Originally formed in 1950, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was designed as a “citizen’s lobby” to alert the nation to what it saw as the grave menace of Soviet communism. The CPD advocated a “rollback” strategy–a huge military buildup for the purpose of rolling back Communist influence and attaining and maintaining US military supremacy in the world. Bush’s preemptive war doctrine has its roots in this “rollback” agenda.
In 1976, the second incarnation of CPD came about when hawks (and hacks) from both parties argued that detente had lulled us into complacency. The group emerged from an organization called Team B, whose aim, according to muckraking columnist Robert Scheer,was to re-evaluate “the [CIA’s] own assessment of the Soviet menace, which Team B found too moderate.” To the hard-liners, Team B–which was authorized by President Ford and organized by CIA chief George Bush–was a wish fulfilled.
In the eyes of Team B, the CIA was a wobbly organization. (Sound familiar?) Agency experts, it argued, had severely misjudged the Soviets’ nuclear capabilities. In 1982, the CPD darkly warned that the US had “become No. 2” to the Soviets in nuclear arms, and “if the United States remains No. 2–US survival would be in jeopardy.”
The CPD’s ranks were filled with neo-conservative hawks who later occupied high ranking positions in the Reagan Administration. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as Reagan’s UN representative, was a prominent member of the committee. One typically outspoken member, William Van Cleave, insisted that nuclear war was winnable.
The CPD consistently hyped the Soviet threat and argued that what counted, above all, was Soviet intent, not capabilities. (Sound familiar?) Its key members were quick to engage in redbaiting–they even criticized Reagan for recognizing the authenticity of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. charged in Foreign Affairs magazine, the CPD had made “extravagant and now abundantly disproven claims that the Soviet Union was overtaking the United States in the arms race.” In a recent New York Times editorial, the historian John Patrick Diggins pointed out, “Mr. Reagan was also informed [by Team B] that the Soviet Union was preparing for a possible pre-emptive attack on the United States.” That position, said Diggins, was an “alarmist” one.(Sound familiar?)