Copyright © 1972 by Richard B. Du Boff.
Business Ideology and Foreign Policy: The National Security Council and Vietnam by Richard B. Du Boff
We know that the struggle between the Communist system and ourselves will go on. We know it will go on in economics, in productivity, in ideology, in Latin America and Africa, in the Middle East and Asia.
—President John F. Kennedy, Remarks at Billings, Montana, September 25, 1963 (Gravel edition, II:829).
Publication of the Pentagon Papers offers us a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the inner councils of the decisionmaking apparatus which carries out the broad policies of America’s ruling class. This, as I see it, is why President Nixon and his Attorney General, John Mitchell, fought so strenuously to block their publication in June 1971. After all, it would have been a relatively simple matter for Nixon, one of the great opportunists of American history, to have made considerable short-term political capital from the revelations in the Papers: most of the stunning instances of deceit, subterfuge, and cynical manipulation of the American public pertain to the Democratic administrations of 1961-1969, the Kennedy- Johnson years. Nixon’s fight to prevent publication of this record must be interpreted as an act of class solidarity, an effort to protect the secrecy and close-circuited concentration of decisionmaking power in the upper reaches of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
I. DECISIONMAKING AT THE TOP: THE IDEOLOGICAL ROOTS
Over the years the foreign policy of the United States has exhibited a remarkable degree of consistency. Since the last decade of the nineteenth century this nation’s external relations have been characterized by a compulsive expansionism, principally though not exclusively commercial and financial; a marked propensity for military intervention abroad; (1) a distinct preference for allies of a conservative and counterrevolutionary stripe; and a well-known aggressiveness of purpose often expressed via the unilateral act, the fait accompli. Unless it is argued that the external behavior of the American power elite is essentially planless and just happens to fit this mold, artificially imposed upon it, such long-term unity of foreign policymaking reflects underlying economic interests. In other words, U.S. foreign policy serves the goals of an economic ruling class more than any other single component of American society.
Increasingly, this economic elite has become anchored in giant corporations and financial institutions. Corporate business is not merely another “interest group” in a complex social structure, but (as Gabriel Kolko describes it) “the keystone of power which defines the essential preconditions and functions of the larger American social order. ... At every level of the administration of the American state, domestically and internationally, business serves as the fount of critical assumptions or goals and strategically placed personnel.” (2)
These “critical assumptions” form the ideology that promotes the interests of the corporate business class—which in turn has supplied most of the personnel to man the major foreign policy posts in Washington.’ (3) This ideology, moreover, constitutes the vital link between economic interests and political actions. The reason is that the key inputs into foreign policy ideology are derived from the general outlook of the American business community, which regards the external world in terms of actual and potential threats to free-wheeling, open-ended profit maximization. Active policy goals, then, tend to sanction “stability” and “responsible” behavior on the part of foreign governments—just as the overriding requirement for corporations is a stable and highly favorable environment for their investment, production, and trade activities. While not “each and every act of political and military policy” can be tied to economic motivations, (4) the general thrust of American foreign policy over the past seven or eight decades comes from the “growth”-propelled search for control over major resource areas and the effort to keep an open door everywhere else for potential future expansion. The enlargement of capital values and market outlets is the first condition of capitalist production itself. The development of a worldwide market to assure the continuity of the expansion process is also part of the first condition of capitalist production—by no means can it be called extrinsic to the survival of the system.
The transmission belt that converts the structure of economic privilege into complementary political and military decisions is ideology. An expansionist market economy generates the ideological assumptions which provide the framework for political actions. (5) Furthermore, as noted, the individuals at the center of the foreign policy establishment have been drawn, in disproportionate numbers, from the ranks of the economic elite. Over the long run they—and their ideology — have shaped the governmental institutions and policy criteria through which decisions are made. (The National Security Council and its reports, as we shall see, were the chief instruments in establishing U.S. policy toward Indochina through 1954 and beyond.) Thus, even if the State and Defense departments, and the White House, were to come under the control of individuals only marginally connected with the corporate business community—as may be the case with some of the arrivistes at the helm of the Nixon administration—ideological implantation virtually guarantees that the overall formulation and execution of foreign policy will remain unchanged, short of a radical restructuring of the distribution of economic and political power in the outside society. As a high State Department official put it in 1969:
The options the President exercises over foreign policy are bound to be limited. There is little possibility that the President can alter basic policy premises. Our conception of fundamental interests is non-controversial; the question is what you do to promote these interests.” (6)
The critical elements of business ideology bear a direct relationship to American foreign policy. One element is that in international affairs, as in business, there are “rules of the game” that are violated only under pain of swift retribution. These rules represent political mechanisms which warrant continuation of the capitalist property system. The arrogant, moralizing mentality of a John Foster Dulles, for instance, can be traced to training in and practice of international law, traditionally the vehicle for imposing a network of Western privileges on lesser breeds. More generally, the legalistic approach to international relations represents a self-interested extension of capitalist rules of the game to the world arena. There are some things one can do, others one cannot, and most of the taboos are, of course, things you would be tempted to do, not I. Property rights and the incomes produced by them (profits, dividends, rent, interest) cannot be interfered with; commercial and financial contracts, debts, mortgages, security provisions are “enforceable” in courts of law. “Free” markets for resources, labor power, and consumer goods embody certain norms of participant behavior, and these may not be tampered with. Nor, for that matter, is it permissible to abrogate or renege on treaty obligations, agreements, commitments, or “understandings” in international affairs, especially when they have been drawn up within the political and psychological field of gravity generated by the rules of the game.
A second element of foreign policy ideology is the absolute need for dynamic growth and expansion. The almost instinctive goal of an “activist” foreign policy (the way the State Department describes its own) is the building up of a structure of rewards and compulsions (“carrots and sticks”) to assure key profit makers at home unimpeded access to external markets and resource areas and to furnish some insurance that future expansion into these areas will not be closed off by the rise of hostile or Communist governments. The expansion-minded, it follows, habitually project their own motivations to their adversaries. Even when American policymakers judged the Soviet Union and China to be assuming an essentially defensive posture in international affairs, they accused them of, and at times subjectively believed them to be, practicing “aggressive expansionism” throughout the world. (7) The growth imperative, like others in American society, has been projected outward, externalized. For the past twenty-five years the United States has been mobilizing against Russians and Chinese, Cubans and Vietnamese. Communism appears to be a constituent which the U.S. corporate economy needs in order to keep functioning.
The third significant input into foreign policy ideology, one which seems to have a particular hold on the intellectuals selected out from academic, military, and political careers to serve in the policymaking apparatus, is the “bad example” syndrome. Means must be devised to discourage the spread of revolutions or serious social and economic reforms that might set bad examples for other nations. This input explains why the central characters of the Pentagon Papers place so much credence in the “domino theory” first stated in public by President Eisenhower in his press conference of April 7, 1954 (Gravel ed., I:597), but inherent in Washington’s thinking about Indochina since mid- 1947, when Secretary of State George C. Marshall cabled his Ambassador to France that sympathy for the Vietnamese in their struggle against French colonialism should be kept within bounds:
Signs [of] development [of] anti-Western Asiatic consciousness [are] already multiplying....Unanimity [of] support for Vietnamese among other Asiatic countries [is] very striking, even leading to moves Burma, India, and Malaya send volunteer forces their assistance. Vietnam cause proving rallying- cry for all anti-Western forces and playing in hands Communists all areas. We fear continuation conflict may jeopardize position all Western democratic powers in Southern Asia and lead to very eventualities of which we most apprehensive. (8)
It is true that the simplistic, almost physical version of “falling dominoes” put forward in 1954 by Eisenhower, a version which postulated a Communist “takeover” in one country leading automatically to the loss of one country after another in geographical order from the original one, was ridiculed practically from the start and became a favorite target for American liberals in the late 1950s and 1960s. But, as was frequently the case with Eisenhower, awkward rhetoric and faulty grammar obscured a deeper reality understood by the U.S. power structure. Although a Communist or leftist triumph might not bring about immediate collapse in adjacent countries, it would signify a dangerous historical and psychological precedent. The “losses” of Russia in 1917, China in 1949, and Cuba in 1959 supplied proof that peoples formerly colonized or dominated by Western capitalism could indeed create new socioeconomic institutions to deal with structural problems of backwardness, poverty, and stagnation, provided they could take up the revolutionary option and wield effective control over their own resources. The “domino theory” has a grimly convincing ring to it when it symbolizes this ominous drift of history. Under these circumstances President Kennedy emphatically affirmed his own faith in the domino theory two months before his death: “... I believe it. I believe ... if South Vietnam went, it would not only give them an improved geographic position for a guerrilla assault on Malaya but would also give the impression that the wave of the future in Southeast Asia was China and the Communists. So I believe it” (Gravel ed., II:828). In June 1964 when Lyndon Johnson asked the basic question “Would the rest of Southeast Asia necessarily fall if Laos and South Vietnam came under North Vietnamese control?” neither he nor his close advisers paid any heed to the response from the CIA Board of National Estimates: “With the possible exception of Cambodia, it is likely that no nation in the area would quickly succumb to communism as a result of the fall of Laos and South Vietnam.” Apparently they too rejected the simplistic version of “falling dominoes” in favor of the Board’s estimate that the loss of South Vietnam and Laos “would be profoundly damaging to the U.S. position in the Far East” because of its impact on America’s prestige (Gravel ed., III:127, 178). The CIA Board cautioned that, if South Vietnam “went,” the Peking leadership would be able to justify its revolutionary policies with demonstrated success in Indochina.
Time and again this prospect of a “successful” revolutionary option is considered to be the greatest menace to our own “prestige,” “reputation,” and “credibility,” words which recur throughout the Papers. Thus, Assistant Secretary of Defense John T. McNaughton was insisting in the fall of 1964 that were we to fail in Vietnam, that failure must be made “clear to the world” as having been “due to special local factors...that do not apply to other nations” and that “cannot be generalized beyond South Vietnam” (Gravel ed., III:657, 583; McNaughton’s emphasis. See also his “good doctor” prescription for maintaining America’s global reputation [Gravel ed., III:559, 582, 604] and William P. Bundy’s advice that “stronger action” by the United States would enhance our image to Asians even if South Vietnam fell [Gravel ed., III:684-686]).
II. THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND VIETNAM
In the aftermath of the Second World War the United States faced a new array of politico-military problems brought on by the cold war, reduced defense budgets, and a more complex military establishment in which air power was beginning to play an increasingly attractive and politically independent role. The response of the civilian ruling class came in the form of the National Security Act of (July) 1947, which created a single, unified military establishment, authorized a Secretary of Defense to oversee it, and established the National Security Council (NSC) as an advisory body to the President to help in “voluntary coordination” of policy. “The Secretary of Defense was not to be the chief architect of defense policy”—this was now placed more firmly than ever under the control of civilians outside the Pentagon. (9)
For this reason, the NSC was set up, and for this reason too its precise function was left obscure. Statutory membership comprises the President and Vice- President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the Director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency are statutory advisers to the Council (not members). Beyond that, the President may select his own NSC counselors from among other government officials, or he may appoint private citizens as informal advisers or consultants. (10) The effect of this act was to strengthen the bond between the formal policymaking apparatus culminating in the Presidency and the corporate-business-banking sector of the external society.
Accordingly, the 1947 act opened up a pipeline between the summit of state power and the civilian ruling elites, both in and out of government. While it created flexible machinery allowing different Presidents to use NSC in different ways, it has underscored the role of the civilian economic elite in drafting military and political strategy, and it demonstrates the importance of upper-class “outsiders” in molding foreign policy. (11) Foundation experts (often from the Council on Foreign Relations) and councils of “wise men” have frequently been shuttled in and out of the informal, committee-type NSC structure, particularly for major decisions or special crisis management.
Thanks in good part to NSC, both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations were “able to follow military policies which when inaugurated had little support from the people,” because “the appropriate agencies of the government, not public opinion, had the final word,” according to Professor Samuel Huntington. In 1953, Huntington reports further, the NSC brought in “yet another group of six consultants...and James Black, president of Pacific Gas & Electric Company, one of the ‘Seven Wise Men’ [who had worked on an earlier NSC project]” to resolve the continental defense problems posed by the Soviets’ acquisition of the hydrogen bomb. (12) March 1968, in the wake of the National Liberation Front’s Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, it was an informal “Senior Advisory Group on Vietnam” that prevailed upon Lyndon Johnson to put a ceiling on the resources allocated to the Vietnam war, lest price inflation and the balance of payments deficit lurch completely out of control. (13) These advisers, some of them wellknown “hawks” and most having close ties to Wall Street and other corporate institutions, forcefully pointed out the dangers to the American economy and its overseas interests from continued increases in Vietnam spending. The President reluctantly stopped escalating the conflict (Gravel ed., IV:266-276).
This kind of NSC influence and control is evident in America’s involvement in Indochina, above all through 1954 when hard, hawkish decisions were made that set the stage for later military buildups and eventual escalation. During this period, furthermore, the executive secretaries of the NSC were Sidney Souers, a successful businessman from St. Louis, and James S. Lay, Jr., a former utility company official; Eisenhower’s special assistant for NSC affairs was Boston bankeV Robert Cutler; and among NSC advisers were corporation lawyers, bankers, industrialists. (14) The Pentagon Papers contain every critical NSC document relating to the Vietnam war—as the continuous references to them in other doc uments (cables, telegrams, reports from other agencies) make clear. And these NSC materials are surely the reason why the Pentagon Papers historians claim that their “collection [of appended documents] represents the internal commitment of the U.S. as expressed in classified documents circulated at the highest levels in the Government.” (15)
Through the Truman and Eisenhower administrations the major NSC documents constitute what I would call “paradigm statements.” They evolve out of prior periods of policy disarray, doubt, conflict, infighting, or plain indecision. Slowly but surely—and sometimes, under pressing crisis, swiftly—this divided counsel gives way to consensus, expressed by an NSC position paper. Henceforth this “paradigm statement” serves as clearly established policy. It is referred to and quoted constantly thereafter. As a set of guidelines it can be modified and amended. Eventually, it may even be replaced when it has outlived its usefulness or when the decisionmaking structure decides, perhaps, that one segment of it should now be more strongly emphasized at the expense of another.
In discussing these NSC paradigm statements, I shall cite only those through the end of 1954 when, to all intents and purposes, U.S. policy for Indochina was cast for the next two decades: South Vietnam was held to be vital for American security, its future was not to be subject to negotiation of any sort, and it had to be defended by military action—including U.S. intervention—if need be. The key NSC paradigm statements on Indochina through 1954:
1. NSC 48/1, 23 December 1949 (Gravel ed., I:82) (16)
This was the first policy statement on Indochina, capping three years of growing doubts over French diplomatic and military policy and fears about Ho Chi Minh’s “clear record as agent [of] international communism,” as Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson warned the U.S. Consul in Saigon in December 1946 (Gravel ed., I:20). Two months later Secretary of State George C. Marshall expressed “increasing concern over situation as it is developing in Indochina”; the United States could “not lose sight [of] fact that Ho Chi Minh has direct Communist connections...philosophy and political organizations emanating from and controlled by Kremlin.” (17) NSC 48/1 also embodied the “domino theory,” first voiced by Marshall in May 1947 (as noted earlier) and repeated in 1949 by Under Secretary of State James Webb: “If COMMIES gain control IC [Indochina], THAI and rest SEA will be imperiled.” (18) In March 1949 George M. Abbott, U.S. Consul General in Saigon, told Washington that a French withdrawal from Vietnam would leave “a Communist-controlled government in a strategic area of Southeast Asia,” and Secretary of State Acheson was soon informing his Consul General in Hanoi that “In light Ho’s known background, no other assumption possible but that he outright Commie....” (19)
NSC 48/1 established a deep American concern over developing events in Southeast Asia, particularly in view of the disintegration of the Nationalist armies in China: “the extension of communist authority in China represents a grievous political defeat for us ... If Southeast Asia is also swept by communism, we shall have suffered a major political rout the repercussions of which will be felt throughout the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East and in a then critically exposed Australia” (Gravel ed., I:82).
But in synthesizing earlier concerns over Indochina and world communism, NSC 48/1 took a discrete step upward, into a comprehensive review of the political economy of the Far East. Topmost among its considerations was the precarious position of Japan, which obviously had to be retained in the free world, to anchor the Pacific flank of the international capitalist system. “A middle of the road regime in Japan...would in the long-run prove more reliable as an ally of the United States than would an extreme right-wing totalitarian government.” This would be the best way for pro-American elements “to exercise their influence over government policy and to mold public opinion.” (20) Japan was seen as the hub of an integrated Asian economy—a free market economy whose various parts would be linked together through complementary trading patterns, investment and capital goods flows, and technical and financial aid programs:
Asia is a source of numerous raw materials, principally tin and natural rubber, which are of strategic importance to the United States, although the United States could, as in World War II, rely on other sources if necessary....
The United States has an interest in the attainment by the free peoples of Asia of that degree of economic recovery and development needed as a foundation for social and political stability. This interest stems from the principle that a viable economy is essential to the survival of independent states. In the two major non-Communist countries of this area, India and Japan, U.S. aid ... is averting a deterioration in economic conditions that would otherwise threaten political stability. While scrupulously avoiding assumption of responsibility for raising Asiatic living standards, it is to the U.S. interest to promote the ability of these countries to maintain...the economic conditions prerequisite to political stability. Japan can only maintain its present living standard on a self-supporting basis if it is able to secure a greater proportion of its needed food and raw material (principally cotton) imports from the Asiatic area, in which its natural markets lie, rather than from the U.S., in which its export market is small. In view of the desirability of avoiding preponderant dependence on Chinese sources, and the limited availability of supplies from prewar sources in Korea and Formosa, this will require a considerable increase in Southern Asiatic food and raw material exports....One major prerequisite to such an increase is the restoration of political stability in the food exporting countries of Burma and Indo China....Another major prerequisite is expanded agricultural development in the stable Southern Asiatic countries in which such development would be economic: India, Pakistan—which exports wheat and cotton, Thailand—which exports rice, and Ceylon—whose sizable rice imports reduce the availability of Asiatic foodstuffs to India and Japan. Japanese and Indian food requirements, and Japanese cotton requirements, could be met if certain projected irrigation, reclamation, and transportation projects were executed....These projects will probably require ...
some external technical aid, some limited external financial aid....External technical aid should be made available under the Point IV program. The external financial aid required is of such a limited character that it can probably be adequately provided by the International Bank and the Export-Import Bank....
Through increased sales of rice, wheat, and cotton, Thailand and Pakistan could most economically secure the imports of capital and consumer goods to develop and diversify their economies....
Our interest in a viable economy in the non-Communist countries of Asia would be advanced by increased trade among such countries. Japanese and Indian industrial revival and development can contribute to enlarged intraregional trade relations which suffered a set-back because of the economic vacuum resulting from the defeat of Japan...and the interference and restrictions arising from extensive governmental controls. Given a favorable and secure atmosphere—plus adequate freedom to individual traders, readily available working capital, suitable commercial agreements establishing conditions favorable to commerce and navigation and general assistance in the promotion of trade—it is expected that a substantial increase in intra-Asia trade can occur. (21)
It will be noted that the aim was not general economic and social betterment for Asian masses—scrupulous avoidance of that responsibility was recommended, along with suitably low aid levels. NSC 48/1 looked upon Indochina as essential to a political economy of “stability” that would simply allow Japan in the Pacific (and India in South Asia) to remain “non-Communist.”
2. NSC 64, 27 February 1950 (Gravel ed., I:83, 186-187, 361-362)
Like NSC 48/1, this document preceded the outbreak of war in Korea. Already it was deemed necessary “to protect U.S. security interests in Indochina...and to prevent the expansion of Communist aggression in that area.” The domino theory was reiterated.
3. NSC 68, April 1950
Still top secret, this important document is not found in the Pentagon Papers. Most scholars consider it a cold war turning point, “a document which recommended a substantial increase in expenditures on national security in a variety of ways at a time when further reductions in defense expenditures were under serious consideration.” (22) it should be included in any survey of Indochina, because it brings out the broad, strategic considerations behind American foreign policy at this point in time, as well as the kinds of responses U.S. leaders were contemplating in “trouble spots” all over the world. It grew out of a comprehensive assessment of U.S. foreign policy carried out by a joint State-Defense Department study group headed by Paul Nitze (who would later play an important role in the Kennedy administration), a partner in the investment banking house of Dillon, Read, which was also the home base of James Forrestal, Ferdinand Eberstadt, and C. Douglas Dillon, all key figures in postwar foreign policy-making. Calling for wholesale U.S. rearmament before the Korean War, NSC 68 was formulated amidst rising anguish over Vietnam, China (the Communists had triumphed the previous October), and Russia’s first atomic bomb (detonated in August 1949, three years ahead of American intelligence estimates). It meant “virtual abandonment by the United States of trying to distinguish between national and global security,” so that “much of what was done in the Korean buildup would have been done, anyway...the Korean war remained only a part of the larger picture of the national strategy. For most people who knew anything about it, NSC-68 represented that larger picture.” (23)
At this juncture too, in May 1950, the United States began its fateful program of direct economic and military aid to French forces in Indochina (Gravel ed., I:41-42,370).
4. NSC 48/5, May 17, 1951 (24)
Desirable now was “development of power relationships in Asia which will make it impossible for any nation or alliance to threaten the security of the United States from that area.”“ Continded emphasis was placed on the necessity for Japan “contributing to the security and stabiUty of the Far East.”
5. NSC 124/1, February 13, 1952 (Gravel ed., I:375-381)
“Indochina is of far greater strategic importance than Korea...[and] critical to U.S. security interests.” “The fall of Southeast Asia would underline the apparent economic advantages to Japan of association with the communistdominated Asian sphere.” Furthermore:
Exclusion of Japan from trade with Southeast Asia would seriously affect the Japanese economy, and increase Japan’s dependence on United States aid. In the long run the loss of Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, could result in such economic and political pressures in Japan as to make it extremely difficult to prevent Japan’s eventual accommodation to the Soviet Bloc.
Southeast Asia ... is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin. Access to these materials by the Western Powers and their denial to the Soviet bloc is important at all times ... [rice surpluses and petroleum are also cited in this respect].
Communist domination of mainland Southeast Asia would place unfriendly forces astride the most direct and best-developed sea and air routes between the Western Pacific and India and the Near East.
6. NSC 124/2, June 25, 1952 (Gravel ed., I: 384-390)
This document repeated the heavy geopolitical-economy articulation of NSC 124/1 and added a statement of what the Pentagon Papers historians call “the ‘domino principle’ in its purest form” (Gravel ed., I:83-84). These historians ignore, however, another highly significant step toward direct American involvement in Indochina: a provision that if French energies in pursuing the war begin to flag, the United States should, first, “oppose a French withdrawal,” and then “consider taking unilateral action.”
7. Progress Report on NSC 124/2, August 5, 1953 (Gravel ed., I:405-410)
France’s lack of success in Indochina was traced largely to failure “to frustrate nationalist appeal of the Viet Minh” and “to plan and execute aggressive military operations.” “In general,” the official historians write of this period, “the U.S. sought to convince the French that military victory was the only guarantee of diplomatic success” (Gravel ed., I:96). French Prime Minister Joseph Laniel, undoubtedly under intense pressure from Washington, was promising the Americans that he could “keep his government’s support without going further in [the] direction of negotiations....” (25)
8. NSC 5405, January 16, 1954 (Gravel ed., I:434-443)
As French armed forces were being harder pressed by the Viet Minh, little doubt remained about the importance of Indochina: “Communist domination, by whatever means, of all Southeast Asia would seriously endanger in the short term. and critically endanger in the longer term, United States security interests.” Thus, the United States should assist France in fashioning an aggressive military program “to ehminate organized Viet Minh forces by mid- 1955.” Again, stress was placed on “the interrelation of the countries of the area,” and the “serious economic consequences” stemming from the losses of natural rubber, tin, petroleum, and other strategically important resources, including “the rice exports of Burma, Indochina and Thailand..., of considerable significance to Japan and India.” Echoing NSC 124/1, this paper went on to warn that
The loss of Southeast Asia would have serious economic consequences for many nations of the free world....[This] could result in such economic and political pressures in Japan as to make it extremely difficult to prevent Japan’s eventual accommodation to communism.
Events now unfolded at a quicker pace, as the specter of French military defeat loomed at Dienbienphu (it materialized on May 7, 1954). On March 17, 1954, an NSC Memorandum asserted that “The French desire for peace in Indochina almost at any cost represents our greatest vulnerability in the Geneva talks,” scheduled to begin on April 26 (Gravel ed., I:452). On April 5, as debate was heating up in Washington over whether U.S. forces should be openly committed to combat to aid the weakening French, an NSC Action Paper foresaw a “possibility that a trend in the direction of the loss of Indochina to Communist control may become irreversible over the next year in the absence of greater U.S. participation” (Gravel ed., I:463). In addition, a Special (Presidential) Committee for review of NSC 5405 decided that, as a statement of policy, NSC 5405 “remains valid,” and that, in keeping with the strategic considerations it outlined, “defeat of the Viet Minh in Indo-China is essential if the spread of Communist influence in Southeast Asia is to be halted.” Its final recommendation: “It be U.S. policy to accept nothing short of a military victory in Indo-China” (Gravel ed., I:472-474; emphasis added).
In public too, it is interesting to note, the Eisenhower admmistration was repeating the policy rationales of its NSC deliberations. In an address before the Overseas Press Club in New York on March 29, 1954, Secretary of State Dulles described the importance of Indochina. Among other factors, Dulles claimed,
“Southeast Asia is the so-called ‘rice bowl’ which helps to feed the densely populated region that extends from India to Japan. It is rich in many raw materials, such as tin, oil, rubber, and iron ore. It offers industrial Japan potentially important markets and sources of raw materials.” Dulles continued: The area has great strategic value. Southeast Asia is astride the most direct and best-developed sea and air routes between the Pacific and South Asia. It has major naval and air bases (Gravel ed., I:594-595).
These sentences came almost verbatim from NSC 124/1. They were again trotted out on April 1 1 by Under Secretary of State Walter Bedell Smith in a television interview (Gravel ed., I:598).
9. NSC 5421, June 1, 1954 (26)
This publication was a collection of agency reports “prepared on the assumption that U.S. armed forces intervene in the conflict in Indochina....”
10. NSC 5429/2, August 20, 1954 (27)
The French defeat at Dienbienphu and the “unfavorable” nature of the Geneva Accords of July 21, 1954, have led to “loss of prestige in Asia suffered by the U.S. as a backer of the French and the Bao Dai Government.” As a result “U.S. prestige will inescapably be associated with subsequent developments in Southeast Asia.” It should be America’s goal, then, “to maintain and support friendly non-Communist governments in Cambodia and Laos, to maintain a friendly non- Communist South Vietnam, and to prevent a Communist victory through all- Vietnam elections.”
11. NSC 5429/5, December 22, 1954 (28)
Washington’s resolve was hardening (Gravel ed., I:214-221). Military action was now being discussed as a concrete possibility, “subject to prior submission to and approval by the Congress unless the emergency is deemed by the President to be so great that immediate action is necessary....” This clause was soon to be invoked as the basis of “U.S. policy in the event of a renewal of hostilities by the Communists” after the miscarriage of the all-Vietnam elections called for in the Geneva Accords. (29)
Finally, as the official historians also appear to believe (Gravel ed., I:121), the old American idea of “rollback” resurfaced:
While there is now no reason to anticipate an early collapse of the [Chinese Communist] regime nor any means of seeing when one might occur, inherently such regimes have elements of rigidity and instability which sometimes produce crises. We should be ready to exploit any opportunities which might occur as a result of inherent internal weaknesses....Reduction of Chinese Communist power and prestige, or securing by reorientation a Government on the mainland of China whose objectives do not conflict with the vital interests of the United States [should now be U.S. policy]. (30)
The policymaking role of NSC was somewhat de-emphasized during the Kennedy- Johnson years. NSC became more an appendage of the White House foreign policy staff, and McGeorge Bundy was its manager. Still, “National Security Action Memoranda” were the chosen means for denoting major policy steps and setting them up as precedents “to guide national policy” (Gravel ed., III:9). As far as Indochina decisions were concerned, the slight change in policymaking form implied no change in content. What is striking about the NSAM documents for the Kennedy administration is that the “commitment” to South Vietnam was no longer questioned. (31) The NSAMs show total programmatic continuity and deal almost exclusively with force levels, tactics, the efficiency and durability of the Diem Government, and issues raised by “wars of national liberation” and counterinsurgency. (See, for example, NSAM 52 and NSAM 124: Gravel ed., II:642-643 and 660-661.) NSC papers of the 1950s were also alluded to, though not always explicitly. In a speech before the Economic Club of Detroit in April 1963, Deputy Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson used the same language from NSC 124/1—then eleven years old—as Dulles and Smith had in 1954 (Gravel ed., II:817). Two years later before the same forum Deputy Under Secretary Leonard Unger followed suit (Gravel ed., III:731).
As the situation in South Vietnam underwent progressive deterioration in the early 1960s the U.S. military intervention envisioned in 1954 appeared increasingly necessary. The first major move in that direction came in April and May of 1961, with John F. Kennedy’s decision to dispatch 400 U.S. special forces soldiers and 100 other military advisers to the Diem government and to begin a campaign of covert military operations against North Vietnam (Gravel ed., II:38-55, 637-643). In November 1961 the Kennedy administration took another step forward, sharply expanding the U.S. military mission and putting American troops in combat-support roles (Gravel ed., II:102-120). At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, 16,000 U.S. troops were stationed in South Vietnam, as opposed to 685 when he took office. In December 1963 Defense Secretary McNamara sounded the alarm over impending Communist victory in South Vietnam or neutralization of that country (Gravel ed., III:494-496). NSAM 273, November 26, 1963, and NSAM 288, March 17, 1964, reaffirmed “the central object of the United States in South Vietnam ... to win the contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy” (Gravel ed.. Ill: 7-9, 50-58, 496-500). Three days after NSAM 288, President Johnson instructed his Ambassador to Saigon, Henry Cabot Lodge, “that your mission is precisely for the purpose of knocking down the idea of neutralization wherever it rears its ugly head...nothing is more important than to stop neutralist talk wherever we can by whatever means we can” (Gravel ed., III:511).
All along the road to escalation, to be sure, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson expressed doubts. But never could they or their advisers bring themselves to break with the momentum and sheer force of six to ten years of solid policy commitments. What chief executive could have done that? Only one with an altogether different outlook upon the flow of world history and America’s role in that historical process. Neither JFK nor LBJ was that man. Nor is it likely that any such man could have gained either the Democratic or Republican Presidential nomination, let alone the Presidency, under the prevailing political structure in the United States and the larger economic interests and business ideology it represents.
From the NSC documents of 1949-1954, and beyond, emerge four themes in the making of U.S. policy toward Indochina.
1. Southeast Asia was viewed as an essential part of a Pacific rimlands political economy composed of several interdependent units and revolving about Japan as a nucleus. (32)
2. Were any part of this political economy to “fall” or to opt out of the free (enterprise) world, the repercussions would be felt throughout the area, particularly in Japan, which had to have access to a wide hinterland for economic growth and expansion. (33)
3. “Loss” of any of Indochina would have further grave domino effects, of a psychological and political nature, on America’s power as a guarantor of “order” and “stability.”
4. No negotiations whatever were to be considered with Communists over the future of Southeast Asia.
A number of corollaries followed from such policy axioms. For instance, loss of territory to the Communists in itself constituted a U.S. defeat even if accompanied by diplomatic success (Gravel ed., I:176-178). Thus, “rollback” of Communist power, acknowledged to be an exceedingly dangerous idea, was nonethe less a policy option to be held in reserve should the opportunity arise. In his April 7, 1954, press conference President Eisenhower claimed that a Viet Minh victory in Southeast Asia “takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or . . , have only one place in the world to go—that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live” (Gravel ed., I:597). In a New York Times interview thirteen years later (December 24, 1967) the former President, probably recalling 1953-1954 NSC discussions and policy papers, adduced the same dangers to Japan and added: “Probably the less said about that right now the better, but the plain fact is that no prosperous free society based on the private enterprise system can expect to exist indefinitely alongside a sprawling police state like Communist China and its satellites.” This hinted that ultimately we might have to extirpate communism in Asia in order to make Japan and other “free” countries secure.
America’s cold war policymakers have shared an amazingly expansive concept of U.S. “national security.” Can it be accidental that this concept is a mirror image of the feverish growth dynamic of corporate business? Or is it, as Professor Robert Tucker argues in dismissing the primacy of economic factors behind American foreign policy, that economic statements like the ones I quote above are made by U.S. leaders “largely to elicit support for a policy that is pursued primarily for quite different reasons”? (34)
Tucker is not altogether incorrect. Immediate policy decisions often have little to do with demonstrable economic benefits. It would be pure idealism to reduce North American or Western European politics to the rational interests of “capitalism” in the abstract. The process by which economic forces are ultimately determinant is a complex one in which in specific situations the decisive factors may well be political, psychological, or social. But several points must be kept in mind with respect to American foreign policy, and its Indochina disaster.
In the first place, the economic declarations contained in the Pentagon Papers were not intended as rhetoric for public consumption. The NSC documents in particular were internal working papers “for eyes only”—official eyes. It should be clearly stated, secondly, what noneconomic purposes—what “quite different reasons”—underlie U.S. foreign policy. Here, Tucker is consistent. He grants that “America’s universalism has been throughout indistinguishable from America’s expansionism. In the period that has followed the initial years of the cold war, it is the expansionist interest that has become increasingly dominant.” (35) The reason for this expansionism, Tucker alleges, is an “exaggerated” sense of security, due to “the fear arising simply from the loss of preponderance itself.” U.S. policymakers, possessing “inordinate power,” will be “ready to use it if only in order to rule over others,” just as powerful men have done throughout history. (36)
But can Tucker show—can anyone?—that such American foreign policy decisions have ever been made on grounds recognizably injurious to the dominant economic power centers? The “quite different reasons” usually turn out to be providentially consistent with the palpable economic interests of the corporate upper class who—it must be repeated—have occupied the key foreign policy posts in Washington in the present century. (37)
The fact is that America’s policymakers exercise both functions at once: they represent the economic elite and the national interest as traditionally understood in Machtpolitik terms. Bound up in a seamless web relationship, these two functions cannot be segregated by any neat boundary. To do so would be dialectically meaningless. The economic blazes paths for the political and the military (as in Latin America), and state power is utilized in ways that rarely clash with pos sibilities for external economic expansion (as in Asia). While Marxists talk about “unity of theory and practice,” capitalists achieve it, and on an international plane. The interests of the giant U.S. corporations and banks, as their executives never cease to proclaim in their own annual reports and elsewhere, are international. Why should they not fear “international communism”? Capitalism itself was the very first global system. Long before communism existed, Great Britain, the pioneer industrial nation, was trading, investing, banking abroad and leading the way toward creation of a true international market economy after 1850. From this moment any basic threat to these institutional arrangements had to be “international,” almost by definition.
America’s foreign policymakers do have legitimate fears. And they project them within the channels of statecraft and diplomacy which have been an inherent element of the foreign aff’airs bureaucracies of all great powers since Louis XIV’s France. Thus, they enthusiastically respond to challenges of strategic necessity and national interest. Doing so reinforces the self-esteem that elites need to rationalize their own exalted positions in the social hierarchy. They are important men because they are dealing with transcendentally important matters. In their own minds they must satisfy themselves that they are promoting “national security,” “international stability,” (38) “world justice,” all issues loftily above mundane considerations like (as Joseph Schumpeter used to ask) “who stands to gain?” The official mentality is shaped by the policymakers’ sober consciousness of themselves as a deserving political elite, men endowed with all the advantages of (what passes for) a cultivated upbringing. “Trained for public service and somewhat ‘cosmopolitan’ in outlook, it regards itself as uniquely qualified for leadership, especially in foreign affairs.” (39) It believes itself to be a vanguard, willing to accept the “terrible responsibilities” and risks of world power, from which many of its less intrepid countrymen shrink. What we see operating here is the psychological counterpart of socioeconomic privilege.
It is no surprise that some of these powerful men—the Nixons, Rusks, McNamaras— become true believers in the “Communist conspiracy.” This too, however, serves the rhetoric of self-justification required to organize society and culture along corporate, neocapitalist lines. For if much of America’s ruling class is really convinced that communism and socialism are deadly, subversive, aggressive, externally directed menaces, we must remember not only that these beliefs are an integral part of a process of internal justification, not only that in broad historical terms the proposition harbors a grain of truth, but that selective belief is a result of class breeding and class philosophy. U.S. leaders have been conditioned to oppose the Left all around the world because revolutionary aspirations and movements objectively threaten the framework of their own social system, the framework within which they formulate policy and influence the fate of millions of people inside their own country and out. That this power is exercised irresponsibly and immorally is something that the Left has long believed. The Pentagon Papers now provide proof.
1. See the lists of instances of the use of U.S. armed forces abroad, inserted in the Congressional Record by Sen. Barry Goldwater, 117 (April 26, 1971), S5636-47 and Sen. Everett Dirksen, 115 (June 23, 1969), S16839-44.
2. Gabriel Kolko, The Roots of American Foreign Policy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), 9, 26.
3. Kolko, Roots, ch. 1; G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967), chs. 2 and 3, and “Who Made American Foreign policy, 1945-1963?” in David Horowitz, ed., Corporations and the Cold War (New York: Monthly Review, 1969), reprinted in Domhoff’s The Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America (New York: Random House, 1970), ch. 5.
4. Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review, 1969), 13.
5. See Arthur MacEwan, “Capitalist Expansion, Ideology, and Intervention,” in Richard C. Edwards et al., The Capitalist System: A Radical Analysis of American Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972).
6. “Students Assail Defense System,” New York Times, October 12, 1969.
7. See Walter LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1966 (New York: Wiley, 1967), chs. 1-4; and William A. Williams, “The Cold War Revisionists,” The Nation, 205 (November 13, 1967). In the post-World War II period, according to Professor Samuel P. Huntington, “the dominant feature of international politics...was the expansion of the power of the United States. A critical feature of this expansion was the extension of American power into the vacuums that were left after the decline of the European influence in Asia, Africa, and even Latin America....Americans devoted much attention to the expansion of Communism (which, in fact, expanded very little after 1949), and in the process they tended to ignore the expansion of the United States influence and presence throughout much of the world.” “Political Development and the Decline of the American System of World Order,” Daedalus, 96 (Summer 1967), 927.
8. Telegram to U.S. Embassy in Paris, May 13, 1947, in United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967. Study Prepared by the Department of Defense (Washington: Printed for the use of the House Committee on Armed Services, 1971), Book 8, 100-102. This is the U.S. Government edition of the Pentagon Papers, and will hereafter be cited as USG ed.
9. Paul Y. Hammond, Organizing for Defense: The American Military Establishment in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 228, 231; Samuel P. Huntington, The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 114-115, 378-81; Kolko, Roots, 37-47.
10. See Hammond, Organizing for Defense, 353-357, 227-232.
11. See Domhoff, “Who Made American Foreign Policy?” 41-46, reprinted in The Higher Circles, 128-135.
12. Huntington, The Common Defense, 241, 333-334.
13. See Townsend Hoopes (Under Secretary of the Air Force at the time). The Limits of Intervention (New York: McKay, 1969), ch. 10, published in an earlier version in The Atlantic, 224 (October 1969). Hoopes’s account is in close agreement with that of the New York Times special report of March 7, 1969.
14. See the references in note 11, as well as Hoopes, Limits of Intervention, 2-5.
15. Foreword to Books 8 and 9 of USG ed.
16. The complete document can be found in USG ed.. Book 8, 225-272, which includes NSC 48/2, appended on 30 December 1949.
17. USG ed., Book 8, 98-99; Telegram to U.S. Embassy in Paris, February 3, 1947.
18. Ibid., 219-222; Cable to U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, 20 June 1949.
19. Ibid., 155-157, 196; Memo on Indochina, March 31, 1949, and cable to U.S. Consul in Hanoi, May 20, 1949.
20. Ibid., 241.
21. Ibid., 256-261.
22. Hammond, Organizing for Defense, 347.
23. Cabell Phillips, The Truman Presidency: The History of a Triumphant Succession (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 305-308. On NSC 68, see also Huntington, The Common Defense, 47-53 and 220-221.
24. USG ed., Book 8, 425-445. The quotation is from 428, with emphasis added.
25. USG ed., Book 9, 202; Cable from Paris to Secretary of State, November 30, 1953.
26. Ibid., 510-529.
27. USG ed., Book 10, 731-741.
28. Ibid., 835-852.
29. Cited, for instance, on June 13, 1955 (ibid., 984). On Dulles’s scheme for “legally” preventing elections, see his April 6, 1955, cable to Saigon, ibid., 892-893. On the failure to hold the elections called for in the Geneva Accords, see I, 182-183, 208-209, 239-241.
30. USG ed., Book 10, 837, 839. See also the CIA Special Estimate of December 15, 1953,1, 432 (8c).
31. Except by Ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, who got nowhere. See II, 121-125, 147, 669-672.
32. For recent surveys, see Peter Wiley, “Vietnam and the Pacific Rim Strategy,” Leviathan, 1 (June 1969) and Carl Oglesby and R. Shaull, Containment and Change (New York: Macmillan, 1967), ch. 5, esp. 121-130. Professor Robert W. Tucker finds this interpretation of U.S. policy in the Far East “difficult to take seriously.” American leaders have expressed such views, Tucker admits, but “at best...citation of these views proves no more than conviction, and a mistaken conviction at that.” The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), 116-117. One might think that “conviction,” even if mistaken, provides a rather reliable guide to the formulation and execution of policy.
33. Revival of Japan, naturally, has posed another kind of dilemma for the United States: that of a tough competitor in the markets of the world. On the contradictions of U.S. policy toward Japan, see Walter LaFeber, “Our Illusory Affair with Japan,” The Nation, 206 (March 11, 1968) and Tom Engelhardt and Jim Peck, “Japan: Rising Sun in the Pacific,” Ramparts, 10 (January 1972).
34. Tucker, The Radical Left, 61. This book, despite its weaknesses, is the most astute and fair-minded critique of the radical view of U.S. foreign policy. Most radicals will benefit from reading it.
35. Ibid., 108.
36. Ibid., 69, 105, 151.
37. Tucker nowhere takes into account the evidence on this point in Kolko and Domhoff (see notes 3 and 11).
38. But see the NSC documents for the kind of “stability” the United States prefers —not Ho Chi Minh’s brand.
39. Christopher Lasch, “The Making of the War Class,” Columbia Forum, 1, New Series (Winter 1971), 3.