Foreign Relations: The Ultimate Self-Interest

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"I think we've overreached ourselves," says Johns Hopkins' Arnold Wolfers, reflecting widespread sentiment in the academic world. "In the Kennedy era, the idea was that we had to be everywhere. It's no longer possible to control every situation."

"We have mutual security agreements with 42 countries, and if we were called upon to honor several of them at once, we'd be in a pretty precarious situation," declares Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. The G.O.P.'s George Aiken complains: "We're trying to police the world, and we can't do it."

The U.S., of course, is not really trying to do exactly that. It is trying to maintain order—not necessarily its own order—in vast areas of the globe. In this sense it faces an infinitely harder task than any imperial power because it cannot, and does not want to, employ imperialist weapons. The military reach of the U.S. across the world is awesome —neither capital nor continent, neither jungle nor village, and no quadrant of the sky is beyond the range of its missiles or its reconnaissance planes. And yet in a nuclear age, the weapons are there mostly in order not to be used, except in crucial self-defense. The most immediate tool of U.S. policy around the world remains money—money springing from apparently bottomless prosperity, money which, in its ultimate use, the U.S. cannot really control.

Yet, within these tight restrictions, the U.S. has built and maintained its global system with enormous patience, which Americans are so often accused of lacking, in the fundamental belief that the ultimate American self-interest requires the preservation of freedom wherever possible.

Dead-End Street. Wherever the talk about American "overextension" ranges, it always comes down to Viet Nam.

There is a certain amount of sentiment for getting out of Viet Nam at once and at all costs. The leading congressional spokesmen for this view had been Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska until they were suddenly and surprisingly joined two weeks ago by Georgia's Richard Russell, a heretofore generally fervent supporter of a strong U.S. position in the world and a close friend of President Johnson's. South Dakota's George McGovern recently added his voice. "We are on a dead-end street," he said, "and ours is a bankrupt approach. We ought to negotiate."

Fulbright opposes any attempt to negotiate now and declares that "neutrality talk only feeds the disease." One of his more arresting views on Viet Nam, which may shock many of his liberal admirers, is that the U.S. decision to get rid of Diem was a mistake. Fulbright contends that Diem's brother Nhu had to go but that the nation needed a leader.

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