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Friday, August 29, 2014

At sea abroad

The government of the United States has been floundering overseas for at least two decades now because of a critical disparity between its ends and its means.  That disparity in turn reflects a fundamentally wrong view of history, how it got where it is, and where it is going.  And sadly, I am not aware of almost no one either in government or in academia who is thinking realistically about the future.  The price of entry into the elite is the surrender of critical thinking.

Following Keith Windshuttle in his important book from the 1990s, The Killing of History, I would argue that Francis Fukuyama defined the prevailing view of history after the collapse of Communism in his book, The End of History and the Last Man. (I have often been tempted to write a brief book myself called The End of History, by the last man, but I probably never will.)  Windshuttle pointed out that Fukuyama had really revived the view of Georg Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher who inspired Karl Marx, who saw post-Napoleonic Europe as representative of the triumph of what he called the "world spirit."  This was both a dialectical and a somewhat mystical process, whose mechanism could not be thoroughly explained.

In the same way, clearly, American "thinkers" on international politics in the last twenty years have assumed in the teeth of increasing evidence that the destiny of the world is be made of democracies like the United States.  This seems to apply not only to neoconservatives like Elliot Abrams and William Kristol, but also to Democratic types like Susan Rice (the National Security Advisor) and Samantha Power (the Ambassador to the UN.)  Any one who refuses to get with the program, it seems, can easily be dealt with either economic sanctions, air strikes, or demonstrations in their capital's main square.

A number of people who have known me for many years will never understand how I got so interested in Strauss and Howe.  One of many big reasons was that they provided an alternative and much more sophisticated sense of history.   To be sure, they had an optimistic, neo-Hegelian strain themselves.  Reviewing the 80-year cycles of  American history since the colonial period, they concluded that each one had advanced civilization somewhat.  However, more importantly, they convinced me that history is made in 80-year cycles, driven by human beings with unique beliefs.  It didn't take me long to start applying their theory to other nations, especially in Europe, and that convinced me that there was no predetermined course of history.  Every Prophet generation (those born in the wake of the last great crisis, like Boomers) eventually reshaped their nation according to their beliefs, emotions, and whims.  Often they seemed to repudiate the past merely for the sake of doing so.  And thus it is now obvious to me, frankly, that what is happening in the Middle East on the one hand, and in Russia and Ukraine on the other, is not a blip in the curve of progress towards democratic utopia, but a sign that large parts of the world are taking a different path altogether--one which the United States does not have the power to reverse.

The problem all these Americans ignore is this: democratic traditions are made, not born.  Our own developed over centuries, beginning in Britain, where the House of Commons became the key organ of government in the 18th century.   Only after our own civil war saved democracy in the US, as Lincoln understood, did democracy definitely become the model form in northern Europe and even in Japan.  We experienced another neo-Hegelian moment in 1919, at least in Central and Eastern Europe, but those democracies didn't survive for very long.  The same thing happened again after 1990. 

Let's look at ISIS first.  It has been clear in the Middle East at least since the Iranian revolution of 1979 that the western model had lost its appeal to many among the more recent generations of the region.  Helped by Saudi money, Salafi Islam was on the rise among Sunnis, while Shi'ites looked to the theocracy in Teheran.  Lebanon, back in the 1970s, was one of the canaries that died in the coal mine.  The United States embarked upon a long-term effort to weaken Iran through economic sanctions, but it didn't really take notice of what was happening among Sunnis until 9/11.  That resulted in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, George W. Bush's attempt to combine Hegel with military might.  In both of those countries we stationed tens of thousands of soldiers and tried to set up something looking like a western democratic government.  Both attempts have been almost complete failures.  In Iraq the first real election, as I noted at the time, revealed a country divided almost entirely on sectarian lines.  Maliki has been running a Shi'ite dictatorship, with our help, for a long time.

We were to some extent lulled into false confidence by the nature of Al Queda itself.  While it carried out a few spectacular terrorist act, it had no talent for political mobilization or governance. ISIS seems to be another matter altogether.  It is establishing a real government where it rules.  It's a dreadfully brutal government, but it is clearly exercising very effective authority.  And what do we have to put against it?

Yesterday President Obama announced that we must defeat ISIS.  He does not, clearly attempt to use American troops. The experience of Iraq suggests they wouldn't be effective, anyway.  Instead, he is counting on air strikes and local and regional political forces.  But in Syria, he still refuses to consider allying himself with President Assad on any terms--the only real countervailing force in the region.  In both Syria and Iraq, he is looking for a "third force" (my words, not his) of friendly, well-meaning, neo-Hegelian Sunnis, who will perform the astonishing feat of triumphing over both Assad and the ISIS and establishing a new Syria more to our liking.  Similarly we have now decided to dispense with Maliki in Iraq, but we have absolutely no idea if anyone else can heal the divisions between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

In my opinion, as I have said before, the Middle East has embarked upon its own Thirty Years War, a struggle between Shi'ites and Sunnis that will last for a very long time, at a tragic cost to its peoples and its civilization.  But I have no confidence that the United States can do anything to affect the process.  I would like to see an international coalition call for cease-fires and reconciliation as soon as possible, along with arrangements to allow Sunnis and Shi'ites to share the same territory.  That will eventually be the solution, but only, probably, after the loss of tens of thousands of lives.  We already did much too much to accelerate the coming of the regional civil war in Iraq. We shouldn't do anything more.

As for Russia and Iraq, Vladimir Putin has devised a rather clever strategy to take advantage of the weakness of the other successor states of the USSR.  He can use money, ethnic Russians, and his own troops, disguised or not, to create chaos in certain regions.  Ukraine is trying to defeat him militarily, and might do so.  But the Ukrainian government may have to give up part of its territory, and again, there will be nothing that we can do about it.  Putin's new strategy has made him more, not less, popular among his people.  Our use of economic sanctions reflects another aspect of neo-Hegelian thinking. Because he is part of the world economy, the President seems to think, he must bow to sanctions.  But no tactic has been less successful in changing the behavior of modern states than economic sanctions.

When and if these strategies fail, as I think they will, we will face a huge turning point.  On the one hand, we may try to apply more force to make history go in our direction. This I think would be an even worse and potentially catastrophic mistake.  Otherwise, we will face a world divided into regional blocs based upon fundamentally different world views, as Samuel Huntington, the real prophet of the 1990s, seemed to predict.  That however will not be an unmitigated disaster. It will force us once again to focus on our own civilization, and perhaps to get it back on track.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The prospects for 2016

In just a few months I will have been writing these posts for ten years.  The turning point in the blog occurred on July 5, 2010, four years ago, when I argued for the first time that there would be no regeneracy in this crisis or fourth turning comparable to what happened under FDR during the New Deal and the Second World War.  I now feel this strongly than ever. Overseas anarchy continues to spread, and the United States continues to take on new enemies for almost random reasons that it cannot beat.  The only way that the United States or the west as a whole could now restore order to the Middle East, it seems to me, is by a renewal of traditional imperialism which they lack either the will or even the manpower to undertake.  (For the record, I would not favor it in any case.)  But the real danger is at home, where it seems to be increasingly likely that the Republican Party will control all three branches of government on January 21, 2017.  This is why.

Since the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives in 2010--which was clearly imminent when I wrote my critical post in July of that year--Barack Obama has been unable to accomplish anything significant other than to be re-elected.  He has given in to the Republicans on numerous budgetary issues, and would have given in even further if they had been willing to compromise.  He has not been able to cope with a series of crises in foreign policy, where he has never shown any particular talent or interest.  This past week the New York Times reported that Democrats in Congress, led by Harry Reid, are disgusted by his unwillingness to stand with them and fight the Republicans more actively on almost anything.  The story also said that the White House has concluded that presidential speeches on controversial topics do his popularity more harm than good.  In short, the political initiative remains with the Republicans, who have completely blocked immigration reform.  The Democratic Party is lagging in the fund-raising race for November and Nate Silver gives the Republicans the best chance (although by no means a certain chance) of taking over the Senate.

If the Republicans do take over the Senate, we can expect further paralysis, or worse, of the government.  Not only will Obama find it very difficult to make any appointments to the judicial or executive branches, but he will probably have to veto attempts to eliminate various parts of the federal government.  The possibility that he will be impeached and brought to trial like Bill Clinton certainly cannot be ruled out, even though he would never be convicted.  And even if the Democrats barely retain control of the Senate, he will not have any legacy other than the Affordable Care Act.  That act seems to have done a great deal of good--but Democratic candidates are too scared to mention it, much less run on it.  That is the world we are living in.

Democratic strategists, of course, are counting on demographics to keep the White House in 2016.  They think that Hillary Clinton, the almost certain candidate, can rely upon the same coalition of women, minorities, and gays that twice elected Barack Obama.  I am afraid that they are wrong, because I do not think that the same people will turn out in the same numbers for 69-year old Hillary Clinton, my exact contemporary.  I think she is equally likely to suffer because it looks as if she is going to run as a foreign policy hawk, perhaps to try to prevent the pro-Israeli lobby from defecting en masse to the Republicans.  I got a rude shock this week on my favorite facebook page, one devoted to discussions of Strauss and Howe, when one very bright Millennial declared that he would vote for Rand Paul against Hillary because he wouldn't vote for anyone associated with either of the last two administrations.  What made this particularly alarming, for a Democrat, is that this particularly Millennial is black. 

Although the economy continues very slowly to improve, the younger generation faces tremendous economic problems.  The Democratic Party has now lost any claim to be the party of economic reform and full employment.  Neither the Boom nor the X generations have produced a solid block of Democratic officeholders dedicated to the values of the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.  That is why the House and Senate Democratic leaders both belong to the Silent generation, whose youngest members are turning 72 this year.  That is also the generation of Jerry Brown, the only Democratic Governor who has done anything very impressive lately.  Yes, young people favor women's rights and gay rights, but those battles, for the most part, appear to be won.   The ones I interact with on the web page see very little to choose from between the two parties.  There is a major choice to make, I think, but it has become a choice between moderate Republicans, known as Democrats, and very conservative Republicans. 

Yes, polls still show Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead of any of the major Republican possibilities.  She is not likely to face any serious opposition among Democrats that I can see.  But she will face a relentless media barrage, and the prestige of her party is likely to have sunk lower in the next eighteen months.  If the government is completely paralyzed, I am afraid that significant numbers of swing voters will be moved to vote Republican simply to give the other party a chance and end gridlock.  The Republicans, simply put, have gained ground steadily since 2008 because they seem to care so much more about their objectives than the Democrats do.  I do not see that changing in the next two years, and I think it may be enough to decide the next presidential election--much as  I hope it will not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Classic French literature

   About two months ago I started classicfrenchliterature.blogspot.com.  There was some response.  I have now posted my comments on Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal, and I encourage others to comment if they want to do the same.  Once again, please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested.

Friday, August 15, 2014

1914 and all that

In 1977-8 and again in 1978-9, I taught freshman seminars at Harvard on the origins of the First World War.  I had been introduced to the topic in a small group seminar myself taught by Sam Williamson, who has written several books about it, ten years earlier.  I taught the seminar by giving each student (or a pair of students) responsibility for one major European power.  We were enormously helped by two books: July 1914, The Outbreak of the First World War, a wonderful collection of documents edited by a German, Immanuel Geiss, and the magnificent, three-volume study, The Origins of the War of 1914, by an Italian newspaper editor, Luigi Albertini.  Albertini had lived through the crisis and had spent most of the interwar period writing an exhaustive study.  The first volume covered roughly the decade before 1914, the second the month of July of that year, and the last, the first week of August.  It remains in my opinion the greatest work of diplomatic history ever written, and there were enough copies in Harvard Libraries for me to assign sections of it.

The seminar reawakened my interest in the topic myself, of course, and in 1983 I published an article, "Germany and the Origins of the First World War," for the Journal of Modern History, which was started in the interwar period to explore that controversial topic.  The article was in a sense a commentary on what was known as the Fischer controversy.  In 1961, a German historian named Fritz Fischer, who must have been about 50 by that time, published Griff Nach der Weltmacht, or grasp at world power.  Until then, German historians had steadfastly defended their country's role in 1914, claiming that Germany was only trying to defend its ally Austria-Hungary against Russian aggression.  Fischer showed very clearly not only that Germany had consciously risked the world war, but that the German government had done so in order to create a vast empire.  He also detailed the plans for such an empire that had been laid during the conflict.  His book was so unpopular in West Germany that the Bonn government tried to prevent him from getting a visa to discuss it in the United States, and only pressure from American historians, led by Gordon Craig, managed to secure his entry into the country.   My article endorsed his view, while downplaying the idea, which had become popular in the 1970s, that the government had started the war to forestall a possible socialist revolution.  Perhaps the proudest moment of my career occurred sometime in the 1980s, when I heard Fischer give a paper on the topic at the American Historical Association convention in Washington.  I had already sent him a copy of my article, but I brought another one with me and handed it to him after his talk.  His face instantly lit up and he looked me in the face, pointing at me, as if you say, "that's you?" I nodded.  I referred to Fischer and his work in the last pages of American Tragedy, and I was very sad to learn that he had died shortly before it came out and did not get to read it.

 I  am still in fairly regular contact with two of the students in my Harvard seminar, and one of them recently asked me if I was going to write something on the centennial of the outbreak of the war.  A number of new books have appeared on the topic, but I have only one of them, A Mad Catastrophe, focusing on Austria's role in the outbreak and in the first few years of the war, written by a former War College colleague, Geoff Wawro.  The Fischer thesis, oddly, fell out of favor in Germany in the 1990s, as soon as Germany was again unified.  Most of the new books seem to spread the responsibility for the war around more evenly, a strategy popular in the 1920s and 1930s, but based upon the reviews, nothing has really occurred to challenge the position which Fischer, other historians, and myself took from the 1960s through the 1980s. 

The war, as I told an Australian radio interviewer yesterday, was really at least two separate conflicts.  Serbia wanted to destroy Austria-Hungary to create what became Yugoslavia, and Serbian Army intelligence arranged the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo because they feared that he might reconcile the Slavs to the Hapsburg monarchy if he came to the throne.  The Austrian government was determined to crush the Serbian threat once and for all, something they had failed to do on three previous occasions.  The problem was that Russia, in particular, was not likely to let Austria-Hungary do as it wished with Serbia, and France was allied with Russia.  But the German government, led by the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, thought that the crisis was an opportune moment for a trial of strength with the Russians and French, and even, if need be, the British, who had sided with the French in Franco-German crises over Morocco.  Bethmann Hollweg therefore told the Vienna government to go ahead and attack Serbia, and insisted to the other powers that the great powers should not intervene, as they had several times during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 to prevent a general conflict.

Austria-Hungary did indeed face a long-term threat to its existence.  It had fought off revolutions 66 years before, from 1848 through 1861, and it was thus due for another great crisis that would either change it or destroy it.  But for Germany the war was tragically and catastrophically unnecessary. Yes, the German colonial empire was very small compared to those of France and Britain, but the territories in the tropics were not very significant, and German foreign trade was already outstripping that of the other European powers.  Russia had plans to increase its army, but it had performed very poorly against Japan and was nowhere near ready to pose a real threat.  France, while somewhat more bellicose than in the recent past, was hardly in favor of war.  Civilization seemed to be progressing all over the North Atlantic world, which is why the outbreak and course of the war was such a terrible shock.  Germany was, to be sure, not quite so democratic as Britain or France, but it was at least as progressive as either of them by most economic, social and cultural measurements.  Indeed, many United States observers felt that Germany had the most in common with the United States.

The German plan for war called for an all-out attack on France, moving through Belgium to outflank the French Army and force a great battle around Paris.  Germany had defeated the French armies within a few months in 1870 and forced France to surrender the next year, and counted on doing the same thing again.  But armies were now too large and firepower too effective for that kind of decisive victory. By the time the Germans reached the site of the presumed decisive battle before Paris, their troops were low on supplies and exhausted.  They had to pull back after the Battle of the Marne, and trench warfare began.  The great tragedy was that the Germans refused to re-evaluate their objectives after the stalemate and make peace, and instead risked everything again and again in a series of gambles designed to win the war.  One such gamble, unrestricted submarine warfare, brought the United States into the conflict in 1917.  A second, General Ludendorff's great offensive of March 1918, wrecked the German Army and led to Germany's collapse in November.  Communism was already in power in Russia thanks to the war, and the collapse of the German empire paved the way for Nazism 14 years later.

The July Crisis, as is well known, had an enormous impact on John F. Kennedy.  Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August--actually a very mediocre account of the outbreak of the war, but an excellent narrative of its first month--had come out only a few months before the missile crisis.  Kennedy was not going to strike Cuba rashly the way the Austrians had struck Serbia or the Germans had invaded Belgium.  He remarked that he did not want some future historian writing a book called The Missiles of October.  He got the world through the crisis without war.

Albertini, as well as Fischer, has remained a model for me as a historian all my life.  His book is both extraordinarily thorough, drawing on numerous interviews with key figures as well as published documents, totally engaged, and remarkably exciting.  He wrote in the knowledge that the world the war destroyed was never coming  back, and he assigned responsibility to many statesmen, although mostly to the Austrians and the Germans.  Yet he was equally harsh on his own government.  Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria, but it was far from clear that the alliance would obligate the Italians to join in a war over Serbia.  Indeed, Albertini argued that Italian public opinion would inevitably reject such a war, and that Italy should have declared neutrality at once.  That is what an earlier Italian Prime Minister, Giolitti, had done during the Balkan Wars of 1913-14, telling the Austro-Hungarian government frankly that Italy simply could not join it in a Balkan war.  But in July 1914 the Italian Prime Minister Salandra and his Foreign Minister San Giuliano embarked upon a different course, refusing to say what they would do in hopes of being bribed into (or out of) the war by territorial concessions of their own.  Albertini wrote as scathingly about this strategy as he did about any of the events of the crisis, and one passage in particular recapitulated what it means to be a fully engaged historian of one's own country reflecting on a time of crisis.

"The great mistake committed by Salandra and San Giuliano was not to be certain from the first that it was disastrous and impossible for Italy to intervene with her allies in a war of this kind and she must shape her course accordingly.  This mistake--and let this be admitted by the present writer who in almost all things has been Giolitti's political adversary--would never have been made by Giolitti, as is proved by his firm attitude in July 1913.  .  .  .[Salandra and San Giuliano] had no realization of the fact that by posing the question in such terms, by letting Austria have her will without putting in their veto, by confining themselves for the moment to declaring that for some time being there was no obligation for Italy to intervene, by making their subsequent action depend on an agreement on compensations, and by regarding Italian participation in the war on the side of the Central Powers as even remotely possible, they were losing sight of the nature and aims of the Austrian aggression against Serbia and bartering away the supreme interests, both material and moral, of Europe and Italy in return for a strip of national territory which Italy ought to gain by more honorable means."

Let me once again repeat that today's publics are too self-absorbed and today's governments are too weak to unleash a similar conflict any time soon, and that our own very serious problems are of a different nature.  Yet Albertini's words remain a powerful warning--and no more so than in the very last paragraph of his three-volume work.  The last third of the third volume deals in detail with the decisions of various powers to remain neutral or join the war, and Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and Montenegro receive a chapter apiece.  The final chapter is entitled "The Attitude of the other States," and sections deal successively with Sweden, Norway, Holland Luxemburg, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, and Japan.  The very last section is entitled, "The United States and Wilson's last attempt to save peace."

Yes, in the last days of July 1914, as war began to break out, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan asked his representative in London whether the good offices of the United States would be accepted in an effort to avoid general war, and on August 4, Wilson himself addressed an appeal to the governments of all the major powers offering to act "in the interests of European peace."  No favorable replies were forthcoming, and Albertini then closes his account with one of the greatest paragraphs of western historical literature--one which I read several times to conclude lectures on the outbreak of the war, first at Harvard, and more recently to smaller groups of students at Williams College.

      "It is right to remember that relations between the United States and Europe were not then what they became after the war, and the American President did not yet enjoy the prestige he was later to acquire.  Wilson's appeal did not carry enough authority to influence the course of events and was made when the European states, flung into the maelstrom of war, and wholly dominated by the will to fight and to win, had no idea of the length of the struggle, the destruction of life and property it was to cause, or the train of evil consequences it was to bring in its wake.  European diplomacy, which in the course of the July Crisis had so often demonstrated its ineptitude, was henceforth silent. It was now the turn of the big guns to speak."

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Friday, August 08, 2014

Diplomacy, then and now

Today I want to compare American diplomacy in two different eras, using three texts.  The first was recently brought to my attention by another JFK assassination researcher, who found it in the Robert F. Kennedy papers at the JFK library.   It was written in November 1962 by my own father, Philip Kaiser then Ambassador to Senegal. Some background is in order to understand it.

In 1960, my father, then 47 years old, had worked in the executive branch of the federal government from 1941 until 1954, including seven years as assistant secretary of Labor for international affairs.  He had spent the next four years working for Governor Averell Harriman of New York, and eagerly awaiting a Democratic return to power. When Harriman's own hopes for the White House were dashed by his defeat by Nelson Rockefeller in 1958, my father returned to Washington and arranged a position at the School of Foreign Service in at American University.  After Kennedy's nomination in 1960, an old friend of his, future Supreme Court Justice Byron White, brought him into the campaign. 

It was on an early campaign plane trip that White introduced my father to Robert Kennedy.  My father had told White that JFK had a problem with Jewish voters, who regarded his father Joe, correctly as it happened, as an appeaser of Hitler and an anti-Semite.  White suggested that he tell Bobby, and brought him to the front of the plane to do so.  As my father later explained in his oral history for the JFK Library, Bobby took the news calmly (this was not, I later discovered, a new problem in JFK's political career), and assured him that old Joe had made substantial contributions to Jewish charities. "I hope it wasn't last month," my father said. "No," Bobby replied, "it was a respectable time ago."  My father passed this news along to Jewish movers and shakers, and RFK now recognized him as a man who wasn't afraid to give him unpleasant but important news.  They worked well together throughout the campaign.

     After JFK's election, he wanted to appoint a number Ambassadors of an unusual type--neither Foreign Service officers nor wealthy contributors, but capable Americans from other fields with foreign experience,  all of JFK's own generation, who would do a good job of representing the US abroad.  These appointments included economist John Kenneth Galbraith as Ambassador to India, retired General James Gavin as Ambassador to France, journalist William Attwood to leftist Guinea, political scientist Edmund Reischauer to Japan (his academic specialty), and my father as Ambassador to Senegal, whose President, Leopold Sedar Senghor, was a distinguished poet and a socialist.  The choice proved fortuitous. Senghor and my father (who knew French) got along famously, and at the height of the missile crisis in October 1962 my father persuaded him to deny landing rights to Soviet planes that might try to resupply Cuba by air, which they could not do without stopping in West Africa.

I had accomopanied my parents to Senegal.  By the fall of 1962 I knew he was more impressed with both John and Robert Kennedy than ever.  Early in that year he handed me a Time magazine featuring RFK, who had just made a world tour, on the cover, and had remarked, "He'll be President some day."  It turns out that in early November, he decided to share his thoughts on the world situation with the man whom he regarded as his principal mentor in the Administration.  Here is the text of that letter.


Dear Bob:

On  the  basis of   a number of  talks with President Senghor, as well  as  with many other Africans,  concerning the     Cuba crisis and its aftermath, and after considerable  personal reflection, I have become impressed by the unique opportunity the present world situation seems to hold for us.  In  this part·  of  the world,:_ events of recent weeks have      combined to  raise even higher the stature of the President. First,  Africans saw in the University of Mississippi affair ,a demonstration of his humanitarianism and  determination.  The Cuba crisis impressed them with our strength, ·:our moderation, and    our deftness in handling a very difficult situation .   Finally, the election convinced them of the strong popular support which the Administration and its policies command inside the United States. The  President appears to be in a stronger position as the Free World leader than ever before.

         This may  provide one  of  those   rare occasions.in history when the  course of events could be         significantly altered.  For   forty- five years a large segment of world opinion has been persuaded that the Soviet Union represented the true express.sion of social progress in the world. The USSR   has been able to mask its  use of power for  expansionist purposes under this·  guise. The  Cuba affair dramatically exposed its true purpose and shook the confidence of many of those previously responsive to its social pretensions.  Now these people have the evidence before them to  compare the different purposes for which we  and  the Soviets use our power.  They can better appreciate that their newly gained independence depends mainly on the fact that our power provides a  necessary protection against the real Soviet objectives.  Their  mood of reappraisal provides us with the opportunity to demonstrate, perhaps more effectively than ever before, that  it is we who have  at  heart the  real interest in the social and economic welfare of the people of the world  as well as the      effective independence of  the  uncommitted  (and committed) nations.   It would be presumptuous of      me to  suggest the      specific measures we might   take     to  make the  most   of   this favorable turn             of events.  The  President's statement in his   original Cuba   message indicating a willingness to deal with   outstanding problems after the Soviet bases in Cuba         have     been effectively dismantled, evoked a positive response here.  We can  maintain our momentum by following through in this spirit, particularly since our  case  for controlled disarmament  has been dramatically demonstrated.    At the  same  time  a  restatement of our  aims   and   commitment to social progress and economic aid       for  genuinely independent countries could, I  believe, make an impression on many people all over the world                   who were previously unresponsive to our policies.
  
I have   noticed one disturbintendency beginning to emerge in the thinking of some people in   this part of the world.  They are so anxious to avoid  facing  up to the  Cold  War and  to  avoid any  new crisis  which might  force them to take sides,  that  they are suggesting    that     the   Russian response to the   Cuba   affair offers new hope that the   Soviet  Union  is   perhaps not so dangerous and that  the  only country which  really  presents  a world              threat is Communist China.  I understand there is some talk                 of       issuing a White Paper concerning the Cuba    crisis.   This strikes me as a good idea.  I believe it could help meet the above-mentioned problem by reminding those who still  need   convincing that   the  gap  between Russian words and deeds is typical of their behavior, and  in reviewing events of  the  past few  years,  by demonstrating that the present attitude is just another    reversal in constantly shifting Soviet   tactics.

     I know you are in the process of discussing these ideas and others like  them  at this point  in Washington.  They have been brought home to me so sharply in  recent discussions here that I wanted           to   pass   them  on to you  on the            chance they  might  be of interest.

Best            regards.
                   Cordially,
          [Phil]


        Many things strike me about this letter.  Undoubtedly my father wanted to remind RFK of his existence, and he was already hoping for a more significant post after his tour in Senegal was over. (He got his wish during the Johnson Administration.)  But the letter also shows the extent to which the Cold War, then at its peak, focused American diplomatic thinking.  Like the President he represented, my father knew much of the world would now be choosing between the American and Soviet models, and he deeply believed in our own.  He was sensitive, as any good diplomat must be, to how events in the US looked from overseas.  The reference to the University of Mississippi crisis, which of course refers to the recent admission of its first black student, James Meredith, with the help of federal troops, illustrates another point:  the Kennedy Administration was keenly aware that the resolution of our civil rights problems was critical to our standing in the Third World.  And indeed, President Kennedy was thinking along lines similar to his ambassador's.  He decided to push forward early in 1963 on a Test Ban treaty, and its signature and ratification later that year raised his prestige still further. 

It is safe to say that Eric Holder, our current Attorney General, who does not play the broad role in this Administration that RFK played in that one, has not received any similar letters from any current Ambassadors.  What I wonder is whether Hillary Clinton or John Kerry have.  Frankly, I am inclined to doubt it.

My second text for the day was also brought to my attention by an assassination researcher, and a different one.  It is an account of a remarkable conversation between Robert Komer, then one of McGeorge Bundy's leading assistants at the National Security Council, and the Israeli Ambassador to the US.  Komer's job, as I learned while researching American Tragedy, involved riding herd on several very dangerous Third World disputes, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, and an emerging fight between Britain on the one hand and Singapore on the other over the future of what became Malaysia.  About six months after Kennedy's death, Komer warned Bundy that a new, almost exclusive focus on Vietnam was putting these issues on the back burner, and he warned prophetically that any of them, if allowed to fester, could lead to a war.  As it turned out, by 1967, all three of them did.

 I am not going to reproduce this document in full because it is available on line and you can read it here.  I hope that you will.  Komer on November 21, 1963, the last day of the Kennedy Administration, had a typically frank talk with Israeli Minister Gazit.  Readers will immediately see that many of the fundamental issues in US-Israeli relations have not changed.  Much of the conversation, as a footnote explains, related to paragraph 11 of UN Resolution 194, passed after the 1949 cease-fire between the Arab states and Israel.  That paragraph specifically gave refugees in the conflict--clearly including Palestinian refugees from Israel proper--to return to their homes if they wished to do so, or to receive monetary compensation for the loss of their property.  The conversation makes clear that the Kennedy Administration wanted a settlement of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, including the refugee problem, and that it had angered the Israeli government by reaffirming its commitment to paragraph 11.  My main reaction to the conversation was that while the manner in which Israeli diplomats address American ones does not seem to have changed very much, the reverse is not the case.  Komer, later known as "blowtorch Bob," was known for calling a spade a spade, and he did not hesitate to do so in this case, since he wanted good relations with Israel and better relations with the Arab world.  Today, half a century later, the refugee problem remains unsolved.

 For counterpoint, I recommend this article from the New Yorker on Michael McFaul, who recently had a brief and stormy tenure as President Obama's Ambassador to Russia.  McFaul, like Edmund Reischauer, is a political scientist, but while Reischauer (from whom I took a course) wanted to understand Japan, McFaul seems to have been concerned most of all about changing Russia.  A long-time friend and fellow grad student of National Security Adviser Susan Rice, McFaul apparently shares the Hegelian word view that has prevailed in American foreign policy circles since 1989, which believes that it is the destiny of the entire world to become capitalist and democratic.  He got to know some Russian democracy activists as a grad student in the late 1980s, and the Soviet authorities concluded that he was connected to the CIA, which he denies.  When he arrived in Moscow early in Obama's second term, shortly after Vladimir Putin had resumed the Russian Presidency, he immediately met with some democracy activists, and was henceforth subjected to a Stalinist kind of treatment, repeatedly attacked in Russian media and followed by members of the security services.  David Remnick, the author of the article, interviewed a number of pro-government Russian propagandists and journalists for it, and it is clear that Putin has made the idea that the United States is a threat to Russia's government and its values a keynote of his political strategy.  The article left me with some sympathy for McFall, but I also felt that he typified what is wrong with the the thinking of the Boomer-Xer foreign policy elite, which feels the US has a divine right to see the world develop along the lines we believe that it should.

Yes, the Kennedy Administration also wanted to change the world, but its diplomats, for the most part, very carefully assessed how much change was possible. Meanwhile, as the Komer conversation indicates, they tried to stand for impartial principles and work for the settlement of international disputes along equitable lines.  For the last 13 years, sadly, the US government has done a great deal to promote spreading anarchy, and neither Obama nor the government as a whole has been able to project the image of a well-functioning democracy that the Kennedy Administration did.  This has contributed to world disorder, which got a lot worse last week in Iraq, and which will undoubtedly remain a major theme of these posts for a long time to come.  As a friend of mine remarked to me in Texas last week, "It was not always this way."

      

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