The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

IN THE foreword which President Kennedy wrote for the recently published Presidential Public Papers of 1962, he commented that last year may well be marked by historians “as the time when the tide of international politics began at last to flow strongly toward the world of diversity and freedom.”It has long been a Kennedy thesis that the 1957 launching of the first Soviet Sputnik was an event of momentous gain for the Communists. Indeed, it is now quite clear that the Red Chinese pressures on Nikita Khrushchev to take a bolder stance against the West sprang from Peiping’s belief that the Sputnik marked a Soviet missile superiority of incalculable military and psychological proportions which Khrushchev should exploit to the fullest.

Whether Khrushchev acted on such a presumption last year when he made his daring missile move into Cuba or whether, as is the predominant Washington view, he was acting out of weakness in the East-West military equation, we perhaps shall never know. We do know, of course, that the Chinese accused him of “adventurism” for moving missiles into Cuba and of “capitulationism" for taking them out in the face of President Kennedy’s challenge. Certainly Cuba exacerbated the Sino-Soviet dispute, and certainly it took the masters of the Kremlin many months after the withdrawal to rethink their policies and proccdures.

Sometime in May President Kennedy decided that the forum of a commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10 would give him the right opportunity to make another gesture toward the Soviet Union. He knew, of course, that the Sino-Soviet talks would be held in Moscow in July and that at about the same time Averell Harriman would be going there to try again for a nuclear test ban. As one official put it, it was time to let Khrushchev know that there was no brick wall on his Western flank as there was on his Eastern flank.

At American University the President denied that this nation seeks to enforce a “Pax Americana" on the world by arms. He called on Americans to “re-examine our attitude toward the Cold War,” and he declared that both the United States and the Soviet Union are “caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter-weapons.” Despite some strong words during his subsequent visit to West Germany, Kennedy did not abandon the principles of his American University address, and Khrushchev quite evidently noted this. The result was the opening of a new round of SovietAmerican explorations, while the Sino-Soviet quarrel was intensified.

The President’s problem since last October’s Cuban crisis has been how to exploit the outcome. He has not applied new pressures on Khrushchev in regard to his troops remaining in Cuba, at least not publicly, at some political cost here at home. For a long time he took the position that the Cuban crisis had, in fact, made it more difficult to do any business with the Soviets, so great had been their duplicity.

The Chinese-Soviet split

As seen from Washington, the quarrel between the Kremlin and Peiping has been basically a power struggle between two great nations and their strong-willed leaders, overlaid with important Marxist-Leninist ideological differences. It is impossible to separate these two factors and most difficult to give them their proper weights. Nor is it possible to estimate the importance to Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung of the struggle for the hearts and minds of the world’s more than eighty Communist parties, which are vital to the spread of the holy writ, whether it be the Moscow or the Peiping translation.

Even more hidden from clear view is the relation of the Soviet-American nuclear power struggle to Kremlin decision making. The Kremlin must know that American officials are not idly boasting when they talk of being able to destroy the Soviet Union even after a surprise first strike at the United States by Russia. The recent Atomic Energy Commission decision to cut back on production of fissionable material indicates the Administration’s confidence in our nuclear superiority. And its meaning will not be lost on Moscow.

It has been evident for many months now that a central Soviet problem has been the allocation of scarce resources. Though the proof so far is lacking, there must have been some decision to limit military claims, perhaps on the ground that Churchill’s “balance of terror” afforded sufficient protection to the Soviet Union and that the chances of dramatically upsetting the balance are slim indeed.

Hot line to Moscow

Since war may come by accident, there is hope in the opening, about September 1, of the new “hot line” emergency telecommunication link between Washington and Moscow. The new link does make possible a quick explanation from one side to the other if there is an accidental firing, or if a madman does defeat the control mechanisms. Such a message quite conceivably could prevent escalation to all-out war.

The Soviet-American stalemate has permitted the boiling up of the lesser conflicts held in check when the nuclear giants were bellowing at each other, as they did last fall. For example, not until the Cuban crisis had clearly passed did General de Gaulle impose his veto on British membership in the Common Market and intensify his campaign to curtail American influence in Europe. Likewise, the Sino-Soviet quarrel reached a new intensity, and the European satellites were emboldened to talk back to Moscow after the air over Cuba had cleared.

As to the problems in the Atlantic alliance, Washington feels that a new relationship between the United States and its European allies, especially in a psychological sense, is beginning to form. De Gaulle pushes for one formula, Kennedy for another. The likelihood is that, in time, some third formula will be created. At least there has been enough lifting of the sense of impending doom to begin to calculate some way out of the present Atlantic deadlock.

The Negro and politics

The great domestic crisis of 1963, the nationwide eruption of a struggle by American Negroes to break those bonds still remaining a century after emancipation, has almost totally disrupted every other domestic issue in Washington.

The outcome in Congress is now far from clear, nor is there yet a national consensus from which senators and representatives can take a cue. On all sides it is believed that the conduct of the Negroes themselves will have a critical bearing not only on what Congress does but on what is done by states and cities and towns, by business, and by other groups who have power to break down old barriers.

Washington has lately begun to think about the possible political consequences. The national conventions are less than a year off, and already the civil rights issue is deep in politics. The potential Republican candidacy of Senator Goldwater is central to much of the current political thinking.

Those who have looked back at the 1960 election figures come up with something like this: rural America is basically Republican, whoever the party nominee may be; the core of our big cities is basically Democratic; the real battleground is the suburbs. In 1960, for example, Kennedy ran up some 6,780,000 votes, to just under 4,000,000 for Nixon, in eighteen major cities. But in the suburbs of these cities, plus the suburbs of then-voteless Washington, D. C., which will cast its first presidential vote next fall, Nixon outran Kennedy by 4,517,000 to 4,394,000. This almost tied suburban vote was a vast switch from the voting in the Eisenhower-Stevenson contests, in which the GOP totals ran far, far ahead.

Living in these suburbs today are many of the men and women who have been providing the leadership among the white majority of the nation in breaking down racial barriers, both before and since the crisis in Birmingham shocked the country. But the politicians generally feel that suburbia could very easily be repelled by Negro excesses and that this would be reflected both in the Congress and at the polling places next fall.

Many disagree with such a reading. Yet it is evident that the Goldwater boom has behind it not only the far right in economic terms but an element ready and willing to campaign on a “lily-white GOP” line. And, so the argument goes, it really makes no difference what Goldwater himself may say if he is the GOP nominee — he will be the “white” candidate. Democratic strategists scoff at much of this talk; they profess to believe that what the President has set out to do for the Negro is not only morally right but good politics as well.

The net of this argument is now totally unclear. The only certain thing, if anything is certain in politics, is that the outcome of the civil rights struggle both in and out of Congress will be a key factor in the 1964 presidential election.

The new isolationists

Senator Dirksen and Representative Halleck, the Senate and House GOP leaders, have been hammering away week after week on the theme of “virtual surrender” by the Administration to the Soviets on the test-ban issue and a general weakness in other areas of Soviet-American relations.

The fact is that the party’s congressional leadership has been more conservative than its presidential candidates all the way back to Calvin Coolidge. But then a Wilkie, a Dewey, an Eisenhower, or a Nixon has come along to lead the party on a more internationalist line of foreign policy. Despite all the Goldwater boom, the cynics among the politicians of both parties believe this pattern will repeat itself next year. But the Rockefeller divorce and marriage and the limited boomlets for Governors Romney and Scranton have shaken some liberal Republicans to the point of a real fear of a Goldwater nomination.

Many say, why not have a real choice for the voters for once — Goldwater versus Kennedy? And the Goldwater boom has reached such a point that if he is denied the nomination, it could seriously damage the party’s chances in 1964. Hence, the situation now is similar to the 1952 situation, when General Eisenhower went into the GOP race because, in part at least, he feared Senator Taft’s brand of isolationism. But today there is no new Ike to challenge Goldwater.

One question is whether there is not already considerable neo-isolationism among Democrats as well as Republicans. A return to the pre-war isolationism is plainly impossible to most Americans, what with missiles buried today in Wyoming or Arizona. But there are many who feel that we can cut our commitments and otherwise pull in our horns now that missiles located here at home can reach every corner of the Communist bloc. Recriminations over General de Gaulle and his policies clearly have added to this feeling.

For example, Senator Frank Church, a Democrat who sits in isolationist William E. Borah’s old Idaho seat, suggested to a National War College audience that the United States sell nuclear warheads at cost to an integrated European force, assuming one could be created, thus making it possible, in his view, for American troops to be withdrawn from Europe. He coupled this proposal with a prior defense against those who might “object that I am offering a blueprint for returning the United States to isolationism” by replying that “it is Europe, not us, which pursues increasingly isolationist policies, largely at our expense, in both the military and economic spheres.” Whatever the merits of such a view, it is undeniable that it has been strengthened by subsequent French moves to trim further its NATO commitments and to cut American farm exports to France in particular and Europe in general.

What the President said during his European tour was designed to combat such disintegration within the Atlantic alliance. Despite a lot of criticism in advance and some after the fact, Washington generally felt the trip was worthwhile, even necessary. But it was only one part of what surely is going to be a long haul for the United States as it seeks the outlines of a new relationship across the sea while avoiding a big swing of the pendulum of opinion here at home.