To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s description of the ominous character of our present danger is admirable for its historical perspective, scope, and lucidity [“The Present Danger,” March]. In nearly all respects I share his conclusions. I recognize that in calling for a renewed policy of containing Soviet imperialism, it was not his intent to examine also what would constitute an effective policy under present conditions. Nonetheless, a brief comment on this problem is appropriate, since a portrayal of the consequences of the decline of American power that does not take account of the large but underutilized strengths that remain to us risks contributing to the defeatist mood Mr. Podhoretz seeks to overcome.
Foremost among underutilized strengths are not only our military potential but also the web of mutual interests among the industrial democracies—a web that has grown hugely in the era launched by the Marshall Plan and NATO. Such interests are, of course, far broader than a common dependence upon oil originating in the region of the Persian Gulf, but the present degree of such dependence puts the freedom of all industrial democracies at risk. It must, therefore, be a central purpose of our foreign policy to engage the other members of NATO and Japan (whose dependence is even greater than our own) in a common protection of access to that oil by world commerce. For them to enjoy the protection without equitably sharing the financial and military responsibilities would be divisive in this country and would further encourage neutralist illusions in theirs.
The ambiguous responses of our European allies and Japan to the invasion of Afghanistan are bound to foster doubts about their willingness to defend themselves. Yet it would be a grave mistake to conclude that majority opinion cannot be rallied in these countries to an effective defense of democracy against the encroachment of Russian Communism. To believe otherwise would be both rash and patronizing. True, the experience of the past thirty-five years suggests that a majority will not so rally in the absence of resolute American leadership, but given such leadership, we may reasonably expect sufficient help within the other democracies for articulating the case for a common defense and for devising its instruments.
Having helped to create the Marshall Plan as a concept and NATO as a functioning organization, as well as to administer the former, I draw upon direct knowledge of events in those years to make my point. The resolution of crises appears to be simple only in retrospect. There are, of course, major differences between the problems of the immediate postwar period and today’s, but on balance the differences favor our present prospects. The situation in 1946 was grim in all respects and the path to its resolution was far from clear. Much of Europe had been devastated. Millions were homeless, even more were hungry. Agricultural production was falling. Factories that were not in ruins operated fitfully for want of materials and spare parts. In the tangle of contradictory purposes that governed American policy in Europe, “getting along with the Russians” took precedence. Getting along meant support for their policy of a rash dismantling of German industry on a scale that would have condemned both the Germans and their neighbors to a prolonged poverty and despair which surely would have brought all of Europe under Soviet domination. Not until cooperation with the Soviet Union was subordinated to Europe’s well-being was it possible to arrest economic and political disintegration and to begin a triumphant recovery.
I do not suggest that an adequate rally by the industrial democracies will be achieved easily or quickly. All diplomacy is a mix of persuasion and pressure (or at least its prospect). A great deal of both was required to induce Nazi Germany’s angry victims to accept as a partner that part of Germany that was again free. It was an American initiative that began Europe’s mutual recovery program and then gave impetus toward economic federation now expressed in the European Economic Community, strongly pressed by us upon hesitant governments. Primarily we must rely now, as we did then, upon a clear articulation of a steadfast American purpose, but in extremity we must be prepared to condition the terms of access to the American market to the cooperation of partners in mutual defense.
At the end of 1952, after a year of intense and difficult negotiations had finally produced agreement on NATO force levels, bases, infrastructure, and shared costs (my occupation being the last), I felt moved to caution against a potential complacency, which I did by noting, in a speech in Paris, the fate of the Confederacy of Delos, NATO’s closest historical parallel. The confederacy of many Greek city-states was formed under Athenian leadership in 477 B.C.E., when Persia had been repulsed but was still a military threat and could manipulate substantial factions within Greece. The alliance took its name from the island of Delos where its treasure was kept. Its success was its undoing. As time passed safely, some members, grown weary of a military posture, obtained a division of labor whereby in exchange for payments of money they were relieved of an obligation to furnish men and ships (an ancient precedent for remarkably similar division-of-labor suggestions that have come recently from Bonn). The practice spread, and the shift of most military responsibility to Athens led to the Athenian empire which itself met an unhappy end before the century was out.
Despite partial defections by France and Greece, NATO has thus far remained an effective alliance to deter a Soviet thrust into Western Europe. Still, it could yet meet the fate of that earlier alliance of democracies, if not by weakening from within, then by a way that would have seemed fanciful when NATO was formed. With Western Europe’s prosperity, as with ours, came a radical shift in energy supply from domestic coal to imported oil, and this condition, when accompanied by political instability in oil-exporting countries and the relentless build-up and outward deployment of Soviet military forces, as seen thus far in the invasion of Afghanistan and the posting of a large naval force to the Indian Ocean, has created a ripening opportunity for a Soviet flanking operation which, by controlling vital oil supplies, could make NATO arms irrelevant. The fact of the opportunity—the objective situation, to use a phrase dear to Communist strategists—is a more prudent guide to the defense of the United States and its allies than subjective speculations about Soviet motives.
To meet the new situation, the industrial democracies should supplement NATO with a second mutual-defense organization, broader in membership, including Japan, and capable of restraining the Soviet Union from expanding into the region of the Persian Gulf. (A second organization would obviate difficult problems that would arise in a remaking of NATO.) NATO’s supplement should be accompanied by concerted actions by the industrial democracies to conserve energy, to increase their supply from alternative sources, and to control the runaway costs of imported oil. By demonstrating the hazards of not doing these things, Mr. Podhoretz has rendered a laudable service.
Paul R. Porter
To the Editor:
I have just finished reading “The Present Danger.” COMMENTARY readers have seldom been treated to so revealing a discussion of the steady decline in national security. In fact, Norman Podhoretz succeeds in expressing—in stark perspective—the dissent within the intelligence community regarding long-range Soviet intentions for superiority, not parity, in arms. Estimates were bad and became progressively worse on the low side. However, the fact that most of the intelligence community could be so wrong for so long on so vital an issue means that we ought to question our ability even to understand, let alone combat, the Soviet threat.
As a result of misguided arms-control diplomacy, the U.S. today finds its defenses diminished almost to the point of inferiority. We have allowed our most serious adversary to develop without restraint the ability to destroy our deterrent forces. Thus, Soviet power and the global imbalance it creates threaten to make the 1980’s a perilous decade.
This is not to imply that the situation is utterly hopeless. We have available to us a number of immediate remedies which can bring our nuclear force to near parity. These include: the acceleration of programs already under way in the research-and-development stage; the resurrection of cancelled programs like the B-l bomber; the adoption of new technologies for existing weapons; the addition of components to existing systems; and changes in operations. All this will, in addition, confuse Soviet planners by presenting them with qualitatively different problems.
At the conventional force level the situation is somewhat different. Here, we must recognize that there are no immediate remedies; that negotiations will not be able to prevent the Soviets from continuing to sponsor local wars and to invade their neighbors; and that we will not have the capability to engage them conventionally until 1984.
Historically, the stronger of two competing nations does not allow its opponent to catch up to it. Accordingly, the patience and stamina of the United States will be severely tested as we regain strength. Only then will we once again be in control of our future and offer the hope of freedom backed by the necessary strength to assure its survival.
The Center for International Security
To the Editor:
I found Norman Podhoretz’s article concise and informative in both its historical background and in its description of the evolving expansionism motivating the Soviet Union. I share Mr. Podhoretz’s fear that “sporadic outbursts of indignant energy” will continue as expressions of a confused public, looking for unwavering strength in their President and the foreign policy he dictates. In the absence of that clarity, good articles like “The Present Danger” can help make the public aware of what is needed, before it is too late.
Paul H. Nitze
To the Editor:
When doomsday comes, the readers of COMMENTARY will have one advantage over other Americans: they won’t be surprised. COMMENTARY has warned us that the Soviet Union has been overtaking the United States in all branches of weaponry, that it has been taking the lead in the nuclear race, and that it does conceive of a “winnable” nuclear war. COMMENTARY has shown us how democratic socialism is being swallowed up by the extreme Left; it has denounced the follies of Andrew Young’s carryings-on in the Third World; and it has revealed that the Soviet combat brigade is indeed in Cuba for training purposes, namely, training the Cubans for an invasion of Oman. The magazine has exposed the pitfalls of SALT II; it has pointed out the feet of clay of America’s allies; and it has revealed how American business is selling the Russians “the rope” with which they plan to hang us. Walter Laqueur, Edward N. Luttwak, Richard Pipes, Carl Gershman, Robert W. Tucker, Theodore Draper, Daniel P. Moynihan, Bayard Rustin, and others have conjured up enough horsemen for two apocalypses. . . .
Again and again the hopes of the COMMENTARY reader that things could not be quite so bleak as depicted in these splendidly written articles have been shattered. In the meantime, some of the controversial things first printed in COMMENTARY have become accepted truisms. Who today would challenge Richard Pipes’s allegations about Soviet nuclear strategy? Just recently, ABC’s 20-20 carried a report on how American technology has served the Russian weapons industry. . . .
Now, Norman Podhoretz presents us with two scenarios in which the President of the U.S. might have to choose between nuclear war and Soviet control over the oil supply. The optimistic scenario is set in Orwell’s 1984, the pessimistic one right now. The President will blink—and accept Soviet control. And though Mr. Podhoretz writes in the conditional, he draws a vivid picture of what the ensuing Finlandization of America would look like.
But though “The Present Danger” shows Mr. Podhoretz’s usual skill in analyzing what has brought us to our present state, he fails . . . in his attempt to end his article on an upbeat note. . . .
The reader remains with the sinking feeling that things must be very bad indeed and that it is “too late” after all. Given the accuracy of COMMENTARY’s evaluations and predictions, this is a sobering thought.
Benno Weiser Varon
To the Editor:
In his article, “The Present Danger,” Norman Podhoretz has performed a superb service in defining our current condition, and the choices that lie ahead of us, with respect to our national security. The article’s special value at this particular juncture is, I would suggest, to show the need for a clear and commanding principle on which to form the policies and actions that comprise our foreign and security policies. “Containment,” properly interpreted and applied, seems to me personally to retain its value as the major principle to govern our relations with the Soviet Union.
[Lt. Gen.] A. J. Goodpaster
West Point, New York
To the Editor:
After conceiving and directing Freedom House . . . for more than a quarter of a century, I resigned in 1970 in a traumatic act of rebellion against the malaise which set in as a result of our failure in Vietnam. . . . COMMENTARY has been my principal source of intellectual stimulation during these years in “exile” and never was this more true than when I read “The Present Danger.” . . .
If we are ever to get back on the right track as a nation, we must know where we’ve been and where we’re going. Norman Podhoretz has helped to clarify the issues and lead the way. . . .
For me, hope has been revived, and I have no doubt that there will be many who will applaud Mr. Podhoretz’s clarion call and will unite to challenge the sources of the present danger.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
To the Editor:
. . . “Is it too late?” Norman Podhoretz asks. Perhaps the healthy popular reaction to Iran and Afghanistan indicates that public-spirited nationalism is by no means dried up—just plugged up by the post-Vietnam syndrome. . . . Yet, as Mr. Podhoretz says, “. . . . the twin furies of isolationism and appeasement unleashed by our humiliating defeat in Vietnam will recover from the blows of Iran and Afghanistan.” This view has already been confirmed. To take one example, Stanley Karnow, in the Washington Star, writes that “denying sophisticated oil-drilling equipment to the Russians may eventually prompt them to seek energy resources beyond their borders,” and that “an intractable hard line will only serve to strengthen hawkish tendencies in Moscow.” In short, the USSR is a power that has made up its mind what it wants and will go after it by whatever means necessary. Since some of those means might be unpleasant for us, Karnow suggests that the best policy is to help the Soviets get what they want gracefully. Back to the 1930’s.
In spite of the initial protest over the events in Iran and Afghanistan, public reception of the administration’s modest counter-measures was mixed, revealing flaws beneath the surface. Cutting grain and high-technology exports and boycotting the Olympics were accepted but not without outcrop-pings of “me-first-ism.” Deployments to the Indian Ocean impose no immediate domestic inconvenience and, therefore, pass muster, but are criticized in some quarters as “excessively militaristic.” Pre-draft registration has evoked sharp criticism, much of it traceable to the post-Vietnam syndrome. This is all recognized abroad. . . .
Three factors contribute to our domestic weakness. Mr. Podhoretz mentions the post-Vietnam syndrome. Perhaps the new nationalism has created a propitious moment for a simple exposition to the common man of how the tragedy of Vietnam resulted from the misconceptions and indecision of a few men—not from original sin. He also mentions the corruption of social selfishness of the “me-generation” whose members, he says, “elevate selfishness into a moral ideal” and “cannot conceive of anything worth fighting, let alone dying, for.” The third factor is self-breeding inflation. . . . There is little likelihood of curing our other domestic weaknesses until inflation can be reversed. . . .
The conventional methods to halt inflation, which focus on the institutional-monetary side of the economic equation, are not working. We must also attack the production side. But so resistant is the economy to control from the conventional institutional levers that increased production would probably require a “production crusade”—a kind of New Deal in reverse. The New Deal was not very effective and must bear much of the responsibility for starting us on the course that has led to the present pass. But it gave the country a sense of direction and it regenerated our national unity, which we soon needed in World War II. . . .
Norman Podhoretz has raised the question of whether the new nationalism is in time, and he has rightly applauded the public response to the challenges of the Middle East. But, it seems to me, there is something else needed as well—a regeneration of our domestic politico-socioeconomic base at home. Without this, I fear we will reach a point at which the multiplying challenges of the Soviet Union may not evoke a healthy response but will load our domestic base beyond its present capacity to bear. This, then, might propel us into a blind, fearful descent into compulsive appeasement. I hope not.
Norman B. Hannah
To the Editor:
“The Present Danger” is absolutely splendid. The facts are well articulated and presented in a manner which cannot, in my opinion, be contradicted. Norman Podhoretz does the country a great service in these dangerous times. If we emerge from this crisis successfully, which I can only hope and pray we will, he will have contributed greatly to our success.
[Lt. Gen., Ret.] E. Rowny
The Wilson Center
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s sweeping analysis of postwar American foreign policy and his ideas regarding the consequences of our present world posture deserve much praise, not because he has necessarily conceived new, untried solutions but because he has reasserted the effectiveness of an older, long abandoned one.
Just how deeply rooted the present malaise is was evident in President Carter’s remark immediately after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that he had learned more about the Soviet Union in the past few weeks than in the entire tenure of his Presidency. This comment has to be one of the most remarkable statements ever made by an American President, for had it been made at any number of times in our past it quite probably would have been grounds for impeachment. To those who have followed the events of the last several years unaffected by the claptrap that emanates from the more fashionable circles of the foreign-policy establishment, the question must arise as to just what planet that establishment has been living on for the past few years.
Mr. Podhoretz is legitimately concerned that the new nationalism might prove to be only a fleeting spasm. Unless this country finds inspired leadership, the kind of leadership that tolerates nothing less than an absolute resistance to those nations dedicated to our own moral demise, then the day may not be far off when voices of Mr. Podhoretz’s caliber fall not on deaf, but on frightened, ears.
John J. Cox
Flushing, New York
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz should be welcomed as one of the first to call for the awakening of the West in the troubled 80’s. . . . There is one aspect of Mr. Podhoretz’s article, however, which needs further attention: the economic/raw material equation between East and West.
America was once the greatest economic power in the world, holding half of the globe’s known resources; but this has changed drastically. Today, the USSR has the upper hand in this respect as well as in others. Thus, the USSR is almost self-sufficient in 37 basic minerals, while the U.S. and the West are almost totally dependent on imports from Third World countries. Soviet policy, therefore, is aimed at preventing these materials from freely reaching the West. . . .
About 70 to 80 per cent of the world’s known mineral resources are concentrated in Siberia and Southern Africa: 99 per cent of the platinum, 98 per cent of the manganese, 97 per cent of the vanadium, 95 per cent of the chrome, 87 per cent of the diamonds, and 69 per cent of the gold. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what this pattern means to the survival of the West. Western vulnerability is so great that, for example, 60 per cent of U.S. titanium is imported from the USSR (F-15’s and other planes are made from titanium); West Germany gets 30 per cent of its natural gas from the USSR.
In 1978, Cuban forces invaded the Shaba province in the Congo, where most of the world’s cobalt is located, and, though they were defeated, they might well try again. The Middle East is, of course, the other vital area from which half of the free world’s oil comes. The Soviets are following a master plan to bring these areas under their own influence and control in order to deny the West its basic needs.
The problems confronting the West today, therefore, are not similar to those confronted by the West in the past. . . . Western options are few—and the China card is not one of them. China cannot be expected to do the West’s “dirty work,” both because of its weakness and its long-run Marxist-Maoist aims. Thus, the West must work for its own survival in all spheres of policy, defense, and economics.
To the Editor:
In his provocative essay, “The Present Danger,” Norman Podhoretz seems to regret “the failure of the United States to take military action against OPEC in 1973-74.” But he in turn fails to [note] that it was the Shah of Iran . . . who led OPEC in its demand for a fourfold increase in the cost of oil as well as subsequent increases. No one today questions the fact that our present economic woes and inflation were triggered to a large extent by this action. Since our military strength is tied to our economic well-being, the “present danger” has been caused not only by the Soviets but also by our so-called friends. The recent decision of the Saudis to keep the oil supply flowing at present levels provided we do not build up our national stockpile, so necessary in a military emergency, falls into the same category.
Walter A. Sheldon
Lido Beach, New York
To the Editor:
Perhaps the prefix “neo” should be extracted from neoconservatism. The new nationalism to which Norman Podhoretz refers in “The Present Danger” is most reminiscent of the intentions and ideology of a former American President who employed the usage of this same dictum to describe the vigor of his forthcoming administration (during the campaign of 1912). It was this same President, Theodore Roosevelt, who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy gave orders to Admiral Mahan to take an excursion into the Philippines and “scout out the situation,” thus becoming the father of a misguided American imperialistic adventure, a godchild whose resurrection during this present period of American history—for whatever intended geographical application—is still considered undesirable by many Americans.
To the Editor:
I too read the remarks of George F. Kennan before a Senate committee on the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan. Did Norman Podhoretz and I read the same article? And if we did, by what route and on what evidence did Mr. Podhoretz make his extraordinary statements about Kennan? George Kennan has considerable credentials as an observer of the Soviet Union wholly apart from the containment controversies. His analysis of Soviet behavior seems utterly realistic. Kennan’s analysis of Soviet motives, intentions, and actions can be refuted by future events. But this is not the basis of Mr. Podhoretz’s crystal-ball gazing. The claim that the Soviets are inevitably expansionist is not verified so simply as Mr. Podhoretz appears to believe. Insofar as Afghanistan is concerned, this expansionist hypothesis (if not rhetoric) is grossly unsupported by even minimal evidence. There is so far no threat to Pakistan, let alone Yugoslavia. The latter nation has a history of armed resistance which alone would make Soviet policy-makers blanch; not to mention that threats to Yugoslavia, etc. would indeed shake the central balance of power and would most likely involve U.S. intervention. Such intervention (admittedly of a bargain-basement variety) was a possibility even on behalf of Afghanistan and the unpalatable General Zia of Pakistan.
The premises of Mr. Podhoretz’s arguments are distortions of history and serious misreadings of “present dangers.” In fact, the Soviets may well have created a problem in Afghanistan that will in the long run serve them ill. As saviors of the Third World, they now look very much like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Lastly, the deductions about Soviet intentions beyond “containing” Afghanistan are gratuitous saber-rattling. . . . What will Mr. Podhoretz say if events do not bear him out?
Robert D. Greenspan
To the Editor:
. . . Norman Podhoretz’s article contains two sentences which blunt the thrust of the essay. The first, introducing his peroration, reads: “Nevertheless something is still missing from the new nationalism.” A pithy statement in the abstract; its composer admires it sufficiently to yield to the temptation to repeat it, slightly altered, as he sums up on the next and final page. But all too clearly he fails to realize that it raises hopes in the reader which remain unfulfilled. Following as it does hard upon praise of the neoconservatives and his heralding the disappearance of the post-Vietnam mood, the sentence leads one to anticipate a positive contribution toward solving the foreign-policy dilemma. Instead, it turns out that what Mr. Podhoretz misses in the new nationalism (why not neonationalism?) is that it is not the same as the old nationalism. . . .
And what are we to make of the spectacle of George Kennan being pitted against George Kennan? . . . The [second] sentence alluded to above . . . reads in part: “. . . Kennan (no American chauvinist, to put it mildly) surely had in mind not any inherent virtue in the American character. . . .” But this assertion, fortified by the use of the word “surely,” flies in the face of the record. . . . Anyone familiar with Kennan’s most recent book, The Cloud of Danger, which contains a hymn to the author’s pioneer Wisconsin ancestors, knows that he is an ardent believer in precisely the inherent virtue of the American character, that is, of the American character as it was then and as he still took it to be in 1947. . . .
Whatever validity lay in Kennan’s assessment of the American position in his “magnificent call to containment . . . of thirty years ago” (the seeds of destruction were sown in the hubris of the war years, in my opinion), he, unlike Mr. Podhoretz, recognizes that the turbulences of three decades have consigned his brainchild to Trotsky’s dust bin. Shouldn’t Kennan’s judgment in this matter merit respect? The denigration of “Kennan’s new defeatism” in Mr. Podhoretz’s last sentence, and indeed his peroration as a whole, serves to detract from rather than to enhance the new nationalism. . . .
R. E. Steussy
Norman Podhoretz writes:
In preparing a revised and expanded version of “The Present Danger” for publication as a book (Simon and Schuster will be bringing it out in July), I profited from and was encouraged by the letters printed above and the many others I received for which, unfortunately, space could not be found. Here let me restrict myself to an additional word about George F. Kennan, in whose defense Robert D. Greenspan and R. E. Steussy write.
Indeed, Mr. Greenspan and I did not “read the same article” by Kennan. The piece I was talking about appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times on February 1, 1980; he is talking about Kennan’s testimony before a Senate committee. Be that as it may, it is hard to know what evidence of Soviet expansionism would satisfy Mr. Greenspan, who puts quotation marks around the word invasion in speaking of the dispatch of a hundred thousand Soviet troops into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, if Mr. Greenspan really is looking for evidence, I would offer him the same advice I offered Kennan in “The Present Danger”—to read Kennan’s own classic article of 1947, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” For a more up-to-date spelling out of the evidence, I can refer him to Richard Pipes’s article, “Soviet Global Strategy,” in the April COMMENTARY.
Mr. Steussy seems to think that Kennan needs to be defended against my statement that he is not an American chauvinist. If so, I would wish to defend Kennan against his defender. But on the question of the virtues of the American character, I agree with Mr. Steussy that Kennan believes this country once stood for something good and that it no longer does so. It is, in my opinion, precisely because he thinks that the United States has nothing of any value to give to the rest of the world that he has “consigned his brainchild to Trotsky’s dust bin,” and not because the “evidence” of Soviet conduct since 1947 has persuaded him that he was wrong about Soviet expansionism.
“Shouldn’t Kennan’s judgment in this matter merit respect?” Mr. Steussy asks. The answer is no. The United States, whatever its faults, continues to stand for a system which offers more freedom, more equality, and more prosperity to more of its people than any other the world has known. The Soviet Union still poses, in Kennan’s words of 1947, an “implacable challenge” to the institutions which have made those blessings possible. The Soviet Union also continues to embody a totalitarian alternative which has brought political tyranny, economic misery, and cultural barbarism to the people forced to live under it. And it still remains the case that only American power can “contain” the malignant spread of that totalitarian alternative over an ever wider portion of the earth.
What Kennan had to say about all this was sound in 1947 and is in some respects even truer today when the Soviets have grown so much stronger in relation to the United States than they were thirty years ago. His judgment then merited, and merits, respect; his judgment today—tragically for all of us, given the influence he continues to exert on our political culture—does not.