The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

THE craving of the American people for leadership and guidance is spontaneous and nationwide. A Washington Post reporter whose story disclosed the alarming findings of the Gaither Report received a letter from a retired Kentucky carpenter saving, “My wife and I would so love to do something for our country. Please tell me where to inquire.” And after Nelson Rockefeller appeared on a television show to explain the Rockefeller Report, nearly 100,000 requests poured in for copies of the report.

The President himself, beginning with his State of the Union address, has shown awareness of the nation’s desire for leadership. There was, in truth, a bipartisan sigh of relief when he finished his address, relief that he was ready to face up to the responsibilities of the post-Sputnik age.

The crucial question now, as Washington sees it, is whether out of the welter of ideas and proposals, from both the President and the Congress, there will emerge a balanced and reasonably complete rebuilding of the defenses of America. There was a feeling of relief when the American satellite was finally launched, but the problems of missiles and our defense are still in dispute.

Citizen action

The Washington discussion is not purely a governmental affair. For the first time since William Allen White’s pre-World War II Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, there has developed a major effort by various private citizens and groups to analyze the nation’s problems and attempt to suggest remedies. The Rockefeller Reports, of which several will emerge by summer, are a prime example. The Council on Foreign Relations studies which led to Henry A. Kissinger’s Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy are another. The Gaither Committee, though commissioned by presidential order as a government study, was likewise composed of top-notch men outside the government but with broad backgrounds in government and science.

The influence of such men, whose words might have gone unheeded had not the Sputniks intervened, has been immense in the national capital. Both Nelson Rockefeller and William C. Foster (who became co-chairman of the Gaither group) were again called upon, this time to help determine a proper reorganization for the Pentagon labyrinth. Others such as John J. McCloy continue to exert behind-the-scenes influence. And many men in the scientific world, among them James R. Killian, Jr., Detlev W. Bronk, Edward Teller, Jerome B. Wiesner, Ernest O. Lawrence, and I. I. Rabi, are now either devoting full time to Washington or are going there on a regular schedule.

Education: the meager helping

While the accent of all these groups has been on the military problem, they have not neglected such matters as foreign economic policy and American education. In the latter field, so far, however, there has been no across-the-board effort to agree on needs and priorities, a vital necessity if Congress is to take any meaningful action on education. The problem has three strikes against it at the start: fear of federal control, the racial segregation issue, and the church versus state issue.

The President’s recommendations for a scholarship program, discarding his earlier construction aid program and even cutting down on the limited school aid now being granted to areas with masses of governmental employees (so-called “federally impacted areas”) greatly disappointed many in Washington. Actually, Eisenhower has asked for only $460 million for all forms of federal aid compared to the $533 million he sought a year ago. If Congress can agree on any program, it will boost the total of aid considerably beyond that requested figure. But it is a big “if.” The current strategy of the educational aid proponents is to make a start this year in the Senate, House action having proved to be so disappointing in past years.

The pressures on Dulles

On the diplomatic front, the hopes which had grown here that Secretary Dulles would quit on his seventieth birthday were dimmed by the President’s encomiums for “the wisest, most dedicated man that I know.” Dulles had at least indirectly offered to resign if the President felt the world-wide criticism of him had ended his usefulness. But Eisenhower termed such reports “trash.”

The pressures on Dulles from within the Administration have been twofold: to put a more positive, affirmative tone in his diplomacy and to stop talking so much about the eventual collapse of what he now calls “Communist Imperialism.” The latter he refused to do, but he has switched his public posture, as first indicated in the President’s reply to Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin in January and again in Dulles’ National Press Club speech. This was a conscious effort to turn from a “no, but” to a “yes, provided” approach, even in the case of Communist China, without altering his basic policy.

Dulles’ distaste for another summit conference, so loudly called for by the Kremlin, has been no secret. Yet he appears resigned to another conference with the Soviet Union, and Washington betting is on a foreign ministers meeting in Geneva by summer or early fall. The public haggling over the agenda is now likely to be replaced by private diplomatic arguments with some hard bargaining in prospect.

Some diplomats think the Soviets will not again meet with the American, British, and French ministers. There has been a good deal of talk, at least in Washington, of adding the Poles and the Czechs to make it a three-three conference next time, if the Soviets insist on that type of public display of their new status as an equal power. There is hope among allied governments that Dag Hammarskjöld and the United Nations may help bridge the procedural gaps.

Eager to stand pat

Dulles received some strong support from Dean Acheson for his dual position of no negotiations now and no disengagement in Europe. But what was surprising, and extremely painful to many of Acheson’s faithful adherents in Washington, was the personal nature of his attack on George Kennan when he backed up Dulles. The general comment was that such conduct ill behooved a man who himself had been the victim of personal vilification and that although Kennan’s disengagement thesis was certainly open to question, he deserved praise, not damnation, for at least trying to make people think.

It is, of course, easier to stand pat on a current diplomatic posture and to charge the other side with propaganda than to create new policies. Indeed, Dulles said as much when he was asked whether the Western disarmament proposals would be substantially altered in advance of any new East-West conference. No, he said, and for this reason: “It was not easy to arrive at the present disarmament proposals, representing an agreement, as they did, among 15 countries. Many of these countries had different viewpoints, different interests and different concerns. It was a task of very great difficulty to bring about agreement, and that agreement is a delicate and fragile one.” And so, he added, it is now up to the Soviet Union to make some new proposals.

Dulles won Eisenhower’s approval for thus standing pat on disarmament in the face of Harold Stassen’s efforts to reshape the proposals. Dulles did agree to give some new prominence to the idea of control of outer space, but that proposal got nowhere in London last year and few Washington observers think the current missile standing presages any Soviet willingness to call a halt at this stage of the game. Nor is there any Pentagon enthusiasm for the scheme.

More serious is the implication of the Dulles statement on the German problem. It is true that it would be a Herculean task to shape new proposals for German reunification. It is easier to stick with “reunification by free elections,” despite the many Soviet rejections. But among a number of Administration officials, as well as in foreign embassies in Washington, one hears voices of alarm; alarm that a stand-pat posture risks the time when there may be a serious switch in policy in Bonn (and this is always coupled with “you know Adenauer is now eighty-two”). There is anxiety lest the result would be a policy that America, Britain, and France would have to accept unwillingly when they might have found some middle ground instead of remaining frozen.

Can McElroy run the Pentagon?

Neil McElroy became Secretary of Defense at the most critical moment in Pentagon history since the initial unification of the services. His first public appearances were marked by a refreshing candor, good humor, and an evident determination to master his job. Those who have sat in conferences with him report that he hears them out and then makes his decisions, usually on the spot, a rarity in a building where “I’ll take it under advisement and let you know later” is a commonplace.

But McElroy’s toughest assignment is Pentagon reorganization, not only of the myriad assistant secretaries and the complex committee system but of the Joint Chiefs of Staff setup. Despite reports that the President himself was going to take command of that job, the fact is that it was tossed to McElroy, though of course Eisenhower in the end will have to assume the responsibility. Entrenched service opinions, with each service having its powerful allies in Congress, will make any meaningful changes very hard to accomplish. Something can be done by executive order, but the outmoded, pre-hydrogen-bomb roles and missions of the services were largely written out by Congress, and it will require legislation to change that situation.

Much will depend on whether there is any unity of view among those outsiders McElroy has called in for advice, on whether McElroy himself takes a firm stand, and on whether there is some new demonstration of interservice rivalry at the cost of national defense.

A corollary problem which is even harder to solve concerns the proper role of senior officers who are called on by congressional committees to give their opinions of Administration military policies. The Congress can hardly reach conclusions without knowing such views; yet the general or admiral who talks frankly and critically is very likely to be shipped out of the country, as was Admiral Radford some years ago; or to be publicly branded “parochial,” as was General Ridgway by EisenI hower; or to end up by resigning, as did General Gavin after refusing to give lip service to Army manpower and research policies.

Mood of the Capital

Along with this mass of major issues related to national defense, Washington — Congress especially —is deeply concerned over the course of the domestic economy. The rapid economic downturn last winter with unemployment spiraling up to the four million range not only affects the budget in terms of lower tax , revenues but also in congressional reluctance to cut any work-making programs in an election year.

The Democratic strategy amounts to saying that the Administration should have a chance to prove its belief that the economic tide will turn by mid-1958 without further legislation and largely by changes in monetary policies and new defense spending. But the President’s own Council of Economic Advisers has not been entirely happy with the Federal Reserve Board’s slow turnabout on credit.

The auto industry is always considered a harbinger of the times, good or bad. The union-management negotiations this spring appear to be headed for deadlock and a strike, and the Administration is determined to stay out of such collective bargaining sessions.

If the Capital’s recent auto show was any example, the public is far more interested in the small, imported cars than in new mountains of chrome. In fact, the industry might do well to take a tip from Republican Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, who has said that unless the American firms start making smaller cars, the number of imported cars will reach a million a year within five years, thereby increasing unemployment here and bringing calls for tariff protection from the long-time free-trade auto industry.