Guardian at the Gate
excerpted from the book
Intervention and Revolution
The United States in the Third World
by Richard J. Barnet
World Publishing, 1968, paperback edition
Unlike the leaders of developed nations, the enemies which revolutionary
leaders see are not at the gate but already inside. Their country
is occupied either by a foreign colonial power or by local landlords,
generals, or self-serving politicians. As they see it, the issue
is liberation. The goal is a radical redistribution of political
and economic power to overcome centuries of political oppression
and crushing poverty. The means is seizure of political power.
... the revolutionary idea-that radical change is necessary,
that it is inevitable, and that it can come only by seizing the
machinery of the state-has steadily grown.
Revolutionary movements grow in the soil of exploitation and injustice.
The historic aim of revolution, as Hannah Arendt has pointed out,
is freedom, the opportunity to participate in the political process.
The United States government has seized upon the moral ambiguity
of revolution to justify a global campaign to contain it, to channel
it into acceptable paths, or to crush it. In 1938, President Roosevelt
had to summon all his political powers to block the Ludlow Resolution
for a constitutional amendment forbidding the President to send
troops overseas without a national referendum. Less than ten years
after its narrow defeat, his successor secured broad congressional
support for use of American military power to put down violent
revolution abroad. "We cannot allow changes in the status
quo," the President declared, "by such methods as coercion,
or by such subterfuges as political infiltration," making
clear that it didn't matter whether revolutionaries were natives
of the country they wished to change or not. Since violence is
the engine of political change over most of the globe, President
Truman committed the United States to a prodigious task.
The context of the Truman Doctrine made it perfectly clear
that its target was not all "violence" or all "coercion"
or all "changes in the status quo," but only those having
something to do with "communism." The justification
for treating communist revolutions as a unique political phenomenon
rested partly on the premise that they were manipulated by the
Soviet Union and partly on the dogma that the coming of communism
to a society meant the end of its political evolution. It was
assumed that once the "iron curtain'' descended upon a country,
history stopped. It was lost forever, trapped in an ideological
straitjacket. In the twenty years since the war, we have seen
the fallacy of this latter assumption. Romania Hungary, and the
Soviet Union itself have undergone profound political and social
change. They are still communist regimes, but their character
has evolved in many important ways, far more radically, certainly,
than many right-wing dictatorships that have come to power by
military coup but are exempt from the Truman Doctrine.
The word "communist" has been applied so liberally
and so loosely to revolutionary or radical regimes that any government
risks being so characterized if it adopts one or more of the following
policies which the State Department finds distasteful: nationalization
of private industry, particularly foreign-owned corporations,
radical land reform, autarchic trade policies, acceptance of Soviet
or Chinese aid, insistence upon following an anti-American or
nonaligned foreign policy, among others. Thus, the American ambassador
to Cuba at the time of the brief Grau San Martin government in
1933 found it to be "communistic." In 1937 Cordell Hull
privately spoke of the Mexican government, which was nationalizing
U.S.-owned oil properties, as "these communists down there,"
but made no public charge. Since the Second World War, however,
the term "communist" has been used to justify U.S. intervention
against a variety of regimes with widely differing ideologies
and relationships with the Soviet Union, including Arevalo's Guatemala,
Mossadeq's Iran Goulart's Brazil, Sukarno's Indonesia, Caamano's
Dominican revolutionary junta, as well as insurgent movements
in Latin America Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Indeed, from the Truman Doctrine on, the suppression of insurgent
movements has remained a principal goal of U.S. foreign policy.
It has been the prime target of the U.S. foreign-assistance program,
most of the funds for which have gone for civic-action teams,
pacification programs, support for local police, and, above all,
military aid to the local army. Such expenditures are designed
to strengthen the hand of the recognized government to put down
the challenge of revolution. Economic aid is extended to Third
World countries not only to buy their support on foreign-policy
issues but also to lubricate the process of "gradualism"
and strengthen the forces of "stability.". In other
words, U.S. policy is to support governments that promise to revolutionize
their societies from above, although, as the continued support
of military dictators and reactionary regimes demonstrates, this
is scarcely a requirement. ...
Counterinsurgency is now the major preoccupation of U.S. military
planners. They have mounted large programs to train local armies
in counterguerrilla tactics, but these have been unequal to the
task. Consequently, during the postwar period, on the average
of once every eighteen months, U.S. military forces or covert
paramilitary forces have intervened in strength in Asia, Africa,
and Latin America to prevent an insurgent group from seizing power
or to subvert a revolutionary government.
Why a great nation embarks on a campaign to bring order to other
societies is not a simple question. Historical analysis offers
a set of standard explanations: the restless energy of the powerful,
diversion of attention from unsolved domestic problems, insecurity
at home, passion for spreading civilization, idealistic commitment
to a world order, the quest for markets and raw materials, and,
simply, a lust for conquest. As for postwar America, three principal
theories have been advanced to explain her assumption of responsibility
for opposing revolution in the Third World.
There is the official ideology, which holds that the United
States having come to manhood, was tapped by history for a global
mission of peacemaking and reform. "History and our own achievements
have thrust upon us the principal responsibility for the protection
of freedom on earth,'' President Johnson declared at a Lincoln
Day dinner in 1965, a trace of sadness mixed with pride in his
voice. "For the next ten or twenty years," his predecessor
observed three years earlier, "the burden will be placed
completely on our country for the preservation of freedom."
The world community, at least those members of it with decent
motives, look to the United States to lead the world and to keep
order. For there is no one else. The power of the United States
permits it to transcend the petty conflicts that obsess most of
its neighbors on the planet. "It is a very old dream,"
President Johnson told his countrymen in April, 1965, "but
we have the power and now the opportunity to make that dream come
true." The dream is Perfect Peace, a world in which "disputes
are settled by law and reason." The United States, uniquely
blessed with surpassing riches and an exceptional history, stands
above the international system, not within it. Alone among nations,
she stands ready to be the bearer of the Law.
A few years ago the secretary of defense called in a group
of foreign-newspaper correspondents to a special briefing at which
he explained at great length that the United States is not and
cannot be "the policeman of the world." Ruffled by criticism
of the mushrooming commitments the United States has taken in
the name of "peacekeeping," the secretary of state has
also made a point of inserting in his speeches a stock denial
that America plays or seeks the gendarme's role. But the official
objections to the epithets of the critics have more to do with
public relations than substance. For a variety of reasons the
image of the neighborhood policeman is more tarnished than it
was a generation ago. In the age of big-city riots, police review
boards, and the police state, the neutrality and responsibility
of police are no longer taken for granted.
But the police idea is strongly entrenched in official ideology.
It is merely expressed in other words, like "guardian"
or "watchman," or, as in the Congo and Dominican operations,
"rescuer of women and children.'' The world looks to Washington
for protection against the insurgent band as well as the foreign
invader. The American Responsibility is to provide it, whatever
the cost, wherever it can.
Intervention, with all its paraphernalia-the aid missions,
the CIA operations, the roaming fleets bristling with nuclear
weapons, the Green Berets, the pacification teams, and ultimately
the expeditionary forces-is the inevitable consequence of greatness.
It is the burden and the glory of the Republic.
Critics of American foreign policy tend to doubt the necessity
or the wisdom of this self-appointed mission. Some with a sense
of history are well aware that the United States is not the first
powerful nation to explain the great role it has claimed for itself
in terms of burden and sacrifice. For Cicero too the fledgling
empire of the first century B.C. was a "guardianship,"
a domain over which the Roman people, whether by force or persuasion,
could enforce the law of Rome and secure justice for primitive
peoples. The British Empire was the "White Man's Burden,"
imposed by the stern hand of History. "Empire is congenial
enough to the Englishman's temperament," George Unwin wrote
during World War I, "but it is repugnant to his political
conscience. In order that he may be reconciled to it, it must
seem to be imposed upon him by necessity, as a duty. Fate and
metaphysical aid must seem to have crowned him " In every
century, powerful nations have reluctantly "come of age,"
playing out their imperial destiny by carrying on a mission civilatrice
on the land of some weaker neighbor.
Yet many critics cling to the view that like everything else
about America, her imperialism is exceptional. It springs from
the purest motives. Senator J. William Fulbright, for example,
while totally hostile to the policy, stresses American idealism
as the furious energy which has prompted the United States to
stand guard around the world against revolutions. Such critics
do not doubt the sincerity only the wisdom, of official statements
such as Under Secretary Ball's remark that the United States has
"a role of world responsibility divorced from territorial
or narrow national interests." America's leaders may be guilty
of the "arrogance of power," a bit quixotic in attempting
to remake the world in our own image, naive in thinking that a
new liberal order can be ushered in so quickly, but they do not
act from the base motives of the older empires. "Unlike Rome,
we have not exploited our empire. On the contrary, our empire
has exploited us, making enormous drains on our resources and
our energies," concludes Ronald Steel in his analysis of
what he calls "the accidental empire."
Generations of British schoolboys have been delighted by Sir
John Seeley's famous phrase that England conquered half the world
in a fit of absence of mind. Such a self-image set them apart
from the gross plunderers of the past. The Victorian imperialists
were decent, civilized men who stumbled into a global domain.
Indeed, as a historian of the time, G. P. Gooch, pointed out,
taking over backward nations such as India did not increase England's
power, only her responsibilities. Like these British critics,
the small group of U.S. commentators who criticize the American
empire at all see it as a consequence of bumbling, misguided benevolence,
and "the politics of inadvertence."
For all the pride Americans have in Yankee shrewdness at home,
there is a folklore tradition that the United States is continually
duped abroad. Wily European statesmen from Clemenceau to Stalin
have lured our Presidents beyond our shores and tricked them into
underwriting their empires. Where the United States finds itself
involved in a foreign adventure, it is because she has nobly,
if foolishly, agreed to pull someone else's chestnuts out of the
fire. If she has managed to turn burdens into opportunities and
responsibilities into assets, this has been a happy accident.
But quixotic idealism that requires the spending of billions to
maintain overseas armies and to finance corrupt regimes is a luxury,
these critics assert, when U.S. cities are falling apart and the
money could be spent so much better here.
Americans who reluctantly find they must criticize the U.S.
crusade against revolution are naturally attracted by this national
self-portrait of a well-meaning bumbler. It is consistent with
one stream running through our history, a strong anti-imperialist
tradition. But it is only a partial vision. Even America is not
lucky enough to find herself with the mightiest military force
and the greatest aggregate of wealth in history through aimless
Other critics of U.S. policy toward insurgent movements look
for more familiar and more sinister motives. Drawing on the ones
of Hilferding, Hobson, and Lenin of fifty years ago, they ascribe
the development of America's self-proclaimed guardianship not
to exceptional idealism but to economic imperialism. They see
America not as a bumbler but as a country that has adroitly used
its power and good fortune to consume sixty percent of the world's
raw materials, to manipulate the global money market, and to control
much of world trade. Those who hold these views include not only
official communist propagandists, orthodox Marxist critics, a
few remaining American populists of the tradition of Robert La
Follette and Charles Beard, but also most politicians of the Third
World not only the revolutionaries in the hills but also many
of the presidents, premiers, and generals in the palaces.
"With only one-fifteenth of the world's population and
about the same proportion of the world's area and natural resources,"
the Advertising Council of America, Inc., has observed in its
brochure The Miracle of America, "the United States-has more
than half the world's telephone, telegraph, and radio networks-more
than three quarters of the world's automobiles-almost half the
world's radios- and consumes more than half the world's copper
and rubber, two-thirds of the silk, a quarter of the coal, and
nearly two-thirds of the crude oil."
These figures cause the Advertising Council to glow with pride
and self-congratulation, but for critics, they offer a sinister
explanation of America's global role. America, like Britain before
her, they say, is now the great defender of the Status Quo. She
has committed herself against revolution and radical change in
the underdeveloped world because independent governments would
destroy the world economic and political system, which assures
the United States its disproportionate share of economic and political
power. Such critics point to the widening disparity in income
levels between the United States and the rest of the world: In
1965 the individual income level in the United States was 3,500
dollars, 650 dollars in Greece, 718 dollars in Argentina, 123
dollars in Thailand, 97 dollars in Pakistan, and 65 dollars in
Mali. They note the fantastic climb in direct private U.S. foreign
investment-from 7.2 billion dollars in 1946 to more than 50 billion
dollars in 1965. They cite the swift and powerful attacks the
United States has mounted against governments like Castro's Cuba,
Arbenz' Guatemala, and Mossadeq's Iran which threaten to nationalize
American companies or to radically revise the terms of trade and
investment. They conclude that America's preeminent wealth depends
upon keeping things in the underdeveloped world much as they are,
allowing change and modernization to proceed only in a controlled,
orderly, and nonthreatening way. President Johnson's occasional
remarks that the poor nations envy us our wealth and would like
to take it away from US confirm their view that there is considerable
method in what appears to be America's foreign-policy madness.
The United States supports right-wing dictatorships in Latin
America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, they argue, not
because it is confused but because these are the rulers who have
tied their personal political destiny to the fortunes of the American
corporations in their countries. The Batistas, Castelo Brancos,
Tsaldareses, Samozas, Kys, and a parade of other reactionary potentates
who have been feted at the White House permit or encourage American
corporations to exploit their countries under highly favorable
terms. The Castros, Mossadeqs, Arbenzes, Tarucs, Bosches, and
other revolutionary or nationalist leaders have radically different
political constituencies and interests. For them creating "a
good investment climate" for the United States and developing
their own country are fundamentally conflicting goals. Therefore,
the United States has a strong economic interest in keeping such
men from coming to power or arranging for their removal if they
This view of reality is an updated version of the traditional
model of economic imperialism. Government protects the foreign
investment of its businessmen through military intervention and
political control. There is a strong element of truth to it, enough
to satisfy America's enemies and some of her friends that it is
an adequate explanation of U.S. policy toward the former colonial
world. But just as "inadvertence" or misplaced idealism
is not sufficient to explain a highly consistent policy of opposing
revolution, neither is "the pursuit of profits" nor
the search for stable markets and raw material sources. No doubt
U.S. investments abroad have been an important factor in strengthening
American commitments to oppose radical movements in the underdeveloped
world. It is true that U.S. military and political activity in
the Third World has expanded as foreign investment has increased.
Foreign sales by U.S. companies based abroad increased five times
in the years 1950 to 1964. Profits from foreign investment, particularly
in extractive industries, are unusually high. It is true also
that in 1952 the President's Materials Policy Commission discovered
that while at the turn of the century U.S. industry extracted
from the American earth fifteen percent more raw materials than
it could use, there was now an annual deficit of ten percent,
and the prognosis was for greater shortages of vital materials.
American businessmen from time to time unwittingly testify for
the Marxist critics. In 1965, for example, the vice-president
for Far Eastern operations of the Chase Manhattan Bank spoke of
the commercial significance of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam:
In the past, foreign investors have been somewhat wary of
the over-all political prospect for the region. I must say though
that the U.S. actions in Vietnam this year-which have demonstrated
that the U.S. will give effective protection to the free nations
of the region-have considerably reassured both Asian and Western
investors. In fact, I see some reason for hope that the same sort
of economic growth may take place in the free economics of Asia
that took place in Europe after the Truman Doctrine.... The same
thing took place in Japan after the U.S. intervention in Korea
removed investor doubts.
... the national-security bureaucracy ... in the United States
has taken on a life and movement of its own. It has the money
and power at its disposal to develop within very broad limits
its own conception of the national interest. To a great extent
interventionist policy is the result of the development of the
technology of intervention. Thus, for example, once counterinsurgency
forces or spy ships are available the bureaucracy quickly finds
that their use is essential. The principal justification is the
drive for security which is so open-ended a concept that it permits
the accumulation and projection of military power and political
influence to become ends in themselves. The urge to achieve stability
and control over the world environment by taming and cooling independent
political forces in other countries is probably inherent n the
hierarchical character of the foreign-policy bureaucracy.
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