Is politics too important to be left to politicians?
The taxi drove right past the house.
“I thought it was an office building or something,” the driver said. With its three full stories almost 200 feet wide, its flat roof and plain front, it looked more like a turn-of-the-century New York bank than a house. But it wasn’t. It was the Washington mansion of Gerard Smith, until recently North American chairman of a shadowy organization called the Trilateral Commission, a select group of 250, whose intimate connections to U.S. President Jimmy Carter have made it one of the most influential unofficial organizations in the world.
It has been said that this organization effectively controls the U.S. presidency and that the group is really a giant lobby for the multinational corporations. Only a few days before. Smith became the eighteenth member of the Trilateral Commission to be named to Carter’s high administration. He was made Ambassador-at-Large, a kind of roving troubleshooter with special responsibility in the nuclear field. VicePresident Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Secretary of the Treasury Michael Blumenthal and Defense Secretary Harold Brown are former members.
The idea for the group was initiated in Montreal early in 1972. David Rockefeller, chairman of the powerful Chase Manhattan Bank, proposed in a speech to a Chase Bank forum that the deteriorating relations between the United States, Western Europe and Japan could be improved by an organization of influential “private citizens,” drawn from those three regions. A few weeks later in Belgium, at a meeting of the Bilderberg group, a semi-secret club of Western corporate and political leaders headed by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Rockefeller’s idea was discussed with enthusiasm.
In July, 1972, Rockefeller invited a small group of men to spend the weekend at his estate in Tarrytown, New York. There the Trilateral Commission was approved and a year later became official. This group included Michael Blumenthal, then head of Bendix Corporation, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, then a professor at Columbia University.
The group agreed that relations between the United States, Western Europe and Japan needed improvement. They agreed that such improvement, essential for their
multinational corporate interests, could not come from the present governments. It was after all, they said, President Richard Nixon who had caused the breakdown in the first place, with the so-called “Nixon Shock” of August 1971, when the United States unilaterally went off the gold standard and began its policy of economic protectionism. This system of tariffs and trade barriers had upset the world as these men knew it.
The group agreed to assemble a body of “private citizens” from Western Europe, North America and Japan (hence the “Tri”) to discuss this problem and begin a plan for persuading ihe respective govern-
ments to return to a system of greater economic cooperation. But this was no ordinary group of private citizens. There was big money and major political clout in the initial list of 180, which read like a select version of an international Who’s Who. From Europe they summoned the president of FIAT, the chairman of Dunlop, the managing director of Royal Dutch Shell and among others a Paris professor named Raymond Barre, who would later be elected Prime Minister of France.
From Japan came the president of Toyota, the chairman of Mitsubishi, the chairman of the Bank of Tokyo and a man named Kiichi Miyazawa, who would soon
become Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
From North America, they invited the chairman of Exxon, the president of Caterpillar, the chairman of Coca-Cola and the president of the Bank of America. From Canada, they took 10 people, including the then-chairman of MacMillan Bloedel, Robert Bonner, and former cabinet minister Jean-Luc Pépin, who would head the Anti-Inflation Board and work in the cause of national unity.
They also invited into their North American section, the young governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter. Only a few months before, the newly elected governor had sought out David Rockefeller. Rockefeller apparently was sufficiently impressed that he would later call Carter an “ideal politician to build on.” And Zbigniew Brzezinski, as director of the commission, would describe Carter as “educable.” Brzezinski, of course, would become candidate Carter’s foreign affairs tutor, and ultimately the director of U.S. foreign affairs as National Security adviser.
Not much attention was paid to the group between 1973 and 1977. This was not the first time people had formed a “rich man’s club” nor was it the first time such individuals had attempted to influence government. When, however, names such as Brzezinski, Vance, Móndale and Blumenthal started to appear in the very top government jobs, interest began to intensify. Standing at the front door of Gerard Smith’s mansion I straightened the crease in my trousers. I had worn my best suit, something I had always been told to do when meeting important people. The door opened and there stood Smith, all casual elegance in a silk smoking jacket and satin slippers. I immediately felt my place.
“No,” Gerard Smith was saying, “we certainly don’t want to be considered a lobby. Under the law in the United States an organization such as ours cannot lobby. We think of ourselves as performing an informational function. We hope our various reports are read by members of government and in that way are an influence.” Does it help to have some of your members inside the government? “It doesn’t hurt,” he said. He called it “good fortune” that the commission had picked Carter and Mondale, Raymond Barre, Kiichi Miyazawa and Jean-Luc Pépin. “Mr. Carter has very kindly credited the commission with his education in foreign affairs,” he added.
What aboutthe T rilateral Commission’s successful recommendation to the International Monetary Fund that it auction off a large quantity of its gold holdings? This idea had come solely from the trilateralists. They argued that the plan would provide a development fund for Third World nations. But more than one critic has pointed out that the gold auctions have provided a fund of only $500 million for the Third World but a $60 billion profit for the rich nations. Was this recommendation just part of your “informational function”? I
asked. He smiled, “I like to think we just gave the idea a nudge at the right time.”
The interview ended, Smith called for a cab and poured me a gin and tonic. “Have it while you wait,” he said. “I have to run now.”
Alan Hockin, executive vice-president of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, is an appropriate Canadian choice as a commission member. He is a prominent member of the financial community and has 23 years experience in the public service. Hockin brings to the commission the combination of government savvy and privatesector financial interests which the commission appreciates. The Canadian members’ view of the commission is vastly different from that of the Americans, he said. “People like Rockefeller and Richard Cooper [former provost of Yale and now Carter’s Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs] see the commission having a direct influence on government decisionmaking. We [Canadians] think of the commission as an educating body. The reports we commission are to make people aware of international problems.”
Hockin’s views are echoed by his old friend Mitchell Sharp. Sharp has, in the past year, replaced Jean-Luc Pépin as head of the Canadian contingent. Because of his government appointments Pépin had to resign from active service in the commission. Only a few weeks ago Sharp was made deputy chairman of the whole North American group.
“There’s no doubt,” Sharp said, “that the commission’s aim is to affect government. But,” he added, “I don’t think that the influence of the group is any greater than the total power of the individual members would be without the commission.”
The former cabinet minister, former civil servant, former multinational executive saw nothing extraordinary about so many members now being inside government. “It just shows that those who made the initial choices, chose well,” he said. “I think the public was well served by having Jimmy Carter brought into contact with influential people. It helped him choose his supporting cast. He got to know the people he should know... the people he’ll have to deal with.”
I asked about the programs he expects the Trilateral Commission, with its newfound influence, to push for. “We’ve been pretty successful in encouraging cooperation among the three regions,” he said. “Now we’re beginning to talk about special roles for the ‘locomotive countries,’ Germany, Japan and the United States. Their success will promote productivity throughout the industrialized world.”
Reminded of the commission’s declared intentions to aid the underdeveloped nations, he quickly added, “You know, the worst thing that could happen to the Third World is a recession in the developed world. We have to avoid this.”
The door, simply marked 5600, in Rockefeller Centre in New York, gives no indication of the power that lies inside the famous Room 5600, headquarters for the whole Rockefeller family empire. The security guard behind a mahogany desk wasn’t wearing the standard security uniform but his pin-striped suit seemed like one. I wanted to question David Rockefeller about the growing whispers that the commission was conspiring for the personal gain of its members, by manipulating governments. Accusations were growing but no one had asked him about it directly. As I waited amidst the African curios that adorned the family boardroom, I thought about the charges that he had gained control of the U.S. presidency. Others allege that the commission is nothing but a giant lobby for the multinationals. All agreed that the commission was too Rockefeller-dominated.
He laughed. “No one controls the U.S. President,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t believe that anybody connected with the commission, right up to six months before the election, had the slightest idea that Mr. Carter was going to be President of the United States.”
How had so many of the key administration posts come to be filled by Rockefeller Trilateralists? “Well, this is a remarkable fact,” he shrugged, “but it’s a coincidence. I suppose that President Carter was influenced by the fact that the people he met on the commission he found to be very able. And when he was looking around for the most qualified people he could find, by chance he picked people from the commission.”
Rockefeller added: “The term lobby has an unfortunate connotation. We like to describe our organization as action-oriented.” And as far as representing the multinationals is concerned, “you know, there really are relatively few representatives from these corporations.”
But would the multinational executives on the commission, from FIAT, Coca-Cola, Mitsubishi and the others, be involved if it wasn’t in their interest? Rockefeller sees the multinational executive as the new humanitarian. “1 suppose representatives of multinational corporations, just as other representatives, feel a sense of responsibility for world problems. 1 think it’s unfair to assume that a businessman is incapable of having broader interests than his own selfish interest for the government, er, his business,” he corrected.
Rockefeller denied criticism that the commission was his “foreign policy toy.” “This is rather absurd,” he said, “this idea that I dominate the commission. I played a role in suggesting the idea... but from then on only a modest role. It’s not true that I’m the largest financial contributor. Several foundations contributed as much or more.” Being chairman of the executive committee and the new North American chairman (following Smith) still did not mean he had a dominating influence.
But there is something that allows David Rockefeller to control the Trilateral Commission—his name. As Collier and Horowitz point out in their portrait of The Rockefellers'. “Directorships in one or 100 business corporations have little to do with the ability of the Rockefellers to lift an academic like Henry Kissinger or Dean Rusk into the stratospheres of national power and policy.” To that list can be added the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski and maybe even that of Jimmy Carter.
For the past 25 years anyway, the Rockefellers have had a profound influence on American foreign policy, through U.S. foreign policy officials. Two Secretaries of State were directors of the Rockefeller Foundation: John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk. All the other Secretaries of State and nearly every National Security adviser came from the Council on Foreign Relations, of which David Rockefeller is the chairman. Now his Trilateral Commission has spawned all the present administration’s foreign policy people. “Why have you found it necessary to play this role in American foreign policy?”
“I think this is an odd way of presenting it,” he said. “As a citizen interested in foreign policy, I have done what I could to enrich the knowledge of non-government people as much as possible in foreign affairs. I’ve seen an opportunity to play what seemed to me to be a constructive role in foreign affairs. The fact that I’ve been successful doesn’t seem to me to be a reason to have that held against me.”
Leaving the office, I ran into a familiar face waiting for the elevator. It was Nelson Rockefeller, former Vice-President and most famous of the modern Rockefellers. Beside him stood what obviously was a body guard, the bulge on his hip revealing his gun. After the ride down, I asked my public relations escort if he was secret service. “No,” she replied, “they look after all that themselves.”
“Dr. Brzezinski will not be able to see you today,” the National Security adviser’s assistant said. I was still sitting in the lobby of the West Wing of the White House, V/2 hours after the time of my appointment. “He’s been called in for an unexpected meeting with the President,” she shrugged. At the appointed hour the next day, Brzezinski’s press secretary, Jerry Schecter, formerly with Time, came out: “You’ll be able to see him now, but he can’t afford the half hour he promised. He’s had to rewrite a speech that the President is giving tomorrow, so try and keep it short. And, oh yes, he’s only prepared to talk about general foreign policy.” That excluded the Trilateral Commission. “Look,” he said, “You’ve interviewed him before about the commission; his views haven’t changed.” In 1975, in New York, he had told me: “International relations are just too important to be left only up to the governments.”
In his 1970 book, Between Two Ages, Brzezinski called for the creation of a “community of the developed nations” with a private “high level consultative council” as a necessary forerunner. He went on to write rapturously about the global corporate systems that would follow. He wrote that he would like to remake the U.S. foreign service “operationally similar to the more efficient international corporations,” which he admires for having “effectively mastered the arts of accurate reporting, foreign representation and central control.” Brzezinski also advocated the abandonment of restrictions imposed by Congress on the international activities of corporations.
Looking around the White House, chock full of Trilateral Commissioners, the thought occurred: what better place to implement these views than here? In 1976, in Ottawa, I had asked Brzezinski if he didn’t think that because of the prominence of the members of the Trilateral Commission that the organization had an “overwhelming influence” on the governments it sought to advise. “I wish it were true,” he had said. “I really wish it were so.” With Brzezinski, Carter and the others inside government, in the United States, France, Japan, Canada and elsewhere, now it seemed so. With these people in government, drawn from what must be considered a private caucus on the world’s destiny and progress, will the interests of David Rockefeller and his multinational pals ever be placed in jeopardy? Will another Nixon shock occur? Not very likely. But should the world, as they know it, ever get out of synch again, Rockefeller will know who to call to set it straight.
As I left Brzezinski’s White House office and headed for the lobby I thought about all the Trilateral Commissioners behind all the closed doors. I stopped as a familiar face approached. Gerard Smith passed me in the hall walking toward the Oval Office. He smiled as he passed.
He was wearing his best suit.;^>