Foreign Policy in the Periphery: American Adventurism in the Third World
July 1, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

This paper outlines the major thesis of the larger work... that US foreign policy during the Cold War was not primarily about keeping the USSR out of Western Europe, but rather about promoting the global capitalist system on a worldwide stage... Three themes—strategic, economic, ideological—are introduced in support of this argument, and applied to the 30 case studies. They lead to the conclusion that in many of these interventions the US opposed leftist Third World personalities by supporting more right-wing local clients rather than centrists who were often available. These decisions almost always proved disastrous for the local societies affected, and often even were unfortunate for longer-term American diplomatic interests.
U.S. Foreign Policy in the Periphery: A 50-Year Retrospective. Related: With Our History, Spinning America's Image Isn't Enough
posted by y2karl (39 comments total)
Thanks Karl for yet another post full of truth and ubnderstanding. I'm sorry that some people don't "get it." 200 plus comment thread ensues in 5....4....3...
posted by wheelieman at 2:26 PM on July 1, 2005

Whoa, hit post instead of preview--well, so be it. There it is. The first has some very interesting charts. From the second, there is this quote:

The historian Tacitus explained the secret of the peace that prevailed in the early Roman Empire. Romans used their military might to create a desert, then called it peace. The Bush administration is now seeking a Pax Americana through nearly unilateral use of military power based on a similar principle: Make a desert and call for a public relations campaign... It is my experience living and traveling abroad extensively for more than 30 years that foreigners are less concerned about our image than they are about our essence and the actions our government takes, often in concert with our international corporate interests. They know the kind of beauty that the president is aiming for is only skin deep.
posted by y2karl at 2:27 PM on July 1, 2005

By the way, any posts planned for the 4th?
posted by wheelieman at 2:27 PM on July 1, 2005

Hmm ? No. Going to see the fireworks on Lake Union and listen to some ace musicians play some vintage blues on Bob West's houseboat.
posted by y2karl at 2:30 PM on July 1, 2005

This paper outlines the major thesis of the larger work... that US foreign policy during the Cold War was not primarily about keeping the USSR out of Western Europe, but rather about promoting the global capitalist system on a worldwide stage...

I don't think any of the architects of the Cold War would really quibble with that assessment. After all, what was the problem with the USSR? They were a bunch of godless commies, and the US may have been saying tomayto (free labor markets) while Western Europe was saying tomahto (strong unions with a social safety net), but they could both agree that that was pretty contrary to their way of life.

So, yeah. Containment of the USSR meant containment of communism, which (practically speaking) meant propagation of global capitalism. I don't see how this counts as a core insight around which to build a huge paper.
posted by rkent at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2005

[trimmed one title and fixed other one to make front page not break]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:39 PM on July 1, 2005

I don't see how this counts as a core insight around which to build a huge paper.

I think it's where the rubber met the road in the third world, where all our high-fallutin' talk of freedom and shit was belied by our backing some rather brutal regimes.

Not that we particularly liked backing these regimes, it's just that the alternative (mamby-pamby marxist dilletantes messing with the Established Order) was so much worse, at least for the people running the show and their quarterly financial statements.

IOW, follow the money. Our move in Iraq becomes a helluva lot clearer when looked through this prism, as does Vietnam.

And for the apparently retarded people who argue that because these actions are so expensive to Uncle Sam that the money angle isn't relevant, all I got to say is that you're not following the money closely enough.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:43 PM on July 1, 2005

Not that we particularly liked backing these regimes, it's just that the alternative (mamby-pamby marxist dilletantes messing with the Established Order) was so much worse, at least for the people running the show and their quarterly financial statements.

One tangent that rebutts a bit of this is that there is no shortage of evidence that a stable, if brutal, regieme is much better for the people than an unstable regieme that may have hearts of gold. See Iraq today, for example. Even if Saddam was a brtual dictator, there is an argument that the country was better off with him in place than having a three-way civil war between Sunnis, Shii's and Kurds.

In that context, backing an otherwise brutal dictator makes sense. As we've seen in Iraq, it's not easy to just remove a leader and put in a new government at will. In many places around the world the US faced a choice between supporting a corrupt dictator and allowing a civil war to break out. Civil wars get ugly fast. Better the known evil than the unknown worse evil.

If you want to read more about it then I suggest the Rule of Law literature about "bandit theory" and "stationary bandits." Basically the premise is that a corrupt dictator wants to get as much out of the country as he can, but if he's stable then it's in his best interest to improve conditions so he doesn't get kicked out and so there's more to collect. An unstable regime, on the other hand, has an incentive to loot and pillage without regard for the future. And an unstable regime with a heart of gold gets taken-over pretty quickly unless there's military support from outside.

There are plenty of ways to attack the theory, but it's a much more nuanced view of global politics than just blindly alleging that every US action was designed to line Halliburton's pocket.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:50 PM on July 1, 2005

The governments for most countries are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GOP war on civil liberties is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free countries--to make sure the countries is free for all its people. This war on civil liberties applies to most of the Free countries Foundation's countries and to any other country whose politicians commit to using it. (Some other Free countries Foundation countries is covered by the GOP Lesser war on civil liberties instead.) You can apply it to your ideology, too.

When we speak of free countries, we are referring to freedom, not price. Our war on civil libertiess are designed to make sure that you have the freedom to deploy troops of free countries (and charge for this service if you wish), that you receive representative democracy or can get it if you want it, that you can change the countries or use pieces of it in new free ideology; and that you know you can do these things.

To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask you to surrender the rights. These restrictions translate to certain responsibilities for you if you deploy troops of the countries, or if you modify it.

For example, if you deploy troops of such a country, whether gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the representative democracy. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.

We protect your rights with two steps: (1) invade the countries, and (2) offer you this government which gives you legal permission to copy, deploy and/or modify the countries.

Also, for each politician's protection and ours, we want to make certain that everyone understands that there is no warranty for this free countries. If the countries is modified by someone else and passed on, we want its recipients to know that what they have is not the original, so that any problems introduced by others will not reflect on the original politicians' reputations. Finally, any free country is threatened constantly by countries partisan bickering. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free country will individually obtain extremist governments, in effect making the country proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any extremist must be governmentd for everyone's free use or not governmentd at all.
posted by moift at 3:36 PM on July 1, 2005

posted by moift at 3:36 PM PST on July 1 [!]

I never thought I'd see A Modest Proposal in the form of a EULA. As much as I think the reasoning is flawed, I applaud your creativity.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:39 PM on July 1, 2005

DevilDanced - Can you expand on the "One tangent that rebutts a bit of this is that there is no shortage of evidence that a stable, if brutal, regieme is much better for the people than an unstable regieme that may have hearts of gold" thing?

It runs counter to everything I understand about life when you can be disappeared at any moment, but I'd like to see the evidence that a brutal regime is better than anything whatsoever.

It might change my mind on some things.

My thought has always been that the fact that the government has you by the short hairs means that unless you're in the government, you're essentially enslaved to them. Not allowed to say what you want (something the Fighting Liberal 101st crack keyboardist brigade clearly takes for granted) and could be killed for, for example, offending the dear leaders sensibilities. Or, you know, looking at his wife.
posted by swerdloff at 4:05 PM on July 1, 2005

tddl, I agree completely with that. That is one of the most clever things I've ever seen in a comment, but the gaps in logic required to come up with it are just too large to ignore.
posted by mystyk at 4:06 PM on July 1, 2005

For clarification, I agree with your assessment of A Modest Proposal: EULA. I only agree partially with the previous statement on stable/unstable regimes.

swerdloff, I think what he's getting at is that the overall standard of living was actually higher, but the price was being under a totalitarian government. They had water, power, internet, cable, and numerous other luxuries many Americans wouldn't dream about going without. Now many of those things are gone and those that aren't are shaky at best.

Saddam's regime gave it's citizens virtually no rights, but if they didn't step out of line they got many things back in the form of priveleges. Now they have their rights back, but no structure to support their lives. The insurgency's main power comes from this.

Further, it is fairly well acknowledged that the new government, while well-intentioned, would not be able to support itself without our muscle and would fall into worse turmoil if we withdrew quickly. Saddam wasn't fun, but he was self-sufficient and kept things running.
posted by mystyk at 4:15 PM on July 1, 2005

What mystyk said.

In short, life under a stable, long-term dictator is pretty bad. You can be disappeared at any moment, and so forth. But the dictator also has an incentive to make things just good enough that nobody revolts, and to keep the peace domestically.

In contrast, when there is a vacuum, civil war breaks out and all hell breaks lose. You can still be disappeared by the other side, but you can also step on a land mine, be killed by stray fire, have your house burned down, etc etc etc. You lose stability, you lose the thinks mystyk mentioned like TV, electricity, water, jobs, etc. And the risk of random crime (theft, murder, etc) goes up in the absence of a stable government.

The options aren't good, but there is a definite "less bad" choice.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:23 PM on July 1, 2005

Not like it started with the Cold War:
"I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.... Looking back on it, I felt I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents". U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, two time Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
posted by Mack Twain at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2005

A thought that came to mind when reading this was where Iran would be had Mossadegh not been toppled ? Would Iran be a more or less secular democracy ? Would it still have a nuclear weapons program ?

And these caught my eye:

19. Australia ’75 CIA-linked GG John Kerr’s dubious dismissal...

19. Australia ’75 GOP removal of Labor govt.,’75-87 = ~12 yrs.? none

And, too, there was what Timoth Garston Ash wrote yesterday in passing iin the Guardian in his The sobering of America--One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing.

We never had a President who put on a military uniform before this. And for most it was unremarkable. [This is not good]

Mind you, Ash went on to write:

It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, "the worse the better". Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any reader tempted to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style US evacuation from Baghdad may be woken from that reverie by the blast from a bomb, planted in Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist. But it is a fair and justified historical observation that American policy has got better - more sober, more realistic - at least partly because things in Iraq have gone so badly. This is the cunning of history.

We shall see. We have sown the wind. When will the whirlwind be reaped ?
posted by y2karl at 6:25 PM on July 1, 2005

Re: Tim Ash's article, there was another piece from Gerard Baker on that same quote from Bush:

When George Bush said in his prime-time address to the nation this week, in front of an audience of red- bereted soldiers, “There is no higher calling than service in our armed forces”, it struck many Europeans as confirmation of America’s distasteful inversion of priorities. No higher calling? What about nurses and doctors? But for Americans it was an affirmation of the simple truth that to fight and if necessary, to die for one’s country is the noblest vocation imaginable.

But the critics, in their eagerness to denigrate the country they regard as irredeemably simplistic, miss its complexity. There is another history of American military intervention which points to rather different conclusions.

History suggests that for the American public to continue its support for a protracted struggle, three conditions must be met. They must be convinced that their cause is a noble one. No country in the world is as animated by ideals as Americans. But idealism alone will not suffice. Even Americans won’t in the end fight for abstract principles, or for somebody else’s freedom.

The second condition is that a war must be seen as being conducted against a threat, immediate or emergent, against Americans.

Thirdly, Americans will back a lengthy war only if they believe their leaders have a clear strategy for winning. In the end it was not lack of faith in the cause in Vietnam that undermined support for the war among a majority of the US population. It was a steadily strengthening conviction that their leaders had given up believing the war could be won.

Iraq today still meets criteria one and two. It remains a noble cause, in keeping with the highest American ideals — liberation of a people from a hideous tyranny. And it is a fight in defence of America’s interests. Establishing a democratic base in the Middle East remains the key to overturning the ideologies of fundamentalist hate that are the root causes of terrorism.

posted by jenleigh at 7:20 PM on July 1, 2005

Now that is comedy gold.
posted by y2karl at 7:48 PM on July 1, 2005

Nothing personal, jenleigh, but that is the most mindbogglingly irredeemably simplistic piece of rhetoric I have read in a long time.
posted by y2karl at 7:56 PM on July 1, 2005

You posted that in a thread to a link where it is noted:

A rough estimate yields more than 500 years of disrupted local politics in 27 of the 30 cases (all except Grenada, Panama, and Yugoslavia), spread roughly equally between Democratic and Republican administrations. There were also about 8 million deaths of people in these "peripheral" places, with about 1 million more of them occurring under Democratic than under Republican regimes.

Now here's Anthony Cordesman from yesterday:

The president talked about democracy as a regional panacea, and not as part of a difficult and long-term process of reform that must be coupled to the rule of law and human rights, economic reform, social reform, and demographic change. As usual he cast his call for such reform in ways likely to provoke considerable local hostility from both friendly regimes and reformers. He talked about Libya, but not challenges like Iran, and totally avoided the difficult subject of the linkage between progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process and success in Iraq. He made no mention of the problems in dealing with Iraq's neighbors or how he intends to address them.

The president did not approach honesty in addressing the military burden on the United States, and key allies like Britain and Australia. He talked about thousands of Coalition troops, not the need to maintain a massive U.S. troop presence until Iraq forces are ready. He did not mention that several Coalition allies now plan to leave or are considering doing so. He talked about 17 nations contributing to the NATO training mission without noting that these are at best a few thousands, of which hundreds are actually deployed in Iraq. In doing so, he did not warn the American people that there are thousands of American killed and wounded still to come, or explain and justify this sacrifice.

And this from the Wall Street JournalOp/Ed page yesterday:

God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective. After somehow failing to argue competently on behalf of a patently justifiable invasion, and as its more specious arguments were collapsing, the Bush administration then pivoted with breathtaking enthusiasm to nation building, something so Clinton-tinged that it had previously been held in contempt. The more that nation building in Iraq is in doubt, the more the mission creeps into a doubling of bets in hope of covering those that are lost. Now the goal is to reforge the politics, and perforce the culture, not merely of Iraq but of the billion-strong Islamic world from Morocco to the South Seas. That--evangelical democracy writ overwhelmingly large--is the manic idea for which the army must fight.
But no law of nature says a democracy is incapable of supporting terrorism, so even if every Islamic capital were to become a kind of Westminster with curlicues, the objective of suppressing terrorism might still find its death in the inadequacy of the premise. Even if all the Islamic states became democracies, the kind of democracies they might become might not be the kind of democracies wrongly presumed to be incapable of supporting terrorism. And if Iraq were to become the kind of democracy that is the kind wrongly presumed (and for more than a short period), there is no evidence whatsoever that other Arab or Islamic states, without benefit of occupying armies, would follow. And if they did, how long might it last? They do not need Iraq as an example, they have Britain and Denmark, and their problem is not that they require a demonstration, but rather their culture, history, and secret police.

If we could transform Germany and Japan, then why not Iraq? Approximately 150,000 troops occupy Iraq, which has a population of 26 million and shares long open borders with sympathetic Arab and Islamic countries where popular sentiment condemns America. The Iraqi army was dispersed but neither destroyed nor fully disarmed. The country is divided into three armed nations. Its cities are intact.

In contrast, on the day of Germany's surrender, Eisenhower had three million Americans under his command--61 divisions, battle hardened. Other Western forces pushed the total to 4.5 million in 93 divisions. And then there were the Russians, who poured 2.5 million troops into the Berlin sector alone. All in all, close to 10 million soldiers had converged upon a demoralized German population of 70 million that had suffered more than four million dead and 10 million wounded, captured, or missing. No sympathizers existed, no friendly borders. The cities had been razed. Germany had been broken, but even after this was clear, more than 700,000 occupation troops remained, with millions close by. The situation in Japan was much the same: a country with a disciplined, homogenous population, no allies, sealed borders, its cities half burnt, more than three million dead, a million wounded, missing, or captured, its revered emperor having capitulated, and nearly half a million troops in occupation. And whereas both Germany and Japan had been democracies in varying degree, Iraq has been ruled by a succession of terrifying autocrats since the beginning of human history.

To succeed, a paradigm of "invade, reconstruct, and transform" requires the decisive defeat, disarmament, and political isolation of the enemy; the demoralization of his population and destruction of its political beliefs; and the presence, at the end of hostilities, of overwhelming force. With U.S. military capacity virtually unchanged since the Clinton years, and a potentially heavy draw upon American forces in other crises, the paradigm is untenable. Though against all odds it may succeed temporarily in Iraq, it is premised upon succeeding in far too many other places of fierce and longstanding antipathy to what we represent.

I think we can both agree the thoughts presented there have a tiny bit more nuance and complexity than the empty and factually unsupported slogans of Mr. Baker.
posted by y2karl at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2005

There's lots of people out there whose view on the world is conflict and they think that if you don't share that view then you are confused, and ungratefully dependent on those that do. They will uphold the notion that the only way to solve a problem is through a fight, and will insist that if you do not perceive the aggressive nature of humanity, and work in those elements, then you are not qualified to stand on the global setting, you will only have to hide behind those that do, because, it is clear to them, the people of the world would destroy us, in order to capture the value of our dollars, and take it back to their country. The Pentagon is full up to the rafters with such people, and it's a distributed political / pseudo-philosophical / industrial edifice spread across the whole country. Those pour souls raised in the 20th century dark (ok, dim?) age that was the cold war, whose enlightenment was television, whose philosophy was the Objectivism put forth by the CIA, who can blame them for continuing to look for that cold stoic wall, some element so strong as to regiment our whole society into a new order. . .
posted by nervousfritz at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2005

American Zen:
The new general rule: Global morality is established by the degree the United States can be blamed. Millions of lives lost, vast corruption, thousands of refugees — all that can’t quite equate with a U.S. soldier showing insensitivity or an American detention center with mere doctors, ethnic food, and religious accommodations.

All this is not mere theater anymore, but serious stuff, since we are at war with thousands of troops in harm’s way counting on our support. America should wake up to this near-religious hatred — unless it is so far gone itself that it really believes the arguments of silly university-press books about our own pathologies and pernicious “empire.”

We once learned from the Philippines that the sky did not fall on us or it when we said goodbye; the only unforeseen consequence was the tens of thousands of Filipinos who wished to leave along with us. Shutting down all but one base in Greece was a good idea. The realization that the remaining one in Crete could go at any time brings sobriety to the relationship. Most Americans would prefer, if need be, a base in Kurdistan than in present-day Turkey.

Rather than worry about the supposed new unpopularity of the United States from Canada to France, or constantly badger supposed allies to at least be neutrals, we should very gently strengthen our alliances with nations that are self-confident and without neuroses of various sorts. That would mean to accept that an ankle-biting Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Mexico, or Turkey has a perfect right as a neutral to distrust the United States and craft its own independent path.

If they all see statism, socialism, and big government as the better solutions to their own problems, or Islamic fascism as largely an American bogeyman, again more power to them all. In the meantime, we should begin to draw closer to true allies — a Japan, India, Australia, Britain, a very few Eastern and Western European countries, Taiwan, and Israel — who agree that the world is a scary, often crazy place, with the United States far better and more reliable than the alternatives.

So how does the United States navigate nimbly between its weariness with the thankless role of a superpower and the dangers of a nostalgic isolationism? We need to find a sort of Zen-like philosophical balance that brings both some maturity to our pampered critics and psychic relief to ourselves, without endangering our own security or abandoning our true allies — while in the middle of a war and a polarized electorate here at home.

posted by jenleigh at 8:49 PM on July 1, 2005

posted by y2karl at 9:37 PM on July 1, 2005

A rough estimate yields more than 500 years of disrupted local politics in 27 of the 30 cases... There were also about 8 million deaths of people in these "peripheral" places

Millions of lives lost, vast corruption, thousands of refugees — all that can’t quite equate with a U.S. soldier showing insensitivity or an American detention center with mere doctors, ethnic food, and religious accommodations.

The military prides itself, as do physicians, on being professional in every sense of the word. It fosters leadership and discipline. When I served as White House physician, my entire professional staff was drawn from the military, and they were among the best and most competent people I have met, without qualification.

The military ethics that I know absolutely prohibit anything resembling torture. There are several good reasons for this. Prisoners should be treated as we would expect our prisoners to be treated. Discipline and order in the military ranks depend to a large extent on compliance with the prohibition of torture -- indeed, weak or damaged psyches inclined toward torture or abuse have generally been weeded out of the military, or at the very least given less responsibility. In addition, military leaders have long been aware that torture inflicts lasting damage on both the victim and the torturer. The systematic infliction of torture engenders deep hatred and hostility that transcends generations. And it perverts the role of medical personnel from healers to instruments of abuse.

Today, however, it seems as though our government and the military have slipped into Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." The widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment -- frequently based on military and government documents -- defy the claim that this abusive behavior is limited to a few noncommissioned officers at Abu Ghraib or isolated incidents at Guantanamo Bay. When it comes to torture, the military's traditional leadership and discipline have been severely compromised up and down the chain of command. Why? I fear it is because the military has bowed to errant civilian leadership.

Our medical code of ethics requires us to oppose torture wherever it is inflicted, for any reason. Guided by this ethic, I served as a volunteer with the international group MEDICO in 1963, taking care of people who had been tortured by the French during Algeria's civil war. I remain deeply affected by that experience today -- by the people I tried to help and could not, and by their families, which suffered the most terrible grief. I heard the victims' stories, examined their permanently broken bodies and looked into faces that could not see me because of the irreparable damage done not only to their senses but also to their brains. As I have studied reports of torture throughout our troubled world since then, I have always found comfort in knowing that at least it did not occur here, not among Americans.

Now that comfort is shattered. Reports of torture by U.S. forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. These new guidelines distort traditional ethical rules beyond recognition to serve the interests of interrogators, not doctors and detainees.

I urge my fellow health professionals to join me and many others in reaffirming our ethical commitment to prevent torture; to clearly state that systematic torture, sanctioned by the government and aided and abetted by our own profession, is not acceptable. As health professionals, we should support the growing calls for an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, and demand restoration of ethical standards that protect physicians, nurses, medics and psychologists from becoming facilitators of abuse.

America cannot continue down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. It does not show understanding, power or magnanimity. It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and of the citizens of the United States.

The Stain Of Torture
posted by y2karl at 10:37 PM on July 1, 2005

"This paper outlines the major thesis of the larger work... that US foreign policy during the Cold War was not primarily about keeping the USSR out of Western Europe, but rather about promoting the global capitalist system on a worldwide stage..."

Without disputing that the US did a lot of terrible things in the Third World during the Cold War, and that their effects are still with us today, I'm afraid I'd have to disagree pretty strongly with this thesis about US objectives during the Cold War, based on the primary documents and secondary sources I've read, particularly regarding the Truman administration. I've linked some primary documents to the George F. Kennan page. For example, here's PPS/13, Resume of World Situation, November 6, 1947. It focuses pretty exclusively on the progress of the American effort to halt Soviet political expansion in Western Europe.

"The world situation is still dominated by the effort undertaken by the Russians in the post-hostilities period to extend their virtual domination over all, or as much as possible, of the Eurasian land mass. ...

"... the Russians have been momentarily blocked in their political advance in the west. If U.S. aid to Europe [the Marshall Plan] becomes a reality, they will probably not be able to resume it. But the battle is far from won, and any relaxation of our efforts could still result in a political debacle for the non-communist forces. ...

"... We have borne almost single-handed the burden of the international effort to stop the Kremlin's political advance. But this has stretched our resources dangerously far in several respects. ...

"... it is clearly unwise for us to continue the attempt to carry alone, or largely singlehanded, the opposition to Soviet expansion. It is urgently necessary for us to restore something of the balance of power in Europe and Asia by strengthening local forces of independence and by getting them to assume part of our burden. The Harvard speech [by Marshall, announcing the European Recovery Plan] approach was highly effective from this standpoint. But we have done almost nothing to exploit psychologically the initial advantage we have gained. ..."

For anyone who wants a better understanding of the Cold War, I'd highly recommend Louis Halle's The Cold War as History (1967).

I think it's difficult for us to grasp what things were like in Europe at the end of World War II. In the words of Mark Danner: "A half-century ago, Germany found itself in a state of utter devastation, its people clawing through ruins and brambles in search of scraps of food; France and Britain were financially and spiritually exhausted; and in the occupied states to the east, the soldiers of the Red Army crouched menacingly, the spearhead of a nation that had arisen triumphant from the war and saw before it now no power that could possibly oppose it."

In 1948, following demobilization, the US had an army of 550,000. The Soviet Union had an army of 5 to 6 million, which demonstrated great brutality in its occupation of Eastern Europe, including the rape of up to 2 million German women. The Soviet expansion into the power vacuum opened up in Eastern Europe placed its huge armies within striking distance of the West. It's very difficult to imagine the atmosphere of fear and exhaustion in Western Europe at that time. (Louis Halle suggests that Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy captures the fear and horror in Western Europe from the rise of Hitler in the 1930s to the Berlin and Cuban crises in the early 1960s, when the world was on the brink of nuclear war.)

In this situation, if the US had simply withdrawn from Europe, as it did after World War I, the Soviet Union would have taken over Western Europe, as it did Eastern Europe. I don't mean to say that the Soviet Union was evil, or any such nonsense; I'm simply saying that the Soviet Union would have expanded into the resulting power vacuum, as it had in Eastern Europe.

An assessment of US foreign policy during the Cold War.
posted by russilwvong at 10:52 PM on July 1, 2005

A bit of a derail, but I've wondered about food in Iraq. With all the disruption and violence, how is it that a refugee crisis hasn't emerged? There are obvious hardships regarding water and electricity, but how are the majority of the Iraqi's (esp. in Baghdad and the Sunni triangle) still being fed? Is agriculture still taking place on a widespread basis?
posted by bardic at 11:04 PM on July 1, 2005

By the way, I'm horrified and appalled by Bush's foreign policy, but I think the underlying causes are militarism (excessive faith in the use of force), blind optimism, and wishful thinking, rather than capitalism. (France, Germany, and Canada are all capitalist democracies as well, but had no trouble seeing that war with Iraq was a bad idea.)

"... the US has acted as if it has no faith in any of the governments of its Arab allies, and as if some miracle would suddenly transform Iraq magically into a modern democratic state which would then – in turn – use sympathetic magic to catalyze equal change throughout the Arab world. And, it would do so regardless of all the real world political, cultural, economic, and demographic realities involved. This view of US intervention in Iraq may be excusable as a fantasy of some Israelis reacting to the trauma of the Second Intifada. As American policy, however, it crosses the line between neo-conservative and neo-crazy." Anthony Cordesman, November 2002.

"... often the greatest threat to moderation and peace, and certainly the most insidious, comes from objectives that are couched in terms of fine principles in which the policy-maker fervently believes, yet that turn out to have no relation to political realities and can therefore be applied only by tortuous or brutal methods which broaden ad infinitum the gap between motives and effects. What matters in international affairs, alas, far more than intentions and objectives, is behavior and results.... What [the war] proves, in my opinion, is not the wickedness of our intentions or objectives but the wickedness that results from irrelevant objectives and disembodied intentions, applied by hideous and massive means. It has its roots, intellectual and emotional, in elements of the American style that I have been at pains to analyze in detail. The Americans' very conviction that their goals are good blinds them to the consequences of their acts." Stanley Hoffmann, March 1969.

bardic: here's the latest from the World Food Programme. They're continuing the food rationing program set up by Saddam Hussein's government.
posted by russilwvong at 11:11 PM on July 1, 2005

No doubt karl, TNR is hardly the place for clear analysis. I feel unclean everytime I read VD Hanson.

Criticism of America is not considered valid while they can point a finger to X government doing Y, which is so much worse. That's why I think the concept of exceptionalism is important to understand as to why we can't make diplomacy work anymore.
posted by john at 11:17 PM on July 1, 2005

Thanks russil. Great link.
posted by bardic at 11:41 PM on July 1, 2005

At the outer edges of the US imperium, in Bratislava or Tiflis, the dream of republican America still lives on, like the fading light from a distant, dying star. But even there the shadows of doubt are growing. Amnesty International cites several cases of detainees who "just could not believe Americans could act this way." Those are exactly the words said to me by an Albanian friend in Macedonia— and Macedonian Albanians have good reason to count themselves among this country's best friends and unconditional admirers. In Madrid a very senior and rather conservative Spanish diplomat recently put it thus:
We grew up under Franco with a dream of America. That dream encouraged us to imagine and later to build a different, better Spain. All dreams must fade—but not all dreams must become nightmares. We Spanish know a little about political nightmares. What is happening to America? How do you explain Guantánamo?
The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerability of their republic. It would not occur to most of them even to contemplate the possibility that their country might fall into the hands of a meretricious oligarchy; that, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, their political "system is fundamentally corrupt and functions in ways inconsistent with the spirit of genuine democracy." But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.

For there is a precedent in modern Western history for a country whose leader exploits national humiliation and fear to restrict public freedoms; for a government that makes permanent war as a tool of state policy and arranges for the torture of its political enemies; for a ruling class that pursues divisive social goals under the guise of national "values"; for a culture that asserts its unique destiny and superiority and that worships military prowess; for a political system in which the dominant party manipulates procedural rules and threatens to change the law in order to get its own way; where journalists are intimidated into confessing their errors and made to do public penance. Europeans in particular have experienced such a regime in the recent past and they have a word for it. That word is not "democracy."

The New World Order
posted by y2karl at 2:06 AM on July 2, 2005

Excellent thread. Thanks.
posted by nofundy at 4:44 AM on July 2, 2005

First: No country in the world is as animated by ideals as Americans.
Two sentences later: Even Americans won’t in the end fight ... for somebody else’s freedom.

posted by paul! at 5:51 AM on July 2, 2005

Louis Halle suggests that Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy captures the fear and horror in Western Europe from the rise of Hitler in the 1930s to the Berlin and Cuban crises in the early 1960s

Interesting, considering that Tolkien finished the book (only broken up into a "trilogy" for publishing convenience) in 1948 (revisions finished 1949).
posted by languagehat at 6:14 AM on July 2, 2005


Clarion calls of martial glory rarely make sense upon close examination.
posted by y2karl at 8:01 AM on July 2, 2005

great links y2karl, thanks.
awful/amusing links jenleigh, thanks.
posted by mr.marx at 8:23 AM on July 2, 2005

Hey, I was just going to post that Tony Judt quote!

languagehat: Halle wasn't suggesting that Tolkien's trilogy was a direct allegory for World War II and the early Cold War (I believe Tolkien himself said that it was more based on the horrors of World War I), only that it captured the atmosphere of fear during that period. Here's the relevant quote from Halle, p. 138.

From the beginning of the 1930's to almost the end of 1962 the populations of the West lived continuously in a terrible fear. The general economic breakdown of 1929-1930, which foreboded the breakdown of the social order everywhere, was followed by the rise of Hitler and the Japanese war-lords, to the point where it no longer seemed possible to stop them. The terrors of World War II were followed by those associated with the prospect of an imminent general breakdown of civilization and the obliteration of all that made life worth living, or even possible, under the Muscovite tyranny that was spreading from the East. The emotion of fear is not easily recaptured, and now a new generation is growing up that, one hopes, will be spared the experience. However, for those of the new generation who want to know, and for some of their elders who want to recapture the brooding terror that lasted for some thirty years, I recommend J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, Boston, 1954-1956, which enshrines the mood and the emotion of those long years in which we, in the West, saw almost no possibility of saving ourselves from the intolerable darkness that was overspreading the world from the East.
posted by russilwvong at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2005

Hey, I was just going to post that Tony Judt quote!

This too, is worth repeating:

...The United States.. is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.

Why does the US Department of Defense currently maintain 725 official US military bases outside the country and 969 at home (not to mention numerous secret bases)? Why does the US spend more on "defense" than all the rest of the world put together? After all, it has no present or likely enemies of the kind who could be intimidated or defeated by "star wars" missile defense or bunker-busting "nukes." And yet this country is obsessed with war: rumors of war, images of war, "preemptive" war, "preventive" war, "surgical" war, "prophylactic" war, "permanent" war. As President Bush explained at a news conference on April 13, 2004, "This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense."

Among democracies, only in America do soldiers and other uniformed servicemen figure ubiquitously in political photo ops and popular movies. Only in America do civilians eagerly buy expensive military service vehicles for suburban shopping runs. In a country no longer supreme in most other fields of human endeavor, war and warriors have become the last, enduring symbols of American dominance and the American way of life.

"In war, it seemed, lay America's true comparative advantage."...

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially—brutally, contemptuously, illegally—abroad while preserving republican values at home...

posted by y2karl at 11:37 AM on July 2, 2005

A similar point made by Louis Halle in 1967, explaining why the US could not use its atomic monopoly to rule the world after World War II:

... real power is always something far greater than military power alone. A balance of power is not a balance of military power alone: it is, rather, a balance in which military power is one element. Even in its crudest aspect, power represents a subtle and intimate combination of force and consent. No stable government has ever existed, and no empire has ever become established, except with an immensely preponderant measure of consent on the part of those who were its subjects. That consent may be a half-grudging consent; it may be a consent based in part on awe of superior force; it may represent love, or respect, or fear, or a combination of the three. Consent, in any case, is the essential ingredient in stable power--more so than physical force, of which the most efficient and economical use is to increase consent.

By using physical force in such a way as alienates consent one constantly increases the requirements of physical force to replace the consent that has been alienated. A vicious spiral develops that, continued, ends in the collapse of power. If the Government in Washington had undertaken to use the atomic bomb to control the world it would surely have ended by incurring the fanatical hostility of the world's peoples, with incalculable consequences. It would have found itself trying to dominate the world by terror alone; it would have found itself driven to ever greater extremes of ruthlessness; and the requirements of a totally ruthless policy would, at last, have compelled it to establish a tyranny over the American people as well as over the rest of mankind. At some point early in this progress, however, it would have fallen and been replaced.

On this last point, Halle may have been too optimistic.
posted by russilwvong at 12:59 PM on July 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

« Older Scientia est Potentia   |   Happy 138th! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments