The Strategic Mind

Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA

by William Colby, by Peter Forbath
Simon & Schuster, 493 pp., $12.95

Decent Interval

by Frank Snepp
Random House, 590 pp., $4.95 (paper)

A few weeks ago in Washington, there was a small though interesting explosion over the effort by an old Harvard colleague, Samuel P. Huntington, currently on assignment to the White House, to get Daniel Patrick Moynihan, also recently of Harvard, to make a public assault on a presidential decision involving trade with the Russians. I was sorry for several reasons to read about this. I’ve repeatedly urged my Harvard colleagues, when they go to Washington, not to practice the kind of politics which is commonplace in Cambridge. Washington is not ready for it. But I was much more alarmed by an earlier communication from Sam Huntington in which he defended a briefing on world strategic balance that he had given to the Chinese. It involved, he said, no secrets; it was one of many such briefings he had been giving recently.

This was an indication that global strategic thought, sometimes called relentless strategic thought, was again rampant in Washington. There is nothing over which the country should be more concerned. President Carter can shrug off the odd professorial attack. But recent experience shows that presidents cannot survive the strategic mind. If life on this planet dissolves one day in an intense sheet of flame with great over-pressure, the guidance to our demise will have been given by a relentless strategic mind, a particularly tough exponent of global balance.

I’m a longtime student of this higher strategic thought and of its authors, but my interest, as also my alarm, has been further heightened in recent weeks by three books from men who have been serving as the practical instruments, the sword arms as it were, of our strategic thought. Two of these books, not quiet licit, are by ordinary field-grade officers of the CIA. The third is by William Colby, a career head of the agency. All three are important, and Colby’s, perhaps unwittingly, is especially informative and alarming. But before getting on to these books, I must say something, indeed quite a bit, about the strategic or global mind.

It is not, at least in the manifestation of which I here speak, primarily concerned with weapons and weaponry. Rather, it is drawn uncontrollably to any map of the world, and this it immediately divides into spheres of present or potential influence. The nature of the influence is never specified. Nor are the consequences of its exercise, if any, except as there may be vague references to essential raw materials, naval bases, or the control of adjacent waters by local aircraft or ordnance—threats that, in the end, do not materialize, perhaps because they rarely have anything to do with modern military need or technology.

A hostile sphere of influence always requires a prompt and lethal reaction. That is partly, it is held, because nothing else will be understood. And partly it is because it must be shown that we are capable of such a reaction. Those who question the need and ask consideration of the consequences show …

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Letters

Working on the Railroad December 21, 1978