To the Editor:
In his article “The Impotence of American Power” [November’ 63] Hans J. Morgenthau does his usual splendid job of pointing out how foolishly we are behaving. He blames much of the weakness of our foreign policy . . . on blind adherence to two “moral principles”: equality and non-intervention . . . [which] has caused us to go astray in South Vietnam, Pakistan, Spain, and Western Europe. He concludes that “our judgment must be reformed.” We must . . . jettison our moral rigidity and be practical. All this is fine in theory, but no one has any real expectation that American policy will move in this direction. Yet, why should these reforms . . . seem so unlikely? . . . Is it simply because we are too moral to be clearheaded and too dogmatically equalitarian to be leaders? Is this why we have supported such men as Chiang, Diem, Rhee, Batista, and company? I think not. The real problems of American foreign policy lie well beneath the surface Professor Morgenthau describes. . . .
The problem of non-intervention should not be the central point raised by a critic of American foreign policy. Attempts by the U.S. to intervene have hardly been lacking in the last fifteen years, as Cuba, Guatemala, Iran, and China illustrate. The real issue should be the kind of intervening the U.S. has done and will do: why will we intervene at certain times and refrain at others? In the case of Vietnam, defenders of the Diem regime did not invoke non-intervention but rather the fear of Communist victory or of being soft on the Reds. Pressures on the administration to pacify rabid anti-Communist “allies” are great, and our policies toward Spain, Vietnam, Chiang, etc., have been conditioned not by fear of intervention but rather by domestic political considerations.
It is these domestic pressures that Professor Morgenthau neglects. Even an administration devoted to sensible politics—along the lines perhaps that Professor Morgenthau suggests—would face the prospect of political suicide in carrying them out. Thus, even the most clear-headed and morally undogmatic may feel they have very little room to maneuver, given domestic American political realities.
Professor Morgenthau criticizes our “commitment to anti-Communism as the overriding objective of our foreign policy,” but he fails to go any further. It is precisely at this point that an analysis of our foreign policy must begin. Why this overriding commitment? How has such an objective become an American institution? What social and psychological function is it serving for different groups and individuals? It is not enough for an analyst to ask us to reform our judgment—for, as the young Marx argued: “The demand to renounce illusions about one’s situation is a demand to renounce a situation that required illusions.” What we need to know, and what Professor Morgenthau is probably well equipped to tell us, is what our “situation” is and how we can reshape it.
University of Connecticut