Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
Does the American government require a single over-arching concept in order to build domestic support for foreign policy objectives? At a time when foreign policy is clearly vulnerable to pressures from a variety of interest groups, is it even possible to erect a broad foreign policy consensus as was done in the cold war era?
The Carter Administration came into office by emphasizing the variety and complexity of foreign policy problems, with an evident desire to avoid linking a whole range of issues under one umbrella. In a disorderly world, Carter stressed a deep concern with human rights and at the same time emphasized traditional American pragmatism, a combination of the evangelist and the engineer. But of late it has seemed that the priorities of the Administration are unclear. In particular, the President seems to tack back and forth on Soviet policy. His speeches focusing on U.S.-Soviet relations have veered sharply from a combative to an accommodating approach. His deeds have shown the same tendency. On the one hand, there have been denunciations of Soviet meddling in Africa, retaliatory measures for Soviet abuses of human rights (culminating in the Shcharansky trial), and a commitment to developing the cruise missile; on the other, he brought the Soviet Union formally back into the Middle East negotiations last October, canceled the B-1 bomber and deferred a decision on whether to develop the so-called neutron bomb. Yet the result has not been to strike a balance. Carter's cautionary words last June at Annapolis, warning the American people against "excessive swings" in attitude toward the Russians "from an exaggerated sense of compatibility . . . to open expressions of hostility" could be read as self-criticism. An oscillation between two extremes rather than measure and balance has too often been the perception both at home and abroad.
Congressional involvement in the making and execution of foreign policy has added to the difficulties of the Administration. No doubt the legacy of Vietnam is largely responsible for congressional activism in the realm of foreign policy. The 1973 War Powers Resolution, restricting the right of the President to commit U.S. forces abroad without explicit congressional approval, is the most telling example of the reins Congress has imposed upon executive action. In the last phase of the Kissinger era, in the light of congressional restraints on U.S. actions abroad, the then Secretary of State went so far as to proclaim that "America seems bent on eroding its influence and destroying its achievements in world affairs." And during the Carter Administration, Congress has continued to assert itself in foreign policy. In the debate over the Panama Treaties and arms sales to the Middle East, in the efforts of the Administration to rescind the arms embargo to Turkey and to maintain compliance with the U.N. trade embargo toward Rhodesia, to cite several examples, the role of Congress has been scarcely diminished.
Criticism of the Administration - both inside and outside the Congress - has centered on the Administration's response to a perceived global Soviet threat. A so-called Republican manifesto, signed this year by every Republican member of the Senate, not only charged President Carter with "incoherence, inconsistency and ineptitude," but also claimed that as a result "our foreign policy and national security objectives are confused and we are being challenged around the globe by Soviet arrogance." Nor is the accusation of inconsistency and timorous behavior toward the U.S.S.R. confined to the political opposition. Concerned Democrats such as Senators Jackson and Moynihan, and other articulate conservative spokesmen, share the view put forth by Paul Nitze, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and a member of the U.S. SALT delegation from 1969 to 1974, that "the position of the world not dominated from Moscow is more precarious today than it has been for some time."
To an American public told a scant six years ago by the Nixon Administration that détente promised to ease Soviet-American tensions over the long term, the reemergence of these tensions, in new and heightened forms, is bound to be unsettling. Once again the endless contest between the United States and the Soviet Union seems to dominate all else, even though one's mind - and one's pocketbook - may at the same time bear constant witness to the importance and complexity of economic and other foreign problems. In such a situation, the search for a clear-cut, clarifying theme can become compelling, and the theme of anti-Sovietism may appear to provide the Administration with the elusive broad foreign policy consensus that would give it the impetus it needs to achieve its goals. It was not so long ago, after all, that a range of issues was lumped under the rubric of anti-communism, and, by so doing, different administrations built up a broad consensus on foreign policy that was able to sustain American initiatives, both successful and unsuccessful, through the years of the cold war, a period which began roughly in 1946 and might be said to have ended in 1968 - the year of assassins at home and of the communist Tet offensive abroad.
Let us, therefore, look back at that period and assess the impact of the anti-communist consensus in the overall sweep of American policy. Then, if we examine the period since 1968 in the same way, perhaps we shall develop additional clues as to whether a new consensus or theme is possible today. And, finally, let us look hardest at the central problems of today, and how they can best be approached.
Selling programs to Congress and the American people in the postwar era was always made easier if they could be clothed in one garment. In 1947, the Truman Administration's desire to provide aid to Greece and Turkey was sold to Congress as something larger than the containment of the Soviet Union solely in Europe and the Near East. In order to persuade a budget-conscious Republican Congress and an apathetic public of the dangers, President Truman drew a stark and dramatic picture - the existence of the Greek nation was threatened by communist guerrillas, and this clash was only part of the global struggle "between alternative ways of life." "It must be the policy of the United States," said the President, in words that were to become known as the Truman Doctrine, "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
It seems clear now that in seeking a consensus for American aid against possible Soviet expansion in one area, words were used to open the door later to a universalizing of American foreign policy objectives. Aid and alliance directed against the threat from the Soviet Union in one region became, with the Korean War in 1950, a crusade against communism in virtually every corner of the globe. Moreover, largely as a result of that war, the struggle became defined as broadly based anti-communism rather than the original theme of containing perceived Soviet expansion.
Meanwhile, America's relationships with the Third World suffered, in no small part because Secretary of State John Foster Dulles insisted that neutralism or "nonalignment" was morally untenable in a struggle between the communists and the "free world." Too often the United States expended military and financial assistance on those countries that were willing to line up behind Washington in its ideological crusade against communism. And while the Kennedy Administration (and the Eisenhower Administration to some degree) tried to make greater efforts, particularly in South Asia and South America, to assist less-developed countries to grow in economic strength, that Administration, too, found itself obsessed with the need to confront the Soviet Union wherever it seemed to threaten. From Cuba to Africa, and with growing concern in Indochina, Kennedy felt obliged to continue to pursue the broad strategy of containment that had been developed since the Truman Doctrine was enunciated. In this respect, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 seemed to mark an end game in the Soviet-American confrontation. And in its aftermath, with the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, it also seemed possible that a relaxation of tensions, what was later christened détente, might be in the offing.
While the issues that divided the United States from the communist world were hardly so black and white as they seemed between the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, it was not unreasonable to center the elaboration and definition of America's vital interests in those years on the U.S.-Soviet confrontation, both in trying to counter Soviet ambitions and in seeking ways to control the struggle. Yet the costs of the anti-communist consensus were also grave: the growth of a military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned of in his farewell address, the misuse of foreign aid to the Third World, and, above all, the excessive concern with areas of the world of peripheral strategic interest. In a sense, the American involvement in Vietnam, which grew in intensity in the period right after the 1963 Test Ban Treaty, epitomized these very distortions of postwar U.S. policy. To support a non-communist regime in a part of the world that was always marginal to U.S. strategic concerns, aid was provided in ever greater quantity and, as the aid increased, so did the American commitment. Finally, with full-fledged war, American forces were sent; and, as the war intensified, the spending did likewise but without adequate taxes, and this, in turn, led to spiraling inflation and a weakened economy. With America's deepening involvement in that tragic and frustrating conflict, the consensus successive administrations had sought broke down in favor of a strong public rejection of commitments outside Western Europe, Japan and South Korea.
As much as anything else, Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 to end the American military involvement in Indochina. It took him four long, bloody years. And in this task he was dependent upon his foreign policy adviser and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. A new American foreign policy seemed in the making, one that would eschew moral crusades and adopt the Bismarckian belief that ideology was foolish and policy was "the art of the possible." Such a nonideological foreign policy, resting on balance-of-power considerations, produced notable achievements from 1969 to 1973.
The triangular diplomacy of the period capitalized on the Soviet-Chinese rift, which worsened so much in 1969 that an armed border clash on the Ussuri River seemed the prelude to a possible Sino-Soviet war. Both Chinese and Soviet policy helped in reaching the 1973 Paris accords on Indochina, and thus the direct American military involvement in Southeast Asia was liquidated. A pragmatic balance of power now seemed in the offing, with the United States in the pivotal role in both the U.S.-U.S.S.R.-China and the U.S.-Europe-Japan triangles. At the same time, Third World security problems were being downgraded, with the Nixon Doctrine serving as the military-strategic rationale that was to allow America to maintain her basic global commitments but with reduced capabilities.
For all this and the attendant statements of purpose and policy, the substance of a new broad consensus was not achieved, even in 1972-73. In those halcyon days, what was most effective was a foreign policy style that was able to manage America's retreat from an overextension of power in Southeast Asia while initiating the opening to China, the conclusion of the first phase of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), and the reinsertion of U.S. presence and influence in the Middle East, and carrying these out with Gaullist verve and gusto. Moreover, the activist role America continued to pursue in world affairs was accompanied by the conscious elaboration of a policy of relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union, now openly labeled détente, even while Washington was still engulfed in the final phase of the Indochina conflict; in this sense, détente represented a deliberate entangling of American and Soviet interests on a global scale. It was hoped that from such a policy would flow the benefits of further agreements in the strategic realm and broader economic ties between the two superpowers. The so-called new realism was designed to avoid ideological rhetoric and to begin to weave a web of agreements - large and small - that would encompass the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Détente, embodying as it did the notion that the superpowers would exercise self-restraint as regards third countries, also seemed to mean that anti-Sovietism and the accompanying themes of the cold war would now be muted.
Détente notwithstanding, the Nixon and Ford Administrations, in practice, went on regarding the Soviet problem as central, not only in itself but in relation to other emerging areas. Even the attempt to shore up the dollar - whose weakness had been reflected in the 1971 suspension of gold convertibility and two later devaluations - was linked in 1973 to the U.S. defense role; Nixon tried to pressure the Europeans by explicitly underlining the linkage between their security - as provided by the United States - and economic and political cooperation, which he insisted be aligned to American interests. The effort, in the form of the so-called "Year of Europe," was, to say the least, ill-received by our closest allies.
The proclivity to project regional situations onto a global scale continued; both internal and external conflicts were seen as affecting relations between America and Russia whenever the two superpowers found themselves on opposite sides. This was as true in the case of Portugal after the overthrow of Caetano as in Chile under Allende. Although the Nixon Administration, in deference to changed public opinion and in pursuing its overall theme of détente, claimed at the time that its policies toward Allende were simply cool and correct, the reality that emerged from later revelations was that all along Allende was regarded as a grave threat in the political sphere alone; a sort of domino theory of internal politics in Latin America, and later in southern Europe, was the largely unstated mainspring of the Administration's actions.1
Moreover, long simmering economic issues between the industrialized and developing nations were treated as secondary in this period unless they were perceived as involving the two superpowers. The 1973 Arab oil embargo, after all, not only highlighted American strategic interests in the oil-producing nations but also helped draw attention to the rapidly increasing power of the Arab oil producers over the previous three years and to the growing demands of the Third World for a new international economic order. Such an "order" focused on efforts by the poorer nations of the world to narrow the income gap between themselves and the rich. But in the United States, the Third World demands more often than not appeared as economic blackmail; in this view, for the advanced industrial nations to go very far along the path of accommodation only encouraged the blackmailers to increase their already unreasonable demands. The United States did finally respond to the calls of the developing nations for a new North-South dialogue in 1975 and 1976, though little was accomplished. Thus, while some Americans did recognize a need to reorder North-South relations, the image presented was a forbidding one, more characterized by conflict than cooperation.
When regional problems involved important superpower interests, however, Kissinger was able to act with deftness and notable success. The 1973 October War allowed him to seize the initiative by reinserting the American political presence in the Arab Middle East, from which it had been effectively excluded since 1957. By capitalizing on Egypt's problems with the Soviet Union, he made the United States the essential peacemaker between Israel and Egypt. At the same time, he eased the Soviets out of the peacemaking process. In these initial stages, when Kissinger decided to try for limited progress, this was a productive policy. No conflict arose between making peace and making gains at the expense of the Soviets, though it was always latent. For, while step-by-step diplomacy might prepare the way for a settlement, the durability of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement would be severely tested without Soviet participation in the negotiation process.
But in other cases where local factors favored Soviet initiatives - as, for example, in Angola - an anti-Soviet stance failed to carry the day. Here local factors were determinant. The Soviets (with their Cuban allies) were supporting the MPLA liberation movement while the Americans sided with factions also aided by white South Africa. In such a situation, other black African states inevitably lined up with the MPLA. And in the United States, Congress approved the Clark Amendment to the Arms Export Act that prohibited "any kind" of assistance to promote military operations in Angola. The final result was an increased Soviet/Cuban presence in southern Africa and a regime friendly to Moscow in a strategically placed country.
Kissinger, however, recognized the need to adjust U.S. policy to the new realities in Africa with his speech in Lusaka in 1976, calling for majority rule in Rhodesia and Namibia, and for the end of "institutionalized separation of races" in South Africa. Local factors were not to be scanted in future U.S. policy toward Africa; support for blacks struggling for the right to govern themselves was no longer to be confined to the Soviets, the Chinese and the Cubans.
But at home the Soviet aid to Egypt at the outbreak of the 1973 October War, and the perception of growing Soviet military outreach, now clearly manifest in southern Africa, eroded the support for détente and brought forth a new wave of anti-Sovietism. In effect, a broad foreign policy consensus had never been reestablished after 1968. The foreign policy successes of the Nixon-Kissinger period might have served as the groundwork for a coherent American foreign policy that could conceivably have led to a new consensus; but faced with the debacle of Watergate and a host of new problems - most notably the "low politics" of economic issues as the West struggled simultaneously with the problems of inflation, low growth and unemployment - the Ford Administration was unable to present a new theme that would mobilize the American people to cope with a seemingly unmanageable world.
Indeed, when Jimmy Carter came into office, as I have noted above, he emphasized the complexity of the problems and, at the outset, sought support for his initiatives by calling for a stronger component of morality in the exercise of American foreign policy. Very early on, President Carter stated that the United States "had a historical birthright to promote political freedom throughout the globe." With these words, the Administration seemed to make the human rights campaign a spearhead of its attempt to set a new course. It was a theme that was very much in the American grain. Only a month after the Administration came into office, Washington took a tough stance toward arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union while at the same time launching an apparently unrelated campaign against Russia's violation of human rights. It was evident that the new Administration wanted to demonstrate that the linkage between different sets of foreign policy problems, which had been at least rhetorically emphasized by the previous Administration, was going to be downplayed.
Though the human rights campaign was designed to strengthen support at home and put America more in tune with certain political and emotional realities abroad - and, of course, to meet deep feelings within President Carter himself - it was seriously flawed as a unifying theme. Its appeal both to the Left and to the Right actually rested on inconsistent premises - the one saw it as being tough on Chile and Korea, the other as a hard-line policy toward the Soviet Union. In retrospect, the human rights campaign was, at best, a change of tone; it could never have served as an overarching theme on which to build a new consensus, and if this was an expectation, it was dashed precisely because of its inconsistent application. Yet it is a crusade that is unlikely to die out. One would hope, however, that it will be pursued with greater subtlety and skill than heretofore, with more results that can be demonstrated and with rather less rhetoric, which could in the long run prove self-defeating.
Along with its desire to provide a stronger moral thrust to our foreign policy, the Carter Administration was determined to address itself to the new international agenda, and in particular to the new primacy of economic issues and, in so doing, to deemphasize the importance of the superpower relationship. Despite its good intentions, the Soviet-American rivalry soon again became paramount. Not only was the détente policy of the Kissinger years being openly questioned, but the growing Soviet military thrust sharpened the edge of the Soviet-American competition for power and influence.
No longer did the United States enjoy, as it did in the 1950s, a distinct nuclear superiority. The Soviets' new nuclear capability was acknowledged in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was defined as "nuclear parity" or "essential equivalence." But beyond the nuclear question was the growing ability of the Soviet Union to project power by conventional means throughout the globe. Often over the past 30 years the United States had perceived a global threat from the Soviet Union when, in fact, no such global military capability was possible. The Soviet Union had been essentially a Eurasian power, as was most dramatically demonstrated in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when it found itself dangerously over-extended. Today, Soviet naval and air capabilities are such that it is possible for the Soviet Union effectively to airlift operations to other parts of the globe and so to render the possibility of Soviet military intervention far greater than was true during the harsh period of the cold war. But this did not become sharply evident until the Soviets intervened in southern Africa in 1975 by airlifting Cuban troops and equipment into Angola. And, partly as a result of the Soviet buildup, the Soviet Union, like the United States, now insists that problems outside its own sphere not be settled without its acquiescence. As Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko baldly put it in a speech at the 24th Party Congress in 1971: "No question of any significance . . . can be decided without the Soviet Union or in opposition to it." This is clearly an exaggeration, for U.S. actions in Latin America are far from being circumscribed by the Soviet Union's behavior, and Kissinger proved in Egypt that it is indeed possible to conduct a successful negotiation that excludes and is even opposed by the Soviet Union. But Gromyko's statement certainly reflects the desires of the Soviet leadership and was designed to impress Americans and their allies with the new Soviet status as a power co-equal with the United States.2
We have already seen that in Angola the Soviet Union and its Cuban ally intervened successfully in the Angolan civil war. Subsequently, the Soviet Union became deeply embroiled in the Horn of Africa, again accompanied by the Cubans. And in supporting the black liberation movements on Rhodesia's borders, the Russians were no less active. Faced with Soviet behavior in Africa, the Carter Administration reacted in contrary ways. In the Horn, where Moscow had switched its support from Somalia to Ethiopia and was then in the position of aiding Ethiopia in turning back an invasion from Somalia and quelling a guerrilla war in Eritrea, the Administration reacted by accusing the Soviets of violating "the code of détente." The May 1978 invasion of Shaba province in Zaïre by Katangan rebels based in Angola was cited as a further example of Soviet/Cuban meddling in African affairs.
Yet toward Namibia and Rhodesia, regional considerations predominated. Washington continued to work for a peace settlement in Namibia that would allow all parties involved to participate in a U.N.-supervised election; and in Rhodesia, the "internal settlement" worked out in Salisbury in March 1978 was not supported by the United States, largely because it failed to receive the backing of the front-line African states.
What is of equal if not more importance than Soviet military hardware, however, is the perception of the Soviet ability to project power and influence in the area of the Persian Gulf, a region seen as vital to the United States and its European allies. In a situation where access to resources is vulnerable, American concern over the Soviet presence in the area was inevitable, and even if the Soviets initially took advantage of what they believed were targets of opportunity - no matter how dangerous or unstable these opportunities might prove to be - a consolidation of Soviet influence through massive military aid and Cuban forces cannot be ruled out.
In short, there are two problems facing the Administration - the near-term geopolitical situation in the Horn where a Soviet strategic foothold could pose a threat to an area vital for its resources and in proximity to Israel, whose integrity the United States is committed to, and second, the impact on public opinion at home and abroad, and most particularly on the Soviet leadership, if the United States appears to be indifferent to Soviet behavior. Thus, even if the real Soviet gain is not long-standing, due to the local conditions prevailing in the Horn, the image of a Soviet/Cuban combination that can act effectively in support of any African-endorsed cause could set a serious and dangerous precedent for what may be coming up in southern Africa.
Some critics - and apparently some within the Administration - have urged that security problems in peripheral areas such as the Horn and southern Africa be treated as confrontations, calling for significant pressure on the Soviet Union. From relatively small retaliatory moves such as suspending cultural and scientific exchanges or withholding particular trade items thought to be of special importance - both moves now actually taken over the Shcharansky trial issue - suggestions ascend to a more drastic limitation of trade, curtailing food exports, suspending arms control negotiations, or announcing that the whole "framework of détente" is no longer operative.
But the difficulty here is twofold. First, the means to exert effective pressure are severely limited, at least so long as our allies trade with the Soviet Union without restraint, and carefully worked out arms control accords are clearly in America's national interest. Second, the Soviet/Cuban element, as in Angola, can only take hold and score lasting gains if it alone is aligned with regional forces and sentiment. In Ethiopia, this was indeed the case - given the African states' view of the sanctity of borders - and it is striking that even the most determined American hard-liners came up with no real alternative to laying off. There was, in short, no persuasive "Soviet-oriented" alternative in either Ethiopia or Rhodesia. For Washington to have backed the Salisbury "internal settlement" would have been to alienate African sentiment and to run the risk of handing over not only the guerrillas but also the front-line states to stronger Soviet ties. These states, in turn, would have had great leverage on their colleagues in the Organization of African Unity, thus increasing the very Soviet leverage Washington should be trying to avoid.
Not that anyone should be sanguine over the outcomes - the Horn, at the time of this writing, is a Soviet gain in prestige, and the Cubans remain in Angola; nor is there any assurance that the Dergue in Ethiopia or Angola's Neto will soon turn against their helpers. But any hypothetical alternative would probably have been worse; moreover, in Luanda the regime does not seem unwilling to work with the United States for regional stability, as witness the negotiations over Namibia. In both situations, regional factors should rightly predominate in the making of U.S. foreign policy.
Likewise in the Middle East, a cold war approach is precisely what is not called for. The October 1977 initiative taken by the Administration to involve the Soviet Union in the diplomacy of the Middle East was not misplaced. The joint statement issued by Moscow and Washington was keyed to the willingness of the two powers to participate in the guarantees of the terms of the settlement. Sadat's spectacular démarche to Jerusalem put the U.S.-Soviet role in abeyance, and, for a time at least, new momentum was put into the drive for peace. However, a year later, it can be argued that the need for the Soviets has not diminished in gaining a final settlement. Doubtless, the chief aim of Soviet cooperation with Middle Eastern governments and national liberation movements, in the words of Middle East specialist John C. Campbell, "is to pave the way to an enhanced military and political position for the Soviet Union in the region."3 But this long-term goal does not mean that the Soviets do not really want an Arab-Israeli settlement. The terms they have committed themselves to publicly are not so very different from those of the Carter Administration. And the Soviets' main reason for signing the statement was to get recognition of their status and interests in the region. In the last analysis, as Campbell put it: "Washington could not by itself bring about, and maintain, a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement. It had to take account of the fact of Soviet influence in the area and capacity to disrupt the process of negotiation or nullify it. The real question was one of timing, and even on that score the judgment of contemporary critics may not be the judgment of history."4 Even if a return to some variant of step-by-step diplomacy is indicated in order to move the negotiations forward, Campbell's analysis of the role of the Soviet Union in any final settlement remains valid.
At the same time as Washington struggles for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East/Persian Gulf region cannot be neglected. Moderate regimes there remain a key American interest for multiple reasons and not simply to counter Soviet influence and power in the region. Moreover, to paint American support for an Iran or a Saudi Arabia in simplistic anti-Soviet terms would be to put those governments themselves in a much more exposed position vis-a-vis the radical elements that lurk in the wings.
It has been, after all, a long-standing U.S. policy to try to aid Saudi Arabia and Iran with modern military weapons in order to fulfill a dual function. On the one hand, such arms deals are part and parcel of a U.S. policy of being friends with oil suppliers for the sake of price and availability of petroleum as well as maintaining moderate (in the Arab context) regimes in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, the recent arms deals also serve notice that America would supply real military power and support Saudi Arabia and Iran if they were ever pressured by the Soviet Union. In this respect, any so-called loss in the Horn is to be balanced by U.S. support of non-radical, anti-Soviet regimes. Thus, when Defense Secretary Harold Brown declared last spring that "we intend to safeguard the production of oil and its transportation to consumer nations without interference by hostile powers," it could be read less as a new anti-Soviet move than as a reassurance of a continued U.S. capacity to act militarily in case of need. There are sound reasons for making clear that the United States - though not so militarily predominant by any means as it was at the time of the 1958 Lebanon landings - retains strike forces tailored to deal with limited military contingencies in a rapid manner (and thus keep them limited).
But military capabilities are only part of the problem, and the Secretary's statement is surely as far as it is wise to go in an area where we have no official security commitments. What matters most over the long term is the need to preserve regional stability, help Iran and Saudi Arabia in their efforts to transform themselves economically, and yet at the same time avoid wedding the United States irrevocably to the political status quo. This basic task is in fact widely shared - the very diversity of European, American and Japanese activity is a source of strength. Each of these is acting for its own complex motives, in which an assured oil supply certainly looms large; to depict what is going on as primarily directed against Russia (though it seems to appeal to conservative geopolitical thinkers in Europe as well as here) would divide the supporting nations far more than it could conceivably stimulate them to greater effectiveness.
As for the key social and economic issues that divide the West - both within itself and in the North-South context - their resolution too is not likely to be facilitated in an atmosphere pervaded by anti-Sovietism. There is certainly no possibility of going back to an era where the Europeans and Japanese receive American military protection in return for American dominance in economic matters. The Atlantic Alliance not only possesses vast military forces and armaments as well as the capacity to match any overall Soviet military buildup, but also far exceeds the Soviet bloc's economic performance. Yet, the economic problems that Jimmy Carter inherited are still far from being solved. The characterization of a "troubled world economy" that existed when President Carter was elected has scarcely changed. And the modest results of the July 1978 Bonn summit meeting of the leaders of the advanced industrial nations only reinforces this definition. It may still come to pass that the nations of the European Community will be able to coordinate their economic, trade and monetary policies and even, as was hoped a decade ago, move toward economic and monetary union. But that has not happened yet. The protectionist sentiments that threaten the trilateral world have not been dispelled. Nor has there been an effective U.S. energy program that would serve both to strengthen the dollar and to reduce American resource vulnerability. Anti-Sovietism is not likely to provide the push the West needs in order to solve these grave problems.
The same is true of the attempt, through complex negotiations among the communist and noncommunist nations, to control transnational forces that threaten the international order - such issues as the environment, exploitation of the seabeds, nuclear nonproliferation, and international terrorism. To deal effectively with such problems requires, at the outset, the recognition that there are overlapping alliances and shifting coalitions - and occasions where the United States and the Soviet Union may find themselves in the same boat or else both risk drowning in a sea of troubles. An anti-Soviet consensus would most likely lead to a breakdown in the search for a coherent policy to cope with the new international agenda.
None of this argues for a moment that the United States should neglect to balance the Soviets militarily. This, after all, is what the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks are about; and NATO is preparing to strengthen its conventional forces precisely in order to counter the Soviet buildup in Europe. But the hardest problems today - bilateral relations with the U.S.S.R., southern Africa, the Middle East, the world economy - are inherently dilemmas requiring the most careful balancing of forces and interests. To force them into a hard-line Soviet mold would be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.
If anti-Sovietism provides a poor answer to the dilemmas that the United States faces, is there any other broad foreign policy consensus we can look to? The answer, it would seem, is no. The complexity of the issues, as Stanley Hoffmann has recently pointed out, is too often such that "foreign policy and domestic politics seem to point in opposite directions." In calling for an American foreign policy that will have some chance of "internal solidity," he says: "It is not easy to define in clear and comprehensive political terms a policy of great complexity. And it would be perilous as in the past to compress its necessary diversity into a few simple moral slogans."5
Certainly, those attempting to set up "the American national interest" as the guiding principle - as more conservative critics are wont to do - usually end up by dodging all the hard questions that surround such situations as the Middle East or southern Africa, not to mention bilateral relations with the Soviet Union. In every case, there are elements of the "national interest" on both sides of any difficult decision; too often those who invoke the phrase are trying to load the dice in favor of the outcome they think most important. As Justice Holmes once put it: "Let us talk things, not words." Critics must be prepared to say what they would actually do differently - in the Horn, Rhodesia, the SALT talks, or any other area of debate - and to be as honest as possible about its implications.
As we confront the foreign policy problems that bedevil us, then, consensus may indeed be hard to come by. The kind of broad consensus that obtained during the postwar era and which became a shibboleth of American foreign policy may no longer be possible to resurrect short of war. American interests are too diverse and American power now much less predominant. The conflicts between domestic and foreign interests that beset U.S. policy today should be discussed candidly. In this respect, public debates such as those over Panama and the Middle East arms deal can have a clarifying effect by demonstrating the limits and diversity of American interests and power. Most issues may have to be taken up on a case-by-case basis, and the President will have to look for support for his foreign policies much as he might seek to do for his domestic programs. This would mean building coalitions, and appealing to, satisfying, or, if need be, appeasing domestic constituencies.
Despite the new international agenda, the dialectic of foreign policy still remains as it was defined a century ago in Britain as a tension between the imperatives of the national interest even at times at the expense of justice - the so-called realist position - and the need to champion liberal and humane policies at home and abroad. Polls have shown time and again that the public is capable of making sensible distinctions; for example, a recent sounding revealed a desire both to stand up to the Russians and to have arms control. Even a less than great President can set a tone and mood which can make sense to the public, providing he is fairly consistent and his line coincides largely with reality.
In the end, we may have to do something we are not used to doing and thus may not be very good at. We may simply have to learn to conduct foreign policy for a very long time without a single unifying theme on which to base a broad national consensus. Both the nature of the problems abroad and their diverse impact on American public opinion at home now point strongly to such a conclusion. To accept it may be not merely the path of common sense and humane realism, but may also offer the best chance of exerting American influence toward constructive change in a world that is in a complex stage of transition.
Such a world is bound to contain all kinds of possibilities for serious conflict. But its dangers too must be dealt with in terms of their root causes and not simply in terms of those who seek to exploit them. A disorderly world need not also be a more dangerous one. It was, after all, an American idealist, Margaret Fuller, who is said to have exclaimed: "I accept the universe!" And an Old World realist, Thomas Carlyle, who then commented: "By God, she'd better."
3 See John C. Campbell, "The Soviet Union in the Middle East," The Middle East Journal, Winter 1978, p.5.
4 Ibid., p. 8.
5 Stanley Hoffmann, Primacy or World Order, New York: McGraw Hill, 1978, p. 227.