Facing Foreign Realities

A distinguished journalist calls for a reassessment of Reagan's foreign policy.


When a football coach scouts the team of his principal rival, he does not minimize its strength. Rather, he will most closely study the plays and formations that he knows will be unfamiliar to his own boys. They will quickly detect weakness in the opposition for themselves. It is the unanticipated power against which they must be warned in advance.

Unfortunately, this homely but practical procedure is seldom applied by the corps of correspondents that our news services and major papers maintain in Soviet Russia. Ask yourself when you last read or saw a news report that was even mildly favorable to any aspect of Russian life. All the news concentrates on food shortages, crop failures, police brutalities, infant mortality, alcoholism, crumbling tenements, miserable transport, broken machinery, and general social collapse. Only in military hardware do we hear, paradoxically, that the Russians are as well equippedor even betterthan we are.

I have never myself been a correspondent in Russia; indeed, I have only visited that enigmatic country once, and that briefly. But I know many reporters who have written from there, and I have asked several why their reports were so often adversely slanted. In every case the answer has been similar: "My paper doesn't want anything that could be called pro-Communist. If I wrote that way, my copy would be thrown out, and I'd soon be replaced."

Russia has declared itself "the enemy" of the capitalist world, and many Americans would undoubtedly like to accept the challenge. Yet this downgrading of Slavic capacity seems a stupid way of preparing for the test. Hitler and Napoleon were both competent warlords who were contemptuous of the latent strength of Russia. There is no reason to think that any conceivable American Fuehrer would be more successful just because he would have better domestic plumbing behind him.


It is known, though not widely publicized, that in three of the major sinews of modern waroil, steel, and goldcurrent Soviet production exceeds our own. An interesting article by Prof. Jerry F. Hough, of Duke University, in a recent issue of the Brookings' Bulletin, expands that list to include improved living standards. According to his tabulation, between 1965 and 1978 the percentage of Russian families with refrigerators rose from 11 to 78; with TV installations, from 24 to 82. Meantime, the annual consumption of meat products per person increased from 41 to 57 kilograms and the number of qualified doctors, from 554,000 to 929,000. These and similar advances are admittedly compiled from official Soviet statistics, but the prestigious Brookings Institution does not consider that a reason for slighting them.

Moreover, our material superiority would probably make no substantial difference in the event of nuclear war between the two superpowers. We could very likely annihilate 20 million Russians while they might have to be content with killing a mere 5 or 10 million Americans in a smaller number of cities. But in the larger issue of really "winning" the presumable war, the cards would be stacked against us, whatever the discrepancy in casualties.

That is because Communism, as a military dictatorship, is the most primitive form of governmental organization, one that can sink no lower under strain. Our federal structure, on the other hand, is the highly complicated result of generations of political and economic compromise. It could readily collapse into incompetent fragments under the incalculable effects of nuclear war.

Only the slightest knowledge of recent history is required to realize that total war, by its essentially concentrated nature, is invidious to a free society and advantageous for a Communist one. The First World War ended with the Bolsheviks triumphant throughout Russia while the seemingly stable governments of the West were all gravely weakened. The second war extended Communist control both to the heartland of Europe and all of northern Asia while reducing the "free world" to helpless bits and pieces dependent on the still-powerful United States for recovery. It requires no gift of prophecy to anticipate that in a third global conflict Communism would be everywhere triumphant. Of course, with our weakness for soothing nomenclature, we would not call the disaster by its proper name. At a guess, the sobriquet for American Communism would be "participatory democracy."


There is no comfort in the thought that in a third world war the USA and the USSR would be open opponents and not nominal partners. The Kremlin never even pretended that the lavish assistance provided by us in the early '40s would be used for anything other than Communist aggrandizement. In those days, when Republican leadership was in the hands of thoughtful men like Herbert Hoover, Robert Taft, and Alfred Landon, the opposition to "Good Old Joe" Stalin was intelligently "isolationist."

Now, direction has been surrendered to newcomers who can only pretend to know what they are doing in the arcane channels of foreign policy. Of all the inept remarks by President Reagan, perhaps the most alarming has been his observation that the cracks of dissolution are appearing in monolithic Communism. They have always been there, especially in Poland. But decay behind the Iron Curtain has never been greater than that which can no longer be concealed in the "uneasy alliance"as Henry Kissinger called itof NATO.

From the beginning it has been apparent that NATO, as a military alliance directed against Russia, is fundamentally hostile to the European Economic Community. This was designed as the basis of an eventual neutral political federation. Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland cannot join NATO because they are pledged, by treaty or firm tradition, not to participate in alliances. Other nations, especially Britain and West Germany, have been lukewarm toward the Common Market because of their military dependence on the United States. The result of the division has been that neither NATO nor the EEC has made the progress that its proponents confidently expected.

It is now apparent that the advocates of European federation, seeking neutrality between the United States and the Soviet Union, are gaining the upper hand. They have established an elected, representative Parliament and are experimenting with the idea of a unified European currency and the establishment of a single central bank of issue.

More to the point, all these countries are seriously alarmed by the rapid growth of American belligerency. France long since withdrew from any active participation in NATO and under Socialist control is now unlikely to resume an anti-Russian stance. The West Germans are well aware that a Russo-American conflict would completely devastate their rebuilt country and are placing that consideration above all others. Even the British, somewhat relieved by the abundance of North Sea oil, are beginning to realize that from the viewpoint of the Pentagon their country is valued primarily as a base for our bombing planes and submarines and as a staging area for American troops if, as, and when military occupation of Soviet territory becomes feasible.

The issue, therefore, is not so much whether our European allies can rely on us but whether we can rely on them. This becomes doubtful as the "disease" of pacifism spreads through Western Europe. It adds up to an unassisted American military expenditure that threatens to wipe out all and more of the economies in welfare spending for which President Reagan believes he has a popular mandate. Transferring bundles of fiat money from the left-hand to the right-hand pocket is not a procedure under which Uncle Sam can retard inflation, balance the budget, or stimulate constructive domestic investment of private capital.


The ineluctable fact is that we opened a Pandora's box when we decided to destroy the military barriers that Germany and Japan had erected to prevent the spread of Communism. No doubt there was strong moral justification for President Roosevelt's "unconditional surrender" policy, but its long-range political consequences were seldom openly discussed. It seemed to be assumed that the United States, because of its fancied technological supremacy, could at any chosen time alter and even reverse the course of history. Only a basically uneducated and heedless people could believe that fallacy.

There is something poignant in the way so many think that legally restricted and historically ill-informed presidents can have their uninhibited way in foreign policy. Sadly, the record is largely a matter of futile exhibitionism. Having splintered Germany and disarmed Japan, we find that they enjoy the resultant economies and have no desire to be remilitarized. Having destroyed the barriers that contained Communism both to the West and to the East, we have vainly labored, through such jerrybuilt bulwarks as SEATO and CENTO, to build a southward bloc. Having sought to maintain this by the ill-judged intervention in Vietnam, we are annoyed when the Third World says the Russians did the same, only more successfully, in Afghanistan. Having helped to bring Communism to China, we fancy that we can stifle that doctrine by close association with people whom we really do not trust. In Latin America, they wonder how we harmonize antipathy to Castro with support of military dictators in neighboring areas.

Other highly dubious forays are continuously added to the list. Perhaps its most tragic aspect is the way these have substituted increasing contempt and fear for the respect that used to be held for our national conduct. It will not be easy to regain that fading reputation. The first step must be the resumption of honest domestic commentary on our own abundant blunders.

Felix Morley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and educator, was editor of the Washington Post from 1933 to 1940 and of Human Events from 1945 to 1950. His book Freedom and Federalism (1959) was recently republished by LibertyPress.