Impossible Dreams

Intervention and Revolution: The United States in the Third World

by Richard J. Barnet
New American Library, 288 pp., $5.95

The Discipline of Power

by George W. Ball
Atlantic-Little, Brown, 363 pp., $7.50

The Insecurity of Nations

by Charles Yost
Praeger, 276 pp., $6.50

Gulliver's Troubles, Or the Setting of American Foreign Policy

by Stanley Hoffmann
McGraw-Hill, 552 pp., $11.95

Conditions of World Order

edited by Stanley Hoffmann
Houghton Mifflin, 397 pp., $6.50

Since the beginning of the cold war, nearly a quarter-century ago, there has been happy agreement about the methods and goals of American foreign policy. We were the torch-bearers of liberty, the “watchmen on the walls of world freedom,” in John F. Kennedy’s overwrought phrase. We launched NATO and the Marshall Plan to stop the aggressionbent Soviets from engulfing Western Europe. We fought in Korea and Vietnam to preserve the rule of law and hold the line against what Vice President Humphrey last year referred to as “militant, aggressive Asian Communism, with its headquarters in Peking, China.” Although we frequently had to revert to arms in the defense of freedom, our ambitions were noble and disinterested. “What America has done, and what America is doing now around the world,” President Johnson declared shortly after he began bombing North Vietnam, “draws from deep and flowing springs of moral duty, and let none underestimate the depth of flow of those wellsprings of American purpose.”

Few bothered to investigate those “deep and flowing springs of moral duty” because the assumptions of American foreign policy were taken for granted. The cold war against communism became its own justification, and all the acts carried out in its name explained in the noble rhetoric of American idealism. We were not doing anything so base as protecting our investments when we financed an invasion against the government of Guatemala and overthrew Mossadegh in Iran. We were not playing power politics when we saved the royalist government in Greece and helped put down the Stanleville secessionists in the Congo. Nor were we concerned with such nasty concepts as spheres of influence when we launched the Bay of Pigs operation, sent the Marines into Santo Domingo, and plunged head first into the Vietnamese civil war.

Some might consider such acts as the subversion of foreign governments, the dispatch of military forces to preserve friendly regimes, the direct intervention in the internal affairs of other nations, the use of trade and aid as instruments of political warfare, and a dedication to the prevention and extermination of radical-minded revolutions as typical acts of an imperial power. Some, like Richard Barnet in his brilliantly argued and devastatingly detailed study, Intervention and Revolution, would argue that “from the Truman Doctrine on, the suppression of insurgent movements has remained a principal goal of US foreign policy.”

Nothing, however, could be further from the mind of the average American, or from the vocabulary of the government official. Everyone knows, or ought to know, that American policy is motivated by self-sacrifice. Empire is a nasty European word. Our diplomacy is not venal or self-seeking. It is, to use the jargon dear to the hearts of what Barnet calls the National Security Managers, “responsible.” Let us listen, for example, to George Ball, renowned for his dovelike murmurings on. Vietnam, and currently the American representative to the United Nations. The United States, he declared when he was Under Secretary of State and US planes were pounding North Vietnam,…

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