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Deterring Democracy


By Noam Chomsky

III. The Global System

1. Separation Anxieties

2. The Changing Tasks

3. Containing "Gorby Fever"

4. The Community of Nations

5. The Silver Lining

6. The Soviet Threat

 

From Z Magazine, July 1989.

  1. Separation Anxieties

A political cartoon pictures a snowman with a helmet and a rifle, melting under a bright sun while an anxious George Bush holds an umbrella over him to deflect its rays. The snowman is labeled "Cold War," and the caption reads: "Not permanent? What'll We Dooo?" 1 The dilemma is real.

As discussed in chapter 1, the Cold War has served important functions for state managers. When a government stimulus was needed for a faltering economy or to foster new and costly technologies, state managers could conjure up Russian hordes on the march to induce the public to expand the subsidy to advanced industry via the Pentagon. Forceful intervention and subversion to bar independent nationalism in the Third World could be justified in the same terms, and there were ancillary benefits in maintaining U.S. influence over its allies. Quite generally, the Evil Empire has been invoked when needed for domestic economic management and for controlling the world system. A replacement will not be easy to find.

These are serious concerns. Intervention carries material and moral costs that the population may not be willing to bear. With an obedient population and quite different cultural patterns, such economic powerhouses as Japan can conduct state-corporate economic planning on the assumption that people will follow orders. In a less disciplined society, it is necessary to manufacture consent. To a nontrivial extent, current U.S. economic problems derive from the relatively free and open character of the society, which precludes the more efficient fascist-style methods that are now hailed as a triumph of free enterprise and democracy. Thus, to cite typical cases, the New York Times proclaims that "as an economic mechanism, democracy demonstrably works," as illustrated in the "newly industrializing countries" (NICs) South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. And sociologist Dennis Wrong, writing in the democratic socialist journal Dissent, describes the "striking capitalist successes" of these four countries "under capitalist economies free from control by rickety authoritarian governments" as compared to the "economic failures of Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and, more recently Nicaragua," all attributable solely to Marxist-Leninist dogma; what is valid in the comparison is that the authoritarian governments were efficient, not "rickety," in organizing economic growth. 2 Short of a real counterrevolution, reversing many social and political gains of the past and imposing novel repressive patterns, the United States cannot adopt these forms of authoritarian state-corporate rule. 3

Faced with such problems, the traditional method of any state is to inspire fear. Dean Acheson warned early on that it would be necessary "to bludgeon the mass mind of `top government'" with the Communist threat in order to gain approval for the planned programs of rearmament and intervention. The Korean war, shortly after, provided "an excellent opportunity...to disrupt the Soviet peace offensive, which...is assuming serious proportions and having a certain effect on public opinion," he explained further. In secret discussion of Truman's proposal for intervention in Greece and Turkey (the Truman Doctrine), Senator Walter George observed that Truman had "put this nation squarely on the line against certain ideologies," a stance that would not be easy to sell to the public. Senator Arthur Vandenberg added that "unless we dramatize this thing in every possible way," the public would never understand. It would be necessary to "scare hell out of the American people," he advised. The public was fed tales much like those used to bludgeon the mass mind of recalcitrant officials, in a style that was "clearer than truth," as Dean Acheson later said approvingly. As a new crusade was being launched in 1981, Harvard government professor and foreign policy adviser Samuel Huntington explained that: "You may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine." An important insight into the Cold War system, which applies to the second-ranked superpower as well. By the same logic, it follows that "Gorbachev's public relations can be as much a threat to American interests in Europe as were Brezhnev's tanks," Huntington warned eight years later. 4

One persistent problem is that the enemy is hard to take seriously. It takes some talent to portray Greece, Guatemala, Laos, Nicaragua, or Grenada as a threat to our survival. This problem has typically been overcome by designating the intended victim as an agent of the Soviet Union, so that we attack in self-defense. The Soviet threat itself has also required some labors, ever since the first major call for postwar rearmament, and "roll back" and break-up of the Soviet Union, in NSC 68.

The basic problems are institutional, and will not fade away.

  2. The Changing Tasks

In the early post-World War II period, U.S. planners hoped to organize most of not all of the world in accord with the perceived needs of the U.S. economy. With 50% of the world's wealth and a position of power and security without historical parallel, the "real task" for the U.S. was "to maintain this position of disparity," by force if necessary, State Department Policy Planning chief George Kennan explained. The vision was partially achieved, but over time, the U.S. position of dominance was bound to erode. The Kennedy administration attempted a "Grand Design" to remedy the growing problem, expecting that Britain would "act as our lieutenant (the fashionable word is partner)," in the words of one senior Kennedy advisor who carelessly let slip the true meaning of the lofty phrases about partnership. 5 By that time it was becoming difficult to manage and control Europe, the major potential rival. The problems mounted as U.S. allies enriched themselves through their participation in the destruction of Indochina, which proved costly to the U.S. economy.

Both superpowers have been declining in their power to coerce since the late 1950s. Now Washington's "real task" is to maintain a position of dominance that is seriously challenged. These long-term developments in the international system continued during the 1980s, accelerated by Reaganite social and economic mismanagement with its deleterious effects, which some regard as a "crippling blow" to a "decaying America" (Senator Ernest Hollings). 6 For years, the world has been drifting towards three major economic blocs: a dollar bloc; a yen bloc based on Japan and its periphery; and a German-centered European bloc, moving towards further unity in 1992. The incorporation of Canada within a U.S.-dominated free trade system in 1988 is a step towards consolidation of the dollar bloc, which is also intended to incorporate northern Mexico with its supply of cheap labor for assembly plants and parts production, and whatever else may be viable economically in Latin America. The Caribbean Basin Initiative is a halting step in the same direction. Europe and Japan have different ideas, however, not to speak of the region itself. These tendencies towards the formation of conflicting power blocs may be heightened by Washington's efforts to induce Europe and Japan to bail the U.S. out of its trade deficit and other economic problems, and by the impact on Third World exporters if the U.S. abandons the role as consumer of last resort for the countries that adopted an export-oriented development model under U.S. pressure. 7

The Kennedy Grand Design was an effort to ward off the growing danger of an independent European bloc with its own global designs. In Henry Kissinger's "Year of Europe" speech in 1973, he admonished the Europeans to keep to regional interests within an "overall framework of order" managed by the United States, and to refrain from developing a larger trading bloc to which the U.S. would be denied privileged access. The conflicts with Japan are by now front-page news. In earlier eras, such developments have led to serious conflict, even major wars. Presumably, the interpenetration of the global economies and the awesome nature of means of destruction will avert direct confrontation, but the seeds are there.

What role will the Soviet Union play in this world system? The Cold War had a regular rhythm of confrontation and détente, influenced heavily by domestic factors within each superpower and its need to exert force within its own international system; for us, most of the world. The Soviet Union made a number of efforts to extricate itself from a confrontation that it lacked the economic power to sustain; since they were rebuffed, we cannot know how serious they were (see chapter 1, pp. 24f.) The present case is qualitatively different, however.

Gorbachev's moves towards détente had little to do with U.S. table pounding, militarization of the economy, or the expansion of international terrorism under the Reagan Doctrine. They were undertaken in an effort to drive the cruel and inefficient centralized state constructed by Lenin and his successors towards economic and social change, an effort at reform from above that has given rise to a wide range of popular responses and initiatives with exciting but uncertain prospects, and to much uglier features as well, from deterioriation of the economy to chauvinist, racist, and anti-Semitic excesses.

Fortuitously, these moves towards détente and internal reform coincided with the natural flow of American politics. By the mid-1980s, the task for the U.S. political leadership was not to terrify the public into paying for military programs it did not want, but rather to deal with the costs of the Reaganite welfare state measures for the wealthy. As early as 1982, 83% of top corporate executives surveyed in a Wall Street Journal/Gallup poll favored a reduction in military spending in order to reduce the rapidly mounting federal deficit, 8 and within a few years it was clear that under the conditions of the 1980s, with the United States having lost its position of overwhelming dominance over its industrial rivals, the old devices of state intervention in the economy were no longer feasible. For purely domestic reasons, then, the international environment came to be portrayed as less threatening. With the imaginary "window of vulnerability" no longer needed and therefore closed, the Evil Empire was not quite on the verge of swallowing us up after all; and international terrorists were no longer lurking behind every corner. The world had become a safer place, not so much because the world had changed, but because new problems were arising at home. A statesmanlike pose became mandatory. Reagan even revealed himself to be a closet Leninist. In this context, it was possible to be at least somewhat receptive to Gorbachev's moves, undertaken for independent reasons.

Nevertheless, the decline of the Soviet threat is a dark cloud on the horizon for the reasons already mentioned. Long before the Cold War, H.L. Mencken commented that "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." The Soviet hobgoblin has served admirably for the domestic and international designs of U.S. elites, who are far from overjoyed to see it fade from view. The question of the Soviet role in the emerging international system is also casting a shadow over planning. On the surface, disputes with the allies concerned technical issues, such as the U.S. demand that Lance missiles be upgraded to just below the level of those dismantled by the Russians under the INF treaty, a tacit abandonment of the treaty, in Soviet eyes. But these matters were of little moment, 9 serving as a cover for the more serious issue of relaxation of East-West tensions. The real problem is that the major rivals of the United States are exploring closer relations with the Soviet Union, which is eager to obtain capital and technology and to forge closer economic links with the West, reestablishing something like the quasi-colonial relations of earlier years. Germany and Japan particularly have capital and technology that the USSR and its satellites badly need; in turn, they offer resources to be developed and exploited, markets for excess production, and perhaps cheap labor and opportunities for export of pollution and waste, as expected of well-behaved semi-developed dependencies. Germany and other European countries are eagerly exploring these prospects. Before too long, there may even be a free trade zone for Japan in Vladivostok and Japanese exploitation of oil and other resources in Siberia, developments which, if realized, could materially alter the structure of the world order.

A drift towards closer links between the industrial rivals of the United States and the Soviet bloc would awaken the worst nightmares of U.S. geopolitical thinking, which sees the United States as an island power standing off the Eurasian land mass, just as committed to prevent its unification as England was with regard to continental Europe in the era of its more limited hegemony. For such reasons, Washington has been distinctly uneasy about the growing ties with the Soviet Union. Through the 1980s, it sought to block expanding economic relations that would have eased Cold War tensions and furthered the integration of the Soviet economy into the Western zone. In late 1989, the U.S. was isolated in opposing high technology exports to the USSR, alleging security concerns, though these were hardly even a joke by that time. In an October 1989 meeting of COCOM, the committee of 15 NATO nations, Japan, and Australia which regulates trade with the Soviet bloc, the U.S. stood alone in seeking to prevent high technology sales. COCOM partners accused the U.S. of trying "to stifle foreign competitors of American manufacturers," who could profit from these trade relations, AP reported. 10 The U.S. has since continued to try to erect impediments to aid to the USSR -- "aid" being understood as an export promotion device that the U.S. is now ill-equipped to employ, in comparison with its rivals, particularly after the Reaganite blows to the domestic economy.

  3. Containing "Gorby Fever"

In this context, one can appreciate the concerns aroused in the late 1980s by Gorbachev's moves, which require a new form of containment: a cure for "Gorby Fever" in Western Europe, or at least confinement of the disease. A headline in the Wall Street Journal reads: "Anti-Nuclear Fever Presents a Dilemma for Bush as Soviets Ease Confrontation." The article goes on to outline one of Bush's "most thankless but important jobs": to defend "the virtue of nuclear weapons in the face of a relentless and sometimes brilliant Soviet crusade to rid Europe of them." This new "Soviet strategy" has "deprived Western hardliners of their best weapon," and "appears to be working" among the disobedient Europeans, though European elites are also concerned that relaxation of tension might free their own populations from the controls of Cold War confrontation. Dan Rather reported from Germany that Helmut Kohl might be about to make the same mistake that Chamberlain made in 1939, believing Gorbachev just as Chamberlain believed Hitler and succumbing to fantasy about "peace in our time"; Americans can help keep Germany from making that mistake, he advises. Liberal Sovietologist Jerry Hough of the Brookings Institution warned that the U.S. had given in too readily to "the complacent optimism that Gorbachev cannot possibly succeed." "Perhaps this optimism will be justified," he writes, but we cannot be sure, and must be more cognizant of the "looming difficulties and challenges." 11

One problem has been Europe's failure to see the moves towards détente in the proper terms: as a victory for capitalist democracy achieved by the courage of Ronald Reagan, then his skills as a peacemaker after his firm resolve compelled the enemy to throw in the towel. The London Financial Times welcomed "the rosy glow of the new détente," adding, however, that "everybody knows that the architect of that détente is not Ronald Reagan but Mikhail Gorbachev." As for Reagan, his "contribution to the gaiety of nations includes the Evil Empire, Star Wars, the invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya, the 1986 Reykjavik summit at which he almost agreed to give away America's nuclear arsenal, and Irangate. Plus, of course, the steady piling up of the budget and trade deficits; and when they are eventually paid for, the price to the American people will be very high." Public opinion polls showed Gorbachev to be more popular than Reagan; Gorbachev's initiatives are playing havoc with West European politics, the New York Times reports, and his "charm has so captivated European public opinion that it could inhibit NATO's room for maneuver," a senior U.S. government official laments. 12

A more comforting view of the matter was crafted by former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal. "Nobody is telling the truth," he writes -- not implausibly, for once. The "truth," he proceeds, is that Western Europe is terrified by West Germany's unwillingness to upgrade NATO missiles as the U.S. demands. Germany's intransigence on this critical matter and its moves towards accommodation with the USSR arouse European fears of "a mighty Germany working in tandem with a rejuvenated Soviet Union," with echoes of the Hitler-Stalin pact.

But the Europeans, again, refused to see matters as they were told they did -- which is not to deny that there are fears of a mighty Germany and its ambitions. As Rosenthal was expounding European concerns over Germany's intransigence, public support for Germany's position mounted through most of Europe, while polls showed little fear of the USSR. Such results are not new; to cite one of many prior cases, classified U.S. Information Agency (USIA) opinion polls leaked in Europe (but apparently unpublished in the U.S. media) revealed that Europeans blamed Reagan by wide margins for the breakdown of the 1986 Reykjavik summit. In the conflict over missiles, the London Guardian observed, the U.S. and Britain -- the two "island powers" -- are "isolated in Nato, and not the Germans," who are supported by most of the alliance. The Guardian adds correctly that the issue is not missiles, but Germany's "ambition to lead Western Europe into a rapprochement with the Soviet Union -- one out of which could flow much mutual economic and political benefit"; exactly the concern of American planners, and for the present, their British lieutenant with its enduring illusions of partnership. 13

  4. The Community of Nations

Putting a bold face on the matter, George Bush, arriving in Europe for NATO consultations, said that the U.S. is "prepared to move beyond containment toward a policy that works to bring the Soviet Union into the community of nations." 14 A worthy objective, doubtless, but some queries remain.

There is a "community of nations," with an organized forum in which the world community has expressed some opinions on the matters of disarmament and détente, about which Bush now offers his kind tutelage to the errant Soviet Union. Thus, while Reagan was being extolled (in the United States) for leading the world towards peace at the December 1987 Washington summit, where the INF treaty was signed, the United Nations General Assembly, speaking for "the community of nations," voted a series of disarmament resolutions. It voted 154 to 1, with no abstentions, opposing the buildup of weapons in outer space (Reagan's Star Wars) and 135 to 1 against developing new weapons of mass destruction. The Assembly voted 143 to 2 for a comprehensive test ban, and 137 to 3 for a halt to all nuclear test explosions. The U.S. voted against each resolution, joined in two cases by France, and one by Britain. None of this was reported in the Free Press, the "community of nations" being irrelevant when it fails to perceive the Truth. 15

The U.S. alone boycotted a U.N. disarmament conference in New York in 1987 to consider how reduction of armaments might release funds for economic development, particularly in the Third World. Shortly before, the U.S. was alone at the General Assembly in opposing a South Atlantic "zone of peace" (voted 124-1). By that time, Gorbachev's proposal that the U.S. join the unilateral test ban (largely suppressed in the U.S.), his call for steps towards dismantling the pacts, removal of U.S. and Soviet fleets from the Mediterranean, outlawing sea-launched cruise missiles, and other annoying actions had become an acute embarrassment, so much so that George Shultz was compelled to call upon him to "end public diplomacy," drawing sober approval from media pundits. The White House complained that Gorbachev was behaving like a "drugstore cowboy" with his scattershot proposals, depressingly popular. On numerous other issues (among them: observance of international law, terrorism, South Africa, a Middle East political settlement) the U.S. has been alone or in a small minority, and it is far in the lead in recent years in Security Council vetoes. The deviant behavior of the world community has elicited some anxious commentary in the media, which are naturally concerned over the failure of the community of nations to comprehend truths that are simple and uncontroversial, as is demonstrated, conclusively, by the fact that they are put forth by U.S. power. This thoughtful concern over the deficiencies of the world community coexists, somewhat uneasily perhaps, with our earnest efforts to uplift and civilize the Evil Empire and bring it into the community of nations. 16

  5. The Silver Lining

In its final think piece for 1988 on the Cold War, the New York Times featured Dimitri Simes, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He begins with conventional doctrine: "For more than 40 years, America's international strategy has been subordinated to one overriding concern -- deterring Soviet global designs against the West." But if Gorbachev really is reducing these threats, "there may be sizable advantages to exploring the Kremlin's opening, uncertain as it may be, in order to liberate American foreign policy from the straightjacket imposed by superpower hostility." 17

Simes identifies three "national security challenges" that can be addressed if Gorbachev's words are followed by appropriate deeds. First, the U.S. can shift NATO costs to its European competitors, one element of the larger problem of competing blocs already discussed. Second, we can end "the manipulation of America by third world nations." The U.S. will be able to "resist unwarranted third world demands for assistance" and will be "in a stronger bargaining position vis-a-vis defiant third world debtors." The problem of the manipulation of America by the undeserving poor is particularly acute with regard to Latin America, which transferred some $150 billion to the industrial West from 1982 to 1987 in addition to $100 billion of capital flight; the capital transfer amounts to 25 times the total value of the Alliance for Progress and 15 times the Marshall Plan, Robert Pastor writes. The Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland estimates that between 1978 and 1987, some $170 billion in flight capital left Latin America, not including money hidden by falsified trade transactions. The New York Times cites another estimate that anonymous capital flows, including drug money and flight capital, total $600 billion to $800 billion. This huge hemorrhage is part of a complicated system whereby Western banks and Latin American elites enrich themselves at the expense of the general population of Latin America, saddled with the "debt crisis" that results from these manipulations, and taxpayers in the Western countries who are ultimately called upon to foot part of the bill. And now we can tighten the screws further on the poor majority, the second advantage accruing to us from Gorbachev's capitulation, according to Simes's analysis. 18

The third and most significant opportunity afforded us, Simes continues, is that the "apparent decline in the Soviet threat...makes military power more useful as a United States foreign policy instrument...against those who contemplate challenging important American interests," considering them "easy prey." The U.S. need no longer be inhibited by fear of "triggering counterintervention" if it resorts to violence to suppress such challenges. Had it not been for these inhibitions, the U.S. could have used force to prevent the 1973 oil embargo (in reality, the U.S. found the price rise not unwelcome as a weapon against Europe and Japan); and "the Sandinistas and their Cuban sponsors" will be "a little nervous" that Gorbachev may not react "if America finally lost patience with their mischief." America's hands will be "untied" if concerns over "Soviet counteraction" decline. This will permit Washington "greater reliance on military force in a crisis."

Things may be looking up, then, despite Gorbachev's maneuvers and the "erosion in clarity" they have caused. The clouds have a silver lining, and we may yet benefit from the Gorbachev maneuvers, if we handle them properly.

As this analysis reveals, Gorbachev's initiatives have had the salutary effect of clearing the air and sharpening the distinction between rhetoric and policy. At the rhetorical level, the U.S. "contains" the Soviet Union and "deters its global designs." But in practice, as more acute analysts have long understood, fear of "Soviet counteraction" has deterred the pursuit of U.S. global designs. Since these designs require periodic resort to force and subversion in far-flung areas where the U.S. lacks conventional force advantage, Washington has been compelled to maintain an intimidating military posture, one reason why a policy of Third World intervention has led to the demand for continual expansion of strategic weapons capacities. As all recognize, a major Soviet crime has been Moscow's assistance to Third World countries or movements that the United States intends to subvert or crush. The hopeful element in Gorbachev's initiatives is that now the Soviet Union may remove the barriers to Washington's resort to violence to achieve its global designs and to punish the mischief of those who do not properly understand their subordinate role. 19

For the ideologist, there is indeed an "erosion in clarity" as it becomes more difficult to manipulate the Soviet threat in a manner "clearer than truth." But for people who want to escape the bludgeoning of the mass mind, there is an increase in clarity. It is helpful to read in the pages of the Times that the problem all along has been Soviet deterrence of U.S. designs, though admittedly the insight is still masked. It is also useful to read in Foreign Affairs that the détente of the 1970s "foundered on the Soviet role in the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, Soviet assistance to the Vietnamese communists in their war of conquest in Indochina, and Soviet sponsorship of Cuban intervention in Angola and Ethiopia" (Michael Mandelbaum). Those familiar with the facts will be able to interpret these charges properly: the Soviet Union supported indigenous elements resisting the forceful imposition of U.S. designs, a criminal endeavor, as any right-thinking intellectual comprehends. It is even useful to watch the tone of hysteria mounting among the more accomplished comic artists, for example, Charles Krauthammer, who welcomes our victory in turning back the Soviet program of "unilaterally outflanking the West...economically or geopolitically" by establishing "new outposts of the Soviet empire" in the 1970s: "Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and, just for spite, Grenada." Putting aside the actual facts, it is doubtless a vast relief to have liberated ourselves from these awesome threats to the very survival of the West. 20

  6. The Soviet Threat

Deceit and manipulation aside, the Soviet Union has always been considered a major threat to the U.S. and its allies, and for good reason. In part this follows from its very existence as a great power controlling an imperial system that could not be incorporated within the Grand Area; in part from its occasional efforts to expand the domains of its power, as in Afghanistan, and the alleged threat of invasion of Western Europe, if not world conquest. But it is necessary to understand how broadly the concept of "defense" is construed if we wish to evaluate the assessment of Soviet crimes.

As we have seen, leading scholars consider the Western invasion of the Soviet Union to have been justified on defensive grounds because of the revolutionary intentions of the Bolsheviks (see p. 14). Thus an appeal for social change justifies aggression in self-defense, though the intellectual community does not draw the further consequence that the Soviet Union and many other states would always have been entirely justified in carrying out attacks against the United States, given its declared intention to change their social order.

Since 1917, and particularly after World War II, intervention abroad and repression at home have been cloaked in the guise of defense against the "Kremlin design for world domination" (NSC 68), a concept broad enough to include aggression by allies, once the U.S. decides to support it. John Lewis Gaddis refers blandly to "the Eisenhower administration's strategy of deterring aggression by threatening the use of nuclear weapons" in Indochina in 1954, "where French forces found themselves facing defeat" at Dienbienphu "at the hands of the Communist Viet Minh," the aggressors who attacked our French ally defending Indochina. In his history of nuclear weapons, McGeorge Bundy notes that "the first operational test of the Eisenhower administration's new policy on the use of nuclear weapons came in the climactic months of the French effort to defend against Communist insurgency in Vietnam" -- at Dienbienphu, where France was defending Indochina from its population; in Western parlance, from the Russians and their minions. 21

We need not suppose that the appeal to alleged security threats is mere deceit. The authors of NSC 68 may have believed their hysterical flights of rhetoric, though some understood that the picture they were painting was "clearer than truth." In a study of attitudes of policy makers, Lars Schoultz concludes that they were sincere in their beliefs, however outlandish: for example, that Grenada -- with its population of 100,000 and influence over the world nutmeg trade -- posed such a threat to the United States that "an invasion was essential to U.S. security." 22 The same may be true of those who, recalling our failure to stop Hitler in time, warned that we must not make the same mistake with Daniel Ortega, poised for world conquest. And Lyndon Johnson may have been sincere in his lament that without overwhelming force at its command, the United States would be "easy prey to any yellow dwarf with a pocket knife," defenseless against the billions of people of the world who "would sweep over the United States and take what we have." Eisenhower and Dulles may have believed that the "self-defense and self-preservation" of the United States were at stake in the face of the terrible threat posed by Guatemala in 1954 -- though it is interesting that in the secret planning record the only example cited to justify their desperate anxiety is "a strike situation" in Honduras that might "have had inspiration and support from the Guatemalan side of the Honduran border." 23 The same may even be true of those who instituted and maintained a national emergency from 1985 to defend us from the "unusual and extraordinary threat" to our national security posed by Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In such cases, we need not conclude that we are sampling the productions of psychotics; that is most unlikely, if only because these delusional systems have an oddly systematic character and are highly functional, satisfying the requirements stipulated in the secret documentary record. Nor need we assume conscious deceit. Rather, it is only necessary to recall the ease with which people can come to believe whatever is convenient to believe, however ludicrous it may be, and the filtering process that excludes those lacking these talents from positions of state and cultural management.

In passing, we may note that while such matters may be of interest to those entranced by the personalities of leaders, for people concerned to understand the world, and perhaps to change it, they are of marginal concern at best, on a par with the importance for economists of the private fantasies of the CEO while he (or rarely she) acts to maximize profits and market share. Preoccupation with these matters of tenth-order significance is one of the many devices that serve to divert attention from the structural and institutional roots of policy, and thus to contribute to deterring the threat of democracy, which might be aroused by popular understanding of how the world works.

Insofar as one chooses to dwell on these insignificant questions, answers are highly uncertain. Thus, Schoultz may be right in supposing that policymakers were quaking in their boots in fear of Grenada. But a different conclusion is surely suggested by his discussion of the background: the immediate hostility aroused by the "progressive social programs" of the Bishop government in 1979 (meanwhile continuing the "repressive politics" that aroused great outrage in the U.S., unlike vastly worse repression by client states), and the harsh measures taken by the Carter administration, escalated by the Reaganites, to punish the criminals. Such doubts can only be enhanced by a look at the tales spun by the White House, then retailed by a new cadre of "Latin America experts" constructed by the media when the professional scholars refused to play the game: for example, that "the Cubans surely appreciate that Grenada is strategically located by the route over which about one-half of U.S. imported oil passes" (Robert Leiken), doubtless a threat before which the U.S. could only quiver in helplessness. Schoultz himself concludes that the claims of General Vernon Walters and other Administration officials about the need to protect (nonexistent) southern sea lanes were nothing more than a device to justify close relations with Pinochet and the Argentine generals, "prime examples of how a national security consideration can be employed to manipulate U.S. foreign policy debates." The same conclusion is no less plausible in a wide range of other cases, if one chooses to explore the (basically uninteresting) question of whether the doctrines that serve interest are, or are not, sincerely believed once constructed for that end. 24

Throughout, we find that more intelligent elements are aware of the fraud used to beguile others and to defend oneself from unpleasant reality. As it prepared to overcome the danger of independent capitalist democracy in Guatemala, the U.S. cut off military aid and threatened attack, so that Guatemala turned to the Soviet bloc for arms, other sources having been barred by U.S. power. Guatemala City Embassy officer John Hill advised that the U.S. could now take steps to bar "movement of arms and agents to Guatemala," stopping ships in international waters "to such an extent that it will disrupt Guatemala's economy." This will in turn "encourage the Army or some other non-Communist elements to seize power," or else "the Communists will exploit the situation to extend their control," which would "justify the American community, or if they won't go along, the U.S. to take strong measures." 25 We thus compel Guatemala to defend itself from our threatened attack, thereby creating a threat to our security which we exploit by destroying the Guatemalan economy so as to provoke a military coup or an actual Communist takeover which will justify our violent response -- in self-defense. Here we see the real meaning of the phrase "security threat," spelled out with some insight.

The Soviet Union has been a threat to world order when it supported anyone opposing U.S. designs: South Vietnamese engaged in "internal aggression" against their selfless American defenders; Guatemalan democrats committed to independent nationalism; or Nicaraguans illegimately defending themselves against U.S.-run terrorist forces. Such support proves that Soviet leaders are not serious about détente and cannot be trusted, commentators soberly observe. "Nicaragua will be a prime place to test the sanguine forecast that [Gorbachev] is now turning down the heat in the Third World," the Washington Post editors proposed in 1987, placing the onus for the U.S. attack against Nicaragua on the Russians while warning of the threat of this Soviet outpost to "overwhelm and terrorize" its neighbors while the U.S. stands helplessly by. 26 The U.S. has "won the Cold War," from this point of view, when it is free to exercise its will in the rest of the world without Soviet interference.

The Post test of Gorbachev's seriousness was standard fare. A front-page story by Times chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman reported that the Bush administration was urging Gorbachev "to cut Soviet assistance to Nicaragua or to condition future aid on steps by Managua to make democratic reforms" -- unnecessary in neighboring countries where U.S. clients maintain power by violence. Buried at the end of his report is Washington's rejection of the Soviet offer to cut aid "if Washington cut its military assistance to its allies in the region" -- an utter absurdity, as outlandish as a (hypothetical) Soviet request that the U.S. condition its military aid to Turkey on "democratic reforms" or reduce its offensive military forces there, with missiles on alert status aimed at the Russian heartland. As Post columnist Stephen Rosenfeld helpfully explained, Gorbachev "fails to distinguish between foreign interference [on the U.S. model] intended to bestow the opportunity for choice," and, on the other hand, foreign interference of the Soviet style, "undertaken to make or sustain...a minority regime that could exist only by armed power." In predictable accord with White House dictates, he cites Nicaragua under the Sandinistas as an example of the latter, since it never permitted "a free vote" (e.g., in the 1984 elections, which did not occur in state-sanctioned history), while El Salvador, Guatemala, and other beneficiaries of U.S. intervention illustrate our fervent commitment to bestow the opportunity for choice without any resort to "armed power." Friedman later reported Secretary of State Baker's "test" of Gorbachev's "New Thinking": if the USSR will "eliminate military aid to Nicaragua and press the Sandinista Government on Central American peace, Washington will promise not to plan any military attacks against Managua and hold out the prospect of economic aid"; surely a fair and forthcoming offer, at once lauded as such by the Post editors and others. 27

Jonathan Swift, where are you when we need you?

To satisfy the demands of respectable thought, Gorbachev's "New Thinking" must permit free rein for the U.S. resort to violence. The point is obvious enough. Hugh O'Shaughnessy writes in the British press that as Gorbachev has "moved closer to the Washington viewpoint" with regard to Central America, "he gave the impression that the guilty party" is Nicaragua, not "the Governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, whose political and human rights records are sickening, or the Government of Honduras, the base for the offensive against Nicaragua," all of which Gorbachev failed to criticize when visiting Cuba to exhibit his New Thinking. Similarly, "as Moscow tries to minimise causes of friction with Washington, Soviet aid to the South African liberation movements and to the front-line States appears to be faltering," and more generally, "the time when a Third World government could often benefit itself handsomely by playing off East and West against each other appears to be over." 28

Such Soviet moves might be beneficial if accompanied by comparable steps in Washington, or better yet, by support for democracy and social reform and constructive aid programs geared to the real needs of the people of the Third World. These are idle dreams, however. Scarcely concealed behind a thin rhetorical cover is the fact that U.S. elites want to see the Third World turned over to Washington's whims, not liberated to pursue independent goals.


1 Auth cartoon, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 28, 1989.

2 James Markham, New York Times Week in Review, lead story, Sept. 25, 1988; Dennis Wrong, Dissent, Spring 1989.

3 There is, by now, a virtual industry on "what makes Japan tick," varying in quality. Not without interest, despite racist undertones and illusions about the West, is Karel van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power (Knopf, 1989). On South Korea, see Alice Amsden, Asia's Next Giant.

4 Acheson, Present at the Creation (Norton, 1969), 374-5. William Borden, Pacific Alliance, 144. Lloyd Gardner, Diplomatic History, Winter 1989. Huntington, International Security, Summer 1981; National Interest, Fall 1989.  

5 Costigliola, in Paterson, ed., Kennedy's Quest for Victory.

6 Washington Post weekly, May 8, 1989.

7 For some recent discussion of these matters, see Walter Russell Mead, "The United States and the World Economy," World Policy Journal, Winter 1988-89. A year later, a free trade zone with Mexico was under active discussion, and a vague plan to extend it to all of Latin America was floated by President Bush.

8 See Brad Knickerbocker, "Defense spending no longer off limits to budget-cutters," Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 1982.

9 Within a year, these meaningless diversions had collapsed, along with the Berlin wall and the remaining shreds of the Soviet imperial system in Eastern Europe.

10 Mort Rosenblum, AP, October 25, 1989.  

11 John Walcott, WSJ, Feb. 6, 1989. Dan Rather, CBS radio news, 4:40 PM, WEEI, Boston, Jan. 30, 1989. Hough, International Economist, Jan./Feb. 1989.

12 Ian Davidson, Financial Times, reprinted in World Press Review, Dec. 1988; Thomas Friedman, NYT, Feb. 14, 1989.

13 Rosenthal, NYT, May 2, 1989; USIA polls, see Culture of Terrorism, 197; Manchester Guardian Weekly, May 7, 1989. For the polls and related discussion of the mood in Europe, see Diana Johnstone, who has long been the most informative commentator on European affairs, In These Times, May 17, 1989.

14 John Mashek, Boston Globe, May 27, 1989.

15 Votes critical of the Soviet Union were prominently reported at exactly that time. The disarmament votes were obviously timely, given the outpouring of praise for Reagan the Peacemaker. I found nothing. See Culture of Terrorism, 195, and Necessary Illusions, 82f. 218ff., for details on these matters. On U.S. isolation on environmental issues, see chapter 2, section 3 and note 23. See also chapters 5, 6.

16 Serge Schmemann, NYT, March 27, 30; BG, Oct. 28; AP, Berlin, April 21, 1986. Joseph Nye, Foreign Affairs, Fall 1986. Schultz, Bernard Gwertzman, NYT, March 31, 1986. Bernard Weinraub, NYT, May 17, 1989. On U.S. commentary on the world community and its inadequacies, see Necessary Illusions, Appendix IV, sec. 4. I apologize to the ghost of President McKinley for borrowing his rhetoric, as he launched his liberation of the Philippines.  

17 Dimitri K. Simes, "If the Cold War Is Over, Then What?," NYT, Dec. 27, 1988.

18 Robert Pastor, "Securing a Democratic Hemisphere," Foreign Policy, Winter 1988-9; Pastor was Director of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs for the National Security Council under the Carter administration. Jeff Gerth, NYT, Feb. 12, 1990.

19 See chapter 1, p. 59, for a similar insight a year later by Elliott Abrams.

20 Mandelbaum, "Ending the Cold War," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1989; Krauthammer, "Beyond the Cold War," New Republic, Dec. 19, 1988.  

21 Gaddis, Long Peace, 129. Bundy, Danger and Survival (Random House, 1988), 260.

22 Schoultz, National Security and United States Policy toward Latin America (Princeton, 1987), 239ff.

23 Johnson, Congressional Record, March 15, 1948, House, 2883; Public Papers of the Presidents, 1966, Book II (Washington, 1967), 563, speech of Nov. 1. Eisenhower-Dulles, FRUS, 1952-4, vol. IV, c. 1132. Invocation of "self-defense and self-preservation" was proposed by Attorney General Herbert Brownell as providing legal justification for violating international law by intercepting ships in international waters. Memorandum of NSC discussion, May 27, 1954.

24 Schoultz, op. cit., 239f., 185-6; Leiken, cited from Foreign Policy, Spring 1981. On the defection of Latin America scholarship from the cause, see pp. 22f. Schoultz concludes that the stance of independent scholarship allowed critics "to dominate the intellectual debate over what is actually happening in Latin America," but he fails to take account of the fact that the media, including intellectual journals of opinion, compensated for the defection by creating new "experts" to replace them, so that the New York Times could present the spectrum of opinion as bounded by Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute on the right, and contra lobbyist Robert Leiken, a hitherto unknown Maoist, on the "left." See Culture of Terrorism, 205 and note 8; and that book, Manufacturing Consent, and Necessary Illusions on the success of this strategy in controlling the spectrum of articulate opinion and news reporting in the mainstream.

25 Bryce Wood, The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy (U. of Texas, 1985), 177.

26 WP Weekly, Dec. 28, 1987.

27 Friedman, NYT, March 30, May 9; Rosenfeld, WP, April 7; editorial, WP, May 2, 1989.

28 London Observer, April 23, 1989.  


Table of Contents ] Introduction ] I. Cold War: Fact and Fancy ] II. The Home Front ] [ III. The Global System ] IV. Problems of Population Control ] V. The Post-Cold War Era ] VI. Nefarious Aggression ] VII. The Victors ] VIII. The Agenda of the Doves: 1988 ] IX. The Mortal Sin of Self-Defense ] X. The Decline of the Democratic Ideal ] XI. Democracy in the Industrial Societies ] XII. Force and Opinion ] Afterword ]


 ] Deterring Democracy ] Necessary Illusions ] The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many ] Keeping the Rabble in Line ] Rethinking Camelot ] Powers and Prospects ] Year 501 ] Secrets, Lies and Democracy ] What Uncle Sam Really Wants ] Interviews, Debates and Talks ] About Noam Chomsky ]


 
 
 

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