Roots of Revolution &

The Road to World Leadership:
The Police Idea in U.S. Foreign Policy

excerpted from the book

Intervention and Revolution

The United States in the Third World

by Richard J. Barnet

World Publishing, 1968, paperback edition


Roots of Revolution

The United States has based its opposition to revolutions in the postwar world on the character and allegiance of their leadership. Most of the coups, rebellions, and civil wars that have erupted in the last twenty years have concerned tribal, religious, or sectional rivalries and have not elicited an American response. Where, however, an insurgent group or a revolutionary regime has attempted radical social change, even suggesting a communist influence, the United States has sooner or later intervened against it on the grounds that the revolutionaries were acting for a foreign power.

The Revolutionary, above all, is obsessed with the fate of a place. While he may have the incredible patience of a Ho Chi Minh and be prepared to fight for a generation, his eyes are firmly fixed on the here and now. He wants to liberate his country. Why one man makes the irrevocable commitment to radical change and leads a revolution while another accommodates himself to a corrupt society must be answered in terms of individual psychology rather than economic class. Most of the communist revolutionary leaders have come from middle-class professional families. Indeed, the leadership of the national-liberation movements around the world is filled with doctors, lawyers, and history teachers. Why do they do it? For the excitement of it, Robert McNamara has suggested. Perhaps. But the revolutionary leader is rather restricted in his future career opportunities. It is not easy to rejoin the society from which he has voluntarily exiled himself. Even after seizing power he must tread the tightrope that separates the palace from the prison. The stakes are supremely high. He must win, for the alternative is death. There is nothing we know of the character of the modern revolutionary leader to suggest that the decision to become one is frivolously made. It may well be, as some American scholars have suggested, that the underlying motives are far from heroic. A man may become a revolutionary because of a thirst for power, a search for personal identity, or a strong feeling of guilt. But whatever the personal reasons, the Revolutionary is filled with a sense of himself. To an extraordinary extent, the Titos, Castros, and Hos are their own men.

The United States has succeeded in fulfilling its own prophecy: All radical insurgent leaders throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America see the United States as the common enemy. Not only does America support the army and the police, but United States soldiers have been engaged in actual combat against rebels. General Robert W. Porter, Jr., has reported to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that United States rangers have been in battle against the forces of Yon Sosa and Cesar Montes, the two Guatemalan guerrilla leaders. Green Berets have also been in combat in Colombia and Thailand as "advisers," and the c~6 has flown missions for the Portuguese in Mozambique. The ubiquitous United States military presence has been the stimulus to revolutionary solidarity. Although hard to achieve in practice, a new theory of revolutionary internationalism is growing. One of Hugo Blanco's followers in Peru explained it this way to a Newsweek correspondent:

We wanted a quick victory. Now we know that the United States will never allow us that luxury, so we prepare for the long slow fight ahead.... We must coordinate our efforts, not just among ourselves in Peru, but throughout Latin America. We are nationalists but the only way to win for us in Latin America is to become internationalists. The United States cannot win Vietnams in eight different countries at the same time. We must begin to think in new terms: that the poor of the world are at war against the rich.


The Road to World Leadership:
The Police Idea in U.S. Foreign Policy

The possession of great power has led those responsible for protecting America to devote ever-increasing energy and resources to the quest for physical security in a world that has less and less of it to offer. Since 1945 the national-security bureaucracy has assumed for the first time in over one hundred years that the United States is vulnerable to attack. Since 1955 the Pentagon and the State Department have carried on their daily work in the shadow of charts which show that in a nuclear war American society as we have known it will be destroyed along with one-third to two-thirds of her people. Thus, the impulse to keep war as far as possible from our shores has grown ever stronger as technology has increasingly undermined the foundations of national security. Presidents and generals have popularized the idea that if battles can be fought in Asian or African villages, they will not have to be fought over American cities.

Official explanations for the policy of opposing violent revolution and guiding underdeveloped nations into approved paths to development rest heavily on such strategic considerations. The outbreak of violence among remote peoples is usually noticed only when some economic or military interest of the United States is discerned. In general, a small underdeveloped country has a hard time attracting the State Department's attention unless it either is located on the periphery of what used to be called the "Sino-Soviet bloc," is a victim of an insurgency with communist connections, or has become the target of Soviet or Chinese diplomacy.

Yet America has always tried to explain its relations to the rest of the world in terms of ideological principles which transcend parochial economic or military interests. There is a messianic idea running through American history that this nation has something to give the world beyond the example of the Affluent Society and that the spread of American civilization abroad is the ultimate vindication of the American political experiment. From the earliest involvement of the Republic in foreign adventures, Americans have wrapped the desire for more land, more power, more respect, more bases, more raw materials, and more markets in an ideological mantle. So also the postwar effort to push ever farther from our own shores the ramparts of Fortress America.

The moving ideology of American interventionism .. shifted from "manifest destiny" to the concepts of "international political power" and "world leadership." Theodore Roosevelt developed the y idea that the United States had a special role to exercise police power in the Western Hemisphere in the name of the community of nations-a responsibility to intervene against "wrongdoing or impotence." The United States had no "land hunger," only a passion for order. "Disorganization and disorder will not be long permitted in a world grown as small as ours," was a professorial comment around the turn of the century. As he moved into Panama, Roosevelt compared himself to a policeman jailing a blackmailer. The Taft administration continued what it called a "moral protectorate" of Nicaragua, and Wilson ordered the Marines to assume the entire functions of government in the Dominican Republic for five years to restore "internal order." Wilson also moved against Mexico and Coolidge against Nicaragua, again to forestall revolutionary movements which appeared to endanger American interests. "We are not making war on Nicaragua," President Coolidge explained, "any more than a policeman on the street is making war on passers-by."

Outside the Western Hemisphere, where, each President reiterated, the United States held the only warrant to police, the rules were different. Woodrow Wilson emphasized that manifest destiny demanded not the dispatch of troops, which he hoped to avoid, but the exercise of "the moral leadership that is offered us." By the time of the armistice, the President, who in 1915 had been so opposed to war as an instrument of politics that he had been shocked to learn that the War Department had contingency plans for fighting Germany, was now convinced that military power must be the ultimate basis of collective security. Around this issue there rallied that strange coalition of populists, humanists, pacifists, fascists, militarists, and xenophobes who were tagged as "isolation

As the 1920s wore on, there developed a growing disillusionment in war as a method of settling political problems. The world had manifestly not been made safe for democracy. The allies wouldn't pay their war debts. The Kellogg-Briand Pact to "outlaw war," an attempt to substitute promises for military coercion as a guarantee of peace, reflected the growing popular mood. When the depression struck, many Americans were quick to blame it on "the tragic heritage that has come down to us from this so-called war to end war."

The findings of the revisionist historians, led by Sidney B. Fay, that the issues surrounding the 1914 war were muddier than Americans had been led to believe, reinforced by the more sensational revelations of the Nye Committee about the role of the "merchants of death" in getting the United States into the war, helped to create a climate in which the commitment of military power overseas was looked upon not as a moral crusade but as a cynical expression of "power politics."

Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the White House with the backing of isolationists like William R. Hearst, to whom FDR gave assurances that the United States did not belong in the League. Strengthening the forces of "international morality," as Cordell Hull liked to talk about, and the observance of neutrality in the wearisome quarrels of Europe was the new President's prescription for peace. While some, like Henry Stimson, were increasingly worried about the radical militarist regimes that had come to power in Japan, Italy, and Germany and proposed that America "no longer draw a circle about them" but "denounce them as lawbreakers," the prevailing sentiment was against assumption of police responsibilities. Most Americans did not see how the United States could play that role without courting war. And war was unthinkable. The early New Dealers were in tune with the national feeling. In 1936 Jerome Frank, the young chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, wrote Save America First and coined the watchword of the isolationists. Roosevelt himself supported the Neutrality Act of 1935. In August, 1936, at Chautauqua he made it clear that American boys were "not coming back" to Europe, that confronted with "the choice between arms profits and war"-a reference to the Nye hearings-the nation "will answer-must answer-'we choose peace.' " By the next year Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland and his stepped-up persecution of the Jews had caused some defections from the isolationist majority. Roosevelt now took his first major step away from neutrality in the direction of asserting world police responsibility for the United States by calling for a "quarantine of aggressors":

It seems to be unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading. When an epidemic of physical disease breaks out, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease.

While the speech was opposed by both Business Week and The New Republic, it set the tone for a series of accelerating moves toward involvement in the war-repeal of the neutrality acts and the arms embargo, Lend-Lease, and, finally, after Pearl Harbor, fighting itself. Much of the pressure toward intervention came from the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and the more militant Fight for Freedom Committee. Increasingly Roosevelt began to welcome their pressure to offset the strength of the "America Firsters," a group in which liberals like Robert M. Hutchins and Chester Bowles found themselves sharing the organization's letterhead with old-fashioned populists like Senator Burton Wheeler, German sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh, and fascist ideologues like Father Coughlin.

As the United States now saw it, the principal problem of world order was the containment of Russia not only as a "national entity" but also as a "missionary religion." According to the prevailing official view, the two premises that undergirded the prewar policy of noninvolvement had been destroyed by two crucial events. At Pearl Harbor, it became clear that indefinite coexistence with evil was impossible. Sooner or later an enemy who regarded "honesty," "honor," "trust," and "truth" as negative virtues (Churchill's description of the Russian leaders to members of the Truman cabinet in 1946) would strike. At Munich the world learned that conciliation and accommodation, admirable techniques of diplomacy when dealing with reasonable men, are used by Hitlers as weapons to crush gullible adversaries. "Appeasement," which in the prewar dictionaries meant "conciliation," now meant something very close to "surrender."

The men of the Truman administration who set the course of national-security policy for a generation formed their basic political judgments under the impact of these two events. They added up to new and seemingly limitless police responsibilities to protect the world from communism. As the postwar world opened, the United States prepared to take the lead in demanding "international law with teeth." As far ahead as American leaders could see in the convulsing world of 1945, the United States would supply both the teeth and the law.

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