America Too Weak In Foreign Affairs (Vol. 28, Issue 3)
The current crisis over Cuba points up what may be called the congenital disability of the United States to exert its power successfully in the field of foreign affairs.
The debacle at the Bay of Pigs last April taught us what disastrous consequences can result from assigning too great a weight in our actions to that amorphous and elusive entity called World Opinion.
We were afraid to nip the Communist menace in its bud before the placement of Soviet missiles on the island because of the highly moralistic and self-righteous reaction that would probably have been forthcoming from leaders of the stripe of Mr. Nehru.
Fail To Realise
We did not realize that if there is anything that the leaders of neutral nations like less than an irresponsible assertion of strength, it is the cowardly non-assertion of it in the face of a clear and present provocation to do so.
The origins of this shying away from the use of power in the arena of foreign affairs lie deep in the character and history of the United States. Certainly the first generation of American statesmen, the generation we reverently refer to as our Founding Fathers, understood the meaning of power.
One need only call up the names of John Adams, James Madison, or Alexander Hamilton, and recall some of the papers in The Federalist, written by the latter two, to realize the extraordinary comprehension that that generation had of the place of power in the conduct of human affairs.
Remember The Maine
The Spanish-American War, can, I believe, serve as a prototype for the weaknesses that have since afflicted America in its conduct of foreign affairs. In order for us to have entered the war in the first place, there had to be a bogus ideological crusade trumped up by Mr. Hearst.
We refused to admit, even to ourselves, that economic aggrandizement might be one of our motives in centering and to a very large extent creating this war. Since our motive for entry was ideological and therefore limitless, we did not secure a peace treaty that was practical and therefore limited to our own best interests. A war in order to be successful must be fought for specific national aims and the terms of peace, in order to prove enduring and not provide a seedbed for future wars, must be limited to embodying those specific aims for which the war was fought in the first place.
The United States as a world power has never fought a war in this traditionally understood, historical sense.
President Kennedy Acts
President Kennedy, upon assuming office, besides being at the mercy of a faulty intelligence setup, was also entrapped by the ingrained American tradition of concealing our baser and perhaps truer motives in the conduct of foreign policy.
Possessing the self-confidence of youth and armed with Richard Neustadt’s manual for new Presidents, Presidential Power, Mr. Kennedy was forced to yield to the pressure of circumstances before he could learn from experience how to assert strong aggressive leadership.
Learned From Experience
That he has learned from experience is evident from his handling of the current Cuban crisis. He has not been embarrassed by the exercise of power, nor has he yielded to the temptation of pushing the assertion of power beyond the attainable goals of getting the Soviets to remove their missile bases from Cuba.
Mr. Kennedy, I believe, has exercised mature leadership during the prevailing crisis. He has shown that he has profited by experience, which augurs well for the future of American foreign policy.