THE story of American foreign policy in the next few months will be in large part the story of Secretary Acheson’s conflicts with Congress. This is a political year, and as far as criticism from Congress is concerned, Acheson is one of the most vulnerable Secretaries of State that we have had in a long time. As he enters his second year of Cabinet service, American policies in many parts of the world are under severe attack. Some of these policies are in the process of re-examination and reformation. The year 1950 would be a tough one for a Secretary of State in the best of domestic political circumstances.
Acheson’s vulnerability on Capitol Hill is based on the fact that he has little political strength in his own right. He is building a following by his force of mind and general ability. But he did not come into office with the kind of grass-roots strength which makes a Congressman think twice before he attacks.
Stimson had been a leader in Republican politics for a generation when he became Hoover’s Secretary of State. Hull had been a Representative and a Senator with long service in the Democratic Party. Byrnes had a similar background. Marshall had the great prestige of his war record. Stettinius was an exception, but he had friends in the Senate. It took a particularly courageous or foolhardy Congressman to attack Hull or Marshall. Their standing in the country was too great. An attack on Acheson, however, would not arouse voters in some sections to undue wrath.
Fortunately, Acheson has the complete confidence of the President and Vice President and he has behind him the strongest organization in the State Department that has existed in years. The Department at last is beginning to look like an instrument of modern government. It is the first big department to follow the recommendations of the Hoover Commission.
Re-examining Marshall aid
Extension of the Marshall Plan will produce the longest and hardest debate in Congress, and the one where the stakes are highest. Paul G. Hoffman, ECA administrator, will bear the brunt of this attack. Yet the central issue will not be the future of Hoffman or of his agency, but the basic principle of American foreign policy today: that Western Europe is America’s first line of political, military, and economic defense.
Washington would not be surprised if the direst predictions came true in the British financial crisis. The September talks quieted the patient for a while and suggested possible courses of action. But neither the talks nor devaluation removed the cause of the trouble. Every Congressional opponent of ECA will have easy solutions to Britain’s problems — solutions that will in no way help to improve Anglo-American relations in what is also a British election year.
Much opposition fire will be directed against Britain’s resolute resistance to effective integration of the West European economy. Acheson is just as much concerned over that phase of British policy as anyone on the Hill. But unlike some of his Congressional critics, he knows that we share some of the responsibility, for two reasons: (1) our inability to devise, in coöperation with the Europeans, a plan of action that is really workable and at the same time safe; (2) our refusal to abandon an inbred policy of protectionism which continues to give European governments an excuse for their own forms of autarchy.
To say that does not absolve the Labor Government of the serious charge of impeding European recovery by what is essentially a selfish program, even though it is a program which the Labor Government believes necessary to Britain’s survival.
The chief opponents of ECA are the old isolationists, the anti-Britishers, and the more extreme anti-Administrationists. They are aided by those who cannot understand why a country that is seemingly well off like France needs dollar aid. There are many, too, who are genuinely worried over our mounting national debt and the demand for lower instead of higher taxes.
The Administration will need all the Republican support it can get as well as yeoman service from Democratic leaders. Senator Vandenberg, whose health is poor, will be under heavy pressure from many in his party to sit this one out something he will not do. With Dulles out, Republicans in the Senate will look to Lodge of Massachusetts and Smith of New Jersey For new leadership.
Acheson and Johnson disagree
Acheson’s hand was strengthened as a result of debate on the Angus Ward case, but advocates of blood-and-thunder foreign policy have other weapons in their arsenal. They have strong supporters within the Department of Defense, where open criticism is voiced against Administration policy in China, Germany, and Spain.
Secretary of Defense Johnson would pursue a much more vigorous military policy in those countries than the President and Acheson now are prepared to support. Johnson’s position, which he argues for behind the closed doors of the National Security Resources Council, is known on Capitol Hill. Administration critics make the most of that difference of opinion within the Cabinet. It is strongly believed also that Acheson and Johnson have had arguments over atomic energy policy as it relales to agreements with England and Canada. Johnson favors a semi-isolationist program.
A couple of years ago many critics were saying that the Administration was dominated by the military. After the 1948 election and the subsequent resignations of Marshall, Forreslal, Clay, and Draper, it was said that civilian influence was beginning to asserl itself. In the last few months. however, it has seemed to many observers that the military influence again is on the rise.
General Marshall’s help may be necessary to stem the tide. It has never been fully realized that white he was Secretary of Stale he was often in conflict with what was described as the military point of view. Acheson may need Marshall’s assistance, particularly in the debate over China — a debate in which bipartisanship will be set aside and party politics will be played to the limit.
The President meets the press
The inauguration in November of monthly press conferences by the Atomic Energy Commission was a happy event. It was the first press conference AEC has held, and it proved to be a valuable one. The heyday of the press conference was in the 1930’s. But as war approached, busy officials began avoiding the press as much as possible. Now some Cabinet officers never hold press conferences, others only occasionally.
Secretary of State Hughes inaugurated the daily press conference and Secretary Hull honored the practice during his long reign in the State Department. Now Secretary Acheson sees the press once a week. Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau held conferences twice a week; Secretary Snyder holds about three a month. The other Cabinet officers who see the press do so only occasionally, Their predecessors in the thirties met the press regularly.
One of Mr. Truman’s first acts as President was to reduce the number of White House conferences from two to one a week. Although he began bravely by attempting to answer every question, it wasn’t long before several major blunders forced him to become exlremely cautious. His conferences sometimes lasted no more than five or six minutes and were used primarily for formal announcements.
But times have changed again. The President’s press conferences today are well attended and they produce news. It has taken time, but Mr. Truman knows his job now and he is not afraid of it. He is relaxed at his press conferences because he knows that he is well-informed and master in his own house. He is generally cheerful and agreeable, but he can jump to the attack, when prodded, without losing his temper. He knows when it is best to reply “No comment,” and he does not hesitate to do so.
What Mr. Truman has never been able to do is use the press conference to explain, elaborate, and interpret, to give broad outlines of Administration policy in language the people can understand. His answers usually are simple yes or no replies, with only a few words of explanation. Not since President Truman has been in the White House has he gone “off the record” in a press conference; he has never talked for the background or guidance of the correspondents.
Will Byrnes come back?
Washington takes a decidedly show-me attitude on talk of a Republican-Dixiccrat alliance, with some such person as James F. Byrnes of South Carolina in a position of leadership. One reason for this is that nearly every new observer of the Washington scene since 1934 has exclaimed on how easy it would be for unhappy Southern Democrats and Republicans to get together. But it isn’t so simple its it looks. The fundamental differences between the Southern Democrats and the Republicans have been submerged but not obliterated.
Byrnes seems to be determined to run for Governor of South Carolina, his health having apparently been completely restored since his departure from the Truman Cabinet three years ago. The full story of Byrnes’s break with the President has never been told because the two principals have remained silent. But it was common knowledge in Washington, long before Byrnes began attacking the Administration, that the break between the two men was hastened because of differences of outlook and temperament.
The Mood the Capital
The mood of the Capital as the second session of the Eighty-first Congress began was akin to that of a student facing an examination for which he is not prepared. It was known on all sides that the fights over the President’s most controversial welfare proposals, postponed from the first to the second session, would be bare-knuckle affairs. Even the proponents of the President’s program were reluctant to enter the fray. They were aware that their lines were not tightly formed and that insufficient study and debate had been given to some of the points on the agenda.
It was apparent, too, that bitterness engendered by fights concerning domestic issues would carryover into the debates on foreign affairs.