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by Jack A. Smith
Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006 at 1:56 PM
Many progressive Americans are hoping for a more peaceful U.S. foreign policy because President Bush lost control of Congress or after he leaves office — but the chances of this happening are not favorable.)
U.S. FOREIGN POLICY — ARE CHANGES AHEAD?
By Jack A. Smith
(From the Hudson Valley (NY) Activist Newsletter, Dec. 16, 2006
Does President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, of which the disastrous war in Iraq is a notorious illustration, depart significantly from the goals of the bipartisan American thrust in international affairs that has been promoted by both ruling parties since World War II ended in 1945?
Many critics of the Bush Administration believe so and are looking toward the new Democratic majority in Congress and perhaps the presidency in 2008 to get foreign policy back on track. They point to neoconservative warmaking, arrogance, fear-mongering, unilateralism, and a penchant for fabrication in the service of reckless adventurism. There is truth to these charges, but they largely pertain to the form, not the content, of foreign policy, which, in the U.S. context, must viewed as foreign/military policy.
The fact is that American foreign policy from the earliest days has been expansionist and violent — first throughout what are now the boundaries of the United States, destroying the Native American peoples and nations in the process, then southwest and south to carve up Mexico, extending its influence into Central America, the Caribbean (seizing Puerto Rico and Cuba), and South America; then across the Pacific to colonize the Philippines and annex Hawaii.
For the last 60 years, a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy has been aimed at achieving world economic, political and military dominance. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the humanitarian opponent of war and imperialism, describes this period thusly: "The greatest crime since World War II has been U.S. foreign policy."
President Bush’s invasion of Iraq in order to extend Washington’s grip over the resource-rich Middle East is hardly in contradiction to the goals of traditional U.S. policy. Projecting military power to advance American global hegemony brought the U.S. into the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Iraq War, the Yugoslav War and innumerable open or clandestine other wars and subversions. Not one of these wars was declared by Congress, as mandated by the Constitution.
Washington initiated all these wars, which have killed many millions of people in distant lands (at least 4 to 5 million in Vietnam and North Korea combined), and in all cases bipartisanship prevailed even when there were some differences, just as it does in Iraq, incidentally, since the Democratic Party has no oppositional policy and the majority of its elected politicians support the war and vote to pay for it.
According to progressive author and foreign policy analyst William Blum, since the end of World War II Washington has been involved in attempts to overthrow some 40 foreign governments, one of the latest being that of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in 2002, and has worked to destroy perhaps three dozen liberation and freedom movements. During this same period, 30 or more countries have been the target of U.S. bombings. (For excellent material from Blum, see http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Blum/William_Blum.html.)
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) calculates that in the 195 years between 1798 and 1993, there have been “234 instances in which the United States has used its armed forces abroad in situations of conflict or potential conflict or for other than normal peacetime purposes…. The instances differ greatly in number of forces, purpose, extent of hostilities, and legal authorization.” A partial list of U.S. foreign military interventions from 1890 to 2004, compiled by Zoltan Grossman, totals about 110 (after subtracting 15 instances of federal troop intervention within the U.S., starting with the 1890 massacre of 300 Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee, S.D.). Most of the 110 foreign interventions, as with the CRS research, were to advance American hegemony or to protect corporate interests abroad. (Grossman’s list is at http://www.neravt.com/left/invade.htm.)
Another major aspect of U.S. foreign policy is to keep allies supplied with the instruments of repression. As Amnesty International puts it, America “has supplied arms, security equipment and training to governments and armed groups that have committed torture, political killings and other human rights abuses in countries around the world.” The Bush Administration has made certain torture procedures a valid part of American policy, but actually the U.S. has engaged in the practice for years. Thousands of Vietnamese were brutally tortured in the 1960s-‘70s.
Writing in Foreign Policy Nov. 9, New York University Professor Marcia Pally argues that “Bush's critics often charge that his tenure has fashioned a new, hawkish character for American foreign policy. But since its birth, the United States has been expansionist for the purpose of domestic enrichment, a policy pursued with fervor by politicians of all stripes…. We should not confuse the gravity of the effects in Iraq and elsewhere with the banality of the current approach itself, which falls well within U.S. foreign-policy traditions. Indeed, the foreign policies of both parties have never been substantially different.” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3631.)
In an article Oct. 19, author and Yale senior research scholar Immanuel Wallerstein wrote that “one has to doubt that the Democrats collectively have a really better foreign policy to offer [than the Republicans]. The primary problem of the leadership of the Democratic party is that they believe, at least as much as the Republicans, that the United States is the center of the world, the font of wisdom, the great defender of world freedom — in short, a deeply virtuous nation in a dangerous world…. [T]hose who are ready to take a real look at the fallacies of U.S. policies are a minority…without a clear agenda themselves and certainly without a major political leader to express an alternative view.” (http://www.binghamton.edu/fbc/195en.htm.)
The Bush Administration’s arrogance in the conduct of foreign affairs is often and correctly criticized, but it is hardly unique. In a famous speech in April 1966, the then chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arkansas Democrat Sen. J. William Fulbright, declared the following:
“The question I find intriguing is whether a nation so extraordinarily endowed as the United States can overcome that arrogance of power which has afflicted, weakened, and, in some cases, destroyed great nations in the past. Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations — to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image.”
Few moments in the annals of diplomacy can equal the extraordinary arrogance of Bush’s presidential father, George H.W. Bush who in 1988 was asked whether he would apologize for the deaths of 298 civilian passengers on an Iranian commercial airliner shot down by an American Navy vessel: "I will never apologize for the United States of America — I don't care what the facts are."
The condescension implicit in Bush’s plan to transform Middle Eastern countries into democracies subordinate to Washington’s interests, by force if necessary, has also been noted by progressive critics. Yet, this “father knows best” attitude toward developing societies has been a continual theme of U.S. foreign policy — and was sharply criticized in a 1966 antiwar speech by retired Gen. David M. Shoup, the Medal-of-Honor-winning former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps:
"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the ‘haves’ refuse to share with the ‘have-nots’ by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans."
It is of note that two of the most trenchant criticisms of the imperial nature of U.S. foreign policy have issued from retired generals of the elite military force often deployed first to impose Washington’s will on poor third world countries. The other Marine Corps leader, of course, was Maj.-Gen. Smedley D. Butler, who won two Medals of Honor before retiring and delivering an oft-quoted 1935 speech containing this paragraph: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” Butler’s experiences in foreign lands turned him into a political isolationist with a strong critique of war, imperialism, and war profiteers.
The Democratic Party’s foreign policy is devoted to the same principal objective as that of the Republican Party — U.S. world supremacy, a goal facilitated by Washington’s ability to project the martial trappings of empire throughout the globe. The Pentagon maintains a military force of 400,000 effectives in 700 large foreign bases, 200 smaller military facilities, and ships at sea, backed by bases and troops back home and thousands of nuclear armed missiles and bombs.
The notion that such excessive strength is required to protect the United States is ludicrous, and yet this has become the mantra of the country’s political leaders to justify Pentagon budgets that well exceed a half-trillion dollars annually. Here’s an excerpt from an official Democratic Party document titled “A Plan to Protect America and Restore Our Leadership to the World,” released by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi March 29: “To ensure unparalleled military strength we will rebuild a state-of-the-art military by making needed investments in equipment and manpower so that we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary.” Part of this proposal includes doubling the size of the Pentagon’s elite Special Forces.
Members of both ruling parties, reflecting upon the debacle in Iraq and the fact that the Pentagon does not seem to have sufficient forces to keep Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and North Korea in line simultaneously — while also policing the rest of the world — have been calling for an increase in the size of the Armed Forces in order to adequately deal with international “challenges.” The New York Times, the voice of a substantial sector of the ruling class, called Nov. 19 for an increase of up to 100,000 more soldiers, evidently to prevent the next war Washington initiates from again blowing up in its face.
The post-1945 foreign policy establishment that has been exiled by the Bush Administration has always prided itself on having a pragmatic view of what are deemed realistic options, and the cultivation of multilateral allies which strengthened Washington in its quest for supremacy, first over the Soviet Union, then over the world. When its imperial reach produced unintended disastrous consequences, as in Vietnam, these “realists” set about to analyze their errors in order not to replicate them.
In response to Vietnam, for example, the U.S. government avoided launching a major war for over 15 years until Pentagon military leaders generated a new military policy to avoid another fiasco. Gen. Colin Powell gained military fame by producing the “Powell Doctrine,” which advocated deploying never less than overwhelming force in starting and conducting a war, having an “exit strategy” prepared in advance, and obtaining support from Washington’s principal allies before taking action. A non-conscript professional army was organized to avoid creating antiwar sentiment within the military and civilian population, as took place in Vietnam. In addition, offensive wars against small third-world countries had to be brief, relatively inexpensive, and result in few American casualties — all concessions to the “Vietnam Syndrome,” as massive domestic opposition to that war was termed.
This is the military doctrine that guided U.S. actions in the first war against Iraq in 1991 during the reign of Bush the First. The reason the White House did not order an invasion and occupation of Iraq is because it would have been long, expensive and deadly for U.S. troops, sparking a mass antiwar outcry at home.
The elder Bush was sharply criticized starting a year later by the small neoconservative sector of the right wing for not invading Iraq and overthrowing President Saddam Hussein. Bush’s son, the current president, decided to rectify his father’s “error” 12 years later and is now presiding over perhaps the most calamitous defeat ever suffered by the U.S. Armed Forces in terms of its geopolitical implications. Instead of resigning as secretary of state during this fiasco, Powell felt obliged to publicly support the decision to go to war, a craven deed that made a shambles of his own military doctrine, not to mention his reputation. Now, the “Vietnam Syndrome” — an expression of public antipathy to long and costly wars of aggression against small foreign countries — is becoming the “Iraq Syndrome,” although in these conservative, nationalist and self-absorbed times in America it is without the inspiring radicalism and militancy of its progenitor.
Soon after the 1991 Iraq War, the Soviet Union and communist East Europe imploded, leaving the United States as the world’s only superpower, but its militarist foreign policy turned not a whit more benign. Instead of reducing its mighty Cold War military machine to rational size and investing the anticipated “peace dividend” into constructive achievements, the U.S. continued to develop its offensive war capacities, including nuclear weapons and space-war technology. Free of the inhibiting influence of the Soviet Union, and with the support of the same foreign policy establishment that is wringing its hands over Bush’s excesses today, Washington began to throw its weight around more than ever, as in the Clinton Administration’s gratuitous 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, conducted so hypocritically in the guise of “humanitarian intervention.”
Throughout the 1990s, the idea developed in the neoconservative camp that in the absence of a socialist superpower rival the U.S. should greatly accelerate its march toward world domination. They believed Washington’s supremacy was justified because of its democratic system, thriving economy, peaceful intentions, and religiosity. As such, it was an example the rest of the world should, and must, emulate — by use of military force if necessary, at least against smaller “rogue” or “failed” or “undemocratic” states that couldn’t really fight back, or almost any weaker country that remained independent and critical of the United States, such as Cuba.
To hasten America’s elevation, the “neocons” created a doctrine (eventually adopted in the main by the Bush Administration as official policy) specifying that the United States must never allow the rise of a second superpower or competing centers of world influence. In addition, while the neocons did not oppose multilateralism per se, they were quite content for the U.S. to act unilaterally or with fewer high-level confederates if Washington’s key allies posed obstacles to its intentions, as they did years later in invading Iraq.
The old-line foreign policy establishment, which had a hand in all Washington’s international endeavors since the start of the Cold War in the mid-‘40s, opposed the neocon method of attaining global hegemony, not the imperial quest itself. They argued quite sensibly that it was not based on pragmatic realism but on the “idealist” ideology of imposing democracy — a method that could easily backfire and ultimately diminish American power, which is happening now in Iraq. The isolationist and libertarian wings of conservatism are also sharply critical of this neoconservative doctrine, more so than many Democrats, and evidently have no qualms against calling it imperialist.
The foreign policy “realists” are also appalled by the neocon notion that the U.S. should seek to obtain its more controversial objectives without the support of influential allies. This may not always be as collegial as it is made to appear. Multilateralism, of course, means several or more countries coordinating their policies for a particular objective, but in practice it usually turns out that Washington leads the pack and the others follow.
Having important allies greatly facilitates America’s more warlike inclinations. Allies in the 1991 U.S. war against Iraq, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, paid for virtually the whole war. Allies in the U.S. war against Vietnam supplied troops, money and the convenient political impression that Washington was acting on behalf of the “free world.” Allied support in 1999 was crucial in order for the U.S. to justify the inexcusable war against Yugoslavia. And perhaps most important of all, the existence of allies is a means of convincing an occasionally reluctant American public to approve what at first appears to be an unnecessary war.
The neocons gained influence throughout the 1990s. For instance, the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review prepared by centrist Democrat President Bill Clinton’s Defense Department put forward the neocon policy of preventing any other country from daring to erode America’s commanding role in world affairs. A year later, Clinton supported and signed “The Iraq Liberation Act,” a congressional resolution calling for regime change in Iraq, a major neocon initiative. The act was one of the rationales for congressional passage in October 2002 of the Use of Military Force Against Iraq resolution that President Bush relied on to invade Iraq in March 2003. Bush has often referred to the act to argue correctly that his Democratic predecessor backed regime-change to eliminate Iraq’s alleged, and nonexistent, weapons of mass destruction.
The primary neocon target was always the Middle East, where most of the world’s oil resources are buried, where the majority of the governments — with the exception of Iraq, Iran and Syria — could easily be controlled from Washington, and where the prospect of extended U.S. hegemony would strengthen Israel, America’s reliable military outpost in the region. Both ruling parties have a similar policy toward the region to this day, with each competing to appear more pro-Israel than the other.
The neocons themselves have never had a political base among the American people. They rose to power when Bush the Second became president as a result of the Supreme Court ruling that decided the 2000 election. Bush, a not particularly intelligent individual with far right politics and “born again” Christian fundamentalist religious views, was propelled to the presidency by family connections and money. He saw in neoconservatism — particularly its “Wilsonian” call to “make the world safe for democracy,” by force of arms if required — a simple mechanism for quickly extending American hegemony by coercing smaller recalcitrant states into submission with aggressive military power in the name of freedom. Thus began the current interlude of faith-based foreign policy, murderous as usual but “you don't count the dead when God's on your side.”
Bush quickly named leading neocons to positions of influence in his administration. He appears to have been thoroughly dominated by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, old war horses from past Republican regimes who adopted neoconservative ideas to implement their own imperialist propensities. With neocons and Cheney-Rumsfeld pushing from one side, and God on the other side whispering in his ear to impose American-style “democracy” in the Middle East, all Bush needed was a justification to launch a modern Crusade. Then came the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. We do not favor the conspiracy theories about 9/11, but the coincidence is startling.
There is no need to recapitulate the deception and pseudo-patriotism employed to launch Bush’s open-ended “war on terrorism,” first against Afghanistan and then Iraq, which of course had no connection with the terror attacks or weapons with which to attack the U.S. When most of Washington’s key allies refused to back the war, the Bush Administration settled for a pathetic “Coalition of the Willing” to convey the false impression of wide support. Generalissimo Rumsfeld’s “shock-and-awe” high-tech battle plan effectively trashed the Powell Doctrine. Anyway, the American people were assured the Iraqi masses would welcome the invading army, the war would be over in a few weeks with minimal casualties, and it would be cheap, too.
Three years and nine months later, the ad hoc Iraq Study Group — composed of 10 Democrats and Republicans essentially representing the views of the old-line “realist” foreign policy elite that had been cast aside by Bush and the neocons — declared: “The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved.”
Led by former GOP Secretary of State James Baker and Democrat ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton, right-center and centrist devotees of the traditional methods of conducting foreign affairs, the ISG offered scores of recommendations reflecting the sentiments of a large sector of those who grasp the levers of power in American society.
The main purpose of the report is to prevent the U.S. from suffering a humiliating defeat in Iraq. Secondly it seeks to develop a bipartisan consensus behind continuing the war until it ends. The report does not propose striving for “victory,” but also does not reject the possibility of “success,” at least in avoiding the public appearance of defeat. Washington also seeks to recoup some of its war money in oil concessions, profitable investments in the country’s crippled infrastructure, substantial imports of U.S. goods, “enduring” (i.e., permanent) military bases, political influence in Baghdad (why else build the biggest embassy in world history, the size of Vatican City?), and whatever other geostrategic benefits can be extracted as the country collapses.
Stubborn, determined and convinced his God has not forsaken him, Bush will fight back against his detractors as best he can, supported by the civilian and military bureaucratic staffs under administration control, by the hard right which mocks the ISG report, and the remainder of neocons who haven’t jumped ship over the last year to avoid responsibility for losing the war they started. Many neocons turned on their friend Rumsfeld in recent months, blaming his inane strategy for losing what should have been their glorious triumph, leading the way to further incursions in the region. It is an irony that these losers were rewarded with Rumsfeld’s forced resignation. Most of the ISG suggestions will be ignored, particularly those vaguely advocating withdrawal.
Bush says victory is still possible, but that’s just a pose, or perhaps he seriously hopes for divine intervention. He may eventually settle for token troop withdrawals in order to quiet his critics, based on the claim that “progress” has been made. There is no doubt that Bush and Cheney have the power to keep the war going until 2008, when they can hand it over to another administration and escape at least some of the blame for the inevitable defeat.
Interestingly, neither the Study Group report nor the leaders of the American international affairs establishment are actually against the war, just against losing the war. They don’t question whether the Bush Administration had a right to invade Iraq, just that it was done without sufficient allied backing and enough troops to win. They never mention that the war is unjust (it wasn’t declared as a “last resort” and there was no “imminent threat” to America, among other “just-war” criteria). They seem indifferent to the fact that it is patently illegal (by a multitude of international laws including the UN Charter to which the U.S. is a sworn adherent). And none of them has ever suggested it was immoral to kill all those people and destroy a sovereign country (as though morality was ever a factor in American expansionism, from the Indian Wars to the Iraq Wars).
The foreign policy realists are anxious to resume their traditional influence over America’s international affairs and will do so after the 2008 elections regardless of which party wins, if not sooner. The neocons appear to have imploded politically, leaving behind a White House now transfixed upon defending the Bush-Cheney “legacy” from history’s harshest verdict next to that of impeachment, which the Democratic leadership obligingly refuses to allow.
It is unrealistic to anticipate any substantial changes beyond the cosmetic in post-Bush foreign policy. The new policy will be more diplomatic, friendlier to allies, and multilateral, but just as unipolar, aggressive, and determined to maintain America’s position of global economic, political and military domination.
The next decade, in fact, may be all the more dangerous because America has already attained its apogee as the world’s preeminent power and has started to decline as inevitably as previous empires, earlier than most. The U.S. empire-of-a-new-type, occupying the world not with colonists or pith-helmeted wielders of swagger sticks but financial interests and military bases supported by the long-range reach if its ships, bombers and nuclear armed missiles, is starting to drift apart, judging by the following developments:
The expression of challenges to Washington’s insistence upon a unipolar world order with itself in command; China’s extraordinary rise to probable superpower status; the growing leftward tilt and assertions of independence in heretofore obedient Latin America; the unexpectedly strong comeback of Russia, an oil and natural gas giant at a time when energy resources are becoming the coin of the developed world’s realm; India’s sudden appearance on the world stage; Brazil’s coming of age; South Korea’s more independent stance; the refusal of Iran and D.P.R. Korea to retreat before American threats; the nascent decline of U.S. influence in Asia, Eurasia and undoubtedly in the Middle East as well after the comeuppance in Iraq, the U.S.-Israeli embarrassment in Lebanon and their continuing refusal to withdraw to the 1967 borders and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state; the eventual distancing of Europe (starting with “Old Europe”) from Washington’s restrictive embrace, after working out its new role in the world following completion of the shift in global balance from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and lastly, the increasingly precarious, debt-ridden U.S. economy, which in time just may not be able to sustain itself.
Given America’s expansionist history and the dominating role it plays in the world, combined with its unparalleled military strength and aversion to challenge from other states or blocs, the inevitable transition to a multipolar world order will have to be managed with great skill by all concerned. There is an African proverb to the effect that it is not wise to insult the crocodile until you cross the water. Most of the rising nations mentioned above, particularly China — which has the most to lose from provoking U.S. umbrage — will act in accordance with this sensible advice, but cannot help but continue to edge toward multipolarity. At issue is the unipolar crocodile. Will it choose to be insulted, preemptively as it were, by the mere fact that the water is being crossed?
There are worrisome decades ahead for the post-Bush world, whichever of the two parties occupies the White House and Congress. The intractable problems that beset the 20th Century — devastating wars, a potentially excruciating environmental crisis, global poverty, and the diminishing of crucial energy resources, among many others — will only increase in the present century in the absence of a dramatic reordering of priorities and profound social changes.
American foreign policy, for its part, must execute a historic turn in a new direction which does not seem possible under the political conditions that exist in the U.S. today — the very conditions that contribute to compounding the difficulties. The United States, because of its power, wealth, ability and creativity, has a choice that can make a difference in this century between an immense catastrophe in time, or a better world. Its role is just that central to the problem, and the solution.
Washington can continue on the same path of unipolar world leadership, extending its hegemony throughout the globe, suspiciously policing its vastness day and night. It can continue to shovel the wealth of the world into the ferocious maw of militarism. It can continue to find enemies and threats under every rock, behind every tree, in every dark corner. It can continue to impose its will against real or potential rivals, blocs or individual countries. It can continue to place its own self-interests ahead of the needs of the entire world. It can continue to ignore the developing ecological crisis, or the crushing poverty, hunger and thirst of billions of people, or the soul-deadening inequalities constricting billions more, or the crying need for a world at peace at last.
Or it can change, and veer toward a different path leading toward a better world. A path leading toward a cooperative world order. A path leading toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons, substantial disarmament and a spectacular reduction in world military spending. Leading toward sharing the riches of the world. Toward individual, social and economic equality. Toward genuine democracy. Toward real justice for all. Toward an end to senseless hatreds that penalize race, skin color, ethnicity, and different religions. Toward real equality for women, and safety from violence and the chains of supremacist traditions. Toward equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Toward the right of people to love whom they please. Toward creating good jobs. Toward real power for working class unions. Toward a society where all children are protected, and their rights respected. Toward a sustainable environment and balanced ecology, and respect for all creatures and all life on this small, fragile and endangered home of ours.
This is no longer a utopian dream, but a necessity for survival. The existing political, social and economic order that puts corporate profits and self-interest first, that rewards the few and exploits the many, that is content to live under the threat of war and possible world conflagration, that ignores the dreadful plight of the billions of people living in poverty, is proving incapable of dealing constructively with the mounting contradictions that threaten the well being of human existence.
Theoretically, a transformation to a better world can actually be accomplished in this century because the scientific, technological, intellectual, industrial, economic and social wherewithal exist for the first time in human history to make this transition possible.
Virtually all history’s great social, or scientific, or economic transformations were once deemed impossible. And so often those who claim “human nature” cannot change are but themselves the latest rendition of a continuing redefinition of the human condition.
There are times in history when significant change takes place fairly rapidly and sometimes unexpectedly. These transformations are always the product of incremental changes over a long period of time that may not even be perceived much less understood to be associated with each other. At a certain point these small changes in the quantity of things combine to metamorphose into a qualitative change to produce a major historic development.
Who knew, in January 1917 that the Bolsheviks would seize power in Russia in 10 months? Lenin didn’t. Who knew in September 1929 that in one month the New York stock market would crash, causing a chain of events leading to the decade-long collapse of the world capitalist economy, only to be revived by World War II? Wall St. didn’t. Who knew that a small peasant army in Southeast Asia could push Uncle Sam’s best forces out of Indochina? Not Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson when they managed the war, one after the other, following the likewise completely unforeseen French defeat in 1954. Who knew the USSR would disintegrate? Not the CIA, and no one was watching more carefully. Who knew that one of the results of the U.S.-financed war against the Soviets in Afghanistan would be the strengthening of al-Qaeda to the point where it could contemplate a 9/11? Washington was oblivious.
None of these important effects emerged fully developed without causes. Each was the product of small changes in a number of areas over long periods of time that were not easy to predict. Who can say with certainty that historic and positive social change will not take place in America in 100 years, or 50 years or even 25 years? Who can be sure that the required small changes in quantity are not already accumulating apace? Human intervention is very much a part of the process and this can be consciously increased. Every time we hoist a picket sign, or stand vigil for peace, or challenge a racist or anti-Semitic or anti-Arab remark, a small change takes place. Every time we join with others organizationally to work for social progress, another bigger change takes place, not even visible perhaps, but cumulative just the same.
Is this simply dreaming? Only in the sense of metaphor, such as Martin Luther King’s dream which shook America to its core, and the shock waves reverberate still, a reminder that the task is not yet complete. King’s dream was but the conceptualizing of an accumulated quantity of small changes. These resulted from struggles and sufferings over a long period of time, in combination with seemingly unrelated changes, such as African freedom from colonialism and geopolitical imperatives forcing Washington to renounce apartheid in America. And at the moment King stood before multitudes to announce in words that electrified the world, “I have a dream,” the immense quantity of small changes affecting race relations in the United States were already in transformation to qualitative social change.
Who is to say it is impossible to construct a foreign policy of cooperation, of peace, and sufficiency for all — a policy that can by its very nature emerge only from the values of the better society that can and must be built to make possible a better world? And if it is possible, ever so difficult but possible, isn’t it necessary to get far more active in creating the progressive changes that can eventually bring about a qualitative transformation in our country to become a more equitable, just, cooperative and peaceful society? And if America could embark on such a journey, others surely will follow.
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