One of the major achievements of the neoconservatives over the past two decades has been to integrate the missionary impulses of liberal internationalism with right-wing interventionism. Not only have the democratic globalists succeeded in setting the ideological foundations of a new U.S. foreign policy but they have also played a central role in directing that policy.
Hard-liners they certainly are, but neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams—who directs the Bush administration’s Global Democracy Initiative—come armed with an internationalism that preaches values and mission, as well as military might. Their foreign policy is neo-Reaganite. Like Reagan’s own policy agenda, which he proclaimed as based on “moral clarity” and “peace through strength” convictions ,the Bush administration has sought to merge idealism and militarism.
Nowhere else is the “soft side” of the U.S. government’s global vision so clearly on display as at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). And not even in the Pentagon are the delusions about American might and right so shamelessly exhibited.
Enlisting in the
Postwar Battle of Ideas While the neoconservatives spearheaded the “war of ideas” during the 1980s, the impetus for the first ideological crusade of the post-World War II era came from within the government’s intelligence community—which reached out to former socialists including the forerunners of neoconservatism as their most effective campaigners. In the mid-1940s, U.S. intelligence operatives working under Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), concluded that future battlefronts would likely be contests of ideas and culture.
With nations reluctant to engage militarily and thereby risk nuclear war, the postwar confrontation between East and West would be waged using propaganda and culture (as well as clandestine operations). The goal for both communists and capitalist in this new Kulturkampf was to win the hearts, minds, and intellects of Europe’s left-leaning literary and intellectual figures. Unlike many Americans, who saw communism as the greatest evil, Europeans tended to view communists as defenders against fascism and other radical right-wing movements.
And no one could better lead the cultural war against communism than ex-communists and former socialists who still had progressive pedigrees. Arthur Schlesinger, who would become the leading U.S. proponent and defender of liberalism, recalled: “We all felt that democratic socialism was the most effective bulwark against totalitarianism. This became an undercurrent—or even undercover—theme in American foreign policy during the period.”1 In CIA parlance, the cultural “assets” feeding this “undercover” policy were the noncommunist left (NCLs).
In the late 1940s, the OSS and the CIA (which replaced the OSS in 1947) worked closely with Irving Brown, who ran the AFL-CIO’s European operations, and Melvin Lasky—who had once debated socialist politics in college along with such neoconservative forerunners as Irving Kristol (father of William Kristol), Daniel Bell, and Seymour Martin Lipset—to establish the personal and institutional groundwork for a postwar campaign to discredit socialism and build European support for capitalism. Most of the forerunners of today’s neoconservatives—including Kristol, Lipset, Lasky, David Burnham, Gertrude Himmelfarb, among many others—were members of socialist organizations in the 1920s and 1930s. They were largely Trotskyists who opposed the totalitarian socialism of Stalin. By the onset of World War II these anti-Stalinist socialists had become anticommunists.
One of the early forays of this CIA-backed crusade in Europe was the launching in Berlin of Der Monat, a magazine created by Lasky. Directed by former socialists and financed jointly by the CIA and the Ford Foundation, Der Monat counted on economic aid received from the Marshall Plan, private donations, clandestine U.S. government funding, and a steady stream of NCLs who typified the cultural war and the inner workings of liberal internationalism.2
Another NCL-CIA campaign was aimed at the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in March 1949. The weekend before the conference started, Hook founded the Americans for Intellectual Freedom (AIF) to counter the much-celebrated Waldorf Conference, which attracted such leftist luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman, Howard Fast, and Dashiell Hammett.3
Working closely with NCLs such as Hook, the U.S. government attempted to discredit the conference as a communist front. But wiretaps and investigations by the State Department and the FBI failed to counter the claims of conference organizers and sponsors that the objective was anything more than to discuss the challenges to achieving world peace. Red-baiting newspaper headlines, police lines, and crowds of protesters succeeded in keeping many luminaries at home, while the State Department denied visas to all West European delegations on the dubious grounds that their participation would only echo the sympathies of other foreign invitees. Unsuccessful in their attempts to pressure the government and the Waldorf Hotel to block the conference, the anticommunist cultural warriors—who worked closely with Freedom House—held an alternative conference. Responding to this campaign, novelist Howard Fast charged that the AIF was a creation of the State Department and that its counter rally at the “misnamed but resplendent pile known as ‘Freedom House’” represented nothing more than “an aberration of the ruling class.” 4
A year after the conference, the cultural warriors built on their success by establishing the international Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was from the start a CIA operation. In her investigative study of the collaboration between the CIA and American intellectuals, The Cultural Cold War, Frances Stoner Saunders described the congress as an international effort to persuade intellectuals around the world that the “American way” was the path to the future and to “nudge the intelligentsia of western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism.”5
The Americans for Intellectual Freedom (later renamed the American Committee for Cultural Freedom) functioned as the U.S. branch of the international congress, which was headquartered in Europe. Like the congress, the U.S. committee was a CIA-funded front group. Its first executive director was Irving Kristol—widely regarded as founder of neoconservatism.6 In 1952, after Kristol resigned as editor of Commentary to become the coeditor of Encounter in London, Sol Stein took over the committee’s directorship, leaving behind a post with the office of ideological analysis at the United States Information Services.
As the official magazine of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Encounter enjoyed generous secret funding from the CIA, which considered the publication to be the agency’s “greatest asset” in the cultural war.7Encounter was among a dozen magazines around the world benefiting from CIA largesse. Such magazines as the New Leader and even the hallowed Partisan Review, the flagship publication of the New York Intellectuals, started receiving checks from the CIA, some of them coming directly from CIA director Allen Dulles.8
While in London, Kristol’s brother-in-law Milton Himmelfarb helped him secure an editorial assistant position at Commentary magazine. Founded in the mid-1940s, Commentary was published by the American Jewish Committee, where Himmelfarb served as director of information and research.9
In 1953, Kristol became the coeditor of Encounter, the voice of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom. After editing Encounter for five years in London, Kristol moved his family back to the United States. A series of investigative articles in the mid-1960s in both the New Left’s Ramparts magazine and the New York Times documented that the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Encounter were CIA fronts. For Kristol this was just another case of liberalism’s much ado about nothing. He later dismissed CIA intervention in cultural politics, remarking: “Aside from the fact that the CIA, as a secret agency, seems to be staffed to an extraordinary extent by incorrigible blabbermouths, I have no more reason to despise it than, say, the Post Office.”10 About the CIA’s backing of Encounter, Kristol declared: “I think it’s interesting that the only British magazine worth reading at the time was funded by the CIA, and the British should be damn grateful.”11