An Interview with Adlai Stevenson III, Part Four: Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

(1 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

On the subject of diplomacy and foreign policy, Senator Stevenson followed in his father’s admittedly massive footsteps.  In particular, he spent much time working in the Far East, and holds an expert opinion on Asia and monetary policy.  The most detailed sections of The Black Book are devoted to both subjects.  This next installment, however, will discuss the high-stakes world of brinkmanship and negotiation.  In it, Stevenson directly refutes past political narratives whose veracity has rarely been challenged.  In a Wikileaks world, the Senator has some severe criticisms of a failed system whose abuses have left all of us still feeling the effect.    

The Senator is particularly critical of way that ambassador assignments were doled out under the Bush Administration’s spoils system.  Citing a Center for Responsive Politics report, The Black Book notes that a total of forty-three ambassadorships were awarded to campaign donors.  And furthermore, Stevenson argues that the process of formulating and implementing policy ought to be the within the sole purview of the State Department.  He is suspicious of the Pentagon’s presence in the process, as well the existence of a myriad of other intelligence services.  Stevenson also notes that lobbying by foreign ambassadors and individual embassies has become a significantly larger issue.

[This policy] was an improper intrusion into State Department authority as late as the early 1970’s.  By the end of that decade, even foreign ambassadors were lobbying, and foreign governments were hiring public relations firms and lobbyists.  Politics never stopped at the water’s edge…but diplomacy was not formulated by ideologues in the Executive Branch or members of Congress unchastened by experience in the real world.


Once again, Stevenson believes that an intellectual understanding of complex matters is no substitute for hands-on experience.  Returning to the topic of foreign intrusion into American affairs, one relatively recent event comes to mind.  Three years ago, one may recall the considerable flap over Canadian diplomatic intrusion into the Democratic Primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Michael Wilson, then the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, was accused of telling a reporter that Obama was not serious in backing out of NAFTA.  The Obama campaign had been attempting to make a large issue out of Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the process during her husband’s two terms in office.  In the midst of a political fight that was then nowhere near settled, Team Obama took a hit.  To his credit, Wilson noted that he did speak to the reporter in question, but nonetheless refused to discuss exactly what it was that he discussed with a member of the Canadian media.  

George Washington warned us in his Farewell Address to beware of foreign entanglements and to pursue a generally isolationist course.  This was easier at a time where the United States was an emerging power, greatly subordinate to the nations of Western Europe.  Ours is a global world now, full of foreign entanglements and intrigue that cannot be evaded.  That is the nature of a new reality.  But it does further underscore, as Sir Walter Scott pointed out, what tangled webs we weave when we first we practice to deceive.  

Speaking truthfully, other countries have likely been trying to unduly influence, if not altogether subvert American politics as long as the United States has existed.  In his book, Senator Stevenson shares a particularly fascinating anecdote about one of his father’s experiences.

In the spring of 1960, when Adlai II was being urged to seek the Democratic Presidential nomination for a third time, he was invited to speak with Ambassador Menshikov of the Soviet Union at its embassy in Washington.

Two chairs were placed in the room, away from walls to signify the conversation was confidential.  The Ambassador explained that he had received instruction from General Secretary Khrushchev to inform Governor Stevenson that the Soviet Union was prepared to assist his presidential candidacy.  To draw out the Ambassador, the Governor inquired as to the kind of assistance Mr. Khrushchev had in mind.  His inquiry had been anticipated.  The Ambassador replied that he was instructed to invite suggestions from the Governor, who then rejected the proposal.

Senator Stevenson, the son, is particularly critical of the man who would be the Republican nominee for President that same year of 1960.  Eventually elected to the office eight years later, President Richard Nixon’s entire approach to diplomacy is often considered a personal strength and overall success.  Stevenson strenuously disagrees.  Within a struggle that was soon to be painted in terms of Evil Empire versus Capitalist Virtue, few seemed to know, or to care, the reality behind the rhetoric.  In the meantime, a controversial Nobel Prize winner emerged from closed door sessions with the Soviets, convinced of the rightness of his cause.    

Secretary of State Kissinger, the “realist”, pursued “détente” with the Soviet Union by granting it more than a billion dollars worth of cash and credit in one year.  Thus, the Soviet Union was being subsidized by the U.S.  The Stevenson Amendment, which I sponsored, put an end to Kissinger’s pursuit of détente with money.  It conditioned cash and credits for the Soviet Union on periodic Congressional review, thus ending his unwitting efforts to prolong the life of the Soviet Union.  Unaided, it would collapse of its own inner contradictions and weight, and thus would the Eastern Europeans and the Republics of the Soviet Union be finally freed, under President Gorbachev.

The recent celebration in some corners of Ronald Reagan’s 100th Birthday has opened up the legacy of his Presidency to the same scrutiny.  I doubt many of these same fiscal conservatives would be pleased to recognize that we were, for a time, essentially bankrolling a sworn enemy.  A rarely contested assertion is that Reagan’s policies bankrupted the USSR through the process of the arms race.  Stevenson is not so sure, or at least not inclined to concede the former President more than his due.  And to speak even more frankly, we all indirectly subsidize our stated enemies by a variety of means, dependence on crude oil being only one of these.        

How easy it would be if the world was divided into good guys and bad guys.  But without increasing our cynicism more than it is already, there is honor among thieves.  Negotiating with foreign countries requires a dexterous tongue and a gracious spirit. It is not for the faint of heart.  Adlai II summarized the vocation in this way.  “Diplomacy consists of protocol, alcohol, and geritol.”


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