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C H A P T E R E I G H T
The basic contours of domestic and foreign policy are determined by institutional structures of power and domination. These being stable over long periods, policies vary little, reflecting the perceived interests and shared understanding of those whose domestic privilege confers power. There is a range of tactical choices falling within these narrow bounds. This consensus is articulated by "experts" in the sense candidly defined by Henry Kissinger, a master in the art: one qualifies as an "expert," he explains, by "elaborating and defining" the consensus of one's constituency "at a high level." In practice, the "expert" is the loyal and useful servant of those who hold the reins of power.1
As for public opinion, it is considered a threat to order and good government. The reason lies in the "ignorance and superstition of the masses" and "the stupidity of the average man," with the result that "the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality" (Harold Lasswell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Walter Lippmann, respectively). The "specialized class" include the "experts" in the Kissingerian sense, articulating the "common interests" -- otherwise known as "the national interest."
Presidential transitions commonly elicit commentary on the agenda for the future, thus revealing the bounds of elite consensus. We focus here on the liberal-dove extreme, as it was articulated at the end of the Reagan era in 1988, a picture that offers the best case for those who look forward to a "kindler, gentler" New World Order.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the common interests were to overcome the "crisis of democracy" that arose at home with the awakening of the ignorant masses, to reverse the declining fortunes of U.S. business in the face of international competition and lowered profitability, and to overcome the threat of Third World "ultranationalism" that responds to domestic concerns and popular pressures rather than the transcendent needs of the rich industrial societies. The common interests therefore required an attack on labor and the welfare system, expansion of the public subsidy to high technology industry through the standard Pentagon funnel and other measures to enrich the wealthy, a more aggressive foreign policy, and domestic propaganda to whip the ignorant masses into line in fear for their lives. Such policy proposals were advanced by the Carter administration, then implemented under Reagan; military spending, for example, was in general accord with Carter administration projections apart from the shape of the curve, a brief propaganda success at the outset having been exploited to accelerate spending, which then levelled off. Throughout the period, the public continued its long-term drift towards support for New Deal-style welfare state measures, while in articulate opinion, the "L word" ("liberal") followed the "S word" ("socialist") into disgrace and oblivion, and government policy, with general bipartisan support, implemented the agenda of the powerful.
The common interests were outlined by the experts as state management shifted from Carter to the Reaganites, committed to the use of state power as an instrument of privilege. In the domain of international policy, a perceptive analysis by Robert Tucker in Foreign Affairs gave a foretaste of what was to come on the eve of the inauguration.2 The costs of the Vietnam war had compelled a temporary abandonment of the postwar policy of containment in favor of détente, he observed, but now a more activist foreign policy was required for a "resurgent America."
Tucker distinguished between "needs" and "wants." Domination of the oil-producing regions of the Middle East is a "need," and therefore we should be prepared to use force to bar threats arising "from developments indigenous to the Gulf" that might endanger our "right of access" or our "economic well-being and the integrity of [the nation's] basic institutions." Turning from "the realm of necessity," Tucker identified a second major area where forceful intervention was in order: Central America, where we have only "wants," not "needs." Our right to satisfy our "wants" in this region is conferred by history: "We have regularly played a determining role in making and unmaking governments, and we have defined what we have considered to be the acceptable behavior of governments." Thus "reasons of pride and historical tradition" confer upon us the authority to ensure that "radical movements or radical regimes must be defeated" while "right-wing governments will have to be given steady outside support, even, if necessary, by sending in American forces." Such intervention should be relatively costless for us, so the liberal counter-argument is voided, he argued.
Tucker feared that "the prevailing public mood" might permit only the halfway measures of "moderate containment" and impede the proper pursuit of our "wants." He therefore recommended the conventional appeal to "security interests" to manufacture consent to these imperatives; as events were to show, the refractory public was less malleable than he had anticipated. Meanwhile Jeane Kirkpatrick derided the idea that "forceful intervention in the affairs of another nation is impractical and immoral" while the editors of the New Republic deplored Carter's "failure to defend the capitalist democratic idea" and his "moralistic excesses," urging military intervention if necessary to rescue the ruling killers in El Salvador, and preference for a Somoza over the Sandinistas if these are the only realistic alternatives.3 The bloody onslaught on Central America ensued.
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1 American Foreign Policy (Norton, 1969), 28.
2 Tucker, "The Purposes of American Power," Foreign Policy, Winter 1980/1. For more extensive discussion, see Towards a New Cold War, chapter 8.
3 Commentary, January 1981; TNR, Nov. 29, 1980.