From now on, a lot more of LBJ's charity will begin at home. Here’s why
WASHINGTON: A little-known ventriloquist named Russ Lewis got a big laugh on the Hollywood Palace TV show recently with this gag:
Q.: Where is the capital of the United States?
A: All over Europe!
That may sound like a familiar old joke, but the fact is it fits the new mood here far better than a gibe at, say, the super-patriots of the John Birch Society.
For, after ignoring the cry of “Yankee, go home!” for two decades, great numbers of Americans are beginning to believe this is good advice after all. They want to run away from what they consider the overly heavy burdens of international responsibility that Washington now bears. They're fed up with the European Common Market, with African nationalists, with insults hurled at the United States by tin-pot dictators and angry mobs, and with what they consider the outrageous ingratitude of General Charles de Gaulle.
There are cab drivers, dentists, businessmen and housew'ives who will all tell you the United States has done enough to save the world from itself, and from now on, “t’hell with ’em all.”
It wouldn’t be news if these people were the only ones who thought that way; some of them always have. But lately they have been joined by many thoughtful liberals, including such long-time internationalists as Senator J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, and columnist Walter Lippmann. “The time has come,” Lippmann declared recently, “to stop beating our heads against stone walls under the illusion that we have been appointed policeman to the human race.”
To rationalize their “neo-isolationism,” Lippmann and others argue that: The United States has greatly overextended itself in world affairs. U. S.
troops are stationed in thirty other countries. The U. S. government is pledged to defend forty-two countries and is providing aid to one hundred other nations.
“This,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. “is excessive involvement.”
One famous figure who does not agree is Christian Herter, the former secretary of state. In fact he is deeply worried about what he regards as a growing retreat from the world at large. “We are beginning,” Herter remarked recently, “to see ... a revival, in new forms, of an American isolationism which most of us thought had vanished during World War II.”
Concurring with Herter. Democratic Senator Thomas Dodd rates the new isolationism as “potentially more disastrous than the major external problems that confront us.”
But in spite of pleas from men like Herter and Dodd, the Johnson administration not only remains sympathetic to the new isolationist view, but seems to be actively aiding and abetting it in such critical areas as:
• FOREIGN AID: The amount of money Johnson is asking Congress for this year is the smallest in the entire history of the foreign-aid program.
• MILITARY INVOLVEMENT ABROAD:
The U. S. has given serious thought to withdrawing most of its troops from Europe and no longer displays its previous interest in NATO. (Washington seems to have given up almost entirely on promotion of a multi-lateral nuclear force within NATO.)
• TRADE: Johnson’s campaign to curb the U. S. balance-of-payments deficit calls for measures so extreme that it is not unfair to regard them as a form of isolationist protectionism. The administration’s lessening enthusiasm for the “Kennedy round” of tariff negotiations meanwhile adds weight to the contention that Johnson is listening to
These and other recent moves even shed a harsh new light on Johnson’s Great Society, which now appears more clearly to be based on the idea of concentrating more on domestic problems than ever before — at the expense of problems abroad. Certainly they signal an end to the era of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, when the United States actively injected itself into just about every difficult situation that arose anywhere in the world.
From now on, it looks as though Washington will move only reluctantly, or not at all, on international problems where hesitation would recently have been almost unthinkable. Even though the U. S. is deeply involved in Viet Nam — in fact, partly because it is — Johnson is leading his country away from its role as the world’s most active internationalist.
His spokesmen, of course, deny that Johnson is turning isolationist. They, along with such people as Lippman, call it simply a realistic cutback from “over-involvement.”
Whatever you call it, the U. S. retreat has serious implications for the other nations of the west, including Canada. It means that Ottawa, London, Bonn, and Paris will all have to take a more active part in international problems. It might mean bigger budgets for foreign aid. Likely it will mean more involvement for Canada and others in such UN jobs as peace-keeping.
Certainly it means Ottawa can no longer look automatically to Washington for action in an outbreak in, say, Africa or the Middle East. In short, it means that a substantial part of the burden the Americans have been carrying for the past twenty years will pass to other shoulders — including ours. KNOWLTON NASH
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.