BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Richard J. Barnet, author of "The Rockets' Red Glare: When
America Goes to War, the Presidents and the People." Why war?
RICHARD J. BARNET, AUTHOR, "THE ROCKETS' RED GLARE: WHEN GOES TO WAR, THE PRESIDENTS AND THE PEOPLE": Well, I wanted to write a book about American
democracy and foreign policy because that's the big test of democracy, that's
what de Tocqueville said in the beginning of the country and people have worried
about it ever since. And war is the great test of foreign policy. The issues of war
and peace are really the
great issues that really determine the survival of the country and call into question
whether democracies can function as democracies in foreign policy.
LAMB: What is the chance that the United States has seen its last war?
BARNET: I think it's seen its last big war. I think that's quite possible. It will
either have been the last or there'll be one more, in terms of a big war, I believe. I
don't think we've seen the last of small wars. I think the small wars are getting
smaller, although the Panama invasion was the largest military operation that the
United States has had since the Vietnam War. But even so, in terms of the wars
that I talk about in this book, going back to the Revolution and to Washington's
time and the War of 1812, it was a small operation.
LAMB: You point out that the last time we declared war in this country was
December 8th, 1941.
BARNET: Right. Yes. Actually, Roosevelt, of course, appeared before Congress
the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and then three days later Hitler declared
war on us, and the Congress did declare war on Hitler in response. But we have
not had a Congress meet to declare war ever since, even though American forces
have been in battle, engaged in combat somewhere in the world, almost every
year since the end of World War II.
LAMB: Why have presidents not needed to go get a declaration of war?
BARNET: Well, they've developed the argument, the rationale, that the change in
military technology -- basically, the atomic bomb -- has rendered that
constitutional machinery obsolete. It said that the war could come in a split
second; an attack -- a nuclear attack -- could come from the Soviets and the
president would have to respond immediately. And in order for deterrents to
work, the Soviets would have to believe that the president could push that button
without having to go to the people, without risking the possibility that crowds of
people might panic in the streets and stay his hand.
I think that that argument has been terribly extended to all kinds of other wars in
which that kind of situation doesn't arise. And, in fact, if you look at most of the
Pentagon war plans -- not that I've looked at them -- but in many years since I
have been in the government, my impression is that inside the government people
have the same view that most experts outside the government have, that war is
not likely to develop overnight, that there's an escalation of combat and that there
would be a lot more time for congressional consultation, certainly, if not a formal
vote of declaration of war, and yet, that we don't have. And that divide was really
crossed in the Korean War.
In the Korean War, Dean Acheson, the secretary of state, counseled the
president that the country might be divided, that the best course was to make a
move to reinforce General MacArthur's troops and to go in under the aegis of the
United Nations and not ask for congressional permission. And indeed, these
decisions were taken without even informing Congress -- that is, the initial
LAMB: You've written lots of books. Did I count 16 books you've written?
BARNET: Well, I don't think that many. I think about 12.
LAMB: When did you start thinking about writing this book and what was your
mission when you started out?
BARNET: Well, I started really in the mid '80s, thinking about it. And I started --
it was going to be a book about Ronald Reagan, particularly Ronald Reagan's
foreign policy and his style in foreign policy, because it seemed to me that Ronald
Reagan was a president, unlike most of the presidents we have had since the
second World War, who was not primarily interested in foreign policy. He had
another agenda, a domestic agenda. And yet he used foreign policy extremely
effectively as theater, as a backdrop to so much of the rhetoric about the evil
empire. And so much of his campaign in 1980 was attacking the Democrats,
President Carter, for having let down our defenses.
And I thought that he particularly had been very careless with facts on many
occasions and yet was extremely persuasive. And we had the odd situation, for
much of his administration, of the public giving him the vote of popularity, that he
was the highest in the polls and he was an extremely popular man; that personally
-- even at the end of his administration, even after the Iran-Contra affair. And yet
he never managed to persuade the American people of some of his basic policies,
either on South Africa or on Central America.
And then I began to wonder, is this something new, this selling foreign policy?
Why do presidents have to work so hard to sell foreign policy? Is it different in
Washington today? And then I was concerned with something that a number of
people had been concerned about -- people like Kennan and the great political
scientist Hans Morgenthau -- that one of the arguments that's made against the
democracy is that you have to oversell the public, that you have to simplify; that
you have to, as Dean Acheson once put it, make things clearer than true. And
when you do that, you find that you have created a political climate which then
limits your action in the future.
Anyway, I wanted to look at that. I wanted to look at a lot of these assertions
about what democracy really has meant in American foreign policy, and go back
and try to lay out what actually happened. What was the role of the people?
What was the role of the president? What is this tension that has developed over
the years, between presidents trying to assess and articulate and defend the
national interests as they understand it, and the people, who in a democracy want
to have and are assumed to have some basic decision making over the general
course of direction. And it's
precisely in foreign policy where the big choices have to be made. And if they're
not made democratically, then it's very hard to say that we have a well-functioning
LAMB: What's the date that the last word for this book was written?
BARNET: Let me see. I guess I corrected the proof in the early fall.
LAMB: And what was the publication date?
BARNET: The publication date was the first of this month, February 1st.
LAMB: And what kind of reaction have you gotten out in the marketplace for
BARNET: Well, it seems to be going very well. It seems to be going very well.
LAMB: How do you get a sense, as an author, that a book is going well?
BARNET: Well, you see it in a lot of places and it's gotten some very good
reviews in important places. And I have had the opportunity to talk about it some
on a number of programs. And I think that although it is primarily a history and
goes through the Reagan years, it raises questions now that are going to be
extremely important for the period that we're now entering, because we're now at
a point where, for the first time in almost 50 years, almost everything in foreign
policy is up for re-examination and re-thinking.
The Cold War world, whatever happens in the Soviet Union, is collapsing and we
can't go back to either the ideas or the assumptions or the institutions in which so
much of our foreign policy has been based. And we're at a time that, really,
there's no parallel since the end of the second World War, where the need is very
great for postwar planning. We're planning for the new decade and a new
century. And I'm very concerned about what is going to be the role of the public
in this. These are too important decisions to be made privately, in secret, or to be
made by a few, quote, "experts," because nobody's an expert now. The experts
have been terribly confounded, you know, myself included. I mean, nobody could
have or did anticipate all these things that have happened. It ...
LAMB: Let me ask you about being an expert. If you go back over your 12
books -- first of all, the previous books that you've written, which one was the
BARNET: Oh, "Global Reach" was an international best-seller.
LAMB: What year?
BARNET: That was 1974. And it was a book about multinational corporations.
It's actually a subject that I'm going to be revisiting in my next book, but really
about what's happened to the global economy. But that was a book about the
connections, intersection between politics and economics. What are the political
implications of these major changes in the world economy?
LAMB: If we went back and read every one of your previous books, which one,
from your vantage point, would be the most incisive and which one would have
been the least incisive about what's happened in the world?
BARNET: Well, I think the book that probably stands up the best is "Roots of
War," which I wrote in 1972, which is about the domestic side of foreign policy.
What drives -- what are the domestic forces, both within our bureaucracy, the
way we organize our government, and the economy. What drives our foreign
policy? That one is still very much around. It deals with a number of issues that I
deal with in this book, too, but I deal with them here more in somewhat greater
detail and more historically. But I guess the one that least -- well, I mean, the
most dated one, certainly, is a book I wrote about US-Soviet relations, called,
"The Giants," which came out in 1976. And actually, it was a badly timed book
because it was a short book about detente, about how detente happened and
where it was going. And by the time it got out -- maybe it was '77--detente was
fast fading. And while I suggested that that probably was going to happen at the
end of the book, nobody really wanted to read much about it at that point.
LAMB: This is not a trick question, but I want to ask you -- if you happened to
know this right off the top of your head ... If I were to ask you which person in
this book was most quoted, who was not a leader or an elected official, you
know who that is?
BARNET: Walter Lippmann.
LAMB: Yes. And I mean, I saw his name so often I thought -- I went back and
BARNET: Yes. Right.
LAMB: ...and I looked at a number of people. Who would be the second most
BARNET: De Tocqueville.
LAMB: Yes. And I want to ask you about that. First of all ...
LAMB: ... I counted 19 different pages in which you quoted Walter Lippmann. I
sensed that you were frustrated with him ...
BARNET: Yes. Right.
LAMB: ...as you wrote about him.
BARNET: Well, he...
LAMB: Why did you quote him so much?
BARNET: Well, because Walter Lippmann is probably the most famous and
influential writer on the role of public opinion in American democracy. He wrote
-- that was his first book -- the book was called "Public Opinion," and it was
published in 1920. And he revisited that theme in at least two other books, a
book called "The Phantom Public," in which he took his ideas even further and
then, in the '50s, a book called "The Public Philosophy."
Well, I found him very interesting, in a way, as a complicated foil because he is
you know, an extremely astute man, but who came out with a very elitist view of
American foreign policy -- what it is, how it actually works and how it should
work. And as I got deeper into the subject, I felt he was wrong about both points
-- that is, that I don't think it worked the way he said it worked, and I don't think
it should work the way he suggested it should work. And the fascinating thing is at
the very end of his life, when he became a major and effective critic of Lyndon
Johnson's policy on Vietnam, he himself changed his mind, although he never
quite wrote about that in a theoretical way, as he had earlier.
His point was that, one thing he says is that public opinion is like a tyranny. That
is, that public opinion absolutely constrains democratic leaders and keeps them
from doing what their own better judgment tells them they ought to do. And he
was basing that primarily -- writing that very much influenced by the experience of
the 1930s, isolationism and the fact that public opinion had resisted the early
moves towards going to war with Hitler.
And I'd like to get back to that because my own reading of that history is different
and I think the record shows that when Roosevelt made up his own mind --
because I found that leaders were much less clear, much less certain -- and quite
understandably so, on issues of war and peace, about what should be done,
when it should be done, than his model, his theory, suggests. And his other point
was, of course, that leaders -- intelligent leaders, gifted men, he didn't think much
about women in those days -- who rise to the top of a society and have the
knowledge, understanding and they have access to secret information, they ought
to be given, essentially, a free hand, because why should the emotionalism and the
ignorance of the public in any way inhibit people who really ought to understand
the national interest? Well, I have trouble with that.
LAMB: Would you tell us when he lived and when he ... I mean, it appears when
you read, he was for years was throughout ...
BARNET: Well, he lived a long time, and there's a wonderful biography of him
by Ronald Steel, "Walter Lippmann and the American Century." It's -- yes, he
lived into his 80s and he started as a very, very young man. I mean, one of the
interesting stories about him is he was a very young staffer at the Versailles peace
conference, and Wilson relied on him for his famous 14-point speech -- the
speech that he gave to Congress, which signaled the American peace terms and
which Germany grabbed, and eventually became the basis for the Armistice.
Well, in Versailles, Colonel House, Wilson's closest confidant, got ahold of young
Walter Lippmann and said, "Now you wrote that speech. These 14 points, what
are they? We need them by tomorrow morning, 8:00." But Wilson, who was
extremely dogmatic about what he wanted, was -- I think the evidence is clear --
was rather confused, that he went to Europe without understanding the enormous
complexities of trying to rewrite the map of Europe -- all of the nations of Europe
-- and did not count on meeting the tough politicians like Clemenceau and Lloyd
And when he was there he simply was overwhelmed and became ill. And it was
almost an endurance contest between this American president, the first one to
sally forth into Europe, and these old war horses of the European powers --
Clemenceau, Orlando, Lloyd George. And I think it simply shows that these
leaders are human beings. And what I tried to show in the book is something
about their own thought processes, what they were saying, thinking, themselves --
to the extent one can find that in letters and a diary -- what they were saying and
then what they were saying to the public, and very often they were different.
LAMB: I can't remember which president it was -- I'm sure you will, but one of
the presidents, where Walter Lippmann and Scotty Reston -- James Reston, who
used to write for The New York Times ...
BARNET: It wasn't a president, it was Senator Vandenberg.
LAMB: I'm sorry, Senator Vandenberg of Michigan.
LAMB: The chairman of Foreign Relations Committee.
BARNET: Yes. Well ...
LAMB: They wrote a speech? Tell that story.
BARNET: Well, that's an interesting one because Vandenberg had been one of
the leading isolationist powers in the Senate, and ...
LAMB: What year?
BARNET: In the '30s. He had opposed every move that Roosevelt was moving
towards war, away from neutrality -- Lend-Lease, destroyer base deal -- all of
that, a draft. He was a strong figure, believing in what was the prevailing idea at
the time, that Europe's quarrels were not America's affair. And I talk about it in
the book -- by the great disillusionment with our experience in the first World
War and the overselling of that war to the American people.
Anyway, Vandenberg began to rethink his views under the very careful cultivation
of Dean Acheson and important people in the press corps, like James Reston, the
bureau chief for The New York Times and later a columnist, and, of course,
Walter Lippmann, who was the columnist. I mean, no columnist in the United
States in the last 20 or 30 years has had anything like the influence that Walter
Lippmann had. He was not just a newspaper man; he was a sage, or so
regarded. Anyway, he and Reston offered to help Vandenberg write his speech,
in which he announced his basic conversion from an isolationist to an
internationalist. And the speech was given and got great attention, of course, and
then both of them roundly praised it in their columns as one of the great acts of
statesmanship, without, of course, revealing that they had played a part in writing
LAMB: Did a lot of that go on with Walter Lippmann?
BARNET: Yes, I think it did, and with others. And it has all through history. Of
course, the use of the press and the way presidents use the press is a theme that I
talk about throughout. Andrew Johnson was the first president, I guess probably
the only president, actually to operate a newspaper out of the White House. And
his "Kitchen Cabinet," these intimates who advised him, were more important
than the Cabinet members, who were mostly newspaper men. And he built his
political power -- the new Democratic Party -- on a chain of newspapers that
supported his position and attacked the opposition party.
LAMB: Who owned those papers?
BARNET: Well, different people owned them, but basically they were all
stalwarts of the new Democratic Party. And the president worked very closely,
but Thomas Jefferson had a paper, too. I mean, it wasn't in the White House, but
actually, when he was secretary of state he had a paper and he employed a man
by the name of Freneau, who was a poet and, if anything, even more ardent a
revolutionary -- a democrat than Jefferson. He put him on the State Department
payroll to finance him, and gave him access to his correspondence and papers,
and people didn't think anything of this separation from the press and the
government. I would say that while the Lippmann sort of episode still goes on,
there's probably more separation and more of an adversarial relationship today
than there was then.
LAMB: Is there anybody you can compare Walter Lippmann today to here --
BARNET: I don't think so. A number of people describe themselves that way,
but I don't think there is anybody quite like him.
LAMB: Who thinks -- well, maybe that's not a fair question ... But who are those
people, today writing, that are talked about as people who are deeply involved as
Walter Lippmann was or Joe Alsop was or Scottie Reston?
BARNET: Well, of course, you have a different kind of person now. I mean,
Kissinger -- you know, Kissinger was secretary of state and he was involved in
policy, and I believe, until very recently, had an important advisory position, I
mean, I think he was on the intelligence board. At the same time, he was advising
foreign governments and corporations about matters of policy, and certainly
selling not only his expertise, but also his access. And under some criticism he
resigned. But he also writes columns from time to time and they are given a good
deal of play because of his official connections in the past.
The other example, I guess, that is more disturbing than that, comes from fairly
recent history, around the Iran-Contra affair, where the Office of Public
Diplomacy, which was a unit set up by the White House to influence, I would say,
propagandize the American people about Central America to get the
administration's view accepted, they did not identify various -- they would feature
supposedly independent academic voices -- talking about Central America and
supporting the government's position without disclosing the fact that they were
actually working for the government. They were consultants, I mean, they were
paid to provide information to do that.
LAMB: Could I jump way, way back...
LAMB: ... and ask you who, in this context, George Creel was?
BARNET: Well, George Creel is an interesting character. He was one of the
muckrakers of the early years of the century. He was a newspaper man and he
had campaigned vigorously for Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson put him in
charge of the first organized official propaganda office that the United States had.
It was called the Committee on Public Information. And it was a huge operation,
which enlisted the most prominent writers in the country -- Booth Tarkington and
other very famous writers. And it was pure propaganda. It was designed to whip
up feelings in the country against Germans, because at that time a substantial part
of the population was of German origin and even a larger percentage of the public
had great qualms about the war. Why were we getting into this war?
LAMB: This ...
BARNET: World War I.
LAMB: When it was set up, was it before the war started or...
BARNET: No. No, it started up after the war, just about when it started. And it
was to propagandize on a number of things -- on war bonds, on enlistment, on
getting out, working hard, war production and a number of themes. But one idea
that Wilson himself was worried about, but didn't really stop, was the promotion
of, really, hatred of all things German, such that hamburgers were renamed liberty
steaks, and they came up with other ways to exorcise anything German from
American culture. German was bad and it was culturally bad. You couldn't have
And then they came up with a rather ingenious system of using the new movie
theaters to give four-minute patriotic speeches --they were called the
"minutemen." And they would get local businessmen or lawyers, or some
well-known local citizen would stand up in front of the audience before the silent
films went on and give a four-minute pep talk on the war. And the directives from
Washington said, "Don't get famous people. Don't get well-known authors or
certainly not politicians because they talk too much and they will never keep to
the four-minute limit." And that was effective.
But the general view of the Creel operation, after the war, was that it was very
negative, that it had aroused a lot of false expectations about the war for
democracy, and people felt had. And it was that idea of domestic propaganda
that fed a resistance to government manipulation of opinion and really fed the
isolationist feelings during the '30s. So you had this great shift of opinion during
LAMB: So you would compare the Committee on Information Policy with --
that's what they call it?
BARNET: Public Information--Committee on Public Information.
LAMB: I'm sorry. With this Office of Public Diplomacy or is that the same kind
of a thing, paid for by the government?
BARNET: No, well, I think the Office of Public Diplomacy is much worse
LAMB: It's still there?
BARNET: No. Well, yes, the office is but the activities, I think, are certainly not
what they were then. But the Office of Public Information did not engage in
covert propaganda. It was overdone and I think it wasn't a good idea in many
cases. But the notion of government sending messages to the public which they
know are false, and not just exaggerated, but false, and misidentifying people as
independent experts to commend credibility when, in fact, they're working for the
government is dangerous. And it challenges the basic notion of democracy -- that
is, democracy works. The assumption -- you get this very clearly in the writings
of Jefferson -- it works if you assume that people are educable, that people will
learn, that people can learn and that they're not being deliberately misled, not
being deliberately miseducated.
LAMB: We're talking about this book, "The Rockets' Red Glare" and it's by
Richard J. Barnet, published by Simon & Schuster. And in the acknowledgments
you thank Alice Mayhew for doing this -- for what? -- six times with you?
BARNET: Yes, this is the sixth book.
LAMB: And who is she and what does she do?
BARNET: She is a vice president of Simon & Schuster and their editorial
director of their trade division, and she's a superb editor.
LAMB: Does someone like you sign a contract with Simon & Schuster to do so
many books or is this a book-to-book thing?
BARNET: No, it generally is book-by-book.
LAMB: I want to ask you some questions about Richard Barnet. Where are you
BARNET: I'm from Boston, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Where'd you go to ...
BARNET: I was born there.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
BARNET: I went to Roxbury Latin School and to Harvard Law School.
LAMB: Then what?
BARNET: Then I went into the Army and I went to Germany. And I was a legal
officer and defended and, on occasion, prosecuted courts-martial in Germany
and worked on international law. And it was there that I got first interested in the
question of Germany because those were very exciting days in Germany. I
arrived, literally, on the day that Germany got its sovereignty back under the
postwar treaties. And I spent all of the time I was there and then other people
spent about four or five more years negotiating a very complicated treaty with the
new German government about the status of American forces there -- what
criminal jurisdiction, taxes and so
forth. And it was difficult, in a personal sense, because we had two young
children and my wife had just finished her medical education. And we moved 14
times in the first three years of our marriage. But I found it a very interesting and
LAMB: Then what?
BARNET: Then I came back to Boston and went back to Harvard, worked at
the Russian Research Center, and went and worked in a large law firm in Boston.
But I moonlighted at the Russian Research Center, working on what became my
first book, which was called, "Who Wants Disarmament?" And it was really
about the disarmament negotiations from 1945 to 1960, and it was a look at
whether anybody really was taking it seriously or not, and whether they should. I
came to the conclusion that they weren't, but that they should, and that influenced
a lot of what I have written about since.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier you worked for the government at one time?
BARNET: Yes. Then, as a result of that, I was invited to join the new Kennedy
administration, and I worked with the group that was organizing what has become
the ACDA, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and I worked there for
a couple of years in charge of political research and was involved, also, in the
Berlin crisis of 1961, which people don't remember much now, but in many ways
-- at least I thought at the time -- was as potentially dangerous as the Cuban
missile crisis, which came the next year. That was when the tanks came up, faced
off each other a few yards away in the middle of Berlin. And it was a very, very
tense time. And so I was there for a couple of years.
And then I also, after that, worked briefly as a consultant in the Defense
Department, in the office that Paul Nitze headed. And it was then that we got the
idea that we ought to start an institute that could look at some of these questions
about foreign policy from an independent standpoint. One of my jobs in the
government was to give out a very small amount of contract money to contract
researchers. And I was concerned that the relationship between the contractors
and the government was such that a lot of the basic questions, the basic
assumptions didn't get asked. The contractors were very interested in servicing
the bureaucracies that they were trying to get the money from, and I thought they
should be something independent. And so a group of us thought it was a good
idea and we assumed -- it was a very optimistic time -- that any good idea could
be developed, could be funded. And we were lucky, you know. We managed to
get it started and attract what, I think, were some very, very good people.
LAMB: Who were your co-founders?
BARNET: Well, principally Marc Raskin, but the initial group was Christopher
Jenks, who now is a professor -- was at Harvard, now at Northwestern; Donald
Michael, Arthur Waskow, there were a number of them. And in the first board of
trustees included David Riesman and Hans Morganthau, who were close to us at
LAMB: What year was the institute founded?
LAMB: So have you been there since then?
LAMB: What do you say to the far right wing, that says that the Institute for
Policy Studies is the far left wing?
BARNET: Well, I say that in the American spectrum that may be true, I mean, I
don't think those terms ever meant very much in the American context, and
certainly the connotation "far left," which means Communists or means collectivist
or means violent revolutionary in any way describes anybody who has ever been
associated with the institute. I mean, that's just plain wrong, untrue.
I think they also missed, very much, the thrust of the argument that we have been
making for almost 27 years about US-Soviet relations, which is that -- not that
any of us had illusions about what the Soviet Union was from Stalin on, in terms
of its domestic system, but that we did have questions about the conduct of the
Cold War. And the question which I think will have to wait for future historians in
opening up of a lot more records than are yet available, that we paid heavy and
probably excessive costs in fighting the Cold War.
You certainly can say that the Cold War ended in, quote, "victory," for the United
States, and certainly the Soviet Union is in very serious trouble. But I think the
cost to the United States, principally in the neglect of our economy and our
industrial base and our education system, are very serious and I think will come to
be seen as even more serious if they don't become the major concern of our
My worry is that we aren't doing that and that one of the problems -- it's really
the point that I develop in the "Roots of War" -- the book we talked about
before, that bureaucracies have an investment in a certain view of the world and
they tend to pursue their own interests, sometimes to the neglect of the national
And that was the argument that we were taking. I mean, it's strange that the far
right was so concerned about these arguments because a lot of them, if you go
back into our history, are much more conservative arguments -- that is, before the
second World War it was American business that was concerned about the
effects of a military industrial complex, that you would have -- that if you put too
much money into the military you were not producing things that were themselves
productive. It was inflationary and you would necessarily be creating a mammoth
But you can't be against big government and be for a big military. And those are
basically the views that -- I mean, I think that the Cold War, one of the costs has
been to obscure and, in a way, cheapen debate about real choices that the United
States faces, so that so many people in Congress -- politicians had to defend
themselves against the charge of being soft on communism, soft on Russia, when
they were talking about things like health insurance or Social Security.
Those things should be debated in their merits. And the issue of what markets are
and how they work, those should be debated on their merits, not whether it's
more or less like the Soviet Union. And finally, I thought, the Soviet Union always
was an underdeveloped country. And for purposes of whipping up the public
feeling to support monumentally high military expenditures, we tended to make
them 10 feet tall when they weren't. And I guess those were the points of
difference that we have. It's an old tradition and it goes back to Jefferson. The
opposition called Jefferson a French agent and they talked about Hamilton as a
British agent. I mean, this kind of debate in our history -- Dwight Eisenhower was
called by the Birch Society a Communist. But I think it doesn't help the debate.
LAMB: What do you think of the political discourse in the country today?
BARNET: I think it's abysmal. I think that it's shocking -- that at the moment,
when the future is more open than it has been in 50 years and the United States
faces incredible choices -- I think great opportunities. This could be the best
years in our history. But it requires understanding the enormous changes that have
taken place and moving fast to adapt to those changes. Leaders can't do that by
themselves. No leader in a Democratic country -- or really, in any country to a
certain extent, can make these major changes without having the support of the
And you don't get the support unless there is understanding, unless there is
debate, unless there's something approximating what fascinated me about the
early years of history, in Washington's time. Talk about in the book how citizens,
ordinary citizens would meet, members of political clubs -- they were called
democratic clubs, republican clubs -- and would actually discuss pending
legislation and would go meet together and figure out what they thought, and then
go see the representatives or write letters to their representatives or go see
various political figures. And they felt that they had a role, that they were part of
the process and that was what was so exciting about the early years.
Now, we have a big country now, 250 million people, but we also have
technology that would make it possible to have much more participation. If that
were a major goal of either political party -- it doesn't seem to be -- and it's ironic
to me that at a time when we see this wonderful flowering of democracy in
Eastern Europe and even in the Soviet Union and the arrival, finally, of
multi-parties, of a multi-party system, the differences between our two parties
become narrower and narrower, and it becomes harder and harder to figure out
what are the alternative visions? What are they asking -- why are they asking for
a mandate for leadership, on what basis? What are they trying to achieve? We
don't have that, and I think that is one of the reasons why the United States is
acting in a very dangerously passive way on the world stage.
LAMB: I was surprised to read in your book -- because we talk about it so
much here -- that back in the early 1800s, and I don't remember which election,
it may have been the Madison election, but only 9 percent of the public voted and
they were all men, of course. And today we wring our hands over 50 percent
BARNET: Yes, but they participated at a much more active level than we do. I
think the whole process of political change, where parties become much more
institutionalized and media becomes much more important, that really starts with
Andrew Jackson's time, where the parties become much more professional and
campaigns become much more of a show.
It's also a time where suffrage -- the vote is open much more than it was, say, in
Washington's, Adams' time. But still the United States, at the end of the 19th
century, had one of the highest participation rates. People went to the polls, and
there were sharp issues. Of course, there was the Civil War issues and the
Reconstruction issues, and then the very intense debates about rising out of
industrialization, what was going--what--workers' rights and what was happening
to the farmers in the South. Those issues brought lots of people to the polls.
LAMB: We've got a short time left and I've got to go back to our original
conversation about Walter Lippmann was mentioned 19 times; Tocqueville was
mentioned 12. Why did you pick him?
LAMB: First of all, who was he?
BARNET: De Tocqueville was a French philosopher and historian and observer,
social critic, who came to the United States in the 1830s and wrote "Democracy
in America," still, I think, one of the great analytical works and descriptive works
of American democracy, raising a lot of the questions that are still relevant today.
In that book he said that democracy, that foreign policy is the area in which
democracies are decidedly inferior, and he worried about the fate of the United
States because of foreign policy. But his view of foreign policy was the 18th
century view, that foreign policy was something that a few leaders did by getting
together in secret rooms, that nations could get together at the Congress of
Vienna and divide up the world, divide up Europe.
That has changed and we now have mass societies. And the danger -- the tension
that he talked about is very much with us, but the solution has got to be different.
The solution has to be democratic, because now foreign policy and domestic
policy are so intertwined you cannot say, "We're going to have domestic policy
run this democracy; we'll have foreign policy run out of the president's office,"
without destroying democracy. Because what is the question of our economic
relations with Japan and Europe -- is that foreign policy or is that domestic
policy? It's obviously both.
And I think one of the exciting things that's happening is that foreign policy -- the
conduct of foreign policy in the United States is becoming somewhat more
decentralized -- that is, cities and states are beginning to play much more of a role
themselves in foreign policy; that connections are being made between cities and
sister cities. They're cooperating on environmental projects and they even make
their views known in ways that undermine national policy. I don't think that's so
For example, when the Reagan administration was following the policy of
constructive engagement on South Africa, cities were withdrawing billions of
dollars in funds from businesses that were doing business in South Africa. I
happen to think that was the right decision and probably contributed far more
than constructive engagements, certainly, to the very welcome changes that are
taking place in South Africa.
LAMB: Does it mean anything that Hubert Humphrey was quoted once and
Sylvester Stallone was quoted twice?
BARNET: I don't know. I can't remember what I quoted Humphrey about.
Stallone -- I was interested because one of the themes throughout, of course, is
how the popular culture deals with foreign policy, because so much of our feelings
about other countries and other peoples in the outside world come from images
of images, not even so much what we read in books and for relatively small
numbers not direct experience of other people, because not a great percentage of
the population travels to distant places.
But our view of the Russians so much out of the movies of the '50s and then the
movies of the '80s. And they change, of course, overnight. The book traces our
rocky relations with the Soviet Union from our cherished and respected ally in the
second World War, a view of the Soviet Union which was outrageously
exaggerated, welcoming them to the democratic alliance, because -- to the Cold
War and then to detente and then to the second Cold War in the early '80s and
now, hopefully, to a new stage and, I think, a more stable one of better relations.
LAMB: Last question: What's next?
BARNET: For me?
LAMB: A book -- another book?
BARNET: Oh, the next book is going to be about the extraordinary changes in
the global economy, which I believe are really at the heart of the political changes.
Communism is going down, I think, not because of the accumulation of missiles --
although the extra expenditures had something to do with it -- but because you
can't run a Communist totalitarian country unless it is isolated from the world
economy, and you can't run a productive society unless it's integrated into the
world economy. And these changes are bringing about political changes; and
that's what I want to talk about.
LAMB: When's that going to be out?
BARNET: Oh, a long time -- four or five years -- three or four, anyway.
LAMB: "The Rockets' Red Glare," author, Richard J. Barnet of the Institute of
Policy Studies. Thank you for your time.
BARNET: Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.