Antipolitics, by George Konrad, translated by Richard E. Allen, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 243 pp., $12.95
Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World, by Jonathan Kwitney, New York: Congdon & Weed, 435 pp., $19.95
The United States is undertaking a second four years under Ronald Reagan with some consensus about the wealth-producing benefits of the free market. American foreign policy, however, remains the subject of intense disagreement, even within Reagan's own administration. Polls at election time showed a deep split among the supporters of President Reagan. Voters strongly supported his program to stave off tax increases and cut government spending. But many voters feared that there is an aggressiveness of spirit to Reagan's foreign policy that has nothing to do with American security. American interventions in the Middle East and Central America stood out.
Still, many Reagan supporters were impressed with the point made by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R–Ariz.) at the Dallas Republican convention: American participation in the four major 20th-century wars—World War I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war—commenced under Democratic presidents. Yet the American academic and journalistic establishment seems blind to this fact.
In this atmosphere of confusion and disagreement, nothing could be more helpful than a fresh look at American foreign policy. Two recent books, George Konrad's Antipolitics, and Jonathan Kwitney's Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World, mark a break from the stale foreign policy prescriptions of both conservatives and progressives.
George Konrad, a leading Hungarian dissident, is openly critical of the superpowers' Cold War, arguing that it strengthens Soviet domination over Eastern Europe. He proposes that Western and Eastern Europe work together against the influence of the superpowers.
Konrad recalls that in the October 1956 Hungarian revolution, youths chanted, "Soldiers from everywhere, go home and stay there." The rallying cry, believes Konrad, is even more relevant today. He proposes a positive European peace strategy to remove the superpowers' influence from Europe: "We Europeans can assure peace only if we detach ourselves from (the superpowers) militarily by mutual agreement, and then go on to draw the two parts of a divided Europe together." Indeed, there is some budding precedent for Konrad's proposal. Already, with strong support from Hungary, East and West Germany are defying Soviet party doctrine by establishing important new relations.
For Eastern Europe, Konrad seeks the neutrality and freedom enjoyed by Finland—the rule of law in place of "democratic centralism." He contends that democracy, pluralism, and the right to property are necessary to the evolution of peace and suggests that the Eastern European middle class will eventually imperceptibly swallow up the dictatorships. Dictatorships are self-defeating, and Konrad hopes that the power elites will see that reality.
Konrad recommends that the United States and the Soviet Union be challenged by Europe to accept a mutually beneficial business proposition. To achieve a developed economy, the Soviet Union must concentrate on consumer goods instead of military goods, a task made almost impossible given the current strategic situation. However, with the lead of Europe as arbitrator, the US and Soviet governments could negotiate mutual military withdrawals from European soil. US forces should return home, but so, too, should Soviet forces withdraw from European Russia to east of the Ural Mountains. While this and other proposals of Konrad's are not easily attainable, his fresh perspective as a European adds an alternative worldview to the current bipolar view of the US-Soviet conflict.
Konrad is a subtle writer, and his insight needs at times to be reread to grasp the several levels from which he is viewing reality. Perhaps this subtlety is also due in part to the fact that he's writing under a Communist regime. But while Konrad writes with the illumination and the weight of history, Jonathan Kwitney's book has neither. Kwitney's Endless Enemies is clearly the work of an American and a journalist. Its straightforward prose reflects the freedom of America. But Endless Enemies also reflects the premises of American journalism, which are not necessarily grounded in reality.
Kwitney's subtitle, "How America's Worldwide Interventions Destroy Democracy and Free Enterprise and Defeat Our Own Best Interests," tells the story of his book. Its general theme might have been Herbert Hoover's or Robert Taft's of the Old Right.
Kwitney devotes much of his attention to African policy—specifically, American relations with the Congo, Nigeria, and Angola. He understands the central importance of tribal politics in Africa, which results in rival tribes always aligning themselves in opposite camps in the East-West confrontation. While his extensive examination of America's 25-year policy in the Congo is better done than most, it still lacks completeness. He focuses on Mobutu Sese Seko, who became president in 1965, rather than on other post-1960 political leaders.
Of special importance among these neglected leaders is Moise Tshombe, whom the United States and the United Nations repeatedly sought to overthrow, both when he was premier of Katanga Province, which seceded from the Belgian Congo when it gained independence in 1960, and when he became premier of the Congo itself in 1964. Kwitney criticizes the US support for Mobutu, who represented strong statist policies, against the forces of Patrice Lumumba, who fought for self-determination and so-called African socialism. But in Kwitney's haste to support self-determination, he completely misses the fact that Tshombe represented a third force, one that at once aspired to self-determination but also supported a relatively free economy.
Nevertheless, Kwitney does see the supreme irony in the case of the Lunda tribes of Katanga Province, who were pro-Western and supported free enterprise but who were driven into Portuguese Angola by the United States and the United Nations. They later returned to Katanga in 1977–78 to challenge their statist (but American bank-supported) enemy, Mobutu. America's policy in the Congo since 1960 clearly illustrates how the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly defeat America's own best interests.
America's Middle-East policy, especially with reference to Iran and Afghanistan, is subjected to valuable analysis by Kwitney. He summarizes the details of a plan by Nixon and Kissinger for Iran and Saudi Arabia to pay for expensive weapons by raising oil prices. They could thus buy American weapons in large enough quantities to reduce their unit costs.
Kwitney observes, but could have elaborated further on, the role of the shah of Iran in destabilizing Afghanistan. The shah overthrew Afghanistan's king in 1973 and then used OPEC price increases to finance massive projects in Afghanistan, replacing the Soviet Union as that country's major source of foreign aid. The shah's policy involved suppression of Afghan Communists, one of whose factions was strong in the Soviet-trained army. Consequently, the Communist factions overthrew the pro-Iranian innovators and then began cutting one another's throats until the Soviet army intervened in 1979 to salvage the few remaining Communists.
Like most journalists, Kwitney lacks historical knowledge of the areas about which he is writing. This is particularly a problem with his sections on Latin America. The general tendency of commentators has been to complain that current problems in Latin America can be traced to the lack of US foreign aid in the past, which turns local populations into communists. However, communists develop in Latin America not from too little American involvement but from too much.
It is no accident that the two Latin American countries with Communist regimes are the two that have experienced the most American involvement. Nicaragua and Cuba have been subjected to more "good government" election reforms, health and sanitation projects, education programs, and so on than any other Latin American countries.
Kwitney is correct to score America's foreign policy for bolstering authoritarian regimes, thereby actually hindering the development of free markets and democracy in the rest of the world. But, like so many other journalists, he fails to understand why the United States supports such regimes. In fact, it should come as no surprise that the United States intervenes in behalf of authoritarian forces and even (as in the case of Tshombe in the Congo) against those fighting for democracy and free markets. Support for statist regimes arises because the US government itself is an enemy of capitalism. Its policies, both at home and abroad, are those of a welfare state in which a strong central government and economic intervention are the norm. American foreign policy, as described by Kwitney, is not an aberration or mistake but merely a logical extension of the American welfare state. Because Kwitney does not understand this, his discussion, especially of Latin America, must be read with caution.
In his concluding chapter, Kwitney notes the impossibility of accepting the labels placed on foreign regimes by the US government. Noting the differences between the former French Congo (Brazzaville) and the former Belgian Congo (Zaire), which are divided for 650 miles by the Congo River system, he remarks:
On the northwestern bank is the People's Republic of Congo, which in 1963 proclaimed itself the first Marxist-Leninist state in Africa. It still flaunts that label. Across the river to the southeast is Zaire, a drumbeating Western ally. It isn't surprising, therefore, that people constantly cross the river seeking economic freedom.…What the American foreign policy establishment might find hard to understand, however, is the direction in which these people, and many others, cross the river. They are leaving the purportedly free capitalist country of Zaire, which is, in fact, a totalitarian state that seeks to control all economic activity above the subsistence level. And they are coming to the purportedly communist country of Congo, which, in fact, has discovered the benefits of the free market. The Congo isn't, of course, a democracy or laissez-faire country.…But both economically and politically, the Congo is much freer than Zaire.
Kwitney continues his analysis:
The contrast between the Congo and Zaire reflects a worldwide disparity between big-power perceptions and local actualities.…Despite its pro-Western label, the Zairian government spurns Western values. Government boards claim monopoly rights to all mineral resources. Marketing constraints discourage agricultural production.…The Zairian form of government was described by one Peace Corps volunteer there as a 'kleptocracy.' By contrast, the Congo allows considerable free commerce.
It is an example of Kwitney's lack of depth that he is not aware that Stanislav Andreski has addressed the issue of 'kleptocracy' (a regime of plunder) in his books Parasitism and Subversion (which deals with Latin America) and The African Predicament, both recommended to free-market readers. Despite this lack of depth and other minor faults, Endless Enemies is must reading for anyone who wants to better understand American foreign policy.
Historian Leonard P. Liggio is president of the Institute for Humane Studies in Menlo Park, California.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Superpowers’ Super Problems In Foreign Policy".