How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
FOR the student of foreign affairs, the most important part of the campaign of 1952 ended in Chicago in July. The choice which remains is as nothing compared to the choices that were made in the nominating conventions. Differences exist between General Eisenhower and Governor Stevenson and between their parties, but at least in the first few weeks after the conventions these differences seemed esoteric in comparison with those which might have been expected on the basis of what was being said and done by party leaders on both sides in the Washington of the 82nd Congress. To men of sober opinion this result was deeply satisfying; even earnest partisans were able to agree that both parties had chosen with distinction. Only the heartiest haters were disappointed.
Contemplating this remarkable result, many were tempted simply to thank their lucky stars; but it was not all luck. These two nominations were not accidental. They were not even the result primarily of the managerial skill of those whose manœuvres were so closely followed by the nation in the alternating boredom and fascination of the television proceedings. Behind these nominations lay a widespread and solid recognition of certain great national imperatives, not the least of which were in the field of foreign affairs. Whatever might be honestly believed by partisans of Senators Kefauver and Taft, it was agreed by uncommitted observers that the two nominees were the strongest candidates their respective parties could have found, and in each case a significant part of this strength was related to foreign policy.
The fundamental meaning of the Eisenhower candidacy can best be understood by considering the nature of the forces he was drafted to stop--for fundamentally he was the stop-Taft candidate and would almost surely have remained in Europe if the pre-convention Republican front-runner had been a Dewey or a Vandenberg. This is not to deny that General Eisenhower was and is a candidate of great attraction and power in his own right, but merely to assert that these qualities can best be understood and evaluated by considering what they were measured against.
The main objects in stopping Mr. Taft were two--first, to prevent the nomination of a loser; and second, to avoid selecting as the party leader a man of isolationist or neo-isolationist background. These two purposes were closely related, for much of Mr. Taft's supposed weakness as a Presidential vote-getter was believed to be due to the vulnerability of his record on foreign affairs. So clear was this weakness in his candidacy that Mr. Taft himself was driven to claim that there were no important differences between his views on foreign affairs and those of General Eisenhower--an announcement which must have been surprising to some of the Senator's more passionate supporters.
Yet judged only by his views on present and future policy, Mr. Taft's astonishing claim is correct. In his little campaign book on foreign policy, published at the end of 1951, he took a surprisingly moderate position on current and future problems; it was only as he gazed backward that his zestful opposition became specific. In some past cases, indeed, like that of his vote against the Atlantic Treaty, he seemed prepared to forgive and forget; he now professed to be a friend of NATO. No man with Mr. Taft's temperament could be accused of "me-too-ism," but his program for the future did make him look surprisingly like a reluctant double for President Truman. Even in regard to the Far East, while breathing the righteous indignation of a belated friend of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Mr. Taft advanced no specific recommendations that differed greatly from the position of the Administration. Throughout his campaign for the nomination he made a determined effort to stand before the friends of the bipartisan tradition as a man of reasonable and moderate views.
Mr. Taft's conversion may have been more tactical than substantial; behind the apparent similarity of present purposes there remained large differences of temperament and emphasis between him and General Eisenhower. Yet these reservations merely reinforce the central point. If it was against his will and perhaps for political advantages that Mr. Taft came as far as he did, then the forces driving him must have been powerful indeed. The basic propositions of which General Eisenhower was a symbol had been accepted as national imperatives. To these imperatives Mr. Taft himself made a stiff bow.
These national imperatives, however complex and testing they may be in detailed application, are essentially simple and can be stated for this generation in three propositions. First, the United States is required by its own principles and purposes to act in opposition to and restraint of the aggressive and hostile pressures of the Soviet Union. Second, this and other actions in world politics must be taken with a decent respect to the opinions of others, and with an understanding of the importance of independent friends. Third, the great limitation upon all policy is that a third world war would be a catastrophe of a new order of magnitude, and perhaps most of all for the United States. In short, the United States must act with friends and against enemies, for freedom and peace. The simple statement holds within it all the complexities of a constantly shifting and infinitely variable international scene; the three propositions define the problem without solving it. Yet without definition--or while there is a national debate on definition--problem-solving must be cumbersome and slow.
The affirmative meaning of General Eisenhower's candidacy, above and beyond his evident reputation as a great American, lay primarily in the quite extraordinary degree to which in his one person there were symbolized all three of these basic propositions of modern American policy. He was a soldier who had stated only the bald and self-evident truth when he remarked with anger in June that he did not have to defend himself against the perverted suggestion that he might be blind to the character of the Soviet Power; for over a year it had been his reputation and leadership, as much as any other single factor, that gave energy to the European will to outlast that Power. Yet his whole career was a reminder that the United States must not try to go it alone; he was the most successful leader of mixed forces in modern history. And withal, soldier and Supreme Commander though he might be, he had succeeded beyond the possibility of pretense in convincing both Americans and their friends abroad that he was at heart a man of peace.
Throughout the Republican Convention speakers denied with fervor the validity of the imperatives we have asserted, and by no distant inference they talked in opposition to Eisenhower. It is at least possible that a majority of the delegates would have liked to believe and act on what they heard. Yet although no one can assert that the actual result was inevitable, there was discernible in the response to General MacArthur, Mr. Hoover and the rest a sense that however beautiful it might be, it was not life; this time the fadeaway, though much regretted, was real. In the end the choice fell on the man who was self-evidently a believer in the new necessities. It was not good enough to be a tardy and begrudging convert. It is hard to avoid the feeling that in choosing as they did the Republicans went with the stream of history.
A final reinforcement to this view comes to the student who steps back to consider this Convention in the light of its predecessors. In 1948 there had been no such set of speeches, and still less had the vitriol of frustration spilled out into the platform. In 1952 the platform indulged in a belated backward leer at "Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam;" four years earlier, when these supposed crimes were a good deal more recent and relevant, there had been no such reference, but only sober contentment with the responsible realities of the age of Vandenberg. Similarly in 1944 the Republicans had chosen to stand up for international coöperation, and it was a fact of life that very little in the whole roll-call of great actions since 1944 had been without substantial bipartisan support. Yalta itself had once had Republican friends.
Seen in this perspective, the speakers at the Republican Convention of 1952 must appear as throwbacks, and the strong feelings which they represented are precisely those which may properly be called reactionary--for there is a special fervor and bitterness among men who are fighting to defeat their own inner conviction that history had passed them by. And the whole of the two-year outburst which surrounded the name of Senator Mc-Carthy might turn out, in the same fashion, to be scum on the wave of the past. It was too soon to preach a funeral oration over the corpses of the Republican reactionaries; if General Eisenhower should be beaten, they would probably again have a violent fling in 1956. Yet there was good reason to hope that the forces represented by the Convention speeches were much weaker than they seemed.
The nomination of Governor Stevenson was generally regarded as having no unusual meaning in terms of foreign affairs, yet in some ways it has a significance equal to the choice of General Eisenhower. The Governor combines a set of qualities that any candidate would need in order to oppose the General successfully; he would need these qualities because the General himself has them in such considerable measure.
First, Governor Stevenson is a man of stature, which is important because in a time of evident international trouble it is not easy to beat a big man with a little one. At least one candidacy on the Democratic side was fatally damaged by a simple and widespread feeling that the candidate lacked size. Governor Stevenson on the other hand had a double claim to stature: he was the successful governor of a great state, which is the best known preparation for the Presidency, and he showed in his opening remarks to the delegates a quality of mind and speech which was not matched at either convention.
The quality of magnitude is always important in politics, but it has a special meaning in 1952. In the back of the citizen's mind, more and more, there is a gnawing knowledge that the ordinary political interest can be served only after the problem of survival has had at least partial attention. Such is the complexity and weight of this problem, however, that much the most pleasant way to deal with it is to hand it over to someone else. The natural trustee is the President of the United States. Yet for seven years, since the death of Franklin Roosevelt, this sort of relief has been impossible for most Americans. Having many qualities of his own, Mr. Truman has lacked the ability to serve as a father-substitute for most of his fellow countrymen; fortunately for the Democrats, a similar inability existed in the Governor Dewey of 1948. But in 1952 the Republicans chose a man whom citizens could readily trust, in generous and personal fashion, with decisions and responsibilities which they deeply desired to devolve on someone. It became vital for the Democrats to do the same thing.
Personal stature alone would not have been enough, however. It was also important that the nominee should have another asset which Mr. Stevenson plainly possesses--a background of experience which entitles him to think and speak for himself on matters of foreign affairs. To a long-continued interest as a private citizen he has added experience in the moderately high reaches of the Navy Department and the Department of State, and in the American delegations to the United Nations; this is a combination at least vaguely reminiscent of large names in the American past--the Roosevelts, Root and Stimson. And it is a further proof of his quality that, like General Eisenhower, he has made plain his conviction that the central task of the next President, dwarfing the matters noisily discussed in campaign argument, must be to try to work for freedom and peace in the world.
The two nominees share a final and more complex advantage: they are known as supporters of the basic outlines of the American foreign policy developed since 1947, and both have had a part in this policy (General Eisenhower much the larger part, it is fair to note), yet both, in different ways, have been spared the necessity to defend or attack this policy in any partisan or inflexible spirit. Both have kept largely clear of the destructive debate over the fall of China, and neither can be tagged as a mere spokesman for past policy. General Eisenhower has been a most eloquent witness for Administration programs in Europe, but he has testified at times when his prestige was so high and that of the Administration so low that he has spoken as one bringing help to the deserving poor, and not as the beneficiary of a rich man's bounty.
This combination of general support for policy with a visible personal independence is of double value. Tactically, it gives to each candidate the best of both sides of the argument. Along with an unwillingness to accept the doctrines of reaction, there is among us a very considerable feeling that it would be worth it to try changing the guard in Washington; this is a view which is often combined with high respect and even admiration for those who have been on duty in recent years. When the Republicans chose a man who looked both safe and fresh, the Democrats came under heavy pressure to match this choice.
But these choices have a meaning which is larger and less ephemeral than tactics. The last 12 years have seen a revolution in American foreign policy, but no revolution is ever safely complete until its work is carried on by men not in the immediate circle of those who made it; and the longer it is led by a small or limited group, the greater its fragility. Close as they have been to the making of foreign policy, both Governor Stevenson and General Eisenhower still give promise of the kind of new leadership that consolidates basic changes by the very act of taking power. If this promise should be fulfilled, then indeed we could assess this year as one in which historical imperatives were properly obeyed.
The basic similarities between the two candidates in the area of foreign affairs are close, but differences remain, and they deserve attention. In both parties there are forces incompletely alive to the historical imperatives that have driven us. The Republicans, of course, have their die-hard obstructionist wing--those we have called the true reactionaries. Some of them, perhaps, have been obstructionist at least partly because they have found themselves in the opposition party; there is a striking difference between the Congressional Republicanism of 1952 and that of 1948, when the Republicans had a majority, and this difference is most marked in the field of foreign affairs. Those who lean toward General Eisenhower will argue that the reactionaries would be much muted under a modern Republican President: "Anything Van could do Ike can do better." It will even be claimed, and with real plausibility, that General Eisenhower's election is the one and only way of drawing the teeth of the McCarthys and McCarrans in both parties. But it can also be argued that many powerful Republicans are reactionaries of desperate integrity, not to be won round by White House pressure; would General Eisenhower have the skill to circumvent them when in many matters his Administration would need their support? Many will wonder why they should not simply vote against the Party which is so much tainted by a reactionary view of foreign affairs and for the Party which has done most of the work of facing new realities.
Governor Stevenson has a quite different problem: fatigue and stalemate beset the groups on which he must rely. However much he himself may be a symbol of refreshing change, his Party, and even his part of his Party, are symbols of the status quo. Except where it has had Republican help, the Administration has been stalemated for several years, both at home and abroad. The much-debated Fair Deal is still a set of paper promises, and in foreign affairs the great achievements of the last four years are precisely those of which General Eisenhower is a symbol (except for the defense of Korea, which is surely not a one-party triumph). Moreover, in the sham battles over the past which have so often passed for Great Debating in the last two years, rôles have been set and lines of contest fixed in a way which might make it hard for Mr. Stevenson to fulfill his promise of a change in tone. His friends will say that this is an easy task for a determined man with the White House as his base; his opponents will assert that the inertia of the loyal partisan is a most formidable force.
Still more complex lines of argument are already heard among both partisan and non-partisan observers, and though they may be thin, they are not unimportant. It is clear, for example, that we do not today have a really effective arrangement for political control of the professional military services; in particular, there is no force in government which is fully a match for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (which emphatically does not mean that there has been any conspiracy of military men to capture power). Observing this problem, one group concludes that it is better to vote for a civilian, but another, relying on its assessment of the mind and purpose of the man Eisenhower, asserts that the civil-minded General is the one man with enough authority and knowledge to assert political supremacy in a time when fear leads many to hesitate before they question military counsel. Arguments so fragile and yet so important are certain to be modified by the course of debate in the campaign.
A more traditional issue is that of trade policy. Here at least the Parties tend to differ as they have differed for generations. The Republican Platform this year is more friendly to exports than ever before, but it also promises to "safeguard our domestic enterprises and the payrolls of our workers against unfair import competition." There is nothing in this plank to show any understanding of the large and simple fact that exports cannot grow unless foreign aid appropriations or imports grow too; it is unfortunately true that the Republican Party, as a Party, has never accepted the laws of international economics. Trade policy has recently been a relatively minor question, overshadowed by larger issues like European recovery and the problems of rearmament, but it might not always be so. It seems most improbable that General Eisenhower is as shortsighted on this point as his party tradition; one of his advisers, Mr. Hoffman, is an eminent advocate of an enlightened foreign economic policy. But students who recall the names of Payne, Aldrich, Smoot and Hawley will recall also that these men were able to get their legislation signed by Presidents who were counted as enlightened in their day. In the battles that President Taft lost and that President Hoover let go by default there was more than economic error; there was a failure in Party leadership which helped to destroy the two Administrations. Foreign economic policy might be a submerged rock in the channel of an Eisenhower Administration, resembling in this respect the civil rights issue for contemporary Democrats. (This parallel can be pressed a little further. The two ablest politicians of the century have been the two Roosevelts. Is it accidental that the Republican Roosevelt always ducked the tariff issue, while his Democratic cousin did the same with civil rights?) In any case, those who vote by issues of foreign affairs will watch closely to see what forecast they can make for the Republican future in this field.
Sound enough in its awareness that all trade is reciprocal (and even inclined to indulge in incantations over the program of Cordell Hull), the Democratic Platform raises other economic doubts. There appears to be a disposition to urge "aid" and "support" as if these things were solutions in themselves, until the innocent reader may wonder if it is supposed that spending money abroad is a good in itself. And the Platform's praise of the Point Four Program is distressingly extravagant. Is it statesmanship simply to propose a large-scale program? Point Four is a fairly sickly three-year-old for all this noise. There will be many --and not all diehards--who will wonder if the Democratic Platform-writers have not mistranslated Lord Keynes into a new doctrine that you can spend your way to peace. Yet spending to a purpose, and in support of policy, may well be needed on at least the present scale for many years. It is a matter of tone and temper, not yet revealed.
Both Platforms promise to take an interest in the peoples of the satellite countries. The Republicans do this with a little more energy, perhaps, and they did it first; moreover, they announce that such a policy "will mark the end of the negative, futile and immoral policy of 'containment.'" This is puzzling, for the most that is promised is to make it clear on the highest authority that "United States policy, as one of its peaceful purposes, looks happily forward to the genuine independence of these captive peoples." One would have supposed that repeated statements of both the President and the Secretary of State had already made this point plain, and that repetition in too loud a voice could only raise the question whether action would follow words--and, if so, what would happen to "peaceful purposes?" If the Soviet Union is as strong and dangerous as both Platforms tell us--and it almost certainly is--we may wonder how the Voice of America is going to set the satellites free.
The desire to be "positive" on a low-cost basis is not a new phenomenon in our history; it gains increased attractiveness as a result of the contact between a reluctant America and the necessities of modern politics. In its earlier forms, this sort of "positive" thinking often led to the total unreality of isolationism or else to a touching faith in the power of fair words in world affairs. To the degree that we recognize modern realities the temptations are at once more moderate and more appealing, and we find men who are eager to believe that Point Four will remake the Middle East, or that fine phrases can free the satellites, or that there is no substitute for victory, or that you can always send more aid, or that free trade means peace, or that everything will be all right if you only get rid of Communists in the Department of State. Both Parties have a tendency to accept one or more of these devices for begging the question; both candidates seem relatively immune to their seductive wiles.
There is much more in the Platforms, but the differences which turn up in the remaining planks are mainly a matter of phrasing. The Republicans would "end neglect of the Far East;" the Democrats would give "continuing support" to all and sundry, specifically and cheerfully including Nationalist China. Are these policies different? Both parties are for streamlined administration. Both love Israel but also have a kind word for the Arabs. The Democrats give more prominence to the United Nations, but the Republicans claim part of the credit for its existence. On this last issue some may feel that there is a certain difference between the candidates, noting that Governor Stevenson, both by conviction and experience, is a man with a strong bent toward the United Nations, while General Eisenhower's talent and experience may lead him more in the direction of regional alliances; but this assessment must remain largely speculative until we have more evidence. Returning to the Platforms, we may safely assert that in their rewriting of history the two documents are both passionate and opposite, but this will not matter even to historians.
Taken together, the differences between the two candidates remain small. Campaigns being what they are, these differences will be enlarged beyond recognition by irresponsible speakers on both sides, but it is fair to hope that the candidates themselves may have the wisdom and courage to accept and even emphasize their basic agreement on what we have called the national imperatives. For if they use their present power to this end, the next Administration will be able to build on a new kind of national determination--a determination matured in the final and conclusive admission that the outside world is real and earnest.
A wise and experienced American has remarked that all our foreign policy in recent years has turned around a series of strenuous efforts to get public and Congressional support for actions which were plainly and urgently necessary. He exaggerates, but not by much. It is not hard, indeed, to frame the whole of the diplomatic history of our country in the last generation in exactly these terms. Foreign Affairs is now 30 years old, and its lifespan is punctuated by issues in which, to put it very bluntly, the wise and well-informed have been mostly on one side, and the historic tradition of America on the other. A bare list of men and issues may suggest the whole record: there was Mr. Hughes and the exclusion of Oriental immigration, Mr. Stimson and Manchuria, Mr. Hoover and the war debts, Mr. Hull and the World Economic Conference, Mr. Roosevelt and quarantine for aggressors. Then in crescendo came the events of 1939-1941, the framing of the United Nations Charter, and, above all, the whole great effort of Western reconstruction undertaken in the last five years.
Some of these battles have been won by the leaders of the new opinion, and others by tradition, but for all concerned it has been an exhausting struggle. It is not surprising that many men suppose this sort of strife to be the natural and inevitable order of the universe, so that they fail to see what might be hoped for if this long contest should gradually come to an end. Yet this is exactly what might happen if this election should in fact serve to consolidate the national will by electing a man uncompromised by past debates but deeply settled in his recognition of the new necessities.
With the end of the American adolescence, many things may become possible.
Consider, for example, America's relations with her allies. Since 1940 we have found ourselves in constant and changing connection with many friendly Powers. Some have been merely connections of convenience, while others respond to a deeper community of interest, but all have to be subject to strains imposed by our national uncertainties, and in all we have paid the costs that are levied against the uncertain ally. Much will be gained if as a people we begin to accept the fact that we need friends. In particular, we shall be able to treat with allied nations much more effectively than is now possible. Those who are known as reliable allies may deal firmly with their friends in a way which less trusted nations dare not try. If we finally lose our ancient fear of all alliances, we may perhaps look forward to a day when the Congress will be generally cordial and the Executive Branch specifically firmer in dealing with allied Powers; this would be a salutary reversal of our present practice.
An even larger opportunity lies in the area of the contest between the United States and the U.S.S.R. We have suggested that America's basic purpose for freedom in the world requires opposition to the aggressive and expanding Soviet Power. The first step in such opposition is to understand its necessity; it is precisely those who are most firmly committed to advancing freedom and opposing aggression who have the best chance of living in peace with the Kremlin; the central "situation of strength" is a settled national will. This, of course, the Kremlin itself has understood, and its blundering support has been given in this country openly to the so-called "progressives" and covertly to the reactionaries. Dangerous though it may be to judge our affairs by reversing the Soviet view, we may take some satisfaction in the evident Communist recognition that both candidates stand for national unity in active resistance to Soviet tyranny. The country will be stronger if it can understand the measure of its own agreement on this issue.
We also stand to gain if we can understand the significance of peace among our objectives. In contemporary America, there is no shortage of men with an ample hostility to the Soviet Union, and there has never been any lack of men who cared for freedom. But brave and angry men should understand that this country cannot start a third world war; it cannot even choose to fight such a war in self-defense except as a very last resort. There is a ceiling on our acts, and this ceiling may increase our danger, for the Kremlin knows as well as we do how little we are eager for atomic war. But since we will not use the bomb for every crisis, we are required to act and react at lower levels of force, in ways that are as far from peace as Korea, and only as far from World War III as the coolness of our statesmen and citizens permits.
The acceptance of this kind of life is possible only for those who reject the answers of peace by submission or peace by all-out war. The kind of peace that is possible is not the peace of inaction or the peace of total victory, or even the peace of truly united nations. It is the peace of politics, always to be won again and never wholly safe; this is the life of action and danger which is the lot of nearly all nations; America cannot any longer hope to escape it. To understand this--as both the candidates quite plainly do-- is to have made the first great step toward survival.
One hill climbed reveals another, and the very hopes which we find in the nominations suggest some of the great problems that the next President will have to struggle with. Even a nation fully alive to its modern responsibilities will not easily find the right ways to work for freedom and peace in the next four years. Between freedom and peace, for example, which comes first? It is a question which must be answered differently at different times; certainly it cannot always be escaped by claiming that the right response is "both." The service of the double goal requires both force and restraint, both strength and flexibility.
This is not the place for any attempt to chart the proper course for the next Administration. Whoever wins, there will be in Washington next January a stir of new beginnings and a mood of readiness in which there may be more room for action than our statesmen have enjoyed for many years. Plainly it will be important to use this opportunity to add to the pressures that may lead the Kremlin to desist from aggression--while at the same time reducing the rigidities of posture which sometimes seem to point us all toward eventual Armageddon. This dual task can have no formal blueprint. All that it is possible to suggest is that it will ask of the next President a level of courage, leadership and understanding of such height that even candidates like General Eisenhower and Governor Stevenson will be challenged to further growth. It is good to recollect that both candidates this year are men with a proven talent for rising to new occasions.
Without going further in comment on the responsibilities that will face the successful candidate, it may be appropriate to note one test which both must face even during the campaign. Both candidates will find it hard to resist the very heavy pressures which urge a Presidential candidate to say or to imply that life is easier than it is. Candidates of magnitude are not immune to this sort of pressure, as Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Willkie both demonstrated in 1940. There is required here a special kind of integrity, and a special ability to get through to a national conscience that is sometimes hidden by our lesser hopes and fears. Both candidates have shown this kind of integrity and ability in the past; they will add to their quality and to all our hopes if they continue to resist all those who come and ask them to pretend that life can be easy, safe and cheap.
The pressures of democracy are not light, and its records tell of many and considerable statesmen who have said soft things to voters in the shadow of the polls. Men who run for very high office are forced to many lonely choices, and in humanity, if not in history, they have a claim for charitable judgment. This year is no exception in the temptations which it offers; many citizens are eager for kind words and sweet promises. Yet this year it seems natural to set the standards high and to hope that we may have a campaign by each candidate that becomes a foundation for action and not a trap for inconsistent leadership. This will be about as important for the loser as for the winner.
This high standard may not be met, but not many will be found to claim that it is beyond the reach of this year's nominees. Much of the meaning of the two nominations may be doubtful and debatable, but it is surely very plain that Governor Stevenson and General Eisenhower are men of evident and contagious moral conviction. Seldom have two rival Americans more conspicuously embodied that combination of practical sagacity and deep moral quality which is central to the whole of our tradition. Nothing in all their equipment is more important for the future of American foreign policy. Without moral conviction a man might have the finesse of Bismarck and still not be able to lead America. The quality of these nominations, and their wide appeal throughout the world, are a clearcut refutation of those recent writers who urge us to put aside the trivia of moral issues and concentrate on what they conceive to be the beautiful realism of politics. These men are poor students of politics and they dispraise what they would exalt. Politics is inevitably the meeting-place of all that is human, and the convictions that have animated America could not be absent if we wished. We may take pride and comfort from the great and evident fact that the next American President, barring accident, will be a man who fully understands that national ideals and political realities have their deepest meaning when taken together.