Tearing multiculturalism to shreds

November 21, 1997|By Jacob Heilbrunn

EVER SINCE the end of the Cold War, the foreign-policy elite has been fretting about American drift. Now a fresh theory is being floated to explain the alleged ''fragmentation and hubris'' of American foreign policy, as the lead essay in the most recent edition of The National Interest calls it. The article's author, James Schlesinger, a former secretary of defense in the Nixon administration, blames the problem on the ''excessive influence'' amassed by American ethnic groups since 1989. Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, writing in Foreign Affairs, is even more explicit: ''If multiculturalism prevails and if the consensus on liberal democracy disintegrates, the United States could join the Soviet Union on the ash heap of history.''

A familiar ring

In fact, Messrs. Schlesinger's and Huntington's apprehensions have a familiar ring. As far back as 1787, New York's Gouverneur Morris warned the Constitutional Convention about proto-ethnic lobbies: ''Admit a Frenchman into your Senate, and he will study to increase the commerce of France: an Englishman, he will feel an equal bias in favor of that of England.'' More than a century later, George F. Kennan, the father of containment, bemoaned the fact that Jews ''pretty well dominated the formation of American opinion with respect to Russian matters.''

Like those of Messrs. Morris and Kennan, the fears of Messrs. Huntington and Schlesinger contain an implication that ethnics are especially susceptible to ''dual loyalty.'' Ethnic ''diasporas,'' Mr. Huntington writes, have had an undue impact on American policy toward the Caucasus, the Balkans, Haiti, South Africa, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Israel. ''Recent cases in the United States,'' he adds, ''show that [diasporas] can be a source of spies used to gather information for their homeland governments.''

It's no use denying that this ''can be'' true: In a shameful episode, Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew, sold secrets to Israel. But it's also no use denying that Mr. Huntington's observation is basically a smear. Note, for instance, how his formulation could be construed to mean Israel is the ''homeland'' of Jewish citizens of the United States. The fact is that, from Alger Hiss to Aldrich Ames, unhyphenated America has been an ample ''source of spies,'' too.

Jewish 'influence'

Mr. Schlesinger's insinuations are just as hackneyed. ''It is scarcely possible to overstate the influence of Israel's supporters on our policies in the Middle East,'' he writes, ascribing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act to Jewish pressure. (Mr. Schlesinger begs the question of what the appropriate level of Jewish ''influence'' might be. Half of what it is now? Zero?)

Both Messrs. Huntington and Schlesinger glide over the fact that policies espoused by a particular ethnic group may coincide with U.S. interests. In Haiti, the Clinton administration effort was not only a payoff to the Congressional Black Caucus, but also an eminently defensible means of stopping an influx of refugees -- that is, an influx of people who would someday turn into the very sort of ethnic voting bloc that Messrs. Schlesinger and Huntington identify as a source of American fragmentation! In fact, Haiti policy was traditional U.S. policy: The stability of the Caribbean basin has been a concern since Teddy Roosevelt's time.

Mr. Schlesinger goes on to contend that the Clinton administration's policy of NATO expansion can be explained as a sop to East European American voters. True, Mr. Clinton announced definitive plans for the idea in Detroit during his 1996 re-election campaign. But it was actually the product of a long struggle between pro-expansion and anti-expansion factions of the foreign-policy elite. Once this dispute was settled, the Clinton administration began gathering ethnic support. The Clinton administration used the ethnics, not the other way around.

Indeed, the NATO decision suggests the continuity between Cold War and post-Cold War American foreign policy. From the U.S.-Japan defense treaty to NATO, the Clinton administration has adapted Cold War institutions to match new realities. The establishment has been well-represented in these deliberations. The architect of East Asia policy was Joseph Nye, Mr. Huntington's colleague from Harvard. Foreign policy remains largely an elite concern. The elite may be drawn from a broader demographic pool than it was in Kennan's day -- a pool that includes people of Jewish ancestry such as National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and Hispanics like U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson. But Messrs. Huntington and Schlesinger wouldn't suggest these people decide issues based on ethnic self-interest any more than Henry Kissinger did or Ralph Bunche. Why, then, do they level that charge at ethnic Americans who don't happen to be in government?

Despite their protestations of concern about U.S. liberal democracy, Messrs. Huntington's and Schlesinger's lucubrations about the various ethnic lobbies are actually a complaint about the unruly workings of that democracy, which guarantees all citizens the right to petition their government and is thus inherently subject to the push and pull of competing brands of foreign-policy moralism.

The ultimate irony of Messrs. Huntington's and Schlesinger's jeremiads is that these men are themselves the avatars of a particularism. They represent the last gasp of the oldest ethnic lobby in America: The WASP establishment, which is losing its prerogatives and privileges but never really had a monopoly on foreign-policy wisdom in the first place.

This is an excerpt of an article written by Jacob Heilbrunn, a senior editor of The New Republic, in which this first appeared.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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