Source: Carter Library, Presidential Papers, Staff Offices, Special Advisor to the President—Box 13, Siegel, Mark, 8/28/77–3/17/78; Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume VIII – January 1977 – August 1978, pp. 1052-1053.
From January 1977 to March 1979, Mark Siegel was Deputy Assistant for Policy Analysis at the Carter White House with responsibility for being the administration’s liaison to the American Jewish community. At the request of Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief policy adviser, Siegel worked for the Democratic National Committee and assisted Carter in his successful run for the presidency. Siegel was highly connected to the Democratic Party and to the American Jewish community. He resigned over two matters: the administration’s policy of selling advanced fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which he believed a threat to Israel’s national security, and his sharp disagreement with the Carter White House for not allowing alternative views on policy matters to find their way to the President’s desk. On March 9, when Siegel met Carter and Hamilton Jordan at the White House for a short meeting, Carter was very cordial and grateful for Siegel’s work during the Carter presidency.
I’ve read your letter. It’s a good letter and I understand. I accept your resignation, and I’m glad we have a chance to talk about it. “You are a brilliant man; Your knowledge and political judgment is extraordinary and has been vital to me. You have served me very well. The Middle East has been very difficult for me, and I know you have had a difficult role. But you have done your job very well, and you really have helped and contributed by your work. “I understand that the decisions I have made are controversial, and that you disagree with some. I appreciate the sincerity of your views and conscience, and although I deeply regret your decision, I accept it and admire your courage and conviction. “We have been friends for a long time, you mean allot to me.”
I appreciate everything you have said, and if you have a few more minutes, I would like to explain in greater detail why I have made the decision to resign. You must understand that you mean a great deal to me personally, that I genuinely care for you and about you. I think you know that. My problems with the Middle East are only partially related to the actual decisions you have made. I have strong and personal reservations about the wisdom of your Arms Sales decision, the ‘packaging’ of that decision, and its timing.
Although I have policy disagreements, they are limited to particular areas, but I have a broader concern, and I think my talking to you might be useful not only for me, but for you. I really am most concerned about how policies are made. The information that you have, or more specifically don’t have, when you make fundamental decisions. We owe it to you, it is our responsibility to you, to provide you with the broadest range of options and to predict for you the political and policy consequences of each course of action. I think you must have the fullest range of opinion, and all points of view must have access to you and to your decision-making process. That I think is the essential problem, and the one that caused me to resign. I don’t think you have had that kind of judgment. I don’t think you have had the benefit of political counsel on the consequences of actions. Specifically, I want you to understand that my people, the Jewish people, are insecure, and we are insecure for very good and substantial reasons. If we are to make leaps of faith toward peace, if we are to be fully able to take quantum leaps of faith that may be necessary, we must proceed from a position of security. And in this regard, that is the fundamental problem with your arms sale’s decision. With respect to Sinai II, the people and government of Israel are generally wary, with good reason, of international guarantees and commitments. To retroactively alter the commitments made by the U.S. to Israel in Sinai II, and to link those commitments to other arms sales to other nations, just reinforces that very basic distrust of anyone’s commitments to Israel. It reinforces the notion that Israel ultimately will stand by itself with respect to security, it makes compromise that much more difficult. And when you compound that insecurity, based on history, with arming nations that Israel still feels are adversaries, you take away military security. You make the peace process that much more difficult. When you took a clear position on Settlements, there was divided opinion in the Jewish community, there was an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue and defend positions. And therefore, I cautioned, in memo after memo, that the introduction of the arms sales would unite the Jewish community against the Administration, because American Jews will always unite and speak with one voice with respect to a security question for Israel, and that too would make the peace process that much more difficult for you.
I tried to get all of these views into the decision-making process and failed. And it isn’t all that important if you would have listened or acted upon what I was presenting, it’s more important that these views should have been before you. You should have been aware of the potential negative consequences of your immediate action and the relationship of them to your goals for peace in the Middle East. That’s where I think the process broke down. Of course, I would have disagreed with the arms sales to Saudi Arabia in any case, but if I felt that my words, and thoughts and advice had been considered in some way,
I would have felt that I had been doing my job for you. I don’t have any personal axe to grind, or let me correct that, at least not outside this office. When I speak, I speak for you, and try to serve you. To add to these problems, I have learned, and you should know, if you have another few minutes, that some of the information that we, that is your staff who are trying to sell your policies and decisions, have been provided with is just inaccurate, we have been misinformed. I don’t mind being hissed and booed; I don’t like it but anyone who is in politics expects that. I’ve been hissed before, and I expect I will be hissed again. But the groups I was speaking to are enlightened and intelligent and articulate, and they’re terribly well informed. And in the case of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia, they often had better and more accurate information than I had.
The NSC prepared a Q and A on the sales that was just incorrect, the information on Tabuk4 for instance was wrong, and they knew it and I didn’t. The information on the F–15’s capabilities was not correct. How can we sell your policies, how can we explain your positions to constituencies and to the Hill, when we don’t know what we are talking about? This is something that you can act on and correct.
I really appreciate this opportunity to talk to you and flesh out some of my points in my letter of resignation. God knows I didn’t want it to be this way, I came here to serve you and I think I’ve served you well. But the problems were too great, especially with the process, on an issue of deep moral commitment. I’m genuinely sorry it didn’t work out.”
Mark, so am I. Just this talk has been constructive to me. You are a brilliant political adviser. I really value your wisdom and judgment, and I’m really going to miss you. But I understand your decision, and I understand your reasons, and I admire what you’ve done, although I regret it. I want you to know that you are my friend and will stay my friend, and that I need you and I need your advice, and I hope you will feel free to come to me, either in person or by writing a memo, to share your views and your judgments with me. I’m sorry if I’ve not been accessible, I’ve really tried to be, and I wish I had known that you wanted to see me and talk to me about these things. You would have gotten in without any trouble, but I guess you didn’t know that. In any case I’m sorry, and I hope that we will maintain our close personal relationship. I wish you the best of luck. I want to be helpful to you in any way possible, if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know. And keep in close touch, and please give my love to Judy.
Mr. President, I’m really sorry it didn’t work out, and I accept my own part of the responsibility for not presenting my views more directly. I really want you to know that you mean alot to me, and not only will I not be an enemy on the outside, I will always be your friend and helpful in any ways that are appropriate. I’m sorry it’s ending like this. I feel closer to you now than I have in all of the time I have worked for you. And I want to thank you for giving me the oppor tunity to work for you in the White House . . . It was an honor and a privilege, and I appreciate it.
Mark, thank you. Good-bye and the best of luck. And please let me know if I can be helpful to you. Please call on me and don’t be shy
For more information see: Robert Shogan, “Carter Jewish Liaison to Cut All Administration Ties,” Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1978.