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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, is engaged in “something new and unique in world history—a role of world responsibility divorced from territorial or narrow national interests.”

How satisfying to serve a government engaged in such a noble task, as Mr. Ball did during his six years as chief deputy to Dean Rusk. How inspiring to know that what Washington says is good for us is automatically good for everybody else. Charlie Wilsonism, it seems, has not really faded away. It has simply gone global, with the US playing the paternalistic role of General Motors. There is no conflict between American national interests, as defined in Washington, and those of other countries, since what we want for them is what they want—or ought to want—for themselves. We have occasionally dissipated our resources by failing to think ahead properly. But, as George Ball writes, with the self-assurance that is the hallmark of an important National Security Manager, “there is no historical precedent for the generosity of our policy.”

THIS CERTAINTY that American power is being used beneficently, if not always efficiently and wisely, pervades Ball’s revealing study, The Discipline of Power. The title is drawn from Senator Fulbright, and the main part of Ball’s argument is that our power is not being used arrogantly, but rather that it simply lacks discipline. His concern is the “political organization of power” and how various “structures” and “disciplines” can be devised to guide our policies. Indeed, he concludes his study with an appeal for “better structures and concepts and disciplines” which will guide us in “finding our way to a safer and more decent world.” It is a curiously bureaucratic and inconclusive appeal, but one not inconsistent with Ball’s view of the world and America’s place in it.

He is no critic of American foreign policy, although he spares his friends responsibility for the “heresies” he apparently believes his book contains. Rather, he is an ardent believer and defender, who faithfully served both Kennedy and Johnson, and has been rumored to be a leading choice for Secretary of State in a Humphrey administration. His mild criticisms of US policy concern the way it has been applied, not its underlying principles. This “book of argument” based upon his “personal experience covering more than three decades near the center and on the periphery of foreign policy on both sides of the Atlantic,” is perfectly conventional in its wisdom, though instructive in what it tells us about the making of American foreign policy.

While opposed to the bombing of North Vietnam (although never to the extent of resigning in protest from the administration conducting it), he saw in late 1967 “no serious option but to continue the course we are presently pursuing…until we further wear down the enemy in South Vietnam.” This, let it be remembered, is the counsel of the administration’s most publicized dove. Having become so deeply involved, we will, he states, have to keep 100,000 men in Southeast Asia for another ten or twenty years. “This does not arise from any desire on our part to play an imperial role…but when the United States undertakes to help build a nation and to provide the political assistance and security to maintain that nation against what is almost certain to be a constant effort of subversion, we have signed up for the duration.” One has to search far to find much heresy in phrases like “nation building” and “signing up for the duration.” They may not reveal any conscious design of imperialism, but they certainly illustrate the trap that policy-makers fall into once national and personal reputations are at stake.

What our experience in Vietnam has taught,” Ball declares in a key statement, “is that there is clearly a point of no return beyond which national options tend to fade and disappear. Once America passed beyond that point in Vietnam, her only course was to go forward; otherwise, she would have disclosed her weakness rather than demonstrated her strength—and this could have had serious political consequences all over the world.” In other words, once a mistake has been made, magnify it until it becomes a catastrophe. This is precisely what happens when political decisions are turned into military equations. As Barnet has observed in a critique of just such thinking: “Once military forces are committed…it is usually impossible to limit the objectives to those which originally impelled the intervention.” Questions of prestige and power are raised, and the reputation of the nation becomes identified with that of the policy makers. Withdrawal becomes ignoble, even if the original intervention was ill-advised, and there is no choice but to “go forward.” Ball, of course, argues that we should never have become so involved in Vietnam in the first place. But with the commitment already made, he sees no way out. It is not surprising that President Johnson’s dove-in-residence made so little headway against the hawks, since he had already accepted their logic, even while rejecting the premises on which it was based.

THE PORTRAIT that emerges from these pages is of a rather arrogant and impatient man. Those who do not share his ideas about European unification disclose their own “ignorance of history and innocence of the world today”; their attitude reflects an “ignorance of the facts”; and their views are “arrant nonsense.” Those who carry placards and burn their draft cards in opposition to the Vietnam war evoke the condescending assurance that “I revere anyone’s constitutional right to make an ass of himself”; while private individuals who tried to open communications between Washington and Hanoi are suspected of a “zeal to win Nobel or Pulitzer prizes.” The author expresses indifference to “world peace through world law,” rejects the capacity of the UN to solve problems, and makes wisecracks about capital cities with names “like a typographical error”—unfortunate observations for one who is now US representative to the United Nations.

Following a tradition in American diplomacy, he is, like Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Clark Clifford, a lawyer by training, with both the virtues and the weaknesses that a lawyer’s thought processes often involve. In Ball’s case there is a tendency to rely on formulas—European unification being his favorite one—and to treat opposing views as without any conceivable merit, or, as he would say, “arrant nonsense.” This “reliance on formulas,” as Stanley Hoffmann observes in his analytical study of US foreign policy, Gulliver’s Troubles, “makes one think by analogy—a very dangerous habit which is aggravated in the American case by the presence in the government of many lawyers, who are used to reasoning in terms of precedents.”

While Ball is a man of many convictions, his burning passion is the cause of West European political unification, one born in “the yeasty years” when he worked in Paris with Jean Monnet, “one of the towering figures of the age.” Like a good lawyer arguing for a client he admires, he apparently has not the slightest doubt that a politically unified West European community will join the US in exercising the agonizing responsibilities of power. He prods the Europeans to form “a second Western great power, capable of sharing with the United States the burdens and decisions of the West in a way the individual European nations can never do. “By and large,” he argues, “we would see things in the same general terms and react with the same humane impulses.” Britain, he believes, has no real alternative but to enter the European federation, and should be discouraged from thinking it has any such thing as a “special relationship” with the United States.

Ball makes a persuasive case for a politically unified Western Europe and urges it with the kind of ardor that well-off American matrons plead for birth control in underdeveloped countries. Like his mentor Jean Monnet, as described by Stanley Hoffmann, he has a “disdain for formal ideologies, but a faith that almost amounts to one; enthusiasm for procedure, if not at the expense of policy outcomes, at least with the implicit conviction that the right kind of procedure cannot fail to produce the right outcome.” That right outcome, of course, is a Europe, in Ball’s words, which would be “our mature good friend, giving us from time to time sound advice, bringing to world councils its own insights, agreeing or disagreeing as the case may be, but acting always from the same larger purposes that it shares with us.”

THE QUESTION, however, is whether a European community would share Washington’s idea of the “larger purposes,” or whether, on the contrary, it could define its identity only by being something separate and different from the United States. Europe as a “third super-power” could perhaps serve as a buffer between the US and the Soviet Union, as Ball urges. But once it gained such power a United Europe might find that it has more in common with Russia, which holds the key to the division of the Continent, than it does with an America trying to carry out an imperial “white man’s burden” in Asia. Ball’s formula for European federation may be the wave of the future, and many Europeans seem to agree. But even the most ardent federalists resent having their arms twisted by the United States. It is widely believed that Ball’s pressure tactics on the Common Market, during the delicate negotiations over Britain’s entry, contributed to De Gaulle’s famous veto of January 1963. For Ball such attitudes are incomprehensibly reactionary, and De Gaulle is an evil genius who “has been one of the destructive elements in the larger chemistry of the West.”* But as Stanley Hoffmann observes in Gulliver’s Troubles:

There is a gang of rebellious European urchins who see no point at all in European unity unless it results not in a European echo of American policy but in a European policy…. America’s advice and promotion of supra-nationality have also had divisive and delaying effects on Europe’s search for a new mission. Inevitably, people resentful of dependence were bound to be suspicious of any scheme so ardently embraced by the leader.

In his enthusiasm for a European super-power allied to the US, Ball was an ardent champion of the ill-fated multilateral nuclear force (MLF) of missile-carrying cargo ships under NATO command. It was a “good idea,” he declares, “an educational instrument and a healing ointment” that collapsed “largely because our own government failed to take a sufficiently decisive position during 1961 and 1962.” But at best the MLF was a political monstrosity that was militarily superfluous, designed to assuage non-existent German fears and isolate a nuclear-armed France. “The MLF,” as Stanley Hoffmann observes, “could hardly have been considered, except by wishful thinkers or wishful fakers, as something that would lead up to a European defense system capable of being an equal partner to the United States.” And according to Charles Yost, in The Insecurity of Nations, the MLF was an “obsolete political nostrum.”

Vigorous, opinionated, and informative, Ball’s “book of argument” is a lucid exposition of the conventional politics of the cold war era we are now moving our of. For all its minor iconoclasms—opposition to the bombing of North Vietnam and indifference to communist regimes in small African states—it is profoundly rooted in an imperial view of American world responsibility and the immutable struggle against Soviet communism. Ball is neither an ideologue (although his “pragmatism” sometimes rises to the level of fervor) nor a militarist, and he probably does not think of himself as a nationalist, although he seems to assume that American power confers a special moral responsibility. He is, like the other National Security Managers so well described by Barnet, one who sees “no better alternative model for world order than the imperial model, to be constructed, hopefully, with as light a touch as possible.” Unable to make a connection between the wealth of the industrialized Northern nations and the poverty of the exploited Southern ones, he is one of those for whom, in Barnet’s words, “…underdevelopment is a fact of the natural order. There are lucky nations and unlucky ones, energetic creative peoples, and peoples whom history has passed by. Stifling the Calvinist impulse to call wealth virtue, the American bureaucrat is convinced that the misery of the underdeveloped world is no one’s fault except possibly its own.”

ONE OF THE GREAT VIRTUES of Barnet’s splendid book is that it offers a devastating examination of the bureaucratic mentality that has led the United States on the path of intervention and counter-revolution. “The United States government,” he declares, “has seized upon the moral ambiguity of revolution to justify a global campaign to contain it, to channel it into acceptable paths, or to crush it.” In 288 tightly packed and closely reasoned pages he examines the counter-revolutionary impulse of postwar American foreign policy and analyzes key interventions: the Greek civil war, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam, as well as efforts to subvert undesirable governments through such instruments as trade, aid, and the CIA. These case histories, which are developed in considerable detail, furnish powerful dramatization of his thesis that “The United States will oppose where it can or where it dare the establishment of new communist or communist-leaning governments, whether they come into being through foreign invasion, domestic revolution, or election.”

In seeking the roots of US intervention, Barnet examines, and ultimately rejects, three principal theories: first, the official ideology that the United States was tapped by history for a global mission of peacemaking and reform; second, that our imperialism springs from an aimless altruism; and third, that it rests upon an ambition to preserve American markets and economic power. Barnet offers no counter-theory of his own, but instead unfolds a detailed analysis of what American officials did when confronted by insurgent movements, how they explained their actions, and what the effects of their policies have been. The result is an absorbing and revealing document of the highest utility, one that is likely to become a case-book for a new generation of Americans who are questioning the traditional explanations of the cold war and are rejecting the concept of an American guardianship over the world. Intervention and Revolution ends with an appeal that “the world must be made safe for revolution,” and for the “creation of a world environment in which revolution will be unnecessary.” It does not deny American responsibility, particularly toward the underdeveloped states, nor does it suggest a new isolationism. Rather, it goes beyond the clichés of the cold war to examine the impact of America’s interventionist policies and to put them into a framework that reveals their strong counter-revolutionary bias. Barnet has produced a work of crucial importance in the growing debate over the use and limitations of American power.

IN COMPARISON the studies by Yost and Hoffmann are rather less provocative. In The Insecurity of Nations former US diplomat Charles Yost examines “a ‘national security’ which fails to protect, which may indeed jeopardize, the common security of its citizens,” and seeks to unearth the roots of instability in the twentieth century. His is a speculative work, exceedingly well written, and almost Olympian in its detachment from contemporary quarrels and ideological passions. He suspects that “certain acts of commission and omission on the part of the United States” were instrumental in bringing about the cold war, finds it “extremely doubtful” that the Russians had any intention of ever invading Western Europe, and argues that the “assimilation of nation-states into a more coherent and functional international system…offers the only reliable escape from the insecurity of nations.” There is nothing startling in Yost’s prescription, nothing which George Ball could dismiss as “arrant nonsense” or Richard Barnes could term the self-delusions of a National Security Manager. Simply the thoughtful observations of a reflective man who has served his country with distinction and who would like a world in which there was no need for revolution and no place for the nation-state that is a law unto itself.

Stanley Hoffmann’s Gulliver’s Troubles is an enormously ambitious work which seeks to establish “what the United States can and cannot do, given the kind of nation it is.” Hoffmann, a professor of government at Harvard, sees America as a sleeping Gulliver, frustrated by its unusable military power, manipulated by non-nuclear Lilliputians, and hobbled by its own national style and institutions. The present international system seems, in his metaphor, “like a long chain gang. Some of the prisoners are small, two are huge, and several manipulate explosives.” He urges the creation of a “multi-hierarchical” international system in which the traditional power roles would be played by a number of states and urges a calmer approach to problems in which we would “curb our desire for a world that reflects America’s historical experience and is responsive to our consensus-building practices.” Such a more restrained, multi-hierarchical policy would help end the “contradiction between our proclaimed values and intentions on the one hand, and our acts,” and would also bring a greater stability to the present world power structure.

In a long section, almost an appendage, on “the Atlantic puzzle,” this eloquent exponent of Gaullism puts current French policy into a lucid, unemotional perspective, and explains why Gaullism is likely to long outlive the General, since “opposition to De Gaulle’s regime can be consistent with full acceptance of his major goals.” There is no one in America today who understands French policy so well as Stanley Hoffmann, and consequently no one whose voice more urgently needs to be heard in Washington. While he cannot be labeled a Gaullist, he understands why formulas such as those espoused by George Ball cannot be readily accepted by Europeans, and how US enthusiasm for European federalism has actually “inhibited development in the decisive area of political integration.” His suggestion is the creation of a European entity (not limited to western Europe) that “will give the Continent its only chance of emancipation from ‘the two hegemonies.’ ” The difference between him and Ball is that Hoffmann downgrades the Atlantic setting, favors a “European Europe” stretching across the Iron Curtain, and calls for a more restricted conception of America’s “world responsibility.” Gulliver’s Troubles is sweeping in conception, if conservative in its conclusions, and is a major work of analysis. The section on America’s “national style” is particularly brilliant. Stanley Hoffmann is also editor of the Daedalus symposium on Conditions of World Order, a rather inconclusive academic exercise gleaned from a conference at Bellagio in the summer of 1965, published in the magazine Daedalus in the spring of 1966, and inexplicably put into hard covers a full two years later.

  1. *

    In fact he tells us he has memorized the famous phrase from the Memoris: “I intended to assure France primacy in western Europe….” It is unfortunate that a man presumable familiar with French did not bother consulting the original, where he would have discovered (Le Salut p. 210) that the word is Sécurité, and is inexplicably mistranslated in the English-language edition.

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