Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 27: A Purgatory in Time

Chapter 27: A Purgatory in Time

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 27: A Purgatory in Time:

305: Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page, An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 (New York: Viking, 1969), pp. 496-98.

305-6: Wallace quoted by Walter Russell Mead, Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), p. 48. Niall Ferguson, Charles S. Maier, Erez Manela, Daniel J. Sargent, eds., The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2010).

306: Robert Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p.. 142.

306-7: Needless to say, this is a hotly contested point. Raymond Haberski, Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2012), p. 84, states that while no one sensed the crisis of patriotism caused by the Vietnam War, “there was no one less equipped to deal with the irony of this situation than Nixon.” Likewise, Melvin Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1999), p. 31, writes: “To bring the United States together in 1969 would not have been easy for any president, let alone such a polarizing figure as Richard Nixon.” But I think Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (New York: Mentor, 1971 <1969>), pp. 308-27, was right to quote Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to the effect that pragmatism must rest on a submerged faith rather than one that is codified into a body of dogma.  It was the very simplicity and doctrinal vacuity of Nixon’s faith that made possible the political (and ethical) flexibility the crisis required.  See also David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 99-123; Richard V. Pierand and Robert D. Linder, Civil Religion and the Presidency (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie Books,1988), 206-28 (quotes pp. 224-27); Gary Scott Smith, Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents (New York: Oxford University, 2015), pp. 260-92 (Stone quote, p. 272).  Richard Nixon, In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), pp. 88-93.  The quote is from Dostoevsky’s The Possessed.

307-8: Nixon Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1969):

308-9: William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975), p. 265. Charles S. Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2006), pp. 238-84.

309-10: Air Force Academy speech quoted by Wills, Nixon Agonistes, p. 450. The Nixon Doctrine sounded specific: “First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments. Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.  Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.”  In fact, it was studiously ambiguous.  As Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 709, explained: “The Nixon Doctrine was, therefore, primarily relevant to crises in peripheral areas not covered by formal alliances and threatened by Soviet surrogates, of which, it turned out, there were very few.  In its attempt to devise a ‘doctrine’ for avoiding another conflict like Vietnam, the Nixon Administration developed a doctrine which applied primarily to situations like Vietnam which it was determined not to repeat.”   Nixon’s November 1969 address at:

While preparing the Silent Majority Speech Nixon consulted with Dean Acheson about how to sell an unpopular war to the public.  He also told his cabinet in September 1969 that he must not lose in Vietnam because that “first defeat in history would destroy the confidence of the American people in themselves”; Herbert S. Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), p. 566.

310: Richard Nixon, “Asia After Viet Nam,” Foreign Affairs 46, no. 1 (October 1967): 121; Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), p. 165.

310-11: The domestic roots of détente are argued by Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2003). The brilliant analysis of Nixon’s grand strategy is Franz Schurmann, The Foreign Politics of Richard Nixon: The Grand Design (Berkeley, Calif.: Institute of International Studies, 1987). Originally drafted in the late 1970s, Schurmann’s manuscript was spiked by left- and right-wing publishers alike, none of him had any interest in Schurmann’s objective, and therefore not always damning, interpretation of Nixon.  William P. Bundy, A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), grudgingly grants Nixon’s and Kissinger’s achievements, but thinks their penchant for secrecy and deception was a fatal flaw.

311-12: Joan Hoff, Nixon Reconsidered (New York: Basic Books, 1994), pp. 17-49, 77-114; Melvin Small, The Presidency of Richard Nixon (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1999), pp. 153-214. The Supreme Court also legalized abortion during Nixon’s term in Roe v. Wade (1973).

312: Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston, eds., Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations, 1969-1977 (New York: Oxford University, 2008), p. 8. Speaking to Midwestern newspaper editors on July 6, 1971, Nixon acknowledged the gradual diffusion of power from the United States to the USSR, China, Japan, and the European Community. Aged Walter Lippmann instantly understood.  Nixon’s role, he wrote, was “to liquidate, defuse, deflate the exaggeration of the romantic period of American imperialism and American inflation.”  Nixon noted the column in his White House press briefing and scribbled, “Wise observation.” See Tom Switzer, “The World Today, Foretold by Nixon,” New York Times (July 5, 2011).  The Wriston quote is in Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 664.  Alan Wolfe, The Limits of Legitimacy: Political Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Free Press, 1977), pp. 214-244, noted at the time that liberal democracy is a contradiction in terms because truly “free markets” in fact undermine egalitarian, populist politics.  Karl Kaiser, “Transnational Relations as a Threat to the Democratic Process,” in Robert Keohane and Joseph P. Nye, Transnational Relations and World Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1973), p. 356, likewise observed: “Transnational relations and other multinational processes seriously threaten democratic control of foreign policy, particularly in advanced industrial societies.”

312-13: Quotes from Schurmann, Grand Design, pp. 81-82. Robert Gilpin, U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation: The Political Economy of Foreign Direct Investment (New York: Basic Books, 1975), pp. 113-37, 156-62, provided a clairvoyant contemporary account of the sudden rise of the multinational corporation (MNC) and the confusion it caused among economists and politicians. Some argued that MNCs were defensive efforts to protect market shares or exploit tax breaks for foreign subsidiaries, others that they reflected an engulf-and-devour feeding frenzy.  Whatever the case, MNCs fostered transnational habits of mind.  Dow Chemical Chairman Carl A. Gerstacker even dreamed of establishing corporate headquarters on some desert island subject to no nation’s sovereignty!  But U.S. officials like Lyndon Johnson’s Treasury Secretary Henry Fowler considered them “mighty engines of enlightened capitalism” that the U.S. government would “continue to seek, to expand and extend the role of the multinational corporation as an essential instrument of strong and healthy economic progress through the Free World.”  John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University, 2005), pp. 340-41, says Kissinger’s meant “to purge our foreign policy of all sentimentality,” while displaying “surprisingly strong concern with the moral dimensions of world politics.”  In other words, his Central European soul believed in a morality of results rather than motives and thus had no stomach for ACR cant.  See also Jeremi Suri, “Henry Kissinger and the Geopolitics of Globalization,” in  Ferguson et al., eds., The Shock of the Global, pp. 173-88, and Suri, “Henry Kissinger and American Grand Strategy,” in Logevall and Preston, eds., Nixon in the World, pp. 67-84.  Kissinger said, “It is beyond the physical and psychological capacity of the US to make itself responsible for every part of the world.  We hope in the first term to clear away the underbrush of the old period.  In the second term, we could try to construct a new international settlement – which will be more stable, less crisis-conscious, and less dependent on decisions in one capital” (68-69).

313: The major oil companies known as the “majors” or “seven sisters” included the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (today’s British Petroleum), Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of California (today’s Chevron), Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil of New York (together today’s ExxonMobil).

313-14: Francesco Parra, Oil Politics: A Modern History of Petroleum (London: Tauris, 2004), pp. 110-45; Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), pp. 563-87; Schurmann, The Grand Design, pp. 161-95, 247-313. See also Rohan Alvandi, Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah: The United States and Iran in the Cold War (New York: Oxford University, 2014).

314 ¶ 1: Myra Wilkins, The Maturing of Multinational Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1974); Raymond Vernon, Sovereignty at Bay (New York: Basic Books, 1971); U.S. Senate, Finance Committee, Multinational Corporations and the World Economy (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1973); Francis J. Gavin, Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004); Diane B. Kunz, Butter and Guns: America’s Cold War Economic Diplomacy (New York: Free Press, 1997); Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (New Haven, Conn: Yale University, 2010).

314 ¶ 2: Nixon Televised Address on the New Economic Policy:

The “new economic policy” proved embarrassing when it was pointed out that was the same phrase used by Lenin in 1921, but it was good politics as Connolly privately explained (Hoff, Nixon Reconsidered, pp. 137-44).  The wage and price controls were popular with middle and working class families hurt by inflation, while the import surcharge played to Americans’ habitual resentment of foreigners.  Most important, business elites understood the pressing need to free the dollar from gold.  Under Bretton Woods the U.S. share of the world’s gold reserves fell from 50 to 16 percent.

314-15: Thomas Zeiler, “Nixon Shocks Japan, Inc.” in Logevall and Preston, eds., Nixon in the World, pp. 289-308; Fred I. Block, The Origins of International Economic Disorder (Berkeley: University of California, 1977), pp. 164-202. The term “globalization” was coined (or at least popularized) by Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School in 1983. The irrepressible process, he predicted, must tear down “the walls of economic insularity, nationalism and chauvinism.”  See Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., and Thomas W. Zeiler, Globalization and the American Economy (New York: Cambridge University, 2003), pp. 184-206 (“greatest week” quote, p. 185); Gilpin, U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation, pp. 215-62 (Kindleberger quote, p. 220).

315: Gary J. Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (New York: Knopf, 2013) describes the Nixon administration’s dilemma when its Pakistani partners fell into crisis occasioned by Bengali secession. When West Pakistani soldiers began killing hundreds of thousands of Bengali the United States took no notice. Later, when India and Pakistan went to war and there seemed to be danger of Chinese and Soviet intervention, Kissinger feared “our China initiative is pretty well down the drain” and Nixon thought in “Armageddon terms.”  Luckily the Soviets and Chinese showed restraint, but the crisis proved how much control had fallen from the hands of Americans.  See Robert J. McMahon, “The Danger of Geopolitical Fantasies: Nixon, Kissinger, and the South Asia Crisis of 1971,” in Logevall and Preston, eds., Nixon in the World, pp. 249-68).  On the brighter side, the August 1971 “Concert for Bangla Desh” at Madison Square Garden brought together George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, and other stars, plus 40,000 spectators, for what Rolling Stone magazine called “a brief, incandescent revival of all that was best about the Sixties.”

315 cont.: Michael H. Hunt, The American Ascendency: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007), pp. 225-65, argues that Nixon’s tattered reputation “should not blind us to his insights and studied attempt to construct a more modest and thus sustainable Cold War policy” (p. 239). He steered back to FDR’s notion of a great-power condominium in which China and Russia were not “moral mutants” against which America must crusade, but genuine world powers with legitimate interests. Colin Dueck, Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II (Princeton: Princeton University, 2010), pp. 184-86, put it “the simplest way” by comparing the U.S. world position of 1969 to that of 1976 and concluding the Nixon-Kissinger approach was “bold, practical, and tough-minded” (p. 185).

314-15: Neither the Hanoi nor Saigon regime expected their conflict would end. See Lien-hang T. Nguyen, Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2012). The only question was what role the United States would play in the post-Paris phase of the struggle.  One theory holds that the “better war” pursued by the Nixon administration had been won, but the peace was then lost because Congress cut off funding in June 1973 for military activity in Southeast Asia, sharply reduced economic aid to South Vietnam, and never even considered the aid package Nixon had promised to North Vietnam.  See, for instance, Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999), Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams (New York: Arbor House, 1985), and Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003).  Another theory, most recently argued by Ken Hughes, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2015), holds that the Paris Accords were a fig-leaf because Nixon and Kissinger expected South Vietnam would only survive for a “decent interval.  Larry Berman, No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 2001) argued that Nixon knew the “peace accord” was a pretense, but expected to enforce it with B-52s until the end of his term.  Jeffrey Kimball, Nixon’s Vietnam War (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1999) and The Vietnam War Files: Secret History of Nixon-era Strategy (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2004), argues a variation of the “decent interval” theory in which Nixon and Kissinger knowingly “sold out” South Vietnam in the interests of detente with the Communist giants.

316, ¶ 1: The Vietnam conflict took 58,303 American lives and left 303,644 physically wounded. The mental and emotional damage is literally incalculable. So, too, are the Vietnamese lives – military and civilian, Southern and Northern – lost in the American phase of the war, but they numbered well over a million.  The war cost U.S. taxpayers more than twice what the Korean War had cost and a seventh of what World War II had cost.  See:

316, ¶ 2: Nixon Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1973):

317: Nixonian curses from the 1972 election quoted in Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 409; Richard Reeves, President Nixon: Alone in the White House (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), p. 545; Conrad Black, The Invincible Quest: The Life of Richard Milhous Nixon (New York: McClelland & Stewart, 2007), p. 845 (“one day”). William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975), p. 264 (“bloodletting”). Even Nixon-haters could not “visualize impeachment” if it meant promoting Vice President Spiro Agnew.  So the counter-coup really began in 1973 when a timely investigation of petty corruption in Maryland forced Agnew to resign.  Under the 25th Amendment ratified in 1967 Nixon could appoint the successor, but only with support of a majority in both houses of Congress.  Accordingly, he had to choose a pliable centrist and settled on Gerald Ford.  After Nixon’s resignation Ford completed the establishment’s counter-coup by making Nelson Rockefeller his vice-president.

317-18: Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1945), pp. 130-31: “It is chiefly in its foreign relations that the executive power of a nation finds occasion to exert its skill and its strength. If the existence of the Union were perpetually threatened, if its chief interests were in daily connection with those of other powerful nations, the executive government would assume an increased importance in proportion to the measures expected of it and to those which it would execute…. The President of the United States possesses almost royal prerogatives, which he has no opportunity of exercising; and the privileges which he can at present use are very circumscribed.  The laws allow him to be strong, but circumstances keep him weak.”

318: Kissinger, Diplomacy, pp. 699-702. “In the Vietnam period, America was obliged to come to grips with its limits. For most of its history, America’s exceptionalism had proclaimed a moral superiority which was backed by the nation’s material abundance.  But in Vietnam, America found itself involved in a war which became morally ambiguous, and in which America’s material superiority was largely irrelevant.  The picture-perfect families gracing the television screens of the 1950s had been the cultural support group for the moral high-mindedness of Dulles and the soaring idealism of Kennedy.  Thwarted in these aspirations, America searched its soul and turned on itself.”

319: On the very public Washington Conference see Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), pp. 896-934; Daniel J. Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University, 2015), pp. 10-11. On the very secret Saudi arrangements see David E. Spiro, The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1999), pp. 121-25, and F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Pluto, 2004), pp. 130-38. Thus did Kissinger, Assistant Treasury Secretary Jack F. Bennett, and trans-Atlantic financial firms create a mechanism that turned the petrodollars generated by artificially high oil prices into a benefit for Wall Street and the City of London.

320: An early prophecy of the limits to growth had been Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962). By the 1970s her jeremiad about environmental damage was extended to demographics, economics, and technocracy. See for instance: Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine, 1968, rev. ed 1971); Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970); Donella H. Meadows, et al., The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972); Mancur Olson & Hans H. Landsberg, eds., The No-Growth Society (New York: Norton, 1973).  One might include Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971) for its anti-developmental critique.

320 cont.: Henry Kissinger, Years of Renewal (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), pp. 17-40, is especially praiseful of Ford’s leadership. His cabinet, perhaps thee most distinguished since Harding’s, included Kissinger (State); William E. Simon (Treasury); James R. Schlesinger and Donald H. Rumsfeld (Defense); William B. Saxbe and Edward H. Levi (Justice); Rogers C. B. Morton (Interior); Earl L. Butz and John A. Knebel (Agriculture); Morton and Elliot L. Richardson (Commerce); Caspar W. Weinberger and F. David Mathews (Health, Education, and Welfare); James T. Lynn and Carla Anderson Hills (Housing and Urban Development); Claude S. Brinegar and William T. Coleman, Jr. (Transportation).

Ford’s 1975 State of the Union:

Ford’s 1976 State of the Union:


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