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 altruism alone.

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 do.

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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