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The Perils of Empire

The Relevance of I.F. Stone

by EVAN JONES

Izzy Stone was a natural-born blogger. Except that he was born before the age of the pc and the web. But Stone (born Isador Feinstein, 1907-1989) left a pre-historic version of his ‘blogging’ in the form of the I.F. Stone’s Weekly, a model that spawned copies in a later generation of crusading journalists.

I.F. Stone’s Weekly (and Bi-Weekly) ran for 19 years from January 1953 to December 1971. Here are excerpts from three entries, relevant to our times.

The Fatal Lure of World Domination
10 May 1965

The Department of Commerce publishes a daily bulletin in which the government advertises various wants for bidding. There in the issue of 29 April, as our Marines were landing in Santo Domingo [23,000 troops sent to the Dominican Republic to crush a popular revolt against the military junta that overthrew the democratically elected Juan Bosch], appeared an ad which deserved to be preserved for the historian.

‘Service and materials to perform a RESEARCH STUDY ENTITLED ‘PAX AMERICANA’ consisting of a phased study of the following: (a) element of National Power; (b) ability of selected nations to apply the elements of National Power; (c) a variety of world power configurations to be used as a basis for the U.S. to maintain world hegemony in the future. Quotations and specifications will be available upon request, at the Army Research Office until 1 May 1965.’

What better time to study the problems of maintaining American world hegemony than the moment when our combat troops were going ashore in Vietnam on the South China sea in one hemisphere and in the Caribbean in the other?

Coupled with this ad were three others from the army. The third was the most disturbing. ‘Investigation of the feasibility and desirability in the 1970 time frame, of providing selected U.S. allies a significant nuclear defense capability without necessity for maintaining U.S. controls or custody over weapons systems or their employment’. These contracts provide an insight into what is going on within our military bureaucracy

Two of Kennedy’s utterances come to mind as one watches the steady degeneration of policy under Johnson. Kennedy warned: ‘We must reject over-simplified theories of international life ­ the theory that American power is unlimited, or that the American mission is to remake the world in the American image.’ Such views are now out of fashion., They are stigmatized as neo-isolationist while ultra-nationalist ambition parades as internationalist idealism.

For what Johnson is saying is that despite the Charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States we arrogate to ourselves the right to intervene whenever and wherever we believe a Communist regime may take over.

The Johnson doctrine is McCarthyism in foreign policy. Like McCarthyism at home, it faces the same basic dilemma and that is to determine who is a Communist.

Bosch was all we claimed we wanted: a truly democratic social reformer absolutely free from any taint of Communism I was impressed by his inspiring eloquence, his devotion and his uncompromising civil libertarian principles. But for the military and big business and the C.I.A. to be a genuine liberal was by definition to be ‘soft on Communism’. Never was the Red Menace more fraudulently trotted out than against Bosch and his supporters.

The Price We Pay for Empire
11 January 1971

The revelations of the Symington subcommittee report on ‘Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad’ would fall into better focus if it began by saying plainly that the U.S. since World War II has become the biggest empire the world has ever known. The huge military and intelligence establishments required to maintain that empire become increasingly difficult to control. The hearings were made possible by Symington’s conversion in recent years from a pillar of the military establishment to one of its severest critics.

We are all trapped by the sheer inertial mass of the machinery required to run the empire. In dozens of ways it frustrates free decision by freely elected government, and there is always the danger that it may, if challenged or given the chance, apply at home the methods it employs abroad.

The twenty-eight pages are packed with examples of how poorly informed ­ and often deliberately misinformed ­ the Congress has become. In Ethiopia, to obtain the use of Kagnew Station (obviously for U-2 flights over the Soviet Union), the U.S. secretly agreed in the fifties to finance a 40,000 man army for Ethiopia. U-2 flights have been replaced by satellites but Kagnew station is still in operation. It is now threatened by Arab-supported Eritrean guerrillas, and the Soviets have reacted by supplying arms to Ethiopia’s traditional enemy, Somalia. So Cold war engulfs another part of the globe.

‘As but one illustration of the incredible duplication and waste’, the report says, ‘ at one time the three military services, along with A.I.D., U.S.I.A. and C.I.A. were each operating independent counter-insurgency programmes in Thailand’. ‘the multimillion dollar support of a 30,000 man army can in no way be considered an intelligence operation’. The reference is to the C.I.A. in Laos.

The bureaucracy, with its gift for reassuring euphemism, sold the country long ago on ‘containment’. It sounded neat and sanitary. No one ever put the question, "Shall we sow instant death around the borders of the Soviet Bloc and China by ringing them with nuclear devices and delivery systems?’ This is what has been going on since the fifties.

How can Congress and the country take preventive measures when censorship blacks out so much of what we need to know [referring to the 1962 crisis arising from the Soviet quid pro quo in the placement of missiles in Cuba]? The full price of empire has yet to fall due.

Imperialism is not Internationalism
14 March 1971

Internationalism made its appearance in American foreign policy with the administration of Woodrow Wilson. It rested on three premises

The first was that balance of power politics could not be relied on to preserve peace but only exacerbated mutual suspicion. The second was that the arms race which accompanied balance of power politics had itself become a primary source of tension and war. The third was the need for a world organization as a framework for peaceful settlement of international disputes By those standards Nixon is not an internationalist but an imperialist.

‘Our responsibilities’, Nixon said grandly, ‘are not limited to this great continent, but include Europe, the Middle East, South-East Asia, East Asia, many areas whose fate affects the peace of the world.’ But there has never been an imperialism yet from Kipling’s ‘white man’s burden’ to the Kaiser’s ‘Kultur’ which did not claim to be altruistic.

The point Senator Symington tried to make in his ‘Kissinger syndrome’ speech in the Senate 2 March is that Nixon has been insulating himself more and more from Congressional and popular control by concentrating power in a greatly enlarged White House staff. Though Nixon talked in the 1968 campaign of ‘streamlining’ the White House staff, its numbers have more than doubled and its cost has tripled.

Even [the anti-imperialists who fought the annexation of the Philippines in the 1890s] could hardly have imagined that a future government could carry on a war in Indo-China so plainly against the popular will. ‘Frankly’, Nixon told Sulzberger [Arthur Sulzberger, New York Times] in talking of opposition to the war among the elite, ‘I have far more confidence in our people than in the Establishment’. ‘In 1966 and 1967 ­ culminating in 1968 ­ the American people began to tire of playing a role in the world.’ ‘But polls are not the answer.’ Two years ago Nixion was appealing to a silent majority. Now that it is no longer silent, he is saying that it must be ignored. This is the Caesarism inseparable from empire.

And finally,

A Man the Whole World Has Begun to Distrust
7 June 1965

After a year and a half with Lyndon Johnson as President, one thing can be said about him with certainty. It is dangerous to trust anything he says. His favourite stance on the platform is that of a country preacher, brimful of Gospel. Events have shown that beneath his corny brand of idealism is a hard-boiled operator who believes in force.

Plus ça change.

EVAN JONES can be reached at: E.Jones@econ.usyd.edu.au