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American Geopolitics From Two Perspectives


THE DEMOCRATIC IMPERATIVE: EXPORTING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Gregory A. Fossedal, New York: Basic Books, 247 pp., $19.95.


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by Nicholas Eberstadt, Washington: American Enterprise Institute,

for Public Policy Research, 158 pp., $16.75 cloth, $8.50 paper

WHERE ``The Democratic Imperative: Exporting the American Revolution'' fails miserably in expressing the case for a new American foreign policy keyed to exporting democratic principles, ``Foreign Aid and American Purpose'' succeeds in destroying the myth that American and Western development assistance alleviates third-world poverty. Both show the bad tendencies in American foreign policy, but one celebrates them, while the other condemns them.

``The Democratic Imperative,'' by Gregory Fossedal, reads less like a cerebral discourse on geopolitics than like a heavily footnoted, desultory term paper meant to pull a snow job on a history professor. In one crushing paragraph, you meet Aristotle, Hobbes, and Locke, move onto Harry Jaffa and Jeffrey Bell, whom you haven't heard of, then hop back in a time machine to H.G. Wells. Later on, you find an exhausting quote-a-thon in which 16 people, from Billy Mitchell (the military aviation pioneer) to Daniel O'Graham (the SDI advocate), vie for your attention on one page.

But these are minor problems. Readers familiar with the territory aren't going to swallow citations from strong partisans of the pro-Sandinista left, which Fossedal uses at least twice, or the false statements he tries to pass off as fact: ``By the 1980s, the nonaligned movement was actually becoming nonaligned, calling for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, for example, at a 1983 meeting.'' Despite the token Afghan resolution, a quick look at the ``nonaligned'' voting record in the UN shows the movement's members are more closely aligned with the Soviet Union than ever.

On a democracy map listing countries as ``democratic,'' ``partly democratic,'' and ``undemocratic,'' Fossedal lumps Taiwan and Hong Kong with Poland and Lithuania, one of the captive nations, in the ``partly democratic'' category.

Then there's the badly flawed theme that US foreign policy should focus on human rights and democracy. For Fossedal, the Soviet Union is less a national security threat than an uncouth place needing the ministrations of Miss Manners. Such a view enables him to treat South Africa, historically a firm American ally, and the Soviet Union, since 1917 a bitter, intractable foe, as equally abhorrent countries needing equally stiff economic sanctions to improve their behavior. That maintaining a pro-Western regime in South Africa is central to US national security, as well as American economic and energy interests, never occurs to him, and the Red Army's nuclear arsenal pointed at the continental United States is a mere side issue.

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Since ``the American government is just because it accords with and promotes distinctive yet universal rights, then foreign policy ought to have as its central goal the promotion of those rights.'' This small passage doesn't quite do justice to Fossedal's conclusions. A thorough reading shows that implementing his ideas would require massive US intervention in the internal affairs of countries right and left, invading and annexing those who refuse to recognize the righteousness of the American cause. Not surprisingly, he comes perilously close to advocating a one-world government.

If sowing democracy should be the end of American foreign policy, then the means, Nicholas Eberstadt observes in ``Foreign Aid and American Purpose,'' have bred the opposite result. American development assistance has ultimately fortified ``regimes [that] were almost uniformly preoccupied with augmenting the power of the state apparatus under their control.'' The pro-American Ferdinand Marcos is an example of the phenomenon, as is the murderous Ethiopian communist regime that is starving the population using assistance from the West.

Where foreign aid was once used to promote free markets leading to economic growth, Eberstadt reports, US law now requires ``adherence to the very system of comprehensive planning that our leadership decried as inimical to the interest of poor people scarcely 20 years earlier.''

American assistance to El Salvador, at about $1 million a day, is a paramount example. Under the rubric of ``land reform,'' the Reagan administration strongly supported the seizure of private property, whereupon the deeds were not turned over to individual peasants or their families, but to newly formed, government-controlled ``cooperatives.'' These controlled a farmer's access to credit, which was in turn available only from the government. Writes Eberstadt, ``the new arrangements made [farmers] more sensitive to agricultural directives from the capital than they ever had been in the past.'' In other words, American taxpayers helped collectivize farming in El Salvador.

Concludes Eberstadt, ``Pursued to their logical conclusion, America's current aid policies would leave poor countries less capable of self-sustaining growth and increasingly dependent on foreign largesse to maintain or improve national standards of living. These same aid policies appear too indifferent to the politically induced suffering that so many poor people must endure at the hands of irresponsible or actively mischievous governments.''

While observers on both the right and left will concede or even applaud Eberstadt's conclusions, few analysts will entertain seriously Fossedal's thesis that ``exporting the American Revolution'' is ``imperative.''

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