy to get along with.

Young

Right, but not everybody knows Dick Darman.

Popadiuk

I know that.

Young

We have some interesting Darman anecdotes.

Popadiuk

Oh, I am sure—without prompting also. I’m sure you have plenty.

Young

Going back to the Reagan White House, I might say.

Popadiuk

I’m sure you do.

Young

He was in Cicconi’s position in the Reagan White House as Staff Secretary.

Popadiuk

Well, there’s another guy. Yes, he was in the Reagan White House.

Young

As Staff Secretary.

Popadiuk

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. He’s a holdover, you can say. Now, a lot of these guys were Bush people, too—Cicconi for example—but there are a lot of people, and Andy Card was obviously a Bush person in the Reagan White House, and they moved over. When I talked about the transition, I am including also the people who were considered Bush people being held over.

Young

During the transition from Reagan to Bush, did you want to stay on? Or did you think about returning to a Foreign Service career?

Popadiuk

I was of two heads. I had gotten an assignment to Ottawa as the political officer, which was very good, I thought—a very good assignment, because I had a young family at that time, and thought this would be a great assignment. But I spoke to Marlin and I said if there’s any chance of my staying on, let me know, because I still was of the opinion that if you have a chance to work in the White House versus doing an 03, for example, political job, you’d rather stay at the White House.

So when I said to Marlin, and when that possibility presented itself, I let State know that I’d prefer staying where I am. So yes, there was a possible chance that I could move on. I was already paneled for a position, and so they had to de-panel me, if that is the correct term, and find another person to go into that position, which was not that bad. Ottawa’s not bad, so whoever got that after me did okay for themselves.

Young

Then you come now to another change from Deputy Press Secretary and Press Officer of the NSC to go as Ambassador. Tell us how that came about and whether that was—was your time up, so to speak? Were you ready to leave?

Popadiuk

No, I was not ready to leave. I remember—I think it was September of 1991—when [Leonid] Kravchuk, who eventually became the first President of independent Ukraine, came to visit the President and was in Washington and Larry Eagleburger was hosting him in the Roosevelt Room just before they went in to see the President. I happened by, and I spoke to Kravchuk in Ukrainian—you know, I spoke a little bit—and I remember Larry hitting me with his cane playfully and he said, I know where I’m sending you.

I didn’t understand what he was talking about at that time. But a few months later—it was New Year’s—and we were—where were we headed? We were headed to Japan, and we stopped in Hawaii and I had a call from the State Department, the Director General’s office. I returned the phone call and it was the Deputy to the Director General saying, Are you interested in going to Kiev as Ambassador? I said, Are you kidding, really? Sure, why not? I asked him a few questions, like what’s the health situation because of radiation, because of children. I have small kids. At that time I had four kids already and they were all young—this was going into ’92, so they were all eleven or twelve or under at that time—still young. And they said, Well, there are other people with kids there and we don’t consider it a health problem. And I said, Fine. What’s the next step? What are the chances? When will you let me know? They said, Well, we just want to know if you’re interested. And I said, Yes, I’m interested. After that, I think I had to call them back, but they said, You are going to be getting a packet of stuff in the mail, which meant, You’ll probably get the nomination.

Lo and behold, they contacted me. You got the nomination. You’ve got a gazillion papers to fill out. That’s basically how it happened. We were en route and I got this phone call. I guess this was right after the independence referendum in December of ’91. They had the independence referendum and so things were moving very rapidly and they wanted to get someone out to post very quickly to Ukraine. They wanted to break Ukraine out separate from the other NIS [New Independent States] countries like Belarus, and so they wanted my nomination to go as quickly as possible. My hearings were in April and I got confirmed in May, and I was off the first week in June. It went very quickly.

Young

Were your hearings a breeze?

Popadiuk

Yes, they went pretty quickly. Joe Biden’s subcommittee chaired the hearings. There was some concern on two issues—one, whether there was an adequate-sized embassy staff. This was a SEP [separate embassy post] post. Remember, at that time, the department decided not to go for a supplemental, so money was being taken from other segments to fill these posts. If my memory serves me right, there were supposed to be 15 members at the embassy, plus an Ambassador, or 15 including the Ambassador, which I didn’t think was an adequate number at that time. We kind of went over that with Biden and some of the other members of the committee. By that time I had already started augmenting the numbers in my indirect conversations with other people who were going to be signing up with other agencies, so I told them that this embassy would be growing.

The other issue of concern, of course, was nuclear weapons. The issue was not so much about getting rid of the nuclear weapons, which everyone favored. But one of the Senators—I think it was Senator [George Hanks] Brown, if I remember correctly—the name skips my memory at this stage—raised the issue about, Why should we get rid of the weapons? Isn’t it good for them to have the weapons? They would be a ballast to Russia, et cetera. We went around that a little bit and I supported the administration’s position. The Senator wanted my position, and I said, Well, my position is the administration’s position. So we went around that. Those were the two basic things—whether there were enough resources to staff this post, and nuclear weapons. From the top of my head, those are the two issues that were probably uppermost in the committee’s hearings.

Young

Did you have a brief from the President on this mission?

Popadiuk

No.

Young

From Jim Baker?

Popadiuk

No. I knew the President’s position on this. I had been around him long enough, and I knew it from the NSC with Brent and everybody, and had spoken to members of the NSC, so I knew what the issues were in terms of what the concerns were. I knew the concerns were the nuclear weapons issue—trying to get the nuclear weapons out of the Ukraine, which I agreed with a hundred percent. But I saw that our role should be a little bit more than just nuclear weapons, that we needed to build a strong foundation for a bilateral relationship, and that included economic as well as cultural exchanges, et cetera, which I didn’t think the administration was putting a strong enough focus on.

The focus was general—a little bit of everything—but we were working on the nuclear weapons a little too much. By working on the nuclear weapons a little too much, it kind of hid the rest of our agenda toward the country. I think we were overshadowed—I know we were overshadowed—by the overall view of the administration that the relationship with Moscow was paramount to that of any of the constituent parts. I had a hard time trying to convince the administration that Ukraine in itself is an important country with fifty-two million people at that time, and that we needed to build a good, strong relationship with this country. Even though we were moving on some economic and some cultural exchanges, they weren’t enough. The nuclear weapons issue, while it wasn’t the sole focus, was also skewing the focus of the Ukrainians of our relationship, and that would hurt us in the long term.

But there was a feeling in the State Department, and it was anecdotal, because some of my officers would go back and report that the feeling among many people in the State Department was that this was basically 1917 all over again. You know—the bowl of jelly will shake and everything will come back together. And the Russian Ambassador in Kiev was going around saying that in five-years’ time, Ukraine was going to be part of Russia again. So there was not much to do. That was very frustrating when you were dealing with your home agency, the State Department, and trying to convince them that you needed a strong relationship here. The department was a little too short-sighted, looking at the Moscow relationship.

The feeling in the department was that if you build a strong Russia, that would have positive ramifications throughout the area, I guess. If you have a strong Russia, you will have a good Ukraine, et cetera. My argument was that you have to build from both ends, because if you have at least a strong Ukraine, it doesn’t guarantee that Russia will be good, but at least you’ve got a good Ukraine, and that will be a ballast—not that you want to play one against the other, but at least you have one. But if Russia doesn’t work out, then you’ve got nothing. So there was that to and fro with the department.

Young

You were there quite a short time.

Popadiuk

I was there fourteen months.

Young

Did you have any success in changing the—

Popadiuk

I’ll let history judge that.

Young

Oh, come on. I’ll say it to you that that’s a cop-out.

Popadiuk

It depends upon what you mean by success, Jim. I looked at it this way. I thought that there were a number of things that you needed to accomplish and not in any sequential order. Number one was to increase the embassy staff. I’d been a student of bureaucracy and in the Foreign Service and soon realized that once an agency gets a toehold, it never decreases. It always increases. So I made sure that everyone got represented—Treasury, Agriculture, you know—as many agencies as possible, and that we grew the staff as much as we could, because then every agency will have a vested interest in its own agenda and that will translate into a coherent policy toward that country. At the same time, it was very important for the Ukrainians to see that we are interested in the country. Speeches, in themselves, wouldn’t help, but an American presence would show that interest. The more Americans I had—that was good. The embassy grew considerably, and I was happy about that.

Another important thing was that the Ukrainians, to a certain extent, were trying to build their own ethnic identity, or rebuild it. I shouldn’t say create it, but rebuild it. As a submerged nation, or a subjugated nation—whatever term you want to use—a lot of the Ukrainian identity had fallen away. One of the things that they were so tickled pink about was that there would be someone, a foreigner, who could speak their language. I remember one guy from the foreign ministry saying, Please go around speaking Ukrainian. Show us that it’s okay to speak Ukrainian. And so I felt that, in some kind of strange way, I was helping them in their cultural renaissance. Obviously, I am not foolish enough to think that I had an impact, because no one person can, but going around showing that a foreigner can speak the language was important for them—that it’s okay to be Ukrainian.

One of the questions I would always get anywhere I would go is, What can I do to travel to the United States? My answer would be, Why would you want to go to the United States when you’ve got such a great country here? Try to build your own country and work on it. I’d try to give them some resolve and interest in their own country. Those were two things off the top of my head. I mean, obviously, there are a lot of other things that I feel happy about. We didn’t reach the conclusion on the nuclear weapons. That was reached shortly after I left, but we laid the groundwork for that.

One of the things that I am proud of, or that I think was important, was that in July of ’93, in the wake of the Russian Duma—for the umpteenth time, whatever number it was, the second, third, or fourth time—issuing a declaration that Sevastopol, a city in Crimea, is a Russian city—you remember in those days? I issued a statement saying that the U.S. government says Sevastopol is an integral part of Ukraine. Well, the Ukrainians were just tickled pink. This was a sea change for the administration to do this, and it actually upset a lot of people in the department.

Young

Yes, I would imagine.

Popadiuk

It upset a lot of people because I did the old bureaucratic trick. I called it into the department desk and then sent a cable in for Saturday morning saying, If I don’t hear from you, I’m going to make the statement. Well, of course you’re not going to hear from anybody. Then I went and made the statement and a lot of people got very upset, I was told. But it needed to be done. What happened is, within an hour, a few hours after I made the statement, or about the same time it happened, Yeltsin almost made the same kind of statement out in Siberia on the Russian Duma. That kind of clouded it because people were concerned with the Russians. Well, the Russians came out and said the same thing.

I thought that was important to try to show the Ukrainians that we are interested in their society and that we will support them. Not in a conflict with Russia. We don’t want a conflict, but there are certain positions that we need to take to show that we are for the Ukrainians—that we are always—that we’re not ignoring them. So those kinds of things were very important for the Ukrainians.

Young

How about your relations with the leadership?

Popadiuk

Ukrainian leadership?

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

I thought the relationship was good. I had access all the time. I had no problems with access with the leadership. The leadership was open to one-on-ones, as well as bringing delegations in. I think one of the strengths was the Ukrainian language. I noticed that whenever we would bring a delegation in, we would have to use a translator, but after the delegation would leave, I would speak with the President one-on-one in Ukrainian, and it was a whole different atmosphere in the conversation, in body language and everything. And so those kinds of instances more than any drove home to me the importance of the language skills for dealing with people. I thought the overall situation was good.

I know the foreign minister once complained to Brent about me—that I was too tough on them—because I was always telling them, You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this. It was like trying to make them take some medicine and get their act in order. So he thought that I was too tough, but Brent said, That’s what he’s there for. So that didn’t get them anywhere. Overall, I would say the relationship was good. I got along well with Kuchma. I had seen him after I left office and the relationship was good, I thought.

And I thought I got along well with Kravchuk. I had the access and all. There was a little bit of a cold spot in the spring of ’93 when there were all kinds of news stories in the New York Times—unnamed sources criticizing the Ukrainians about their nuclear weapons issues. Kravchuk gave me a little bit of a cold shoulder for meetings at that time in terms of the access, and was not willing to meet with the emissary until—we really had to make a lot of phone calls to get things done, to get those meetings done. But that superseded anything that we were doing in the embassy. That was a Washington–Kiev thing that we tried to finesse between the two of them.

But we also worked on business. It was very difficult to get business in Ukraine, because it was still a state in its founding stages. The laws were not in place, and so there was a lot of frustration on the part of American businessmen. But we made a point of getting them in to see whoever needed to be seen and represented in getting their messages across. I would have to say that the rate of success was extremely small during my tenure. I’m honest about that, because it was all very new, but we didn’t leave any stone unturned trying to get the businessmen in.

Young

Well, it got started off on the right foot.

Popadiuk

Oh yes, but it was very frustrating for the American businessmen to get things, you know—

Young

Right, but I meant the U.S.–Ukrainian relationship. Diplomatic relations started off on the right foot because—

Popadiuk

Oh, I think that, yes, it started off on the right foot. The biggest thing that the embassy accomplished, overall, was we tried to show them that we supported them and we wanted to work with them. Unfortunately, Washington was little behind us on that and it wasn’t until mid-’93 that Washington started catching up a little bit on this and things worked out a little bit better. Unfortunately, that relationship hasn’t really moved forward now either, the way things are.

Young

Were you—who else? Who were the other Ambassadors?

Popadiuk

Bill Miller succeeded me right after.

Young

No, I mean who had recognized the Ukraine?

Popadiuk

From other countries?

Young

Yes.

Popadiuk

Oh, you had a whole slew. Spain, Britain, France. As a matter of fact—Germany. I used to meet with the latter three almost on a weekly basis discussing various things. We would meet mostly in the German embassy in a secure facility to discuss with the British and the French and the German ambassadors. Absolutely. There was a lot of representation there.

Knott

I was hoping maybe, to conclude, we could get you to talk a little bit about some of the key figures from the Bush years—Vice President Dan Quayle, for starters. Any reflections on Dan Quayle?

Popadiuk

Dan Quayle, unlike his public persona—I shouldn’t say public persona—but unlike the perception that the public has received of him in the media, was a very astute observer of the key issues that he dealt with, particularly arms control, and a very good political person. I think he had his ear to the ground, knew which way political winds were blowing, how things would play, particularly on the Hill. The President used him very well in terms of, you know, Dan, how would this work on the Hill? type of stuff, particularly in the Senate.

It’s a funny thing about Dan Quayle, because I had seen him in operation many times. I’ll give you an example. Outside the Oval Office, where you would have a few Cabinet members or other staffers and he would be telling them, explaining something to them, and he would appear in such an authoritative manner with his hand gestures, his points of emphasis. Then you would take that same Dan Quayle and put him in front of a podium and it would almost be a caricature or a cartoon because the press would present him as guy whose voice is high-pitched and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It was like two different people.

I remember talking with David Beckwith about this. Dave Beckwith was his press officer, and Dave and I had worked a lot—I had known Dave many years. I said, Dave, if you could take the Dan Quayle from that little outer office of the Oval Office and put that Dan Quayle in front of the public, you’d have a whole different image. He said, I know. I just don’t know how to do that, and that was the problem. Quayle is one of those characters that the first impression that was painted by the media is the impression that stuck, and no matter what you did, you couldn’t get away from it.

I think one of the biggest compliments that Dan got was during the end of the administration when we were moving into the campaign mode. Bob Woodward did that series on him. We all cautioned Beckwith, Oh, my God, don’t do this, and Dave said, I gotta take a chance, and it actually turned out very good. Woodward said, Hey, this guy—he’s not bad. There’s some meat on the bones here. We thought that was a little too late, and not wide enough in the media. He’s a classic case of a guy who just got a raw deal. A lot of people still laugh when you say Dan Quayle, but I never laughed. He had his shortcomings like anybody else, like I do, or anybody else, but I think he just didn’t get a fair shake.

Young

Was he involved in the consultations about going to Congress before the Gulf War, or for resolution? There was a debate within the administration about that.

Popadiuk

Yes, the President has even said that. I wasn’t involved in that, but I know that the President always sought his advice, so he would have been involved in that. Yes, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been involved in that.

Knott

You talked earlier about Samuel Skinner and you mentioned John Sununu a few times but you didn’t go into any great lengths about John Sununu. Could you talk a little bit about your reflections of John?

Popadiuk

John Sununu everyone would consider a bully. He was sure of himself. He made you aware that he was sure of himself and that his opinion counted for everything. A lot of people were afraid of John Sununu. John Sununu could be very short and abrupt at staff meetings and very biting. He could also be extremely humorous, and funny, and charming and engaging. John was the type of guy that I didn’t mind dealing with because I’m from Brooklyn—these guys are a dime a dozen. I actually liked him, I liked him. I had no problem with him.

Some of the problems that people had with Sununu—and this I know for a fact, talking with the senior members and all—is that he tended to get his fingers into every little pie, every little pie, whether he knew the issue or not. Particularly, you would hear this in the foreign policy side, Why is he getting involved in this? Well, because he is Chief of Staff. He doesn’t really know, but you’ve got to have him, he’s Chief of Staff. Okay, I can live with that. He’s Chief of Staff. But I think that was his drawback.

The other thing is that, even though he was a Governor and the Chief of Staff, I don’t think he really understood the power mechanisms in Washington. He understood the Hill, and he understood the role of the Governors, Senate, President, and all that, but he didn’t understand the role of the media. He didn’t think the media was a necessary instrument of power in Washington and he learned his lessons the hard way. He kind of looked down on the media, didn’t cater to it. He actually threatened media representatives that he could destroy their careers, or something to that effect. That kind of relationship you are bound to lose. As Marlin would say, You don’t argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrelful. In the long term it was his undoing. As people would say, the arrogance of dealing with the media or the disdain he held for the media finally undid him. And that’s basically John Sununu in a nutshell.

He was a good tactician. When he put together the budget deal in ’90, I don’t think he sold it very well, either to the President’s political core—it wasn’t sold too well—and obviously on the public side. It turned it out to be a tax hike. That could also go back to his not knowing how to handle the press and things of that nature.

Young

Richard Darman wasn’t—I notice you said that Sununu put together that deal.

Popadiuk

Well, Darman, Darman. Darman. Yes, but he’s the Chief of Staff, so he got to okay everything. I would never take anything away from you, Richard.

Young

He was also—

Popadiuk

I know there were a lot of people. I was just kidding.

Knott

What about James Baker?

Popadiuk

James Baker is the guy you want on your right side when there’s trouble. There’s no doubt about it. James Baker is tough as nails, and a very nice man. Jim Baker has a very quick mind. He’s very articulate. He’s very forceful. He also knows how to cut his losses when you have to, and move on so that it looks like a victory. That’s the ultimate politician in him. Baker also knows how, unlike Sununu, to use the press, or work with the press, I should say—not use the press but work with the press. Baker also knows the patterns of how to develop relationships, whether on the Hill, or within your own staff. He just generates respect from his knowledge, just the force of his personality. Yet at the same time he’s not full of himself. At least I never got the impression that he was full of himself.

He always had a kind word for everyone, or a joke or two. You always have criticism and all, but any type of criticism of James Baker was always on the policy side rather than on the personal. That he’s not a good a guy type—that I wouldn’t hear. He’s just a solid professional who was all business, but yet enough humor on the sides. The one thing about Jim Baker I would say, and that’s not a criticism—the one thing I always got a kick out of Baker is he always seems to be a guy with tight self-control. He knows exactly when to move, how to move, and where to move. He seems to give that image. I can understand why the President values him so highly.

Young

The Scowcroft/Baker relationship worked apparently very well, unlike the relationship between the National Security Advisor and the other Secretaries of State. And yet they weren’t old acquaintances, and Baker—this was a new field to Baker, wasn’t it?

Popadiuk

It was a new field, but it was something he really wanted to take on. He was very successful and he was probably reluctant to give it up in 1992. Having said that, I think the relationship was a success for a number of reasons. Number one, you have to realize that Brent did not have the personal relationship with the President that Baker has, and so Brent knew that Baker didn’t need him to go to the President. Brent has since then developed a very strong personal relationship. They’re very good friends—don’t get me wrong.

The other thing that Brent has is that, even before Brent came into office, Brent had the reputation of being a straight shooter, very trustworthy. If he gives you his word, you know that that’s what he’s going to do. If you ask him to carry something out, you know that he’s not going to go double-cross you or anything of that nature. And so that kind of level of trust in individuals translated into people trusting him in their dealings with national security issues.

Brent also has a sense of humor, which Baker has also, and I think that helps. Brent also realized the need to stay in constant touch, so they were always on the phone, and a minimum once a week in person with the breakfasts that they would have—I think it was Wednesday mornings—you probably have it written down. You probably have a better recollection than me. So Brent was always in touch.

Brent always carried his position as—his job is to give choices to the President and to give a recommendation but not to take one person’s side over another. He carried that out in very congenial fashion and in a very nice manner without—you never saw any ideological overtones in anything that Brent was doing. When you are dealing with a person like that, then you, as a Secretary, feel comfortable in that relationship, because you know your position is not going to be sandbagged. You know you’re not going to be undercut in any way. I think the President was very lucky to have two such people at that same time in that field.

Knott

Could ask about one other person? George W. Bush—was he a presence in the Bush 41 White House?

Popadiuk

Yes, but this is a story on 41, not on 43.

Young

There is a connection though.

Popadiuk

Yes, I know. I saw George W. Bush numerous times in the hallways and in the West Wing at the White House, but no one at that stage had any thoughts of Presidency or anything like that, so I don’t have any specific recollections of him, of what he was doing or what he was not doing. He was just another one of the President’s sons coming by. That’s basically the only recollection I have.

Young

That was part of his political education.

Popadiuk

Oh, I would think so.

Young

We’re winding up the interview.

Popadiuk

I think there was a third thing I was going to say about Ukraine, but I forgot what it was going to be. I got sidetracked with the other questions.

Young

I’m sorry.

Popadiuk

Don’t worry about it. I’ll remember in a week or so and I’ll come back to it. That’s all right. Don’t worry about it.

Young

Thank you very much for the interview.

Knott

Thank you very much.

Popadiuk

No, no. Thank you. I hope it was useful.