The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


OFFICIAL Washington has been watching with some apprehension the struggle of the State Department to maintain its supposed control over foreign policy. The Secretary of State is officially charged with “the principal responsibility, under the President, for the determination of the policy of the Government in relation to international problems.” By a curious and quiet shift, the Department has been involuntarily relinquishing its power in two main directions — to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The second, and less important, encroachment results in part from the Congressional imperialism of the last year. But essentially it has evolved from Roosevelt’s attempt to avoid the mistakes which defeated Wilson after the First World War.

In order to commit influential Senators to whatever peace settlement might be reached, he decided to involve members of the Foreign Relations Committee in as many of the preliminary negotiations as possible. What began as a shrewd political tactic has since developed into something the Foreign Relations Committee today regard as almost a vested right — especially now that a President who intimidated them has been succeeded by one they can patronize.

The change in our Latin American policy this spring, for example, followed a strange meeting at which four Senators told Mr. Byrnes that he would have to drop the Braden policy. If the Department should embark on a line contrary to the wishes or prejudices of the Foreign Relations Committee, and without submitting to a complicated process of advance clearance with Congress, certain Senators would probably cry out indignantly against executive dictatorship.

In the current state of misunderstanding over the traditional powers of the executive, as a result of the propaganda directed against the Roosevelt administration, it seems even possible that public opinion might concur in this unconstitutional removal from the executive of his control over foreign relations. For the present, however, Senatorial encroachment amounts only to an irritation for the State Department.

The growing dominance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is more serious. Decisions on foreign policy are based on some kind of estimate or “appreciation” of the situation with respect to United States interests. For all situations there are now generally two — often divergent — estimates available: one produced by the State Department, one by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There is reason to believe that the JCS analyses exert increasing influence upon the President through the intervention of Admiral Leahy, the Staff representative in the White House. He also represents the National Intelligence Authority. The President himself appears to have retained from his own Army experience in the First World War an instinctive deference to rank.

Generals as statesmen

Observers who are apprehensive about the situation point further to the fact that our representatives in five areas crucial for our foreign policy — the U.S.S.R., Germany, Austria, China, and Japan — are all generals, and that it is these five men — Bedell Smith, McNarney, Clark, Marshall, and MacArthur — who are now making the vital field decisions which shape our policy. Most of these men, indeed, are in direct communication with the War Department in Washington rather than with the State Department.

They point out further that the most drastic recent development of our Latin American policy — President Truman’s message calling for enactment of a bill to organize a Hemisphere army — was devised by the Inter-American Defense Board, pushed by the War Department, and adopted by the White House over State Department protests. State eventually managed to knife the project in Congress by removing it from the list of “must” legislation and allowing it to linger in committee.

Who talks war?

The contest between the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for control over foreign policy does not correspond precisely, however, to a divergence of views about the imminence of war with Russia. Both organizations contain their share of optimists and pessimists. Policies manifestly based on the expectation of war are more likely to be of War Department inspiration.

Yet such men as General Eisenhower and General Marshall are known to be steadfastly opposed to war talk and to be persuaded of the possibility of working with the Russians. General Eisenhower has said, “We must realize that we must lead the world toward democracy or it will lead us to ruin,” and “resort to force cannot possibly result in anything except privation, sorrow, and quarrels.”

The State Department similarly has persons favoring a bellicose line toward Russia; but the dominant tendency of opinion is to be firm without being provocative. The systematically charitable interpretation of Soviet actions, advocated within the Department a year ago by such men as Dean Acheson and Archibald MacLeish, has now disappeared from the top levels. The events of the past few months have fully convinced Mr. Acheson, as well as Secretary Byrnes, of the necessity of the hard policy — much to the gratification of Acheson’s predecessor as Under Secretary, Mr. Grew, who was vainly calling for greater toughness in 1945.

The result of this struggle within and among Washington bureaus is uncertainty and confusion in our foreign policy. In China, General Marshall is carrying out a policy based on a belief in the compatibility of American and Soviet interests. In Japan, General MacArthur is carrying out a policy based on a belief in the inevitability of war. State Department officials take some comfort from the thought that the obvious vacillations and inconsistencies of Soviet policy are probably derived from the same type of struggle for control as that which is now going on in Washington.

The State Department from within

The question of the internal organization of the State Department is one of continuing perplexity.

While State has become the scapegoat for many factors beyond its control, such as the behavior of the men in the Kremlin, it is still evident that many interior defects have survived the parade of secretaries, under secretaries, and paper reorganizations in the course of the last few years.

The Hull-Welles feud resulted in the dependence of Mr. Hull in administrative matters upon conservative foreign service officers of the type of James C. Dunn and in the frustration of Mr. Welles, who could at least have made the Department into an efficient working organization. The consequence was a Department technically and physically incapable of meeting its vastly expanded responsibilities. The changes made under the photogenic Mr. Stettinius did not go much deeper than repainting the corridors of the building on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventeenth Street and issuing pretty new organization charts.

Mr. Byrnes is notoriously not an organizationminded Secretary. He is used to working with a small personal staff, and his inability to employ the corps of experts which accompany him to international conferences has more than once caused serious crises in morale. In his absence Under Secretary Dean Acheson has been in charge of the Department, but he has not had the authority to undertake a drastic reorganization.

Mr. Acheson is a shrewd and intelligent man. But he has been hampered by the fact that Donald Russell, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, has enjoyed somewhat better access to the Secretary by virtue of having been Mr. Byrnes’s old law partner and his intimate associate in the Office of War Mobilization.

At one point last spring an alliance between Russell, Dunn, Spruille Braden, and the political divisions tried to deprive the more liberal functional divisions of William L. Clayton (economics), William L. Langer (intelligence), and William Benton (information) of any part in operations. Mr. Acheson, who supported the functional divisions, was reported to be on the verge of resigning and returning to his old law firm of Covington, Burling, Rublee, Acheson, and Shorb. His position appears to have strengthened in recent months, however, in part perhaps because his new line on Soviet relations is more acceptable to the political divisions.

Liberals or communists?

The State Department has also had to bear the brunt of the hullabaloo raised in Congress about the Communists in the government. It is true that, in the current Truman normalcy, State has become almost the leading refuge for New Dealers still in the government; but the immense majority of them are no more Communist-inclined than are Ben Cohen and Dean Acheson.

On the other hand, State has inherited the relicts of such agencies as the Foreign Economic Administration, the Office of War Information, and the Office of Strategic Services. These agencies were set up during the war when Russia was regarded as our fighting ally and directives from the highest sources suspended the prohibitions against hiring persons of Communist sympathies. It is conceivable that a small minority of Communists may have straggled into the Department.

Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Russell have courageously resisted the invitation to start up the Red hunt favored by Congressmen who cannot tell the difference between a Communist and a liberal. Congress nonetheless entrusted the somewhat unenthusiastic Secretary with the authority, unique in Washington, to terminate the employment of any officer or clerk without appeal “whenever he shall deem such termination necessary or advisable in the interest of the United States.”

The Department fully concedes that there is a genuine security problem involved. Recent spy cases in Canada and Britain have demonstrated that it is dangerous to have a Communist Party member or ardent sympathizer anywhere along the line of confidential communications. But the problem of proof is not easy, for few persons in such positions are likely to be carrying cards that show membership in the Communist Party.

For this reason the Department has tried to discharge doubtful persons on other grounds in order not to prejudice their future employment. The forty employees removed because of alleged loyalty to foreign interests were mostly in the lower levels. Some were cases of manifest injustice; others were cases of wise and prudent action to protect State Department security.

As yet, no serious attempt has been made to handle the cases of the higher officials (including one office chief) whose names have been mentioned on the Hill. Because of the varied and often unsatisfactory character of the evidence, the State Department probably will continue to reject the Congressional demand that the list of the persons discharged be made public.

The leadership of the UE

A problem of Communist infiltration which has engaged the serious attention of Washington somewhat more than the Communists in the State Department is the fight for control of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers Union, CIO. Before Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the pro-Communist element ousted James B. Carey as president for favoring an interventionist position. Since that time, the UE has been one of the most consistently Communist-minded of all CIO unions. It has also been large, efficient, and well-run.

The Communist hold has always been on the top level, however, in the key offices around the president, who is a figurehead. The rank and file of electrical workers has never been much permeated by Communist views.

The disposition of the national leadership to follow the party line, particularly on.questions of foreign policy, has created mounting discontent in the last few months. The discontent finally burst into the open at a meeting in Pittsburgh in August with representation from ten of the UE’s eleven national districts.

This movement is considered to be much more significant than the sporadic and local revolts against Communist control in the other Communist-minded unions. Its leader is Harry Block, a vice-president of UE and the only member of the union’s top leadership who has opposed the pro-Communist group.

The revolt is well organized and appears to have considerable mass support. Moreover, it is believed that, at an appropriate moment, Mr. Carey, now an official in CIO headquarters in Washington but still a cardholder in the union, will assume leadership and attempt to regain the presidency which the Communists took from him five years ago. Since Mr. Carey is one of the ablest and most progressive of the younger CIO leaders, his fate is being watched with considerable interest.


This August saw the first mass exodus of Washington officialdom since war came acrossthe horizon in Europe. Almost everyone left town. Some, like Secretary of the Interior Krug, were on trips which combined business and pleasure (his was to Alaska); others, like the President, on unabashed and happy outings.

Meanwhile, a city of amateur political experts read the primary returns as the augur used to read the entrails of a chicken, but they were unable to detect clear omens or portents. The defeat of Bob La Follette in Wisconsin, however, caused shock and almost universal regret. For all the disagreement with his views on foreign policy, Washington could only feel that the Senatorial average, both for conscience and for intelligence, had been lowered at a time when the nation could ill afford it.