Saturday, January 26, 2013

George Kennan Set to Music by John Halle


Noam weighs in contra Rick Perlstein on the questions raised by the PPS/23 document which I set.

The usual firehose in response to a request for a sip of water:

JH: In any case, my position is that a) the document says what it says-i.e. that we plan to exercise our power to maintain our disparity in wealth and privilege. and b) that these recommendation were influential and were to a large extent carried out in subsequent years.

Perlstein seems not to object to a) but he takes issue with b)"

NC: Your position is quite accurate. PPS 23 went beyond the paragraph cited (and note that that passage was specifically about Asia, not the industrialized world, Europe and Japan), and was one of a series of policy statements produced under Kennan's direction by his Policy Planning Staff. The general idea was that the industrial societies should be reconstructed, but within the framework of world order that the US would administer. Other parts of the world were assigned particular "functions" within this system. Thus Africa was to be "exploited" (Kennan's phrase, in PPS 23) for the reconstruction of Europe, Southeast Asia would "fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials for Japan and Western Europe", etc. Of course the industrial world had to be reconstructed. The primary reason was the "dollar gap." The US had a huge manufacturing surplus, and the only countries that could serve as markets and targets for investment were the industrial societies -- that's aside from the obvious geostrategic concerns about world domination. Triangular trade relations were therefore established linking the US, Europe, Japan, and their former colonies -- for Japan, as Kennan put it, the US must provide it with "an empire toward the South" -- in other words, its "New Order in Asia," but now under US control. That was the motivating factor for the Indochina wars, from 1950, after the "loss of China". In Europe, the Marshall plan was a bonanza for American capitalists. And they knew it. Here's a passage lifted from my book World Orders Old and New, where all of this is discussed, with documentation and scholarly sources cited (notably Willam Borden’s excellent study):

The Marshall Plan "set the stage for large amounts of private U.S. direct investment in Europe," Reagan's Commerce Department observed in 1984, laying the groundwork for the Transnational Corporations (TNCs) that increasingly dominate the world economy. TNCs were "the economic expression" of the "political framework" established by postwar planners, Business Week observed in 1975, lamenting the apparent decline of the golden age of state intervention in which "American business prospered and expanded on overseas orders,...fueled initially by the dollars of the Marshall Plan" and protected from "negative developments" by "the umbrella of American power."

So Perlstein is partially right, but apparently missing the point of the elaborate and sophisticated planning of which PPS23 was a central part – not an outlier at all, as is clear from reading it through and understanding that it is part of a series of policy proposals, then implemented.

He’s right that open admissions of intent are rare and that mostly policy makers bask in self-serving rhetoric. I doubt, frankly, that it’s deceiving themselves. There’s every reason to suppose that they believe it – and as everyone knows, it’s not hard to convince oneself of what it’s convenient to believe. I’ve reviewed material from captured Japanese archives and from recently released Kremlin records, which reveal the same commitment to noble goals, overflowing humanity, etc., right at the times of the worst atrocities. And it’s painfully familiar from the history of imperialism, slaveowning, patriarchy, and much else.

The most naïve part of Perlstein’s comments is the reference to American “generosity.” Policies aren’t made by and for the public. There was plenty of generosity, but from the taxpayer to US investors, owners, managers – internal class war. That holds of every one of the cases he cites, and as I just quoted, they’re quite aware of it, even if liberal intellectuals prefer tales about “our” generosity.


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