OK, so I sort of ripped that title off from my friend Peter Dale Scott. But I think it provides a very valuable context in which to view the complexity of how very high level American policy decisions – and by that I mean the worldview and attitudes of the movers and shakers at the NSC level of any given presidential administration – are translated into foreign policy “interventions” overseas. I use that phrase in regard to post WWII foreign policy because the actual practice of foreign policy which evolved after the national security acts and legislation at the end of the WWII decade significantly transformed American foreign policy practice. Before that matters were much more direct and “deniability” was not a serious consideration. You can start with examples such as the Barbary Pirates, move on to Commander Perry and Japan, through “gunboat diplomacy” in the Caribbean and Latin America and to the Great White Fleet. Presidents passed their messages to the State Department for delivery and to the Navy as required.
Of course I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but to a large extent the genesis of today’s practices began in the years immediately prior to WWII as perceived foreign threats exploded and the Roosevelt administration realized that the America had become something of a second class military power (actually in some areas, such as its Air Force, it ranked far lower). That sort of position tends to lead to covert and clandestine practices and in Shadow Warfare we illustrated how that happened before the war in support of Nationalist China and after the war against Red China.
Which leads me to the point of this post – that American foreign policy has become a very complex mix of covert political action (dollar diplomacy – read bribes to individuals and groups), covert military activities as required, overt military activities (military assistance programs and joint officer and armed forces training programs) and overt dollar diplomacy (foreign aid and loan packages). In fact it has often become so complex that the different elements begin to act independently of each other and sometimes at cross purposes. Most often it’s the State Department official positions being subverted by covert activities but at times it’s actually the reverse, with State driving the CIA or the military nuts….or getting things so tangled (as during the Contra period) that both CIA officers and military officers were disciplined or charged for going against headquarters directives and Congressional legislation.
That’s why the sources used for the Foreign Policy book that I recommended in my last post lean heavily to Foreign Military Sales agreements and the Arms Export act:
The bottom line is that you really can’t tell what our real foreign policy is from looking at Administration press releases or at State Department policy papers (not the public ones at least – the ones you get to see 20 or 30 years later are the real story). You also have to wait at least that long to get the real story about covert and clandestine operations…..unless a Congressional inquiry pushes it out more quickly. Still, you might get a little feel for the scope of that from the following:
Or from the very interesting set of tables in the Foreign Policy Perspective book:
The point is that the neither the CIA’s political or covert actions efforts really give the full story of any administration’s deep political activities, CIA operations are more exciting, perhaps more intriguing, but the devil is in the details and until you get into the hard core of our military and aid programs, you really don’t have the full picture.
It almost makes me yearn for Teddy’s “Great White Fleet”, at least then you knew exactly what message was being sent to whom.