RECONNECTING TO REALITY
We received a huge amount of mail responding to Sherle R. Schwenninger’s July 18/25 “Reconnecting to the World: A Foreign Policy for Democrats.” Because of our biweekly summer schedule, we are only now finding the space to print a sampling of the letters. –The Editors
Salt Lake City
I applaud the clear insights about our world situation throughout your publication, but especially in Sherle R. Schwenninger’s “Reconnecting to the World.” This kind of reasoning shows that humanity really has potential.
Sherle Schwenninger cogently presents ideas that have fermented in my own modest intellect for some time, although in my case it is more an inchoate uneasy sense that things are going terribly amiss, that historical mistakes of crucial importance are being repeated. I hope for all our sakes that a twenty-first-century version of FDR arises to reverse our lemminglike march back to the Harding-Coolidge era.
ROBERT K. SIMMS SR.
Schwenninger’s essay reconnects the American mind to reality and thus lays the groundwork for constructive US engagement with the world. Exporting what has worked in the past for America, middle-class development, is a perspicacious remedy; one that needs to be reapplied at home as well. Of course, this vision must overcome a Republican Administration and its red state adherents, who do not like New Deals of any kind, let alone one for a developing world. Let’s try anyway.
Sherle Schwenninger is on the right track. Getting our own house in order, rebuilding the middle class, limiting our foreign military adventures, stopping our preaching to other nations and finding our place as one prosperous country in the world should be the plan. Our success is largely due to our past setting of a good example as a world citizen, an image that has been tarnished a great deal in the past five years. But this isn’t a project for governments alone. It requires a balanced approach: government doing things only it does well and private enterprise doing things it does well. Governments and private enterprise must come to realize that they are on the same team. Only by cooperating and constraining our greed can all benefit.
I was stopped short by Sherle Schwenninger’s assertion that “traditionally, the overarching purpose of American foreign policy has been to shape a world order favorable to the American democratic way of life.” By “traditionally,” I understand him to refer to the cold war era, before the foreign policy dominance of the Democratic neoliberals and the Republican neoconservatives, the objects of his critique. But surely this “traditional” foreign policy included the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the sustained aggression against Nicaragua and Cuba, the bilateral support for South African apartheid, the creation and support of military dictatorships in Latin America, etc. Is Schwenninger asserting that war and intervention were intrinsically connected to sustaining our “democratic way of life”? We need to find a better model for the relationship between our foreign policy and our democracy at home.
As a working-class, nonintellectual guy, my view is that Sherle Schwenninger’s ideal world will not occur anytime soon. The Bush gang cares only about world domination, and multiple power-sharing is not in their vocabulary. I think the idea of a “durable international system” is wonderful. The ideal of “a multipolar world” being the best way to “share the burden of international order-keeping” is just an ideal, however–certainly not grounded in the real world of American citizens’ apathy and lack of interest in politics. And without the average Joe voting, it will not occur!
Of course, Bush’s base is mobilized. But that’s the problem in creating a new global policy without neoliberal or neoconservative (doesn’t seem to be much difference) dominance. If the strongest base of voters continues to be the religious right, extremist unilateralism will reign for many years to come.
A progressive agenda in foreign affairs or domestic policy can be born only if the Democrats can decide how to mobilize their base like they never have before in the history of this Republic. Many of us middle/working-class folks know that nothing will ever be changed without the mobilization of the unheard masses. A campaign of education might be a good start. I hope Howard Dean is up for this daunting task.
Fort Collins, Colo.
“Reconnecting to the World” disappoints, with its disregard of environmental health as the significant marker for the future security of the planet and its citizens. To paraphrase, “It’s the environment, stupid.” There is no dignity in starvation, and there is also no salvation in mindless consumption and production. You need to engage readers more often with the necessity of lowering consumption, not timeworn bromides about translating “productivity gains into rising wages and living standards” throughout the world.
On a planet where oil production has most likely peaked, where oceans are devastated, where forests are savaged, where air quality is often pitiful, where overcrowding and overpopulation replete with acute poverty and despair are the norm, the last thing we need is “a rapid rise of a global middle class.” We need justice, democracy and sustainability. We need to love and eat and create and work. We do need to try and make a better life for every citizen. And we must do it by concentrating on the values that make us human rather than economic values that make a commodity of everything, including our dreams.
How can any theorist ignore the fact that we live on a planet with increasing population and dwindling resources? How can a policy wonk like Sherle Schwenninger propose that global security rests on “expanding middle-class prosperity”? The earth is already straining to sustain existing affluence, and when a billion Chinese and another billion Indians gobble up their piece of the middle-class pie, the only thing left will be crumbs. Paul Ehrlich pointed out forty years ago that 100 subsistence nomads do not consume as much of the earth’s resources as one American. Am I delusional for thinking that the planet’s social structures will implode under the pressures of more middle-class prosperity?
Santa Monica, Calif.
It is inspiring to see a coherent vision of world order and prosperity. My only worry is that most Americans have become too enthralled with power and, since 9/11, with the base instinct toward retribution to even consider a policy acknowledging that the world has “outgrown American power,” even if such a policy is likely to achieve security, prosperity and international respect. But it should be increasingly obvious, even to those originally taken in by Bush’s obvious lies on the way to war in Iraq, that the only path to security for America is to create a system of world institutions that encourage average citizens throughout the world to pressure their governments to play by the rules. No one else will submit themselves to such restraint, however, if we do not lead the way. This leaves us with a historic choice. We can squander our power by continuing on the current path, or we can accept that the world is changing and spend our last years as the lone superpower developing structures so we can be comfortable with what will inevitably become a multipolar world. I fear we will squander everything before Americans come to their senses.
If Professor Bacevich’s review [“Tug of War,” July 4] accurately conveys the argument of Perils of Dominance by Gareth Porter, then historical revisionism of the Vietnam War is proceeding at a dizzying clip. Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all approached the Vietnam War with the hope of achieving the second presidential term that none of them was fated to serve. As for the “odious” Robert McNamara, a veteran of corporate politics at Ford, he simply gave two different Presidents the advice they wanted to hear. The idea that an easily manipulated Lyndon Johnson was pressured into war by McNamara and McGeorge Bundy will make sense to future generations only if they know nothing about those men.
But even they may ask how it happened that Dean Rusk, a rigid anticommunist, gained in influence when Johnson succeeded Kennedy. Or why Johnson replaced Bundy as National Security Adviser with Walt Rostow, his most unyielding hawk, rather than with Bill Moyers, the man Bundy recommended for the job. Or why, when McNamara broke with Johnson over further escalation, the President chose Clark Clifford, whom he considered a staunch supporter of the war, as his next Secretary of Defense.
A.J. LANGGUTH, author of
Our Vietnam: The War 1954 to 1975
If I understand Professor Langguth’s letter, he is insisting on the primacy of personalities in politics. Dean Rusk was a “rigid anticommunist” and Walt Rostow an “unyielding hawk,” and that’s all you need to know. Attach the right label to people and you can tell the story just the way you like it. Seen from this perspective, Vietnam becomes an argument over alternative versions of “the Best and the Brightest.”
In Perils of Dominance Gareth Porter offers us a different angle of vision. He suggests that power–perceived and misperceived–rather than personalities might explain how we blundered into that war. For those willing to countenance a version of politics that looks beyond good guys and bad guys, I recommend it.
By the way, on Clark Clifford: In 1968 President Johnson was in a deep fix and was desperately looking for a way out. Johnson hired Clifford not because he was a “staunch supporter of the war” but because he was a fixer. Sometimes a single label won’t suffice.
ANDREW J. BACEVICH