April 9, 2015

1968. Liberal Internationalism in the Cold War

The New Secretary of Defense
Clark Clifford and President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 10, 1968

It's an interesting sidelight that the new Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford, didn't even have a chance to get his chair warm before the Communist propaganda machines behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains let loose a barrage of personal vilification—the kind usually reserved for President Johnson. In a way, this is a compliment to the new Pentagon chief. for it certainly is testimony to the powerful role that Moscow and Peking expect Clifford to play in the Johnson cabinet.

Also interesting is the fact that Mr. Clifford is as much a villain to the Kremlin brand of Communism as he is to the Chinese-style Communists. And the government run radio stations and official press in Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin seem to be vying with Peking, Havana, and Hanoi to make the new Defense Secretary among the ugliest of Americans.

Thus far, Red propagandists have called Clifford "a trusted man of Wall Street...an out-and-out warmonger...an author of US aggression, militarization, and escalation...and a stubborn opponent of stopping the air raids on North Vietnam."

In other words, the Communists expect things to be worse for them with Clark Clifford directing the US defense establishment than they were under Secretary Robert McNamara.

For once, they may be right.

Secretary Clifford's first week at the Pentagon produced no startling changes in the Defense Department's routine. None were expected. In fact, some Washington circles say that Clifford may only be a caretaker Secretary; that the McNamara system and budget is so locked in that the defense establishment could run itself for the next year.

This is not true, of course, because history does not stand still, and Clifford faces major decisions concerning military policies in Southeast Asia which are by no means static. And he is going to find himself involved in weapons and manpower questions where the answers will be hard to come by. And a lot of these decisions Clifford is going to have to make before he really knows the nuts and bolts of his new job.

But Clifford knows intimately the powers and duties of the Defense Department, because he helped reshape and reorganize the sprawling and divided Pentagon on which the national security had been dependent on the arguments and competition of the generals and admirals—all vying for the largest possible share of the annual defense budget.

But the advent of the nuclear and space age, and the accompanying electronic revolution, made not only the weapons, but also the technology of modern warfare too complex for any single service to dominate.

World War II had proved that populations were the ultimate military target of modern warfare, and that scientists and psychologists were as important as the generals. Henceforth, any major war would be "total," meaning that the old wisecrack that "wars are too important to be left to the generals" became more true in the last half of the twentieth century than any time before.

If, as many people here believe, Robert McNamara was one of the great Cabinet executives in the nation's modern history, then it was Clifford's insistence of civilian primacy at the Pentagon which made it possible for McNamara to buck the old system and assert his authority over the military brass.

Clark Clifford takes control of the US defense establishment at a time when more and more questions are being asked about the viability of America's military and diplomatic posture around the world.

What does Secretary Clifford think of this posture? We do not know for sure, or whether time has changed any of his basic attitudes. But judging from the record and past performance, a number of things must be remembered before judging the man.

Clifford, who now is a young and vigorous 61-years-old, was building a promising law career in St. Louis when the French and the British in 1939 were trying to deal with the Germans and silence the demands of Adolf Hitler.

From early statements and conversations that are on the record, Clifford regards the sellout of Czechoslovakia as one of the most shameful events of history.

Although he was born and reared in the so-called "isolationist Midwest," there is no evidence that Clifford agreed with the America Firsters of that era. At any rate, Pearl Harbor settled the question. It prompted Clifford to put aside his burgeoning law practice, say goodbye to his young family, and volunteer for a commission in the Navy, a decision which led him to Washington and his present eminence.

The record shows that Commander Clifford, as military aide to President Truman, was one of the self-styled "liberal internationalists" who were forged in World War II as the United States was forced by military circumstances to assert her power in every nation of the globe. The Nazi U-boat attacks on Allied shipping within sight of the Carolina and New Jersey beaches, along with that futile but significant shelling by a Japanese submarine of a West Coast oil refinery, dispelled any lingering hopes that North America could remain a continental island secure behind the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

So, in the postwar years Clifford helped design that Truman Doctrine—that daring act of economic and military aid to the embattled Greek nation, which was a primary target of Communist expansion into the Mediterranean and the Balkans. There followed shortly thereafter the Marshall Plan, which assured that the United States was the most powerful nation in the world—and the only one capable of resisting the announced ambitions of the Soviet Union and her satellites to use aggressive Communism to bring about the long-promised dictatorship of the proletariat throughout the world.

In rehashing this far-from-ancient history, there is an Alice in Wonderland quality about those events of only some twenty years ago when the French and Italian Communists came very near of taking over the governments of Paris and Rome. The crackdown of the Kremlin's puppet regimes in Eastern Europe produced one of the great population movements in the history of the continent as freedom seeking Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs, and Bulgarians attempted to break through the Iron Curtain. The flight of the East Germans to the West was an exodus of biblical proportions, and it's still going on to some extent.

The big test, of course, came at the Berlin blockade. It was here that the United States demonstrated once and for all that she was a fully-committed world power, ready and willing to back her international commitments with her military might.

Clark Clifford was in Washington during these historic days when hard decisions had to be made. He was one of President Truman's top advisers when the Korean Communists marched south.

Thus, all the evidence of Clifford's Washington career points to one basic doctrine in his personal philosophy: that, if the United States is to remain a major influence for freedom and security in this troubled globe, she must continue to act as the leader of the free world and maintain the posture of a world power.

Which is the point of this dissertation.

The adult education of Secretary Clifford here in Washington over the past two decades appears to have bolstered his original concepts of the never-ending struggle for power among the nations on earth.

Just as the European democracies could not placate the demands of the Nazi and Fascist dictatorships back in 1939, Clifford believes that there can be no appeasement of the totalitarian ambitions of aggressive Communism in 1968—whether it is directed from Moscow or Peking.

This does not mean that Clark Clifford is a go-for-broke anti-Communist with a mind closed to the changes and evaluations in Marxist doctrine which, in recent years, has eased the Cold War relations between the White House and the Kremlin.

As a practical politician, he is a carrot-and-stick man who operates within the realm of the possible. That "possible" includes continued negotiations with the Russians over nuclear weapons and testing; continued diplomatic efforts within the United Nations to ease the military burdens on the Pentagon; and continued efforts to get the North Vietnamese Communists to the negotiating table to bring about an end to the war in Southeast Asia.

But if there is one principle which will guide the administration it is this: "No Appeasement."

This is Bill Downs in Washington.