Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World. By Jonathan Kwitny. Congdon & Weed, $19.95.

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In 1974 the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the impeachment of Richard Nixon for his lesser offenses—essentially, harassing other rich and respectable people—but excluded from the articles of impeachment the secret bombing of Cambodia. A decade later, Seymour Hersh’s entertaining chronicle of petty deceit in the Nixon-Kissinger White House receives what may have been the longest review ever published in “The New York Times” and be comes a national best-seller, while Jonathan Kwitny’s important new book about American interventionism garners sparse and perfunctory praise. Some things never change: mischief among the ruling class is big news; mass murder in the third world is a yawn.

Like Hersh, Kwitny is a star investigative reporter (for the “Wall Street Journal). While Hersh was conducting his legendary thousand interviews, Kwitny visited 80 countries to find out what American foreign policy has wrought. He discovered a pattern. Fearing a “communist” (i.e., nationalist) takeover—whether democratic or otherwise—of a third world government, the United States regularly intervened in sup port of an individual or faction promising “freedom” and “democracy” (i.e., openness to American economic penetration and military supervision). If the U.S.-backed side won, the result was repression, corruption, and incompetence on so large a scale that the costs of doing business there rose sharply, as did the risk of an insurgency whose leaders would naturally be hostile to the United States (for example: Iran, Zaire, Indonesia, the Philippines, Central America). If the U.S.-backed side lost, the country would, more often than not, seek commercial relations with the United States anyway (Cuba, Angola, Zimbabwe, China, Vietnam). With countries where we have not intervened, commercial and diplomatic relations are generally excellent (Nigeria, Costa Rica. . . not too many of these, alas). From a dozen or so case studies Kwitny deduces a lesson: “The best way the United States can insure access to vital resources is . . . by making sure that any leader who [gains] power over foreign resources has never been shot at by an American gun.” Modesty is the best policy.

Kwinty embroiders this theme with many fascinating details, some derived from documents he unearthed by means of the Freedom of Information Act. He tells the full story of American involvement in the fall of Lumumba and the rise of Mobuto. He sifts through the evidence that the U.S. government conspired first with and then against the major oil companies, to fix the price of Middle East oil. He profiles some shadowy but powerful international businessmen. He explains the enormously destructive workings of the International Monetary Fund and the “giant flimflam” of bank loans to developing countries. He accuses Adlai Stevenson, Ted Sorensen, and Lane Kirkland of egregious conflicts of interest. He de scribes the AFL-CIO’s long-standing cooperation with the CIA, as well as the CIA’s and State Department’s use of American corporations to bribe foreign politicians. He documents the government’s manipulation of the press and management of the news.

Almost as striking as this catalogue of outrages is the tone of aggrieved patriotism in which Kwitny recites them. After narrating each atrocious episode, he shakes his head, amazed and indignant that American foreign policy has departed so far from the libertarian and free-market principles that made this country great. With its touching faith in the American Way and its bewilderment that we have consistently betrayed our ideals and even our interests abroad, “Endless Enemies” is an updated, nonfiction version of “The Ugly American.”

I don’t mean to mock; those are honorable and not wholly naive sentiments. (And in espousing them, Kwitny has some distinguished comrades: “Inquiry”, also the work of free-market libertarians who pull no punches in reporting on international affairs, is one of the liveliest, most useful journals around.) Samuel Johnson declared, “There are few activities in which a man may be more innocently employed than in making money.” Kwitny echoes that opinion: “a focus on peaceful commerce as the objective of foreign policy” would strengthen the United States “as an inter national power, while providing a substantially better life for the American people at the same time.” Sounds sensible —why don’t “the American people” substitute enlightened self-interest for blind greed and fanatical anticommunism as the basis of American foreign policy?

One possible answer is that “the American people” don’t make American foreign policy. The policy-making elite is small and close-knit: most of its members come from and return to the large corporations, banks, and law firms which stand to gain must directly from American interventionism. For them, at least in the short run, the irrationalities Kwitny bewails may not be so irrational. The long run is the American people’s problem.


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George Scialabba