Part 1 of 3Chapter 2: Political operations in US foreign policy
A US stance in favor of democracy helps get the Congress, the bureaucracy, the media, the public, and elite opinion to back US policy. It helps ameliorate the domestic debate, disarms critics (who could be against democracy?), provides a basis for reconciliation between "realists" and "idealists" ... The democracy agenda enables us, additionally, to merge and fudge over some issues that would otherwise be troublesome. It helps bridge the gap between our fundamental geopolitical and strategic interests ... and our need to clothe those security concerns in moralistic language ... The democracy agenda, in short, is a kind of legitimacy cover for our more basic strategic objectives.
-- Howard Wiarda 
Support for democracy ... is becoming the new organizing principle for American foreign-policy.
-- State Department policy document, 1987 
The policy shift from promoting authoritarianism to promoting polyarchy was a lengthy process drawn out over several decades, and reflected in the mainstream social sciences in debates over modernization/ economic development, political development, democracy, and so on. It involved the gradual emergence of a working consensus in the foreign-policy establishment in support of the new political intervention. As well, it involved the development of new modalities, instruments, and agencies for actually accomplishing the transition, in intervened countries in the Third World, from authoritarianism to polyarchy. This reorientation entailed, in particular, the expansion of what is known as political operations in US foreign policy. This included a new foreign-policy instrument, political aid, which has come to supplement the two main tools of US foreign policy since World War II, military and economic aid programs. These are the issues explored in this chapter.Reconstructing foreign-policy in a new world order
The United States rode on the crest of global power in the decades following World War II. With its overwhelming military superiority, economic power, and political influence, Washington had little difficulty imposing its will on the Third World through "straight power relations." Given its critical mass of both direct (military-political) and structural (economic) power, such a strategy was highly effective. But the global US empire was shaken in the 1960s and 1970s by nationalist revolutions in the Third World, culminating in the US defeat in Indochina. That defeat eroded the US capacity to shape events abroad, threw into disarray traditional strategies towards the Third World, and shattered the post-World War II foreign policy consensus at home. As US influence continued to wane, two subsequent events demonstrated the vulnerability of authoritarian regimes and underscored to policymakers the imperative of reconstructing foreign policy: the collapse of the Shah's client regime in Iran in early 1979 and the inability of the United States to control subsequent developments there, followed just months later by the Nicaraguan revolution.
For a brief period in the late 1970s, policy was thrown into confusion and paralysis, as the foreign-policy community groped for an effective and coherent new formula for coming to terms with a waning Pax Americana. What was taking place at a structural level was the transition to the global economy, the emergence of transnational capital as the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale, and the dissolution of an international system whose stability had rested on competing nation-states with a dominant center (a "hegemon"). But a disjuncture appeared between this level and that of the practical-conjunctural, in which the policymaking community perceives world events, conducts often acrimonious internal debates, and develops and implements policies.
By the end of the 1970s, a consensus was emerging around the broad contours - but not the concrete policies - of the transnational agenda among the dominant classes in the United States. These classes are correlated to the policymaking community, but are not synonymous with it per se nor with the specific governing bureaucracy, that is, with those groups who exercise the formal powers of state.3 That consensus revolved around the notion that the United States, playing a leadership role for the transnational elite, had to develop policies to reconstruct the international order, and to move from the defensive to the offensive as a first step. This would include broad new political, military, and economic programs to place revolutionary and nationalist forces in the Third World, as well as the Soviet Union, on the defensive, and to help adjust the United States to the reality of the emergent global economy and society. There was a perceived need for a new reassertionism," a term which entered the lexicon of the foreign-policymaking community at this time (although "reassertionism has been identified with Reagan, it was first launched by the Carter administration, whose cabinet was drawn almost entirely from the Trilateral Commission and represented the transnational fraction). The consensus also included the fiscal and monetary policies of "Reaganomics," which sought to attune US economic policies to changes in global capital accumulation and in the role of the state.
These policies were articulated by the transnationalized fraction of the US elite as the agent that gradually forged consensus. The semiprivate institutions which are at the very core of the transnationalized fraction, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission - through which it debates and elaborates strategies, develops cohesion and outward projection - sponsored studies in the late 1970s to design a new world order. These included the Council's "1980s Project" and the Commission's study, "Towards a Renovated International System."4 The Council is broadly "bipartisan" and its general policy directives normally represent consensus positions reached among dominant groups in the United States. It is the single most powerful and influential elite policy planning group, and has been largely responsible for the overall direction of US foreign policy since World War II. In turn, the Council on Foreign Relations is closely tied to the Trilateral Commission, which is the quintessential political forum of the transnational elite, the "transnational managerial class" which stands at the apex of the global class structure. The conclusions of the two projects were broadly congruent. They called for a "moderate international order," which meant a world economic environment in which barriers to the free movement of capital, goods, and technology would be dismantled, and a new international division of labor in which labor-intensive phases of production would be transferred to the South, and they reiterated the Trilateral Commission's earlier call for reconstituted "democracy." In addition, the "1980s Project" called for a military build-up and the redeployment of US forces around the globe.
The notion of consensus here corresponds to the Gramscian concept of positions advanced by hegemonic fractions within classes and groups, and not to perfect agreement, to a congruence of interests, or to the absence of conflict. One expression of the disjuncture mentioned above between structural and conjunctural levels of policy was the neo-conservative movement that came to exercise formal state power with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. In a phenomenon that confused analysts of foreign-policy, the direct agents of US "reassertionism" and "Reaganomics" became this highly vocal neo-conservative movement, concentrated in a new right-wing within the Republican Party. The neo-conservatives renewed the Cold War with a vengeance and launched a worldwide counteroffensive against liberation movements and nationalist Third World governments, involving dozens of interventionist campaigns.5 Its discourse was extremist: "War, not peace, is the norm in international affairs," proclaimed the Santa Fe document, drafted in 1980 by Reagan officials as a blueprint for a new US foreign policy. "Detente is dead. Survival demands a new US foreign policy. America must seize the initiative or perish."6 The "Reagan Doctrine" of aggressive support for counterrevolutionary insurgencies and heightened confrontation with the Soviet Union was backed by the biggest peacetime military build-up in US history and a redeployment of US military, paramilitary, intelligence, and political forces around the globe.
While some neo-conservative policies coincided with the transnational agenda, such as a deepening of "reassertionism" and the military build-up, certain policies diverged, including a tendency towards protectionism (reflecting the interests of regional and national capitalist fractions that formed part of the neo-conservative political base). But what is of particular importance to this study is that original officials in the first Reagan administration, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Alexander Haig, favored uncritical support for traditional client regimes and pro-United States dictatorships. The effect of failing to support allies such as Somoza is that "everywhere our friends will have noted that the United States cannot be counted on in times of difficulty and our enemies will have observed that American support provides no security against the forward march of history," reasoned Kirkpatrick, in her oft-cited article "Dictators and Double Standards."7 In fact, Kirkpatrick argued that the United States should strengthen its reliance on authoritarianism to defend US interests.
This disjuncture is a complexity grounded in issues of political sociology, among them conflict between competing class fractions, the relative autonomy of the state, the divergence between the public discourse of "proximate policymakers" and strategic discourse private to members of dominant groups, and strategies of developing and appropriating legitimizing symbols and ideology. Besides, the disjuncture should not be exaggerated. In analyzing the reconstruction of US world supremacy under the Reagan administration, Augelli and Murphy point out that Reagan appealed to what Gramsci referred to as the "common sense" (contradictory consciousness) of significant portions of the US mass public.8 But Augelli and Murphy overstate the discrepancy between the Reaganites and the "world management oriented" (transnational) fractions. When closely scrutinized, the Reagan program served the interests of transnational capital on the eve of globalization - a shift in wealth from labor to capital, dismantling the Keynesian state, and deregulating capital at home and pursuing liberalization and reassertionism abroad. Ideological mass appeal to the emotive and psychological chords of "common sense" played an important role in relegitimating US and world order and thus helped surmount the post-Vietnam War, post-Watergate "crisis of governability" which had led to an incipient breakdown of hegemony. In this sense, Reaganism laid the ideological terrain for the agenda of the transnational elite in the 1980s, in a way not dissimilar to the Gingrich phenomenon in the 1990s.
The point to stress here is that the right-wing insurgency in US policy associated with the rise of the the neo-conservatives in the early 1980s actually masked a broad consensus then emergent in the strategic centers of US power and in the foreign-policy establishment around the transnational agenda. In Gill's analysis, the transnational fraction of capital had unequivocally established its hegemony by the mid-1980s and was able to fully impose its policies on the US state. Gill identifies the second Reagan presidency, beginning in 1984, as the turning point. From that point on, core economic and foreign policy responded to the agenda of the transnational elite, even though the neo-conservatives of the Republican right-wing retained prerogative over domestic social and other secondary policies. Debates in Washington after the early 1980s were less over content than over form- over the wisdom of the fanaticism, the military dimensions, and reckless aspects of the Reagan Doctrine, a debate most clearly reflected in the controversial Contra policy towards Nicaragua and the conflicting postures adopted towards Soviet-US negotiations.
The radical rhetoric of such highly visible figures as Haig and Kirkpatrick, as well as President Reagan himself and other high-profile Reaganites, concealed the adoption and implementation of the transnational agenda within the apparatus of state. Above all, behind the debates that continued in the mid-1980s was a very broad liberal and conservative confluence around the new methods of political intervention and the shift to promoting polyarchy. "Much of the Washington foreign-policy establishment, and by no means only the Reaganites, had come to the conclusion that the United States now needed to take the political and ideological offensive," noted one counselor to Project Democracy, a government program to develop "democracy promotion" strategies (see below). "Of course, many within the foreign policy establishment had reservations about one or another of these activities ... But by the late 1970s-early 1980s, something of a bipartisan consensus had begun to emerge [around promoting polyarchy]."9Political operations
Reassertionism and the shift from backing authoritarianism to promoting polyarchy involved a thoroughgoing refurbishing and fine-tuning of the instruments and ideology of foreign policy. This took place over an extended period, from the Vietnam War to the late 1980s. The crucial link between what might appear as contrary processes - the resurgence of US aggressive intervention abroad in the 1980s, and the emergence of a "softer" "democracy promotion" in foreign-policy - is the concept and function of political operations (the more benign term used by the foreign-policy establishment is "political development"), and what has been described as its "handmaid," psychological operations (similarly referred to in more benign language as "communications programs").
As conceived by policymakers, political operations fall into three broad categories: political action, described by US strategists as "A full range of activities including certain kinds of multilateral diplomacy, support for foreign political parties or forces, and support for or work with international associations of various kinds"; coercive diplomacy - "Diplomacy presupposing the use or threatened use of military force to achieve political objectives"; covert political warfare - "The covert aspects of active measures, [including] support for insurgencies, operations against enemy alliances, influence operations, and black propaganda." 10 For its part, psychological warfare, as described by one Reagan NSC official, is the "handmaid" of political warfare, "the planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behavior. It consists of political, military, and ideological actions conducted to create in target groups behavior, emotions, and attitudes that support the attainment of national objectives... [PSYOPS] will usually be carried out under the broader umbrella of US national policy."11
Political operations are broad and inclusive. Rather than being viewed as any specific program, policy, or practice, it should be more accurately conceived of as a general framework for interaction in the international arena. One specialist explained that "politics is the marshaling of human beings to support or oppose causes ... Such marshaling must be the objective of all international action, from the delivery of public speeches to the dropping of bombs." As such, political operations is in a sense coextensive with all international action and "is not confined to the tools [specifically] associated with political warfare" operations, and may be overt or covert. 12 When divested of the rhetoric, the "democracy promotion" programs in the Philippines, Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, and elsewhere were, in fact, large-scale political operations in foreign policy, involving heavy doses of political action, coercive diplomacy, covert political warfare, and psychological operations.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, as US strategists revamped foreign policy, they developed a critique of the reasons for the decline in US influence. This rethinking was neither a uniform nor a conspiratorial process, and these policymakers were scattered throughout the extended policy-making community. Different vantage points offered different views. However, within the foreign-policy establishment as a whole a consensus was developing on the need to inject foreign policy with broader political and psychological operations. The conclusion was that foreign policy had faltered at the political-psychological level of engagement, and that political operations should be broadly introduced. The "failure to identify and assimilate the lessons of the chief defeats the United States has suffered internationally in the post War [World War II) period [and) above all, the Vietnam War," pointed out a member of the NSC in the early 1980s, reflects great US weaknesses "at the psychological-political level of conflict."13 Starting in the early 1980s,the United States began reorganizing the apparatus of state and the instruments of foreign policy, in order to enhance the capacity for sustained political operations.
The two main tools of US foreign policy since World War II have been military (or security) and economic aid programs, integrated into overall foreign-policy endeavors. Between World War II and 1990, the United States spent some $400 billion in such foreign "aid" (over a trillion dollars at 1990 values).14 The purpose of military aid was to bolster local repressive forces (at times, proxies) which could suppress dissent and maintain social control. As well, military aid created bridges between local forces and the US military and established the prerequisite conditions for military, intelligence, and covert intervention where required. For their part, economic aid programs helped facilitate US political influence, and more importantly, were intended to integrate the economies of recipient countries into the international corporate political economy - by opening up markets, securing access to resources, building the infrastructure necessary for the operations of international capital, and shaping the process of local capital accumulation so that it was synchronized and subordinated to the centers of the world economy. 15 These two instruments - military and economic aid programs - were used efficaciously in the post-World War II years to reshape the global order and to thrust the United States into the affairs of the majority of nations around the globe. As part of the process of revitalizing foreign policy in the post-Vietnam period, policymakers gave considerable thought to how these two tools of intervention might be fine-tuned and given a more explicitly "political focus."
Those policymakers who saw things through the lens of the military establishment found that traditional military interventions were often counterproductive. They began developing the concept of low-intensity warfare, which entered into the US foreign-policy vocabulary as a term for new modalities of engagement against nationalist and revolutionary movements and governments in the 1980s.16 This new doctrine placed primary emphasis on the political dimensions of conflict and on the coordination of military activities with economic programs, diplomatic initiatives, and psychological warfare. Strategists of low-intensity warfare argued that while the US had concentrated on preparing for conventional or nuclear war with the Soviet Union in Europe, the vast majority of the conflicts in which the US had engaged since World War II were unconventional encounters with "Soviet proxies" in the Third World. In conventional warfare, superior military resources predominate. But in unconventional conflicts of the types generated by the "position of disparity" in the world order that Kennan mentioned, such resources in themselves are not the deciding factor. They concluded that the US had failed because it had not recognized that unconventional war is often more a political than a military undertaking.
In Vietnam the United States enjoyed vast conventional military superiority and won most of the battles but lost the war precisely because its outcome was determined by imperfectly understood political variables. Conventional military supremacy can alter those variables, but the military apparatus is only a means to achieve political ends. US military strategists rediscovered, as they do periodically, the famed nineteenth-century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, and his axiom that "war is the extension of politics by other means." The strategists drew several essential conclusions regarding future US participation in unconventional conflicts (with or without a military component), and then applied these conclusions in Third World conflict situations. These conclusions were: first, the target of such campaigns must be the population itself, the minds of the people rather than the enemy's military forces; second, in this undertaking, policymakers had to take into account the specific culture, sensibilities, and history of the target population, as well as the capabilities of the adversaries. Campaigns against other countries would be tailor-made to suit the particular circumstances of each foreign-policy operation. Third, it is not enough to try to destroy the organized forces of adversaries (be they revolutionary or nationalist forces or otherwise); a movement or group responsive to US interests had to be created, legitimated and presented to the target population as a viable alternative to the government to be overthrown or replaced or the movement to be defeated. Fourth, new forms of political and military organization had to be developed. (This conclusion helped lead to the formation of the NED and other "democracy promotion" agencies.) Fifth, interventionist projects can only be sustained if there are strong US constituencies who support the effort. These, too, have to be garnered, mobilized, and legitimized. These "lessons" of Vietnam led to a simple yet fundamental premise: the ultimate objective of unconventional engagements is to achieve the political, not the military, defeat of adversaries. Crucial here is the shift from military to political competition as the core of US undertakings abroad, even when the military dimensions of these undertakings appear as the most salient.
In the 1980s,these lessons were applied to numerous low-intensity conflict situations, such as in Central America and Southern Africa, and in many countries and regions which were to undergo transitions to polyarchy. Starting in the early 1980s, the United States began to reorganize the military establishment to conduct low-intensity warfare campaigns. The Joint Chiefs of Staff formed special low-intensity conflict divisions within the Department of Defense and within each military service, and also reintroduced political and psychological warfare branches. The Pentagon even drafted a PSYOPS "master plan" at the behest of a Presidential Directive, and the National Security Council set up a top-level "board for low intensity conflict."17 The shift in the military establishment towards a capacity for flexible, unconventional engagements in the Third World accelerated in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.18
For their part, economic policymakers began developing new ideas, such as humanitarian resource use and an expansion of traditional development aid to incorporate "institution-building." One member of Reagan's National Security Council noted that "international aid and humanitarian affairs," including "foreign economic and development aid, food aid, humanitarian assistance (rescue operations, disaster relief, famine relief, and the like), and technical assistance of various kinds," are crucial components of political operations in foreign policy. "Although these functions are bureaucratically scattered and very largely autonomous, they have a very important psychological-political component. Whether intentionally or otherwise, they serve as significant instruments of US foreign policy and national strategy."19 In 1966 Congress had passed the Title IX addition to the US Foreign Assistance Act, which called for a specifically "political focus" to traditional US-funded development programs.20 As a development growing out of Title IX, the AID created an Office of Democratic Initiatives in 1984 and launched numerous "political development" and "institution-building" programs during the 1980s. In addition, economic assistance programs in the 1980s and 1990s, both bilateral and multilateral, became effective precision instruments in promoting the neo-liberal economic model in the Third World. One analyst has appropriately termed this function of "economic aid" in the late twentieth century as "financial low intensity warfare."21Political aid as political operations
Programs to strengthen friendly political movements in other countries are one of the foreign-policy arms of a modem great power. Until this century, there were three instruments for such efforts: diplomacy, economic, and military. This triad retains its primacy today, but it has been supplemented by two additional instruments. One is propaganda... The other new policy instrument - aid to friendly political organizations abroad - ... helps build up political actors in other polities, rather than merely seeking to influence existing ones. In international affairs, organization is now as important as issues, just as has always been the casein domestic politics.
-- Michael A. Samuel sand William A. Douglas (Project Democracy consultants) 
The new political intervention did not eclipse the two traditional foreign-policy instruments; to the contrary, they were refurbished and widely deployed. However, the key ingredient was still missing. The third instrument, "political aid," had remained sporadic and underdeveloped. It was the introduction of this third category which would play a centripetal role in facilitating the shift in policy and bringing about consensus around promoting polyarchy. As Allen Weinstein, the first president of NED, put it: "A number of separate strands ... converged in the 1981-82 period to produce a critical mass of public attention" on the issue of "democracy promotion" as a component of overall foreign policy.23
The intellectual underpinning of "political aid" was the argument contained in the political development literature that the United States must build up the institutions of political and civil society of intervened countries in order to develop structures capable of absorbing tensions, maintaining social control, and steering societies in directions responsive to US and transnational interests. Those arguing for the introduction of political aid, including a commission supervised by the National Security Council to create the NED, made broad reference to the conclusions of a 1972 book by William A. Douglas, Developing Democracy.24
In his study, Douglas reviewed the modernization and political development literature and the debates over whether authoritarianism or "democracy" is best suited to meet US interests. Douglas coined the term regimented democracy to describe the type of political system the US should promote in place of authoritarianism. Comparing the populations of developing nations with "children," and asserting that underdevelopment was the result of their "traditional attitudes," Douglas argued that the peoples of the Third World required "tutelage," "regimentation," and "social control," but that "democracy" could achieve these goals more effectively than authoritarianism:
That a firm hand is needed is undeniable. However, it is harder to accept the claim that only dictatorship can provide the sufficient degree of firmness. First, in regard to keeping order, what is involved is basically effective police work, and there is no reason why democratic regimes cannot have well-trained riot squads ... democratic governments may be able to do the same things as dictatorship to overcome centripetal social forces: use police to stop riots, strike bargains with the various groups to keep them reasonably satisfied, and call out the army when peaceful means fail... There is no denying the need for organization structures by which the modernized elite can exercise tutelage. However ... it is common experience that in obtaining the desired behaviour from a balky mule, a balky child, or a balky peasant, the real key is to find just the right balance between carrot and stick... Democracy can provide a sufficient degree of regimentation, if it can build up the mass organizations needed to reach the bulk of the people on a daily basis. Dictatorship has no monopoly on the tutelage principle.25
After making the case for "democracy" over authoritarianism, Douglas went on to develop detailed recommendations on how "political aid" programs should be introduced. Just as economic aid addressed economic underdevelopment, reasoned Douglas, political aid "should address political underdevelopment." Third World nations "need assistance in politics just as much as in building infrastructure, industry, or institutions such as universities, cooperatives, and trade unions," he argued. "Without political aid, their political systems may lag behind development in the economic and institutional sectors, with the resulting political instability... we should undertake an active policy of political aid, for both developmental and security reasons." The trick, said Douglas, was to devise the correct "transplanting mechanisms" for establishing polyarchy in the Third World, as well as "insulating devices" which would allow polyarchic systems to incubate, take hold, and stabilize in the intervened societies.26 Included among the recommendations were: the establishment of a specialized agency (later to become the NED); the participation of the private sector (i.e., the dominant organs of US civil society) in government- supervised "democracy promotion" abroad; and the modification of existing government institutions and programs so as to synchronize overall foreign policy with "political development." Two decades after his study, the "transplanting mechanisms" and "insulating devices" which Douglas called for became embodied in the new "democracy promotion" programs. Douglas himself went on to become a senior consultant to the NSC's Project Democracy (see below), which led to the creation of the NED and other "democracy promotion" organs of the US state.
Although fierce foreign-policy debates continued in the 1980s over the basis on which US influence and world order should be reconstructed, the introduction of "political development" programs garnered a broad consensus. "The Endowment represented an integration of conservative and liberal reactions to the American failure in Vietnam," stated Gershman. "Conservatives, anxious to overcome the Vietnam malaise, welcomed a new effort to reassert American democratic values and to meet the Soviet ideological challenge head on. Liberals, on the other hand, welcomed an approach that offered a political alternative to military competition and a creative means of addressing complex political problems that did not lend themselves to military solutions."27 Another consultant on political aid noted in the mid 1980s:a "US policy of political aid... is in its incipient state and, in time, may well replace in importance military and economic aid as the principal foreign assistance program."28
Political aid has become an efficacious instrument of the United States, in the context of the transnationalization of political processes, in its effort to establish control over transnational politics and to reconfigure a new "historic bloc" over which the transnational elite exercises hegemony. Similarly, the notion of "institution building" in political and civil society in intervened countries as part of political operations abroad, which was first put forward in the political development literature of the 1960s and has now become part of the standard lexicon of "democracy promotion/" should be seen theoretically in its relation to hegemony. There is a close relation between institutionalization and hegemony, although the two are by no means identical. As discussed earlier, institutions provide ways of processing conflicts so as to minimize the use of force in domination. In this way, institutions may become what Gramsci called "anchors" for constructing hegemony. The passage from "political development" of the 1960s to "democracy promotion" of the 1980s and 1990s involves an expansion from "institution building" at the level of formal state structures to the level of both state structures and civil society.