Volume 5 Number 1-4
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Peace Through Law:
John Seiberling's Vision of World Order, Part II
Miriam R. Jackson, Kent, OH
This paper was presented at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax, VA.
Seiberling firmly believes that the American people, like himself, wanted neither war nor "Communism" in Central America, having himself no more specific idea than "Communism is about the ideology and behavior of the Sandinistas. By agreeing with both Administration policy-makers and mainstream Democrats that the Sandinistas were a wholly negative force in Central America, his subsequent arguments were at least in part on Administration grounds. The question then became (as it was in almost all the Congressional debate over contra aid in 1986) whether to foil the Soviet-Cuban Sandinista clones by negotiation or whether to foil them by overthrowing them via the contras or the Marines.
"The emphasis on force, instead of diplomacy, and meeting political and economic needs, to extend our policies in a place like Central America, is self-defeating in the long run,"21 Seiberling felt. But what was the consensus on what "our policy" should be? Did Ronald Reagan and John Seiberling disagree only on methods, not bipartisan Cold War goals? Consider the overlap of the statements about contra aid made during the 1986 House debate by Elwood Hillis (R-IN), a right-wing Republican, Frank McCloskey (D-IN) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), liberal Democrats and Stewart McKinney (R-CT), a moderate Republican. Hillis declared:
Our objective must be to support the efforts of the contras to include democratic elements in the Nicaraguan Government... it is frequently claimed that our approval of $100 million of assistance to the contras will lead us into a Vietnam-style conflict. As a long-time member of the House Armed Services Committee, who has witnessed the continuing legacy of this conflict, I can assure you that I would not favor approval of this request if I felt that this would occur.
I would rather suggest that if the contras are not successful in persuading President Ortega to include democratic elements in his government that the resulting consolidation of Sandinista power will result in a powerful destabilizing force in Central and South America.
"Once again," Hillis claimed, "the USSR is attempting to establish a soviet center of influence on the mainland of the Americas, where it can by proxy, create and support subversion in Central and South American countries. It is an old and familiar pattern."22
Indiana's Frank McCloskey weakly "countered" this argument on realist grounds of questions of wisdom:
One does not have to be sympathetic to the increasingly repressive Sandinista-Marxist regime to realize the primary issue on this vote is not whether one is opposed to that regime. We all lament its failures. The question is what is wise policy given our own diplomatic and security interests....23
California's Barbara Boxer raised the specter of another Viet Nam war and questioned whether $100 million would produce everyone's goal: "a democratic Nicaragua." Far from producing liberalization, she asserted, contra aid, rather than diplomacy, would only give the Sandinistas "an excuse to rely on Soviet aid and restrict civil liberties." Besides that, she declared, the contras were far from being "freedom fighters; they are terrorists who carry out indiscriminate attacks on civilians." Boxer's recommendation was to work instead with the "real and legitimate opposition" in Nicaragua: the political opposition and the Church.24
One of the few challenges to a prevailing line of thought notable only for disagreement on how to get rid of the pox of Sandinista rule came from Stuart McKinney, a moderate Republican from Connecticut. He ridiculed the notion that Nicaragua would expand at all, let alone attack the United States. Look how well aided and protected all its neighbors were by Americans. Who were the contras anyway, he demanded, that they were worth supporting?
The contras do not have the popular support of the Nicaraguan people. Who elected them? And who do they represent?... whether they were anti-Somoza or pro-Somoza, why eight months before the downfall of Mr. Somoza were we not so interested in overthrowing him as we are Mr. Ortega?25
The specifics of such a debate over how best to deal with a supposed Soviet-Cuban client regime in Central America were of course, a feature of the end of John Seiberling's House career and not the beginning. The generalities were similar, however, whether he worked to end the war in Viet Nam, tried to scrap the B-1 bomber or organized educational forums for greater understanding of the Soviet Union through the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus (formerly Members of Congress for Peace Through Law, with a core of World Federalists). The Congressional Round-Table on U.S.-Soviet Relations was intended to raise the level of Members' knowledge about the USSR from the abysmal depths apparent to Seiberling as he followed the 1983 debates on Pentagon appropriations.
Members of Congress, Seiberling recalled, seemed to premise everything on the notion that the USSR could be influenced only by force.
Of course, the threat of military force on their part produces counter-threats on our part--and threats by us produce counter-threats on their part. So all that happens is we spend trillions of dollars building up military power and it's an endless, vicious circle.
There must, he felt, be other ways in which the U.S. (echoing George Kennan) could influence the USSR "in the direction we think they ought to go." Oddly, the point Seiberling seemed to recall best from those forums was the emphatic desire of both the Soviet people and their government to be treated with respect, as befitted a great power.26 One wonders why forums were needed to make such an obvious generalization, which certainly would be the desire of most peoples and leaders, whether of great powers or not.
Yet the central point of the sessions, for Seiberling, was clearly the mutual need for consideration, respect and understanding. He wanted an end to Reagan's "Evil Empire" rhetoric, which he viewed as destructively negative. Were such an approach to be tried, Seiberling was convinced, the United States might "make some breakthroughs toward arms control and disarmament and eventually get to a more peaceful and less threatening world." But Seiberling's hope for this, buttressed by his belief in the power of American democracy, was undermined by pessimism because Congress was unwilling to contain the power of the American military-industrial complex. Complementing that problem was the "lack of comprehension" of Congressional and other national leaders as to the ultimate danger of the arms race: "the utter futility and ultimately suicidal nature of the course that our country and the Soviets are embarked upon." 27
The closest approach of Congress to a real debate of this issue was during campaigns for the nuclear freeze resolution originated by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) in 1982 and again in 1983. The range of views expressed in March, 1983--after two years of intense peace movement lobbying, the 1982 Central Park, New York rally of huge proportions, provocative Reagan rhetoric and alarm expressed at the dangerously belligerent superpower attitudes by such mainstream, respected diplomats as George Kennan and Paul Warnke28--was dishearteningly similar to the Cold War consensus before it and the anti-Sandinista consensus afterward. It was no wonder that Markey's version only passed the House with a watered-down amendment attached, while Kennedy's went nowhere in the Senate.
Members opposed to the freeze pointed to the supposed need of the United States to "rearm" aging American weaponry and past Soviet "duplicity" as reasons. Freeze opponents asserted that without "reductions" in arsenals, a freeze would "erode our ability to deter aggression,"29 while its proponents suggested that "reductions" might be a code word for the Reagan position at the 1982 START talks in Geneva--a position which claimed a new "missile gap" and which was getting nowhere with the Soviets. The debate also reflected confusion--pretended or deliberate--as to whether the resolution was advisory or had the force of law--a touchy Constitutional issue.
Passage of a nuclear freeze resolution, declared Bob Stump (R-AZ), would "give the Soviets the worldwide propaganda victory they have been seeking on the issue of nuclear arms. The Soviets clearly want nuclear arms superiority.... This... resolution is a message to them that their strategy is working. It encourages them to continue to multiply the destructive power of their arsenal while ignoring our negotiations." Bill Lowery of California (R) agreed, insisting that the freeze proposal overlooked "the hard, unpleasant facts about the nature of the Soviet Union and the difficulties inherent in securing a verifiable agreement with a fundamentally duplicitous negotiating partner."30
New York Democrat Stephen Solarz was one of several freeze supporters to comment on its urgency as well as the supporters' view of the place of weapons reductions. The freeze, he said, was not an end in itself but a means to stop the arms race before moving to questions of actual reductions. Oregon Democrat Les AuCoin agreed, saying that a freeze would halt both the qualitative and quantitative arms race. Simple "reductions" without a freeze would not stop "the technological advance in the arms race... [with]... ever more destabilizing weapons... [coming]... into the arsenals on not just our side but both sides..." The reductions suggested by the Administration in Geneva would reduce U.S. arsenals by 12,000 warheads but build 17,000--a net increase of 6,000 along the lines of the Nunn-Cohen build-down proposal.31
A simpler but more focused summary of the purpose of the freeze was expressed appropriately for this essay, by moderate Republican Jim Leach of Iowa, a good friend of John Seiberling. One of several Members to note the wide public demand for a freeze, Leach observed, "What the Congress is saying is that arms control is too important an issue to be considered exclusively a concern of the Executive when, in essence, what we are talking about is the fundamental issue of survival of all our peoples..."32
Looking back on the freeze debate three and a half years after the resolution's passage (by the House), John Seiberling expressed pride about his own supporting role and a belief that the debate had contributed to consciousness-raising, if nothing else:
That was a very hard effort. It took an awful lot of work both in Congress and at the grassroots level... Because the Republicans controlled the Senate, it never got anywhere there. But it did stimulate enough thinking so that we have succeeded in doing some other things in Congress.
Seiberling then referred to several curbs on Pentagon spending and policy incorporated into the House version of the 1987 Defense Appropriations bill: a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) testing; no money for weapons exceeding SALT II limits (and a request for Presidential compliance with those limits); and--most significantly--a one-year ban on nuclear testing. Most of these provisions, including the test ban, disappeared later in House-Senate conference, mainly hostage to Ronald Reagan's demand to have a "free hand" at the Iceland summit meeting with the USSR's Mikhail Gorbachev. But the House victory of the freeze and the logically connected 1986 House resolutions indicated, said Seiberling, that "we helped raise the level of consciousness of Members of Congress." 33
Seiberling remembered the years immediately following the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan chiefly as a time when the coffers were open for Pentagon spending requests. Looking ahead at the close of his last term in 1986, he feared that there might be worse to come, given the spending demands of the questionable SDI project. "[I]f you get rid of all the nuclear weapons," he pointedly observed, "you don't need an SDI program, because there's nothing to defend against... that simple fact seems to have escaped the 'geniuses' who are promoting SDI." He expressed the hope that, as costs mounted and as accidental nuclear war became more of a possibility, the U.S. and the USSR would conclude that survival was more important than their particular differences. To achieve this kind of peace, he said, not only nuclear but conventional weapons must be eliminated: general disarmament. This would require institutions of international enforcement, of course--which reinforced Seiberling's belief that world government and law was the only way to achieve world peace. He continued to hope that the process would begin at some point, though he was frustrated about the chances at present. "I can only say that those of us who believe that the human race does have the intelligence to solve its problems need to carry on that fight for a more rational and peaceful world."34
1 Interview by Miriam R. Jackson with Rep. John Seiberling, 18 Dec 1986.
2 Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Illusion of World Government," in Ernest W. Lefever, ed., Reinhold Niebuhr, The World Crisis and American Responsibility (New York: Associated Press, 1958): 87-88.
3 Reinhold Niebuhr, "The UN and the Free World," op. cit: 69, 71, 75.
4 Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Challenge of the World Crisis," op. cit.: 11-12, 19-20, 29.
5 Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Anatomy of American Nationalism," op. cit.: 67, 35
6 Reinhold Niebuhr, "America's Moral and Spiritual Resources," op. cit.: 33, 35.
7 George F. Kennan, Realities of American Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954): 20, 85.
8 Hans J. Morgenthau, "Another 'Great Debate': The National Interest of the United States," American Political Science Review, SLVI: 4 (Dec 1952): 979.
9 Kennan, op. cit.: 20, 69, 70-71, 75-76, 85-86, 87, 100, 105-106, 111-112.
10 Morgenthau, op. cit.: 961, 962, 964, 965, 969.
11 Ibid.: 979, 980, 981, 987.
12 Robert W. Tucker, "Professor Morgenthau's Theory of Political 'Realism'," American Political Science Review XLVI: 1 (Mar 1952): 215, 216, 217, 224.
13 Thomas I. Cook and Malcolm Moos, "Foreign Policy: The Realism of Idealism," American Political Science Review XLVI: 2 (Jun 1952): 343, 347, 355, 356.
14 Seiberling interview (18 Dec 1986).
22 Elwood Hillis in Congressional Record, 99th Congress (19 Mar 1986): H1330, 1331.
23 Frank McCloskey in op. cit. (19 Mar 1986): H1329.
24 Barbara Boxer in op. cit. (19 Mar 1986): H1332.
25 Stewart McKinney in op. cit. (19 Mar 1986): H1332.
26 Seiberling interview.
28 George F. Kennan, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon, 1976, 198).
29 Delbert Latta in Congressional Record, 98th Congress (4 May 1983): H2607.
30 Bob Stump in op. cit., (4 May 1983): 2633): H2657.
31 Stephen Solarz in op. cit. (4 May 1983): 2634; Les AuCoin in op. cit. (4 May 1983): H2641, 2643. For an essentially antifreeze definition of "reductions" and a reference to the connection of the Nunn-Cohen "build-down" proposal, see statement of Elliott Levitas in op. cit. (4 May 1983): H1619.
32 Jim Leach in op. cit. (4 May 1983): H1619.
33 Seiberling interview.