The Revisionist Revises…James Perloff Discovers American Imperialism
By Will Banyan Copyright © 16 September 2012
James Perloff is one of the more celebrated authors in the John Birch Society’s pantheon of “experts”. His book The Shadows of Power: The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline (1988) was a top-seller, clearing at least 100,000 copies by 1994. One struggles to find a critical word about it, save for the occasional disgruntled buyer on Amazon. Since publishing The Shadows of Power, Perloff’s contributions to JBS publications have been sporadic as he pursued his bigger interest of defending “creation science” from the travails of evolutionary theory. Only in the past five years has he made something of a comeback to the pages of The New American, offering a number of articles on the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the “betrayal” of China into Communism, US integration with the European Union, the downfall of the Shah of Iran, and various episodes in US history.
Despite the praise heaped upon Perloff, his research is as slipshod and ideologically motivated as that offered by his colleagues, including JBS President John McManus. The Shadows of Power was replete with risible and inaccurate claims. His book describes the CFR as the Establishment’s “chief link” (p.5) to the US Government and credits it with having “exercised decisive impact on US policy” (p.7). That is, in itself, not that controversial having been detailed in Laurance Shoup and William Minter’s better documented study Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (1977). What distinguishes The Shadows of Power is Perloff’s innocent airing of “charges” that the CFR “holds two particularly unwholesome doctrines.”
- The “creation of a world government”, with “all power” to be “centralized in a single global authority; national identities and boundaries…would be eliminated” (p.10); and
- That the CFR has been “soft” on Communism, evidence for which can be found in Foreign Affairs which carried articles by Soviet luminaries such as Leon Trotsky, Nikita Khrushchev, and Marshal Tito (pp.12-13).
The evidence Perloff collects to support this dubious argument is easily contestable. For instance, he claims the charge the CFR is promoting world government is “easily substantiated”, and states: “Anyone who cares to examine back issues of Foreign Affairs will have no difficulty finding hundreds of articles that pushed…this concept of globalism. But he will be hard pressed to locate even one essay opposing it” (p.10). Hard pressed? Perhaps, but not to the point of being unable locate even one essay opposing world government.
Perloff had of course missed the one and only essay in Foreign Affairs that has “world government” in its title: the philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s cunningly titled article “The Illusion of World Government” (Foreign Affairs, April 1949). Niebuhr criticised the world government idea as a “simple expedient” favoured by the “well meaning” (p.379). Moreover, Niebuhr was adamant the “immediate political situation requires that we seek not only peace, but also the preservation of a civilization which we hold to be preferable to the universal tyranny with which Soviet aggression threatens us”, rather than be diverted by the “simple alternative” of world government (p.388).
He also missed Henry Kissinger’s frank dismissal of world government in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957), a CFR publication based on the deliberations of a CFR study group, whose members included, among others, David Rockefeller and McGeorge Bundy (JFK’s National Security Advisor) (p.xiii). Kissinger wrote it was “hardly realistic” to believe states would surrender their sovereignty to a world government (p.219). There was, he wrote “no escaping from the responsibilities of the thermonuclear age into a supranational authority” (p.221). Both pieces reflected the CFR consensus position that, whether or not its individual members thought world government might one day even be desirable, the very existence of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union made it untenable, if not impossible.
The Smoking Gun That Wasn’t
That Perloff would overlook two important exceptions does not say much for the overall credibility of his book, which is replete with numerous other errors of fact. For example, his selective quoting of the summary of a CFR study to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Basic Aims of U.S. Foreign Policy”, (referred to by Perloff (p.10) and countless others as “Study No.7”), missed out on some important sections that undermined his thesis that the CFR supported Communism. The CFR study, one of thirteen think-tank and university reports presented to the Senate, and summarised by the Foreign Policy Clearing House in Jay H. Cerf and Walter Pozen’s Strategy For The 60s (Praeger, 1961), is a long-time conspiracist favourite. Section IV, The Foreign Policy Tasks Which Lie Ahead, recommendation A, that the US “must strive to…build a new international order”, is the main one quoted, specifically that to achieve this goal “the U.S. must”:
- Search for an international order in which the freedom of nations is recognized as interdependent and in which many policies are jointly undertaken by free world states with differing political, economic and social systems, and including states labelling themselves as “socialist”.
- Safeguard U.S. security through preserving a system of bilateral agreements and regional arrangements.
- Maintain and gradually increase the authority of the U.N.
- Make more effective use of the International Court of Justice, jurisdiction of which should be increased by withdrawal of reservations by member nations on matters judged to be domestic (Perloff, p.10; Cerf & Pozen, p.95).
But Perloff misses some of the other recommendations in Section IV, which show that repelling “Sino-Soviet expansion” actually was a real concern for the CFR. For example, recommendation C on assistance to less developed areas calls for “multinational approaches to foreign aid” as it will “Blunt the damaging political effects of Communist bilateral programs” (Cerf & Pozen, p.96). Then there is recommendation D: “Meet the Communist Military Challenge”:
- Basic U.S. Military requirements are:
- Retaliatory power sufficient to make the cost of launching a major attack on the free world unacceptable to Communist leadership.
- Mobile forces capable of coping with limited war situations.
- A research and development program to insure maximum progress in militarily useful scientific and technological projects.
- A long-range global military aid progress to strengthen U.S and allied defences.
- There are “serious doubts” as to whether these basic requirements are being fully met now. But it is imperative that they be met firmly and with whatever sacrifice is necessary (Cerf & Pozen, p.97; emphasis added).
This recommendation did not, of course, conform to the image that Perloff and other JBS researchers have sought to present of CFR softness towards Communism, thus potentially explaining its total absence from their revisionist histories of US foreign policy. One should also not forget that the CFR report was but one of thirteen studies, totalling some 1,431 pages in all, which were considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Cerf & Pozen, p.xii). If the actual CFR report (as opposed to the Cerf and Pozen’s summary) had a profoundly different message this would be have been lost in the noise of the other reports. As Cerf and Pozen noted in their analysis, the thirteen reports all identified the “Sino-Soviet threat” as one of the three major challenges facing the US:
The studies all hold that Communist hostility to the free world will continue over the next decade and far beyond. While Communist tactics may shift, the Sino-Soviet menace will be a continuing one that the United States and its allies will have to meet at all levels—diplomatic, military, economic and ideological (Cerf & Pozen, p.1; emphasis added)
Further doubts about Perloff’s research methods are raised in the final few pages of Shadows of Power, where he casually dismisses those who viewing history “as a series of accidents…”, instead of embracing the conspiratorial approach. Perloff, though, declares his acceptance in the “causality of God” and cites the warning of the Bible of an impending “evil, one-world government: the Kingdom of Anti-Christ…” (Shadows of Power, p.220). Against Perloff’s faith-based approach to knowledge and inquiry there is little room for reason, alternate points of view or inconvenient facts. It also seems to have robbed Mr Perloff of the ability to discern significant contradictions between his recent and earlier works.
In a recent article in The New American Perloff has managed to completely contradict the account given in The Shadows of Power on the origins of the US foreign policy Establishment and how it entangled the United States in the outside world. The article, “Spanish-American war: Trial Run for Interventionism” (The New American 20 Aug. 2012 (print edition) – TNA Online, 10 Aug. 2012), explores the origins and long-term impact of the Spanish-American war, and notes that the “new Anglo-American alliance” which emerged from the conflict “subverted the national isolationism of transatlantic boundaries, entangling the military of both countries in common causes to this day” (p.37). But, in The Shadows of Power, Perloff writes: “Prior to 1917, America had stayed clear of European wars” (p.30). But this changed when President Wilson’s adviser Colonel House, a “front man for the international banking community” (p.27), secretly negotiated with Britain to enter the First World War (p.31). The Spanish-American war may have not occurred in Europe’s geographical space, but it was a war initiated by the US against a European imperial power – Spain – that was fought both in the Caribbean (Cuba) and on the other side of the Pacific Ocean (Philippines) in order to secure control over those territories.
Perloff also manages to contradict his account about which behind-the-scenes forces were responsible for the end to isolation and their motivation. In The Shadows of Power Perloff prefaces his discussion of Wilson and House by looking at the role of American “money barons” and bankers such as J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Bernard Baruch, Paul Warburg, Solomon Loeb and Jacob Schiff in the founding of the Federal Reserve (pp.20-23). Perloff then suggests this coterie of bankers sought to involve the US in the Great War for the disreputable purpose of putting Washington in the position of having to borrow large sums from the Federal Reserve, massively increasing national debt, but increasing their power (p.26). Their “ultimate goal” was “a world government – supported, no doubt, by a world central bank (p.31). In his latest article, though, Perloff alleges a “Wall Street cabal” of “Morgan, Rockefeller, Harriman, Carnegie and Rothschild”, decided to neutralise growing domestic opposition to their “stranglehold” on the US economy by “inflaming Americans with hatred of another enemy. The enemy chosen was Spain, over the issue of Cuba” (p.29).
In The Shadows of Power (pp.36-37) and in a subsequent article in TNA (3 Aug. 2009) on the Council, Perloff claims the CFR was created by “the bankers circle” in reaction to the US Senate’s success in preventing America from joining the League of Nations. The purpose of the CFR, Perloff wrote in 2009, was “to lead America into the League.” But in his latest article the improvement in relations between Britain and the US leads to the formation of the Anglo-American League in 1898 and then, in 1902, “the founding of the secretive Pilgrims Society.” The Pilgrims Society, Perloff notes, predates the CFR, Chatham House, the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission, and was “ostensibly formed to promote goodwill between the United States and Britain” (p.36). Aside from noting that the CFR and Pilgrim Society have shared some members and both use the Latin word “Ubique” in their mottos (p.37), Perloff is unable to establish any tangible link between the Pilgrim’s goal of promoting “goodwill”, and the CFR’s goal of influencing US foreign policy, but certainly implies that its political role is somehow both secretive and significant.
When considered alongside his earlier book The Shadows of Power, Perloff’s new article raises many more questions than it purports to answer. On the one hand it fits a pattern evident in The New American since 2002 of growing awareness of US imperialism. After decades of painting the US as the potential victim of a supposed plot to subsume it in a Communist-dominated world government, the recognition by the John Birch Society that the US has long been an aggressive superpower is welcome, though long overdue. On the other hand the recognition of the US’s imperialist phase at the end of the 19th century contradicts crucial elements of the CFR-world government narrative that Perloff has helped to shape. It is also peppered with errors of fact, such as the suggestion that steel magnate Andrew Carnegie – named as one of the “Wall Street cabal” and a Pilgrim Society member – supported the US war against Spain, when in truth he vehemently opposed it.
The time is perhaps ripe for a major reconsideration by the JBS on the actual US role in the world over the past century, and of how the US Establishment conceived and implemented their various strategies of entanglement. In fact, it might be time for the JBS to take a conceptual leap and consider that within the Establishment there is and has been for over a century now, under the unified façade of opposition to the isolationists, considerable disunity over how the US should exercise its global power. To take that position would be a truly radical step for the JBS, but until that happens its leading researchers, such as Perloff, can be expected to continue to sew confusion with conflicting narratives.