The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT was, in his last years, the most popular man in the world. Historians will argue for years the question of whether his work was completed when he died. Certainly he has left to his successor a problem without historical parallel.

President Truman will carry on the win-the-war policy of his illustrious predecessor. The question is how far he can go toward making the peace secure. To these momentous tasks he brings a different temperament from Mr. Roosevelt’s. Where Roosevelt was daring and experimental, Truman has shown himself to be cautious and pragmatic.

Fortunately Harry S. Truman knows Congress and is liked by Congress. How well he knows the legislature was demonstrated three days before Mr. Roosevelt’s death. At a luncheon, Mr. Truman excused himself early, saying he was sure there would be a tie vote on the afternoon’s issue and he did not want to be caught absent as Dawes and Wallace had been on a like occasion. He turned out to be right. The new President has a native shrewdness which he acquired in the college of hard knocks in his private life and his career in practical politics. He has no pride of opinion, is modest and unpretentious to a degree, and, most important of all, is an excellent judge of men.

This last characteristic is the best augury we have for his success. It can be stated on the basis of a view of him as chairman of the Truman Committee, now the Mead Committee. In that post he chose as able a team of investigators as anyone could find. If he shows the same aptitude in the White House, the administration of the Federal government might be revamped, and for the better. The Federal government has grown confused in its operations at home. Interdepartmental jealousies have increased. But any revamping that is done will be gradual. When he accepted the nomination as Vice President, Mr. Truman warned the Convention that “it takes time for anyone to familiarize himself with a new job.” He meant it. But if he lives up to this augury, perhaps the historians will rate him with Chester A. Arthur (successor to the murdered Garfield), who is considered one of the most successful administrative Presidents. The job in front of Truman is so gigantic, however, that he would be a fool who prophesies.

Money and world trade

The objections of American bankers to some of the Bretton Woods monetary agreements are to a large extent an egg and chicken dispute. The proponents of a money accord say that trade thrives only when exchange rates are stable. Their opponents say it is foolish to try to stabilize exchange rates until the conditions of trade have been restored. At Bretton Woods the conferees recognized the link between money and trade accords by recommending an early commercial conference.

Some foreign observers in Washington, however, say that a commercial conference is superfluous. They argue that the United States needs only to lay down a commercial policy: theoretically the rest of the world will then fall in line. The United States will come out of this war with three quarters of the world’s realized economic power, and the world wants to know the American terms for acquiring the American dollar to buy American goods.

These terms are being gradually revealed. They amount to a perpetuation of Mr. Hull’s trade policies. Power to continue Mr. Hull’s trade-agreements policy is being asked of Congress. The Administration is committed to all-round tariff reductions in return for tariff reductions in other countries. If Mr. Hull were still at the helm, Congress, remembering how carefully he exercised that authority, would not boggle unduly over extending the Administration’s authority over the tariff.

Congress is suspicious of all recommendations which would keep the war agencies going full blast well into the post-war period. Without doubt there will be need for controls after the shooting is over. But there would be more Congressional recognition of that need if it were not pressed by administrators who are backed by officials with production-for-use and visionary notions.

Mr. Hull’s economic policy as it is expressed in the trade-agreements program had another facet in addition to that of providing for tariff reductions. It is a policy of commercial non-discrimination. To be sure, the reductions in the tariff were exchanged between two particular countries, but the reductions had to be generalized to all trading nations.

In Mr. Hull’s view, a free field and no favor is the golden rule which insures the world against suspicion and unfair practices and economic war. Technically the policy is called multilateralism. The opposite, bilateralism, is what the Germans practiced in the Schacht era, and it set the pace for all kinds of conflict in the struggle for markets, expressed in clearing agreements, tariff favors, bulk purchases, cut-rate prices, subsidies, and outright barter. The Administration has reaffirmed its stand in favor of commercial multilateralism.

Region versus universe

By the same token the United States is committed to political universalism. That is to say, it wants to see the nations of this earth banded together according to one set of international rules.

Where, then, does regionalism come in? Regionalism looks like the direct antithesis to universalism. The question has been asked as a result of our signature of the regional security pact for this Hemisphere known as the Act of Chapultepec. Foreign comment is particularly caustic. It is said, “If Americans have a regional setup, they cannot object to a regional setup elsewhere.” The reference is to the alliances between Russia and Britain and between Russia and France.

The United States has no objection to such alliances. It is only when regional pacts are exclusive that they are objectionable. For instance, if the regions should wish to buttress their pact with trade preferences, then they would be violating what the United States considers proper for a regional agency. The United States feels that the Ottawa Preferences of the British Commonwealth, for example, do not conform with proper regionalism within a world framework.

Enforcement of peace on a regional basis is another difficulty in the recognition of regional agencies. Under the Dumbarton Oaks plan, authority to enforce peace must be sought from the Security Council. That provision is acceptable to the United States in respect, of the Act of Chapultepec, though it runs counter to the Monroe Doctrine, which excluded a non-American interest in the preservation of peace in the Western Hemisphere.

In the Western Hemisphere for instance, it might be foolish to refer a Central American dispute to the Security Council. A dispute with Argentina, however, would properly come before the Security Council, since Argentina has intimate ties with Britain. The same principle would apply to conceivable European disputes. The French want the machinery of the Russo-French alliance to be put in motion without waiting for a decision from the Security Council. Yet the aggression which France has in mind would come from a resurgent Germany, and would certainly have an interest for other nations besides Russia and France.

Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Vinson

The resignation of Mr. Byrnes as “Assistant President" temporarily removed from the Administration a man of inestimable worth in maintaining executivelegislative liaison. Mr. Vinson also stands high in the regard of Congress, however. President Truman, who would willingly have nominated Mr. Byrnes as Vice President at Chicago, has requested his old friend to serve as unofficial adviser on the San Francisco Conference. And there is no doubt that the team of Byrnes and Vinson would be most dependable in the new Administration.

Jimmie Byrnes owes his reputation to a knack for compromise which amounts to an art. Let there be no mistake: on fundamental things Byrnes is rocklike, and he has been a valiant defender of the antiinflation line. Jimmie just knows how to make friends and influence people. Starting out with the natural advantage of being Irish, he is — in the best sense — a politician to the finger tips. The combination makes him a perfect lubricant of the cumbersome separations of powers in the Administration.


The mood of the Capital is one of bewilderment over the portent of the change of Presidents. Mr. Roosevelt was having hard sledding with Congress when he died. His requests for manpower controls had been rejected; his effort to make Lend-Lease an instrumentality in immediate reconstruction had just squeaked through the Senate; all the treaties before the Senate were encountering increasing opposition. The drift might well be arrested by the change.

Beneath the general consternation, there is an honest desire to help a new President, as would be natural no matter who Roosevelt’s successor would be. President Truman starts out under particularly favorable auspices because he is known as a cooperator with Congress. The prospect is for less tension and more Congressional government.