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William P. Clark: The Quiet Catholic Who Changed the World | An interview with Paul Kengor, co-author of
The Judge: William P. Clark,
Ronald Reagan's Top Hand
Paul Kengor is a professor
at Grove City College and the executive director of the College's The Center
for Vision and Values. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution
on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Kengor is a frequent
television political commentator and opinion page contributor, as well as the
author of several best-selling books. He is the author of God and Ronald
Reagan, God and George W. Bush, God and Hillary Clinton, The Crusader: Ronald
Reagan and the Fall of Communism,
and co-editor with Peter Schweizer of Assessing the Reagan Presidency.
Kengor has worked for think
tanks including the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage
Foundation, and has served on the editorial board of Presidential Studies
Quarterly. He received his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh's
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and his master's degree
from American University's School of International Service. Kengor, a native of
Western Pennsylvania, lives with his wife Susan in Grove City, Pennsylvania,
along with their four children.
Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, recently interviewed Kengor about The
Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), which Kengor co-authored with
Patricia Clark Doerner.
Ignatius Insight: Who is
William P. Clark and why did you co-author a book about his life?
Paul Kengor: William P. "Bill" Clark, who is known as "The Judge"
because of his years of service in the California court system, including the
California Supreme Court, is a terrific story that is required reading for
every Catholic, not to mention non-Catholics as well, of course. Catholics
especially, however, need to know that this man, in my opinion, was the single
most important Catholic in the fall of the Soviet Union, next to only Pope John
Paul II. That's quite a statement, but it is easy to defend.
Readers will need to read the
book to learn why, but I will give one example of his enormous impact on the
end of the Cold War: Ronald Reagan, as we now know, had a deliberate policy to
undermine atheistic Soviet communism and win the Cold War. That policy was laid
out in several crucial NSDDs—National Security Decision
Directives—that have since been declassified by the federal government
and are now available at the Reagan Library. These NSDDs reveal an unmistakable
attempt to undermine and change the Soviet system. I will quote just two of
Here's NSDD-32, which
described this Reagan administration objective toward the USSR: "To contain and
reverse the expansion of Soviet control and military presence throughout the
world.... [T]o contain and reverse the expansion of Soviet influence worldwide."
Another was NSDD-75, which
stated this similar intention: "To contain and over time reverse Soviet
expansionism.... This will remain the primary focus of U.S. policy toward the
USSR. To promote ... the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more
pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged
ruling elite is gradually reduced."
These were grand objectives
that the establishment and the experts judged utterly impossible, and yet
precisely that occurred before the decade ended.
As I learned when I first
read these extraordinary documents at the Reagan Library—smoking-gun
evidence, a paper trail showing that this was the actual Reagan administration
objective—I was stunned to learn that they were all done in the brief
two-year window that Bill Clark served as Reagan's national security adviser.
Clark oversaw the development of these NSDDs. In fact, he oversaw the
development of over 100 of these NSDDs. Clark was the guy at the head of the
Reagan railroad who laid the track to Cold War victory, and then silently rode
of into the sunset and didn't talk about what he did—a humility derived
from his upbringing and strong Catholic faith.
The book is filled with
policy specifics that flowed from that objective, from Clark shepherding
everything from Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the president's
covert plan to bankrupt the USSR through economic warfare.
were Clark's top accomplishments during his time in Washington, DC in the
Paul Kengor: Winning the Cold War. Beyond that, he was always
there for Ronald Reagan as the president's sure-thing, as his most trusted,
dependable adviser—as his constant troubleshooter always ready for
deployment on the most sensitive mission. Reagan could count on Clark do always
do his job and to complete the most sensitive mission in complete confidence,
without blabbing about it. In the book, we disclose for the first time the
extraordinary April 1983 covert mission to save the South American country of
Suriname from becoming a Soviet-Cuban proxy state. Clark and crew kept this
quiet for over twenty years, talking only now. Historians need to learn about
this. This is for the history books. We lay out all the details in the book.
were some of the challenges involved in writing this biography?
Paul Kengor: My biggest challenge was getting this humble man to
tell this significant story, which is also simply a good story about a man and
his spiritual journey, aside from the historical significance of what he and
Reagan did together. I knew this was a wonderful story in all aspects. I
finally prevailed—with the indispensable help of Pat Clark Doerner, a
God-send on this project—only by consistently appealing to Bill Clark's
sense of duty, duty to the Reagan record and legacy and duty to history.
did Clark first meet Ronald Reagan and why did they become such close friends?
Paul Kengor: They first met in 1965, when Reagan actually
contacted Clark to try to convince Clark to run for office, which Clark always
refused, having always eschewed power—another irony of a man who would
come to be called "the second most powerful man in Washington," behind only the
president. They were similar in so many ways, even physically. They agreed on
just about everything. They also had this uncanny sense of simply understanding
one another. Some have said there was almost a kind of telepathy between them.
Clark recalls how when he was a young man, when he and his father corralled
animals at the ranch, he could simply glance at his father and know what his
father wanted him to do. He had that same sense with Reagan, whether they were
at a meeting in Sacramento in the 1960s or in the Oval Office in the 1980s.
is it that Clark, who was so close to Reagan, has received relatively little
attention for his work in the Reagan administration?
Paul Kengor: Actually, at the time, he received quite a bit of
attention. He made the cover of Time magazine and the New York Times magazine both in August 1983, and was widely reported by sources from
the left to the right—Edmund Morris, Lou Cannon, Time, the New York Times, Cap Weinberger, Michael Reagan—as Reagan's
closest and most influential adviser. What happened later is that he became the
forgotten man because he never bothered to tell his story. As Lou Cannon and
Floyd Brown—Brown was the director of the Reagan Ranch—both stress
repeatedly, they have never known anyone in Washington who promoted himself
less than Bill Clark. Brown notes that many people in Washington spend half
their time promoting themselves. Clark never did any of that.
Bill Clark could have cashed
in "big time" in the 1980s with the tell-all insider's account of the Reagan
presidency, but he refused. A major New York publishing house would have given
him a six- to seven-figure advance. Some of these guys wrote two, three, even
four memoirs. Enough already! They had said everything in memoir #1! Here was
Bill Clark with more to say than almost any of them, but he kept it all to
important were Clark's relationships with the Vatican and key Catholic leaders,
including Pope John Paul II?
Paul Kengor: Clark helped set up that initial and historic June
1982 meeting between President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, where the two men
confided in one another that they believed that God had spared their lives for
a special purpose, which they concluded was to undermine Soviet communism,
beginning particularly in Poland, which both men—as well as
Clark—saw as the wedge that could crack the entire Communist Bloc.
Over the next year and a
half that followed, Clark became the primary White House conduit to the
Vatican. Along with CIA director Bill Casey, another committed Catholic, Clark
met very frequently with Pio Laghi, the apostolic delegate to Washington. He
and Casey had code language when discussing over the telephone the need for a
quick meeting with Laghi: "It's time to get some cappuccino," they would say.
That meant a visit to Laghi's residence for a cappuccino and to share
information about the critical activities going on around the world, especially
in Poland. They were the middle men between Reagan and Pope John Paul II, the
principal liaisons. Clark was the point man who would then report that
information directly back to Reagan.
The New York Times wrote of how Clark and Reagan met privately together,
as everyone else in the White House waited to see what important decisions the
two had resolved.
I've also concluded that
Clark was far more influential than he admits on the crucial matter of the
Reagan administration's diplomatic recognition of the Vatican.
After nearly dying in a plane crash in 1988, Clark retired and embarked upon a
rather unusual building project on his ranch in California. What was that
project and what inspired Clark to pursue it?
Paul Kengor: With his full-time service to Reagan finished, Clark
one day in the spring of 1988 lifted his private plan from the driveway/runway
on his ranch, but never quite lifted off. He veered off to the right and
crashed. It is amazing that he survived that crash. I've seen the remains of
the airplane. As he lay there in that canyon moaning, the fuel pump sprayed
fuel all over his body. The tape recorder he carried with him activated in the
course of the crash. I've listened to the recording with him. You can hear him
moaning indiscernible words. The first decipherable words were these: "God,
please help me." At that precise moment, his ranch-hand, Jésus Munoz ripped the
door off the plane. It was truly Providential that Jésus, or anyone for that
matter, happened to drive by, since that spot sees only about four vehicles per
day. After Clark was pulled from the wreckage, the plane burst into flames.
Clark saw this as a sign
from God—a "wake-up call" as he put it—to begin a new phase of his
life. The pieces had already been put into place to win the Cold War. Now, it
was time to put the bricks and stones in place to build that chapel on his
ranch, to begin the next phase of his life: service to God. So, to borrow from
Mother Teresa, he did something beautiful for God. There, at his ranch, in a
spot high on a hill overlooking Route 46, he has built a gorgeous little
chapel, filled with artifacts, which is the pride of the community.
it true that you first met Clark at that chapel?
Paul Kengor: Yes, in the summer of 2001. It was there that I
interviewed him for my book on the faith of Ronald Reagan, ultimately called God
and Ronald Reagan. We were initially
scheduled to meet at his office in town, in downtown Paso Robles. I remember
telling my wife in the car that I hoped I would be told once I arrived that
Clark was at the chapel, not the office, and I would need to interview him at
the church instead. That's exactly what happened.
There, in the front pew of
that blessed church, a few feet from the Blessed Sacrament, I talked to Bill
Clark for the first time. We talked about the faith of Reagan and the close
spiritual relationship they had together.
Like Reagan, I was a
Protestant at that time. I hadn't converted to the Catholic faith yet. Looking
back, however, I think something special must have happened near that Real
Presence. It was there that my close friendship and relationship with Clark
began, and it was there that this odyssey began. I apparently first earned his
trust that day. I would be the only one ever who was successful in convincing
him to tell his story.
What I'm telling you right
now, about that special moment near the host, never struck me until it was
prompted by a questioner during a talk on this book at the Catholic Information
Center in Washington, DC on November 2, 2007. Then, too, I just happened to be
near the Blessed Sacrament, this time at the small chapel inside the center.
are Bill and his wife Joan these days?
Paul Kengor: They are struggling but doing okay. Bill likes to
keep that information private. His health is not good. He has Parkinson's disease.
He quips that the Good Lord gave Parkinson's to such saints as his late father
and the late Holy Father, and now has gotten around to sinners like himself.
The medication for the disease saddles him, and he is no longer able to saddle
his horse, which, as had happened to Ronald Reagan, is probably his greatest
disappointment. But, he does have that chapel at the end of that ranch, along
with the very special contents inside, including the Lord Himself.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
The Mission: The Introduction to The Judge: William P. Clark,
Ronald Reagan's Top Hand | Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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