Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
Q: A desk officer's delight.
BARBOUR: Looking back at one time, I found that of all the instructions that were sent to Lisbon in the roughly fourteen to fifteen months that I was on the job, only one did I not write. In fact, during that period... A chronic problem with Portugal was their desire to buy arms and our reluctance to sell them.
Q: This was because of Africa?
BARBOUR: Yes, their desire to buy arms because they were a member of NATO, that was their justification, and our reluctance to sell them because we feared they would be used in Africa. At one time I wrote a telegram explaining some terms and conditions under which we might be willing to sell them or to refuse to sell them. It was a telegram cleared up the line in the Department, then it disappeared. We checked around and found that it had been sent over to the White House. A few days later it came back and one of the clearances on the bottom was of the President. It was an interesting time; we had a change of Ambassadors while I was on the desk. Admiral George Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations, who had the temerity before the Armed Services Committee to express a policy line on aircraft carriers, he being an aviator, that was different from that of the administration. So President Kennedy took offense and said, “I want him out.” And outed he was; he was named Ambassador to Portugal. There was a certain period of standoff while Admiral Anderson sat at his office in the Pentagon running the navy and the Department wasn't sure how to contact him. They decided that there was always an expendable desk officer they could send over and see what might happen to him, whether he would come back intact or not. So off I went to call on Admiral Anderson. A very imposing man. I went in and he was sitting in his captain's chair, literally, in an office I thought rather modest. We chatted about Portugal and he expressed his displeasure with our policies toward Portugal and how difficult it was going to be to persuade the Portuguese of the righteousness of American policies. I, to my own astonishment, said, “That will be your job, Admiral.” I was an FSO 4 then and he was a four star Admiral and I couldn't imagine those words were coming out of my mouth. There was a lot of trepidation about Admiral Anderson and I remember someone saying, “He's going to be fighting his instructions every step of the way.” In fact, he turned out to be a very good Ambassador; he was a very impressive, imposing individual, great presence, and he did not fight his instructions. He carried them out loyally despite his own feelings; I am sure the Portuguese knew what those feelings were which may have given him even greater impact. He served well; he was a good Ambassador.
Q: What were his feelings?