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Sam Adams

Does America Have a Foreign Policy?

Willkie Breaks Some Ground

(October 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 9, October 1943, pp. 266–267.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The current myth, zealously pursued in some political quarters, is that the United States has no foreign policy. In recent months, two books have appeared devoted to this problem. It would be correct to say, however, that Wendell Willkie’s book, One World (Simon & Schuster, publishers; 86 pages, $1.00), complains not so much against the absence of a foreign policy as it does against the specific policy of the Roosevelt Administration, or the lack of a forthright statement of its policy. Walter Lippmann, in his U.S. Foreign Policy, does make the direct charge that “for nearly fifty years the nation has not had a settled and generally accepted foreign policy.”

In the case of Wendell Willkie, we are presented with a political statement on foreign policy which is in the nature of an electoral campaign against the incumbent President. Willkie is a politician in his purpose. Lippmann, on the other hand, offers himself as a politically disinterested student of the world needs of American imperialism.

Although Willkie’s book has enjoyed an unprecedented sale and circulation, resulting in an enormous influence for his views, Lippmann’s contribution is equally as important a treatise on the specific question of foreign policy since he has published the views of a stronger group of the American bourgeoisie, a more openly imperialist wing. We shall return to Lippman in another article.

In a manner of speaking, the former presidential candidate wrote a political Gulliver’s Travels, which is pedestrian in style and superficial in content. But this is all minor, for the essence of the report on his travels is to propose in general, and in the most indefinite way, a new orientation (not policy) in foreign relations.

The simplicity of Willkie’s ideas may reflect his “Hoosier” background, as some have explained, but the fact is that what he has to say can be said simply. Moreover, as a politician, he has sought to make his views widely known and easily understood by millions of Americans, for he intends to pursue the subject in the next big political campaign.

Aside from a light and interesting description of the significance of the airplane in modern travel, and an interesting, though unimportant, description of the personalities he met, the main theme in the book stands out clearly.

Willkie describes world state relations in the following way: The war with the Axis is a great war for freedom and for our “way of life.” It is necessary to defeat Germany, Italy and Japan in order to save democracy and capitalism. In this struggle we are allied to three great powers, Great Britain, Russia and China. The alliance, while undebatably necessary, is wrongly weighted. It is too deliberately controlled by the United States and Great Britain. Russia and China have been relegated to minor seats in this alliance, the results of which cannot but be disastrous.

There follows a rather sharp criticism of British imperialism, the imperialism of the “flame and the sword.” Willkie prefers the benevolent type, the imperialism of “capital and the dollar.” He regards the “flame and the sword” as an unnecessarily expensive and dangerous weapon. And he points out that “imperialism” (the British method) has resulted in the growth of a world-wide and vigorous anti-imperialist movement of the colonial peoples which will hereafter make it impossible to pursue profitably the “direct” (or the British) method of exploitation of these peoples (as if American imperialism did not pursue the same aims and methods as the occasion required).

He has erected a simple edifice. Repeating what has now been accepted by the whole bourgeois world, he points out that the economic world is a completely interdependent whole, ruling out economic nationalism. As a bourgeois he desires to reconcile the internationalization of capitalist economy with its national base. As a representative of American capitalism, however, he is anxious to produce such a relationship between the powers as will “accord” each a fair share of the world’s markets and resources and yet give to the United States, as the outstanding economic power, its predominant share, based, of course, upon its greater needs in the fields of exports and imports (in the first case, capital and finished goods and, in the second place, raw materials).

It is Willkie’s thesis that Great Britain is a subordinate economic and political power. Its world possessions and influence, however, are far in excess of its real needs, that is to say, far more than a thriving American capitalism can afford to let her have. He wants to reduce her share of the world market and world resources. To accomplish this economic feat (one that is on the way to being accomplished in the course of the war) the aspirant to the American presidency is compelled to wage what he considers a crusade against “imperialism” in defense of the colonial peoples.

He feels that in this way, America can summon the assistance of these peoples (China, India, the Dutch East Indies) in the “cold” process of economically subordinating England and destroying her empire base Thus he feigns shock at Churchill’s declaration, “We mean to hold what we have.” And he becomes particularly furious when this “bricklayer” added that he did not become the King’s Prime Minister to “preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”

This fundamental position of British policy, as enunciated by Churchill, he found prevalent among the high officers of the British Navy. He describes a dinner at the Alexandria home of Admiral Harwood, commander of the British Eastern Mediterranean force. There were present ten persons in the naval, diplomatic and consular service. This is how Willkie reports the discussion:

We discussed the war in the detached, almost impersonal way in which the war is discussed all over the world by officers engaged in fighting it, and then the conversation turned to politics. I tried to draw out these men, all of them experienced and able administrators of the British Empire, on what they saw in the future, and especially in the future of the colonial system and of our joint relations with the many peoples of the East.

What I got was Rudyard Kipling, untainted even with the liberalism of Cecil Rhodes. I knew that informed Englishmen in London and all over the British Commonwealth were working hard on these problems, that many of them, for example, were trying to find a formula which will go farther toward self-government than the older concept of “trusteeship.” But these men, executing the policies made in London, had no idea that the world was changing. The British colonial system was not perfect In their eyes; It seemed to me simply that no one of them had ever thought of it as anything that might possibly be changed or modified in any way. The Atlantic Charter most of them had read about. That it might affect their careers or their thinking had never occurred to any of them. That evening started in my mind a conviction which was to grow strong in the days that followed it in the Middle East; that brilliant victories in the field will not win for us this war now going on in the far reaches of the world, that only new ideas in the machinery of our relations with the peoples of the East can win the victory without which any peace will be only another armistice. – (Emphasis mine – A.G.)

It should be clear that these men, “executing the policies made in London,” were doing their jobs. For, fundamentally, there has been no change in London; the capital is reflected in its servants throughout the Empire. Does Willkie understand this? The whole book shows that he does.

He regards Asia as the next great area of economic exploitation, especially China. Willkie is anything but stupid, and he was quick to see that there is a change in the peoples of that part of the world, i.e., he observed the growing determination of the colonial world to fight imperialism and obtain national independence. He supports national “independence” because he believes that economic imperialism can gain its objectives by a universal application of the “good neighbor” policy, a policy generally pursued by American imperialism, under Roosevelt, to such good advantage.

He found a “new spirit” in Turkey, in the Middle East as a whole, in Russia, in China and in India. Even though he was requested by the President to by-pass India, Mr. Gulliver made sure to include India in his ambulations. The peoples in that part of the world hate British imperialism; they regard the United States differently. That the latter is partially true is explained by the specific direction of American foreign expansion. These people have not been visited by American imperialism and therefore believe that “American business enterprise does not necessarily lead to attempts at political control.”

That they are intransigent in opposition to British imperialism, a force which confronts them in their daily life, in great and small things, is obvious from the nature of British ownership, control and supervision of these areas. But it is precisely this hatred of British imperialism in Asia and Near Asia which Willkie desires to capitalize on for the purpose of advancing American economic interests.

He believes it can be done by “democratic” means, by benevolence, by persuasion, and above all by the overwhelming power of American production. He foresees great vistas of economic prosperity in the hundreds of millions of peoples of the oldest continent, in the enormous wealth of its scarcely tapped resources. But to “develop” Asia, it is first necessary to smash the British Empire and its hold on India.

The proper exploitation of Asia requires peace! It cannot be done in a period of war, unstable relations with the Asiatic countries, especially if they will resist foreign economic penetration; or, on the basis of sharp internal class relations. Thus, Willkie is a staunch bourgeois democrat at home, a “benevolent” economic imperialist abroad. He believes American wealth and its productive apparatus are rich enough to pay for such a policy and he believes its returns will make this investment quite cheap. This, and not remorse of his Commonwealth & Southern past, as one writer believes, is the source of Willkie’s “liberalism.”

Precisely because he understands the nature of the world, Willkie is aware that to put Britain in its place, it will be necessary to acquire “allies.” He sees those allies in the form of China and Russia. They are indispensable links in Asia and Europe to hold the British lion at bay. If such links can be forged, then the future of American imperialism will, in his opinion, be secure for many generations.

There may be objections that this thesis is vague; it lacks the specificity to permit further and deeper analysis. But the extremely general nature of the Willkie policy is not accidental. It is the first public presentation of an orientation that quite probably has not been detailed by its advocates. And its advocates are many, for Willkie is not a lone wolf in this situation. He speaks for a powerful and growing section of the American bourgeoisie whose views are publicly set forth by the Time-Life-Fortune group. Willkie is the outstanding political representative of these forces. For this reason alone his views are infinitely more important than the fact that his book lacks a scholarly investigation of foreign policy or is not at this time charted out in detail.

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