Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Taking a Stand for American Beliefs

VTR Date: February 1, 1976

Guest: Moynihan, Daniel Patrick


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Title: Taking a Stand for American Beliefs
VTR : 2/1/76

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Two hundred years ago our best thinkers wrote that a decent respect for the opinions of mankind require that we declare our cause. We did in the Declaration of Independence And today in the untied Nations we’re represented by a man who also declares that cause, the cause of freedom, of representative democracy. He declares it loudly, often, and much to the chagrin of traditionalist diplomats, more with an eye to expressing this nation’s historic beliefs than to placating its foes. My quest of course is Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Ambassador Moynihan, I’ like to begin our program today by referring to the fact that there seem to be those in this country, though TIME magazine in its recent cover story on you indicate that common folks all around the country are very pleased with the stand that you’ve taken in the United Nations, the stand for traditional American beliefs, but there are still those who fear the and are concerned about this strong stand, fear that perhaps it will do violence to our now half-century-long involvement in international cooperation. And I wonder how you react to that.

MOYNIHAN: My reaction would be pretty much along the lines of the first group of people you mentioned, which is to say that what has done violence to our involvement of the past 50 years – not quite 50 – 40 more precisely.

HEFFNER: I was thinking of Wilson and the League and that whole push toward International Corporation too.

MOYNIHAN: The League we declined to join. We joined the International Labor Organization. The point about Woodrow Wilson’s vision of the world, which Franklin Roosevelt, who was his Assistant Secretary of the Navy and then for vice president when Wilson retired and, you know, very much of that tradition, his vision was one in which the liberal political institutions of the West which had acquired national stability in most nations, for he was thinking of Britain, France, the United States, would now b e extended in the logical way to an international plane, and you would have equivalent institutions there. And the League was set up in that sense. A very strong historical sense that Wilson had of the ways in which the national governments of Europe had emerged and the United States had emerged from rather small beginnings. You got from the Articles of the Confederacy to the constitution over a period of time at most. He saw that, he hoped he would see the world which in the main was still outside the nation state system, if you remember, in 1919. Most of the world was under colonial system; had never known nation states and was now struggling with … having to look at global federation. He saw that this new institution would extend to the rest of the world the same political principles and institutions. Ant eh United Nations was set up in much the same image and expectation. And for a while it appeared to be working this way. And then slowly at first, quickly, in a rush in the 1960s the membership changed, the membership enlarged and the membership changed, both things, in the sense that the nature of the regimes involved changed. An suddenly there was a majority of members in the United Nations which, whose political systems could not be described as liberal or as democratic. Which was not to say they were all totalitarians. They were not; they are not. But they’re not constitutional and they’re not in the image of anything like Wilson or Roosevelt and in mind. Now, the, one of the sources of concern by people who wonder about our position there is, I genuinely think a certain lag in the perception of who’s there. What are these other fellows like, as it were? And secondly, an anxiousness that if you were too difficult about matters, day to day things become even more difficult. Something that approaches appeasement, frankly. And thirdly – and this is a view I have and you need not share, and I don’t even fully understand myself, and since I don’t know that I’ve thought it out – I think the west is in a period of decline. Not just the sort of trough that comes after an experience like Vietnam. When you lose a war you pay a cost for it. Don’t ever doubt that. But I think that there’s a longer secular decline perceptible. And I think a lot of people are scared. And they’re frightened at the anti-western images that appear in the rest of the world which are themselves merely projections of internal positions that have grown up in opposition to the liberal political tradition among ourselves. I mean, the would is dominated by western ideas, but most of the ideas in place around the world today are the ideas that you associated with a certain kind of nihilism or totalitarianism of the 19th and early 20th century which are basically hostile to the institution that Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill would have, were part of and associated themselves with. I think there is an element of fear of this, and I think something like what the psychiatrists would call identification with the aggressor is taking place.

HEFFNER: What do you mean?

MOYNIHAN: A hostility at a certain level becomes hard to sustain. It terrifies you, it scares you. It makes you uneasy, and you try to get rid of it. And anybody does that. And the wise person does it up to a point. I mean, every time anybody looks a little sharply at you, if you get mad, well that’s called paranoia. You know? You’ve got to… But when man looks after you like he wants to kill you, you better know that. To miss that kind of clue is a big mistake. I remember when my family was young, our family was young, there was a move called “The Swiss Family Robinson.” And it was just the ideal children’s movie. And so one afternoon we all went off to it, and among the children my four-year-old daughter, then four-years old. And at a certain point in the movie the snake scene began. And a little boy was playing down at the creek and then the camera went up to a tree and the music started selling and growing ominously and suddenly you saw this huge snake begin to make his way down out of the tree at the unsuspecting boy. And the movie theater audience went absolutely silent and holding their breaths. And suddenly there was a little sound of my daughter saying, “That snake likes me.”

HEFFNER: (Laughter)

MOYNIHAN: Well, now that’s normal in a four-year-old; abnormal in a 40-year-old. But I am prepared to say to you that some measure of our resistance to the true hostility out there is a form of eliding it, of saying, “Well, we must have done something wrong, therefore that’s why. And we can ourselves by repairing out own behavior and by mending our own behavior the hostility will go away.” In some cases we no doubt have done wrong things; in many cases we have. But that is not the bulk of the hostility. The bulk of it is just hostility.

HEFFNER: That serpent, would you want to describe it, that snake to which your daughter replied as she did and to which so many people seemed to be replying with a kind of blindness in our own country?

MOYNIHAN: Yeah, I think it is the failure to perceive that the totalitarian nations find the, expect to destroy the democracies. They expected it to happen. They have apperception of history which stays it will happen, and they desire it, and they actively seek it. And they have got themselves into a curiously symbiotic relations with the, an awful lot of the new nations, of the new nations which have a problem, which is that almost without exception (there are some exceptions, the recent Portuguese colonies are one), but the general fact would be that of, say, the 90-odd nations that have been formed out of the European colonies, one American colony, Philippines, since 1945, oh, 80 of them came into existence as constitutional democracies. And of those 80, shall I say five remain as constitutional democracies? Perhaps five. I’, not sure I could count them. Well, yes, I could count five. Let’s say ten. That has left a residue of guilt down there as it were, curiously enough. They know they didn’t do what they sort of set out to do. And I will not exaggerate this, but I would like to say that the totalitarian model the soviet Union and China provide can account for the destruction of constitutional liberties and procedures in these countries, can justify it. Where as nothing on the constitutional liberal democratic side that we represent can justify it. If you say that we have abolished elections and put the opposition in jail and confiscated property of out people we don’t like and so forth, you can’t say you did that in order to deepen democracy unless you’re talking about a people’s democracy and the dictatorship of the proletarian and of this. Well, that particular totalitarian structure provides the justification for what is really not much more than old fashioned despotism, and it sometimes…

Well, I mean, I try to be generous minded about these nations that have an awful lot of troubles and sometimes it seems the only way to get through the monsoon as it were. And yet certainly at this point there is an element of bad conscience about what they have done with that brief inheritance they had, and the reality is that the Soviets of the Chinese or whomsoever, Cubans I suppose, would have provide them not just a model but a justification for what they’ve been doing anyway. The combination of things means that out in the world where there are just now, there are about two dozen democracies left. About another two dozen countries which are not pure democracies, which is not that any of the two dozen are pure, but you know, are intermediate, but where you have a pretty respectable level of civil liberties, and the person is not much assaulted or assailed by government. And then you’ve got a hundred countries which are outside that condition all together now. And so it’s about a two – to – one situation. And when it comes down to a certain kind of things at the United nations it’ll be a three – to – one, four – to- one, six- to – one, and we can, you can get the feeling of being very alone and wondering why.

HEFFNER: Why not why we’re alone, but why do we stay?

MOYNIHAN: Why do we stay? Well, where would you go? Out of the world?

HEFFNER: That’s another question. Why do we stay though?

MOYNIHAN: The United Nations does not, is not responsible for the way the world is turning out. The United nations is a, reflects the world as it is, accentuating it in some situations. The one-nation-one-vote principle in the General Assembly means that Grenada, with 60,000 people has the same vote as chine with 800 million. Well, that’s sort of distorting the world a bit. But you know, if you want to know what the numbers are and what the nations are like, the General Assembly will tell you. Now, I don’t think you can blame the messenger. And shooting the messenger would be a bad idea. I personally say I would not have, if you had said to me 20 years ago, “Was the United Nations essential to the world?” I would have said, “Not particularly. You can organize the same sort of thing in a dozen different ways.” We were a powerful nation, and in most parts of the world pretty much nothing could be done to use that we very seriously objected to. And in that situation I would you could have the United Nations or not, as you wish. Today, with the United Nations, is one of the ways the American people can find, know what time it is, know what’s out there, realize that the world is like. That’s the roll of the General Assembly. Then you must remember that when you think of the United Nations, most people tend to think of the General Assembly. The Security Council is a very different place. A place with true treaty powers. A place with a very different behavior altogether. The Security Council is one that an entirely different set of work ethic in the Council. I had a young lady come in the other day to talk to me. She was sent here by a Chicago paper to cover the debate in the Middle East. And she just stopped by to chat. And she was going back to the Midwest. And she said, you know, she was rather impressed by the way that the Security Council did its business. And it wasn’t at all what she had been led to expect.

HEFFNER: Could that be because you keep the veto?

MOYNIHAN: Of course the veto… Because there is reality principles in the Security Council. And I said to her, I said, “You know, the Security council is to the General Assembly as the Chicago City council is to an international convention of world federalist.” I mean, you know, they’ve got serious business in the Security Council, and in the Chicago City council. And they don’t tell you this but The Security council is a place which we would dare not leave. And leave the United nations, leave the Security council in a situation where we already are a minority and increasingly a beleaguered minority in the world, you could find yourself an outlaw nation. I wouldn’t be hard.

HEFFNER: And where we are, we find ourselves what, not an outlaw nation perhaps, but one that speaks with a voice that may be heard, I think perhaps because you give expression to it, but that is clearly, more ad more clearly in a minority status.

MOYNIHAN: I’m going to be optimistic with that bother troubles me sometimes, but I mean, you know, you go on being optimistic and people wonder whether you’re getting old and…

HEFFNER: Be my guest.

MOYNIHAN: (Laugher) …losing touch.

HEFFNER: You think it will change?

MOYNIHAN: Yes. I think that the solidity of the blocs aligned, arrayed against the United States in the last 20 years, the first of which was the nonaligned. Now the nonaligned set themselves up as an intermediary between the Soviet Union and the United States. But some of the beginning, they were dominated or formed by men such as Nehru who had an intellectual appreciation of the difference between the soviet Union and the United States and at an intellectual level would much prefer the United States institution, was trying to being, take India on that course, but who actually loathed Americans and admired Russians in the sense of what they emotionally stood for in his spectrum of things. I mean, by and large, the nonaligned from the beginning had been nonaligned in favor of the totalitarian communists. I mean, it’s not a secret after 20 years. Well, that’s breaking up. The nonaligned at the United Nations in the last session found themselves very much, found it very difficult to maintain heir unity in the fact of the fact that there were internal conflicts to the nonaligned. When the Portuguese – I’m sorry – when the Indonesians landed troops on Portuguese Taimor, well Indonesia, the founder of the non-alliance, if you remember those days, the Portuguese Taimor was a colony, nation of its own. All colonies have to be nations of their own. Which side was the nonaligned to take? Well, the answer is they took both sides. When the Spanish left the Sahara, the Spanish Sahara, it was supposed to be a nation apparently, but the Mauritania and Morocco wanted to partition it. Algeria, which is also has a boundary, said on the contrary, it should be a nation. Three nonaligned countries all with very separate views. What did the nonaligned nations do? The split again. That kind of think becomes more common. And after such happens, that bloc-like quality recedes.

HEFFNER: I gather you feel that that bloc-like quality will recede more under the pressure from the kid of directness that you’ve provided and the outspokenness that you’ve provided than from the, you use the word “appeasement” before.

MOYNIHAN: That word “appeasement,” you know, had an honorable history for several centuries. And it was on of those words that got (Garbled), and an article in the current Commentary describes that. I didn’t know, a lot of things I didn’t know, but one of them I didn’t know was that chamberlain used the word “appeasement” in his report on the Munich meeting. He said, “We’ve had this wonderful appeasement,” you know. And the fact of the matter is that when you, when a nation as we have done on many, on some issues over time, a member of this pattern developed mostly whilst we were fighting a war, land war in Asia. And it seemed sort of a compensatory behavior. Fighting this war in Asia on a formal colonial situation and maybe inheriting that situation, we tended to go along with other things in order to keep the level of hostility down that resulted from the war. Well, the war’s over, and we lost it. It seems to me the issue we have this other pattern…as well. We’re not compensating for, we’re not the ones with the colonial ventures, we’re not the ones with troops in Asia or Africa. It’s the Russians who have troops, and they have the Cuban groupies it’s said I Africa. They’re the ones who have to explain their behavior. In the meantime we have got the pattern of not really seriously resisting the enormous levels of assault that came at us in the late ‘60s, early 70s, had a particular effect which is that non of the members of these blocs, there is one the nonaligned to the so-called Group of 77 which is the developing nations with about 108 members of that, if the United States never put up any serious resistance to their positions there was never any reason for them to examine their positions. And out view has been that if we would accept the fact that we are a minority inside the General Assembly and in the Security council and are not ever going to again be a normal majority, what we do in that situation is not so much resist what others propose as offer alternatives of our own, and say, “That’s a dumb way to do it. There’s a smart way to do it.” Which is what oppositions always do. They may be right; they may be wrong. But they offer alternative. And in that situation you present choices to the other nations, and you would be surprised the degree to which having made an intelligent effort to present alternatives you get. You can say, “Well, that does seem a little…”

HEFFNER: Does dollar diplomacy enter into this, the use of our resources to persuade those who have been hostile to use that the time has passed when we will provide continuing assistance to those who manifest that hostility?

MOYNIHAN: I’d like to make clear that we have always taken this view that we will not support nations whose regimes we do not approve of. And…

HEFFNER: You mean we have always approved of the regimes we have supported?

MOYNIHAN: No, but we have always taken the view that it is within our right to withhold resources. We would, I mean, can you imagine the United States giving any aid to Rhodesia? Certainly not. It’s a white regime that is not giving liberty to the black citizens there, black people there. We will not help that nation. Can you imagine the United States selling arms to south Africa? We have since 1966 had an absolute embargo on that, voluntarily because we do not approve of apartheid. A group of congressmen, mostly in the House, Donald Frazier is one, last year got an amendment to the military aid bill that says no military aid may be given to regimes that repress civil liberties. And the State Department is supposed to report on that. Well, you know, what you like, this is judging assistance in terms of whether you approve the behavior of the regime.

HEFFNER: Now, does that approval and that behavior extend to voting the way we want votes to be taken and to go in the United Nations?

MOYNIHAN: Certainly, it certainly seems to me to be an extension which is logically possible. The question is how do you use it prudently and fairly. On the question of assistance, let us say, let’s make a distinction which I think you would make and most Americans would, between emergency assistance, help in situations where there is a disaster. You know, you would go to, friend, foe, in between, you help them out when they’re starving, when they’ve had, when their natural calamities come. I mean, you just do the human thin. But when a country, a government, is say providing the wherewithal for a national airline that no one needs, when if the country is more friendly, and otherwise you might do more than otherwise. And the principle that we pay attention to civil liberties and political liberties, that we pay attention to civil rights and racial equality and things like that is a sound principle, and we’ve had it in effect for a very long time.

HEFFNER: Are you suggesting that at this moment it is our policy to reward our friends in this way? I won’t refer to punishing our enemies, but reward those who are friendly to us in the UN?

MOYNIHAN: I hope so. Yeah. Remember that there had been, the political scientists have done some pretty serious work on this, they tried to sort out do we in fact do it. Well, the answer is over the last 25 years we sort of do it. A little bit. The United States and the Soviet Union sort of do it. Most people. But it’s a pretty, the scatter gram is pretty confusing as the political scientists would say.

HEFFNER: What would you have us do?

MOYNIHAN: Well, what I would have us do is let it be known that nations which try to maintain a civil society have a claim on us. When I was Ambassador to India it used to seem to me that, you know, that I used to tell the Indians, “Remember your democracy is your claim on us beyond anything else. And don’t ever give it up.” I think there aren’t many of those places, nations left. Let’s fall back in intermediate position.

HEFFNER: In about three-quarters of a minute.

MOYNIHAN: You don’t have to be a, have a British democracy in order to have civil liberties. You don’t have to have elections in order to have your jails relatively empty. Be a civil society. Don’t be a brutal one. And associate yourself with the hopes the west provides rather than the hopes that the totalitarians offer.

HEFFNER: And then we’ll help. And if you don’t, we won’t. Is that the point?

MOYNIHAN: We’ll be better off and we’ll try to make you even better off. That you’re on our side of things, and naturally we will want to help people on our side of things.

HEFFNER: will you have support in Washington for that position?

MOYNIHAN: Oh, I think that’s really the view of the Congress and the administration and really has been for a quarter-century. It’s just redefining it in somewhat new circumstances.

HEFFNER: Thanks very much for redefining it in that way, Mr. Ambassador. I appreciate your joining us today. I have a suspicion that this is the point at which we ought to begin a half-hour discussion, just at this juncture of where it is that we go now. But thank you very much for joining me today, Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

And thanks too, to you in the audience. I hope that you will join us again on The Open Mind. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck.”