Among Washington think tanks, the Institute for Policy Studies sets a mean pace. It criticizes the United States as engaging in militarism, imperialism and domestic repression, assails multinational corporate power, and provides a forum and political lobbying arm for Third World liberation movements. A recent colloquium at the Institute's headquarters here brought together about a hundred persons, including fellows from IPS and its Transnational Institute affiliate, at least three congressional staff members, a U.S. coordinator for Palestinian organizations and a number of university students. The theme was “Prospects for Peace and War,” and the purpose was to try out ideas for building a major U.S. disarmament movement.
That cause already has enlisted dozens of other groups, from pacifist Catholic bishops to the Soviet-influenced World Peace Council. While the campaign resembles the Vietnam-era resistance movement, its ambitions are far grander: nothing less than the Atlantic Alliance's demise, a neutral Europe and U.S. disarmament.
Soviet militarism aroused little alarm. Amid chatter about the “reaction” and “viciousness” of the Reagan administration, about capitalism's “hegemonic presumptions,'' Fred Halliday, a Transnational fellow, tried to explain Soviet missile deployment against Western Europe. “All the Russians have done with the SS-20 is try to catch up,'' said Mr. Halliday. Agitation in Europe by an “unflinching neutralist and pacifist movement,” opposing the basing of NATO nuclear weapons, Mr. Halliday observed, could mark a breakthrough against East-West “bloc logic,” and hasten the alliance's dissolution, “which in my view is what should happen.”
“The idea that we're going to win the arms race is absurd,'' declared Richard Barnet, a former official in the Kennedy administration, and a founder of IPS in 1963. “The hopeful element in all that is that by turning on the rhetoric, Reagan has scared the American people and the allies more than the Russians. That's done more for the European peace movement than anything else.”
Citing a poll finding that 47 percent of the American people expect a nuclear war within five years, Mr. Barnet added: “That the security policy developed by the administration is disbelieved by so much of the population suggests great possibilities for an American peace movement. The possibilities will increase as we see the economic damage of the arms race.”
Marcus Raskin, co-founder of the Institute, urged a moral campaign to put nuclear weapons “outside the frame of reference of any strategic defense of the United States.” Building them and aiming them at cities, he insisted, could be treated as a “war crime.” American scientists could be pressed to take a “Hippocratic oath” refusing to build nuclear weapons.
One early test for that kind of thinking is the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament, scheduled for June 9 to July 7 in New York. A favorable public and media response to demonstration and pulpit-pounding surrounding that session will encourage IPS and other groups that the U.S. may be receptive to a peace mobilization. In coming months, the Institute plans to train speakers for campus road shows in hopes of having a disarmament bandwagon rolling by fall.
Is all this wishful thinking? Especially given Afghanistan, Poland and the public's seeming rightward drift? Skeptics within the IPS orbit argue that two major elements needed for a neutralist movement are lacking in the United States: exploitable fear of a limited nuclear conflict in one's backyard, a theme the left has been drumming home in Europe; and the nationalistic exhilaration of kicking Americans and their weapons out. With the audience generally sympathetic, some speakers felt free to let their hair down more than they do when writing for The Nation and The New York Times op-ed page. There was general agreement, for example, that the disarmament message couldn't be sold on its merits all the time, but such issues as economic burdens and unemployment would help recruit support.
Chester Hartman, a visiting fellow at IPS, referred to “savage” domestic budget cuts in food stamps, Medicaid, public housing and other welfare programs. By identifying the cost of C-5 transport planes and other military hardware in terms of numbers of people cut from social benefits, he suggested, the left could excite resistance. “Don't forget that this becomes a two-way argument,” he counseled. “The more money we succeed in pulling to domestic uses, the less will be available for getting those C-5s built and our rapid deployment force around the world.”
Issues of Soviet expansion and repression were deflected with denunciations of U.S. support of the “murderous oligarchs of El Salvador” and of plots for intervention against the struggling democrats in Nicaragua. Declared Fred Halliday: “The hypocrisy of the Reagan government on Poland is just beyond belief,” because while assailing repression there the U.S. has been aiding El Salvador, Pakistan, the Sudan and other repressive right-wing regimes. “The actual level of repression is less” in Poland, according to Mr. Halliday, than in “20 or 30” of the U.S. and Britain's allies. A bit later, IPS fellow Michael Moffitt referred in passing to Third World countries that are “more democratic in the bourgeois sense”—-as opposed to those that have been liberated.
One schism disrupted things. Fred Halliday announced that if Western Europe had rejected U.S. Pershing II missiles in return for the Polish government's granting Solidarity a role, Poland wouldn't be under martial law. The suggestion of NATO complicity in Poland evoked an outburst from one of left journalism's elders, I. F. Stone. Condemning the Soviet Union's sentencing of members of the Helsinki watchdog committee, Stone cried: “Why did they have to send these few brave people to Siberia? What were they so afraid of? . . . The rigidity of this regime is a disgrace. They've destroyed socialism morally.” On Poland, he snapped: “You can't blame it on Reagan. It's a big event. . . . These clichés are not good enough for reaching our fellow citizens and urging caution.” Fred Halliday was wounded. “It's not cliché,'' he said. “It's a central theme of the European peace movement—shared responsibility.”
Mr. Stone wasn't present for later sessions, so he missed a ringing apology for Soviet expansion by Saul Landau, a TNI fellow recently returned from conferring with Sandinista officials in Nicaragua. Said Mr. Landau: “Anti-Sovietism is the key to the [Cold War] ideology. It's one of the great divisors within the progressive movement, and we have to deal with it. . . . The Soviet Union has been the one insurance policy of successful [Third World] revolutions.” Mr. Landau, who a few years ago told a Cuban friend that he planned to dedicate himself to “making propaganda for American socialism,” saw hope for advance of the liberation cause. The language of Catholic priests in denouncing economic injustice and the language of Marxist-Leninist guerrillas are identical, Mr. Landau observed.
Footnote: I like this piece. Richard Barnet escapes embarrassment by being dead. But the quoted statement is memorable: "The idea that we're going to win the arms race is absurd." Barnet posed as a civilized fellow, chamber musician, scholar. I don't remember if I ever reviewed his 1980 book The Lean Years, but I recall an image in that exercise in anti-liberal wishful thinking: a bloated capitalist choking to death on a mouthful of steak. The virulence of the left was never far from the surface. Liberal capitalism had to fail, just as the West couldn't win an arms race. Nice, too, the quote from Barnet's colleague Marcus Raskin, also beyond embarrassment: that a moral crusade should put nuclear weapons "outside the frame of reference of any strategic defense of the United States." Morality? Nothing changes. Raskin's son, an occasional IPS hand, represents a Maryland district in Congress.