Thursday, January 13, 2005

The 3 dots

From his latest interview, Christopher Hitchens talking about Noam Chomsky (via SIAW):
I recently looked up some of his old polemical classics - on the Vietnam war, for example, and on East Timor and on Sharon's conduct in Lebanon in 1982 - and found them still to be highly cogent and lucid.
Chomsky's early classics unfortunately do not seem to be available online (*). I have looked at Necessary Illusions, 1989 and Deterring Democracy, 1992. There was plenty about Central America in the 1980s, but not much about Vietnam, or Indochina as foreign policy experts tend to describe the issue. I did find this bit: U.S. bombing  'contributed significantly to the rise, and probably the brutality, of the Khmer Rouge' (NI, Ch 5 ). But I will come back to Chomsky later.

The archives of Foreign Affairs are quite illuminating: here, for example, is Foreign Policy and the Democratic Process: Is a Foreign Policy Consensus Possible?, Fall, 1978.

One important article was written in 1947 by "Mr. X", who turned out to be the head of the US State Department's Policy Planning Staff, George F. Kennan. The article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", set out the strategy of containment (link). Unlike the neo-cons (**),  Kennan did not ignore the sources of Soviet weakness:
Much has been done to increase efficiency of labor and to teach primitive peasants something about the operation of machines. But maintenance is still a crying deficiency of all Soviet economy. Construction is hasty and poor in quality. Depreciation must be enormous. And in vast sectors of economic life it has not yet been possible to instill into labor anything like that general culture of production and technical self-respect which characterizes the skilled worker of the west.
...
Russia will remain economically as vulnerable, and in a certain sense an impotent, nation, capable of exporting its enthusiasms and of radiating the strange charm of its primitive political vitality but unable to back up those articles of export by the real evidences of material power and prosperity.
Kennan also wrote, in PPS/23:
We should cease to talk about vague and—for the Far East—unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.
Wikipedia, apparently following Noam Chomsky here and  here (more from zmag.org here, and here), quote this as:  'A document written by Mr.Kennan which states: "We should cease to talk about vague and. . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization." ', creating a general from a specific ( 'In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now...' - my emphasis). That was just one of Chomsky's sets of dots that accomplish the task. See also - A response.... After that, it is difficult to rely too heavily on the credibility of Chomsky's writing.

To get back to Kennan's point, note too that it is based on an assessment of economic realities: 'The greatest of the Asiatic peoples—the Chinese and the Indians—have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between their food supply and their birth rate.'

From Vietnam: The Retrospect:..., David Fromkin and James Chace, Foreign Affairs, Spring 1985.  (The first of the authors is not to be confused with David Frum of 'axis of evil' fame):
Closely allied with the theory of global containment is the so-called domino theory, according to which Southeast Asia was a region such that if one country fell to communism, the effect would be to knock down the countries around so that they would fall to communism too. C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times employed a different metaphor and pictured America’s Asian and Pacific allies as being caught in a giant nutcracker between Red China and radical Indonesia. ...

Some of those most involved in sending American troops to Vietnam, however, argue that this is precisely because America won its anti-domino, anti-nutcracker victory two decades ago. Up until 1965, leaders of the domino countries—Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and even India—are said to have privately told the American government that it was vital for the United States to stay the course in Vietnam so as to save them from being crushed between China and Indonesia. In 1965-66 the arms of the nutcracker fell off: a new anti-communist government took power in Indonesia and destroyed the communist party in that country, while China withdrew from world affairs and concentrated her energies on the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution. In his 1967 memorandum, Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that, "To the extent that our original intervention and our existing actions in Vietnam were motivated by the perceived need to draw the line against Chinese expansionism in Asia, our objective has already been attained."
Similar analysis by McGeorge Bundy follows, cited by Chomsky in Rethinking Camelot, Ch1,  (1993). Comparing Vietnam with Iraq, John Lewis Gaddis says recently:
Historians now acknowledge that American counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam were succeeding during the final years of that conflict; the problem was that support for the war had long since crumbled at home. Military learning is also taking place in Iraq, but the domestic opposition is not even approaching Vietnam-era proportions: 2004 was nothing like 1968.
According to 'Vietnam: The Retrospect:...', Nixon and Kissinger believed that they had 'succeeded in negotiating a satisfactory end to the war'. Rather, it was Congress that pulled the rug away. 'In his 1983 Wall Street Journal article, Nixon wrote that, "Between 1973 and 1975, Congress cut the arms budget for South Vietnam by 76 percent. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, doubled its shipment of arms to North Vietnam."... Ellsworth Bunker, U.S. ambassador to Saigon, said that by the end of 1972, "we had achieved our objective, made it possible for the South Vietnamese to defend themselves." ' Fromkin and Chace comment:
Many of us would agree with Mr. Nixon that the regimes America supported in Indochina were less bad than the regimes America opposed; as a moral matter we were right to choose the lesser of two evils. But there is a practical side to the issue too, and it can be expressed simply by saying that we want to win. What was wrong in backing a weak, corrupt, inefficient regime against a brutally powerful, fanatically puritanical, ruthlessly efficient adversary was that our side was likely to lose.
...
Having learned in 1966 that the enlarged war to which he had just committed the United States suddenly had become unnecessary, should [the President] have recalled the American armies and brought them home? Would that not have inflicted a damaging blow to American prestige?
...
Henry Kissinger writes in his memoirs,
For nearly a generation the security and progress of free peoples had depended on confidence in America. We could not simply walk away from an enterprise involving two administrations, five allied countries, and thirty-one thousand dead as if we were switching a television channel. . . . As the leader of democratic alliances we had to remember that scores of countries and millions of people relied for their security on our willingness to stand by allies. . . . We could not revitalize the Atlantic Alliance. . . . We would not be able to move the Soviet Union toward the imperative of mutual restraint. . . . We might not achieve our opening to China. . . .
And, Mr. Kissinger added, we might not have succeeded in our Middle East diplomacy if world confidence in America’s willingness to honor all of its international engagements were to be weakened or lost.
The article then puts alternative views to this argument. I would like however to point out a recent parallel here. When, in early 2003 with over 100,000 US troops on its borders, the Iraqi regime began to partially comply with demands for UN weapons inspections, why was the US not satisfied with this? It seemed to me that this too came down to a matter of prestige: only total victory was sufficient.

(*) My old copy of Fontana Modern Masters on Chomsky suggests  'American Power and the New Mandarins'.  All I could find online was this conservative critique. 'As a tenured professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has enjoyed a privileged position from which to launch his anti-American polemics.' This rather makes Chomsky's point for him, about suppression of dissent by economic means.

(**) 'they ignored the Soviet economy, even after one of their own, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had begun warning of its deterioration.' See 'Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution', John B. Judis, Foreign Affairs, July/August 1995

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