Continued from Thralldom of Platitudes
While dealing with America – a vital step in the fast-changing world of realpolitik – it should always be borne in mind that expansionism and imperialism are not new phenomena but have been– and will continue to be – part of the American dream.
Before Francis Fukuyama sounded the siren heralding the ultimate triumph of democracy, spearheaded by the USA, in The End of History and the Last Man there were Americans in mid-nineteenth century urging their compatriots to take over the role of world leadership. Perhaps the most vocal of them was John O’Sullivan, the editor of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review. (In the mid-nineteenth century American magazines didn’t carry contemporary chic titles).
He helped Uncle Sam rationalize the American conquest of Mexican territories. (Exactly, a hundred years later when the Russians practiced the Uncle Sam philosophy, Americans called it the spread of the “Evil Empire”). Sullivan said in 1845 that it was America’s “manifest destiny” to overspread the Continent allotted by Providence “for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”.
Of course, towards the end of the nineteenth century, America didn’t need more land for its multiplying millions, including immigrants from the old world. Yet they must respond to the call of the Providence to spread far and wide the gospel of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness a la Americana.
World’s My Oyster
Two themes stand out in the American history in the last two centuries. The first is to literally become invulnerable and realize its imperial ambitions and, the second, to build for itself the status of world’s paramount industrial power. The collapse of Soviet Communism has further fuelled these ambitions. Today, the world is America’s oyster. However, as some perceptive commentators have pointed out, the danger of being the world’s unchallengeable military power carries with it the peril of those who try to fly too close to the sun. Charles Wilson as its President famously said that what’s good for General Motors is good for America. Today’s changed aphorism is: what is good for America is good for the world. And if helpless Saddam and an equally hapless United Nations dare disagree, they better learn to behave or else.... But for how long will the world acquiesce into accepting the dictates of American hegemony?
My generation lived through the ‘cold war’ for over four decades. And given the two irreconcilable systems of the bipolar world (each seeking global acceptance for its ideology), it was unavoidable. These forty years witnessed agonizing moments when the fate of mankind depended on the precarious balance of terror. Now we know who won and who lost. However, the certainty with which the victory of the victors and the defeat of the vanquished is being explained, is at times supercilious. The finale will be discussed over and over again in the years to come. There will be continuing debate on how the cold war began, what stakes were involved, what strategies were devised and how they were executed. The debate will also focus on the fronts on which the cold war was fought and how, one day, it was all over and, most significantly, why? As a matter of fact, the ‘whys’ of history are never answered to the satisfaction of all.
It is, however, possible now to correct some of the distortions of perspective. George Kennan was the American ambassador in Moscow before the cold war really broke out. In a now-famous (and indeed pivotal) “long telegram” in February 1946, he urged Truman Administration to orchestrate collective resistance to the expansionary drive that the Stalinist Russia had launched in the Eastern Europe. There have been few observers whose insightful perceptions of contemporary developments matched Kenna’s prescience. He was clear-eyed about Soviet intentions to build a ring of satellite states on its western periphery. He was, however, not too sure that the new system had “yet finally proven” itself. At any rate, he was unprepared to take the durability of the Communist ideology for granted. Europe was at that time – and Europe then meant both the Eastern and Western parts of the Continent – in the grip of “hunger, desperation, poverty and chaos” as the then Secretary of State George Marshall described it in his famous commencement address at Harvard University in 1945. Truman’s own rapport with his Congress was at best lukewarm. It was with considerable reluctance that the Americans coughed up $450 million for the security of Greece and Turkey. And yet Marshall was sagacious enough to urge the Americans to dig deeper in their pockets and help Europe (then including Soviet Russia) with a recovery plan.
Winston Churchill, with his penchant for coining appropriate phrases to sum up historic events, called the American offer as “the most unsordid act in history”. From 1948 to 1951, the American administration disbursed under Marshall Plan grants and loans, an amount of $13 billion (which in today’s terms would aggregate to some $100 billion).
That was the beginning of the reconstruction of Western Europe – a precursor to the present 26-nation European Common Market and its economic clout. This “most unsordid act in history” was also to promote the American exports which acted as the necessary boost to the American manufacturing industry. It was also a calculated gamble. As anticipated by the American administration, Russia stayed out of the crucial July 1946 meeting to decide the fate of the American offer of economic help to Europe. American calculations about Soviet Russia were, however, based on gross overestimation of Soviet military and economic power. Nonetheless, the Soviet military arsenal and its deadly potential had to be reckoned with. However, the military might of a nation can be sustained only on solid economic foundations which the Communist system had no time (or inclination) to build. Perhaps in the next decade when most of the secret political dispatches of our time are declassified, it may emerge that even when the American administration knew of the fundamental weaknesses of the Soviet system and its inherent inability to challenge the Western world, there were some in the Capitol Hill who wanted the ‘myth’ of Soviet power and its military ambitions to be perpetuated for serving their own ends. The role played by the CIA in keeping the ‘myth’ alive remains to be unraveled.
As a matter of fact, Soviet Russia wasn’t the only loser in the cold war. Another was America’s elaborate intelligence network – presided over by the CIA which has had the distinction of seeing one of its heads ascend to American Presidency, for which, fortunately, that’s not the only route. The second half – or at least most of it – of the twentieth century was dominated by the goings-on of the CIA and its Russian counterpart, the KGB. The latter died a natural death; the former is still around – live and kicking. If it was not needed to carry on espionage missions in Communist capitals, it was necessary – so it convinced the powers-that-be in Washington – to tackle new threats like terrorism or the secret spread of nuclear know-how. American tax-payers – who understandably want their dollars’ worth – do feel cheated. Terrorism, both within and without the borders of the United States, continues unabated. The American Government was blissfully ignorant when the BJP-led Government tested its nuclear devices in the Rajasthan desert. The Clinton administration didn’t indeed need the services of CIA to know that Pakistan may follow suit. Almost anyone could guess the month (if not the day) in which the Baluchi desert will be shaken by nuclear tremors. This intelligence lapse made the CIA a laughing stock of the American press, especially because techniques for detecting nuclear test preparations are fairly standard weapons in the big powers’ intelligence armory.
The American failure in the case of Indian tests only confirms the suspicion that investigating agencies the world over have their own hidden agendas that their so-called political masters know not. Nevertheless, money flow to the CIA and the FBI continues unabated so that Washington can cope with the possible threat of terrorism – national and international – and secret development of nuclear weaponry by states hostile to American world hegemony.