Events

Breaking Ranks: Andreas Papandreou, American Liberalism, and Neo-Conservatism

March 14, 2006 // 9:30am10:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Cold War International History Project

I'd like to thank the Woodrow Wilson Center for this opportunity to present some results of the research I have been engaged in for the past three years in writing a biography of Andreas Papandreou. The prime minister of Greece from 1981-89 and 1993-96, Papandreou was a controversial political figure. Although he developed and maintained a devoted popular following within Greece, he is remembered in many Western political circles as a renegade and trouble-maker. When he returned to Greece from exile after the collapse of the military dictatorship in 1974, he founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK. Proposing a "third way" for Greece outside either the Western or Eastern camp, PASOK's foreign policy platform included removing US bases from Greek soil, withdrawing from NATO and rejecting full membership with the European Union.

As prime minister, Papandreou started off as a contrarian voice, but moved steadily off these neutralist positions, without explicitly abandoning the ideological assumptions underlying them. He negotiated a new bases agreement with the United States; adopted a critical stance, but remained within NATO; and decided to stay within the European Union to fight, successfully as it turned out, for regional equalization programs.

The story of Papandreou's eventual return to the fold has its own interest. It can be seen as an example of the moderating pressures that assuming political responsibilities imposes on political forces whose ideology runs against the grain of the prevailing structure of global power—a situation comparable in some ways to that confronting Hamas after its victory in the recent Palestinian elections. However that may be, my remarks today are not about the final outcome of Papandreou's political radicalism in the 1980s and 1990s.

Instead, I want to offer some reflections on its origins in relation to the internal dynamics and debates of American foreign policy during the critical, watershed years of the 1960s and early 1970s. From an American perspective, these were years dominated by this country's escalating intervention in Vietnam and the dissolution of the bi-partisan foreign policy consensus that united conservatives and liberals during the Cold War from its beginnings in the 1947 Truman Doctrine and American intervention in the Greek civil war. It was the abandonment of Johnson by Kennedy administration liberal internationalists and the subsequent disintegration of domestic support for the Vietnam war that led, both to Johnson's 1968 decision not to run again for office and, more contentiously, to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's 1974 resignation.

What I will offer here are the intial results of an ongoing thinking process—a thinking process that has been prompted by a discovery that startled me in the course of exploring the politics of Andreas Papandreou. The discovery is that Andreas Papandreou's rift with the United States and the renegade politics that issued from it share a common origin with the assertive neoconservative internationalism that arose in response to the traumatic and disorienting events stretching from Kennedy's assassination to Nixon's resignation. And this commonality of origins is not merely chronological. It is also ideological.

Irving Kristol, the spiritual father of neo-conservativism, once defined a neo-conservative as a liberal who had been ambushed by reality. What struck me about Kristol's definition is that it could be applied with equal validity to Andreas Papandreou's emergence as a Cold War renegade. He too became involved in politics as an American liberal and, in fact, enjoyed a rich set of connections with a number of key figures in the Harvard-centered brain trust that, during the Kennedy Administration, acquired unprecedented positions of power and influence. And he too found his liberal assumptions ambushed by the realities of Cold War politics as they played themselves out in the overlapping regions of Europe and the Middle East where Greece is located.

Given this similarity, the question that has intrigued me is what to make of it. Is it merely an interesting coincidence? Or does it help illuminate the dissolution of Cold War liberalism as a politically efficacious perspective and the rise, in the aftermath of the Nixon era, of neoconservative internationalism?

Potentially, at least, this seems to be a signficant question, especially since today, as we learn from Frances Fukuyama, the neoconservativism is itself increasingly on the defensive because of incipient American policy failure in Iraq. The United States appears once more to be entering a period of soul-searching.

I won't pretend that I have a compelling answer to this question. What I have to say represents starting points for an answer.

Let me start with a historical background factor common to Papandreou and many neo-conservatives—namely, the influence of Trotsky. In the United States during the 1950s, Papandreou's political interests resurfaced during his career as as an academic economist. He was active in Minnesota Democratic Party politics as a supporter of Adlai Stevenson, who ran against Eisenhower for President in 1952 and 1956.

In Greece in the late 1930s, however, he was a student activist opposed to the quasi-fascist Metaxas regime in Greece. In that period, he identified himself with a Trostkyist socialism—a position he was attracted to, both for Trotstky's analysis of the rise of Hitler, and by Trotsky's "attack against Stalinist totalitarianism, against the ossification of the revolutionary spirit of the Bolshevik revolution" (D at G, p. 44).

Similarly, Trotsky was an important early influence on many intellectuals and writers who later became neo-conservatives. For instance, both Christopher Hitchens and Albert Wohlstetter, a mentor to Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, were originally Trotskyites, and then ex-Trotskyites before they arrived at their present neo-conservative postures.

The relevant point here is that the political understanding of both Papandreou and these neo-conservatives takes its bearings from a Leftwing rejection of the outcome of the Russian Revolution. For both, Stalinist totalitarianism led them to renounce the Soviet Union as a model for their progressive hopes.

Suggestively, Leftwing anti-Stalinism was an important factor in the forging of the American foreign policy consensus at the outset of the Cold War. In the domestic political reconfigurations that resulted from the 1947 Truman Doctrine, Anti-Stalinism played a critical role for American liberals in defining common ground with the Right over containment policy.

Signficantly, the primary theorist of this reconfiguration was Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who would later become a key adviser to President Kennedy in the 1960s and the Kennedy Administration's ideologist par excellence.

In a landmark New York Times article entitled "The Vital Center" and published of April 4, 1948, Schlesinger articulated a position that gained wide currency within US foreign policy-making circles. The vital center celebrates the emergence of a distinctive new political force in the postwar world, which he identifies as the "Non-Communist Left"—a force that fuses the anti-Communism of the Right with the progressive social posture of the Left.

In the United States, the "Non-Communist Left" was exemplified by the Americans for Democratic Action, a political grouping created to support Truman against New Deal liberals like Henry Wallace who, as a third party candidate in 1948, opposed Truman's intervention in Greece.

In Europe, Schlesinger found the Non-Communist Left emergent in the free Socialist Parties that, rejecting both the fascist and communist totalitarian extremes, had "caught the imagination of people across the continent" and were reviving "democracy as a fighting faith."

The policy implications flowing from the recognition of the Non-Communist Left were clear. American efforts to win the Cold War should focus on strengthening this Vital Center. Like today's advocates of "soft power", Schlesinger saw the Cold War rivalry as a contest to be won ultimately through the demonstration of the superiority of America's economic and political models, rather than through military prowess and force of arms.

In this context, Europe's independent socialists were not to be regarded as fellow travelers naively opening the door to authoritarian takeover by the Communist Left. Rather, immunized by their anti-communism from the temptations of a popular front, they represented a pro-Western vehicle for undercutting the Communist Left by attracting away its popular base, real and potential.

This point of view, Schlesinger tells us, was shared by the State Department which, in a recent proclamation, called independent socialists "among the strongest bulwarks in Europe against communism." He also celebrates Averrell Harriman's appointment as Secretary of Commerce as a strengthening of the NCL group within the Truman Adminstration. Later, the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency would also adopt promotion of the Non-Communist Left as "the theoretical foundation of the Agency's political operations against Communism" during the 1950s and 1960s—this according to the author of a CIA report published in the Agency's Studies in Intelligence. CIA support of the Non-Communist Left, of course, did not preclude other Agency activities, including fostering coup d'etats when deemed necessary.

American efforts to shore up the Non-Communist Left in Europe as a bulwark against communism had important consequences in Greece—and were of particular importance to Andreas Papandreou's father, George Papandreou, a prominent anti-communist liberal politician who exemplified the kind of political posture Schlesinger was writing about.

To be sure, the Greek Communists had been defeated through military means. But in the aftermath of the civil war, American officials played the kind of role in Greek politics that American officals currently play in Iraq. And in 1950, the US endorsed the suppression of the Greek Communist Party, but backed the aspirations of Greece's more democratic Centrist politicians against the more authoritarian ambitions of the Right.

Interestingly, among those who played a role in supporting the Greek Center was Averell Harriman. As the Cold War intensified, however, American support for the Non-Communist Left waned and became secondary to the arms race in what George Kennan disdainfully regarded to be a militarization of containment policy.

This shift in emphasis from soft to hard power approaches was reflected in Greece with the American-backed ascension of the Right under Constantine Karamanlis, whose strong leadership succeeded in giving Greece the kind of stability that was greeted enthusiastically in Washington. Greek liberals, bedeviled by their own internal divisions now found themselves out of favor with the country's trans-Atlantic protector.

This picture changed once again in the aftermath of the 1958 parliamentary elections. In those elections, EDA, the legal party for Communist Left voters, saw an unexpected upsurge in popular support and outpolled the Center parties to become the official parliamentary opposition. The resurgence of popular support for the Communist Left set off alarm bells in American policy circles and led to a revival of interest in promoting the Non-Communist Left—that is, the Greek Center—as a means of siphoning political discontent with the Right away from the Communists and creating an effective pro-Western opposition that had longer-term prospects of itself becoming government.

One expression of interest in shoring up the Non-Communist Left was at the US embassy in Athens, where junior political officer Monteagle Stearns took on the mission of opening up lines of communication with Centrist opposition leader, George Papandreou.

A second expression of that revived interest was the support given to Andreas Papandreou's 1960 proposal for establishing an economic policy think tank in Athens to foster economic development planning. Funding for Andreas Papandreou's proposed economic policy think thank came, through a fast-track approval process, from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations—two institutions which played an important role in American "public diplomacy", particularly in promoting projects favored by soft power liberal internationalists. Interestingly, Papandreou's proposal was among the last approved by Rockefeller Foundation president Dean Rusk before he assumed his duties as Secretary of State under John Kennedy.

In a confidential report, Papandreou deftly positioned his proposal in relation to liberal Cold War concerns. "The time for basic changes in Greece has arrived," Papandreou writes, "Indeed, unless these changes are undertaken by people and forces sympathetic to the West, they will be surely undertaken by the pro-Soviet forces whose numerical strength is being enhanced by the failures of the present leadership. Greece's recent economic record is not impressive, particularly when compared with that of her neighbors (Yugoslavia, Bulgaria). And there is growing discontent and mounting pressure for economic and social change."

Renewed American interest in promoting the Non-Communist Left was vindicated in the victory of George Papandreou's Center Union in the 1963 and 1964 elections. The elections marked the peaceful passing of power from the Right to the Center. In the view of American liberals, they marked the emergence of a stable parliamentary democracy where both major parties were committed to the West and the Communist Left was effectively marginalized.

The 1964 elections also marked Andreas Papandreou entry into Greek politics, where he served as his father's closest adviser and a leading force in the government's efforts at reform and economic development along Western lines. Implicit in the close relations between Andreas and American officials in this period was the presumption of his potential as a Western oriented successor to his father.

Andreas Papandreou, however, soon became involved in a rift with the United States which, during the course of the 1967-74 military regime, led him to stake out positions advocating Greece's disengagement from the West.

In what way was Papandreou's liberalism "ambushed by reality", transforming him into a Cold War renegade?

The starting point for this transformation is usually understood to be Papandreou's nationalistic rejection of President Johnson's 1964 diplomatic offensive. American diplomats sought to settle Cyprus with an agreement to divide the island between Greece and Turkey, thereby integrating Cyprus into NATO. And there is some validity to the view that Andreas Papandreou's opposition to this solution was the beginning of his rift with the United States. And ironically so.

Initially, American officials regarded Andreas to be a "stabilizing influence" within the Greek government, someone who could help counter the anti-American feelings that became manifest in Greece in the course of Johnson's 1964 diplomatic offensive. After accompanying his father on a visit to the White House that summer, however, Andreas' politics changed. Johnson's effort to resolve the Cyprus crisis on terms that Andreas regarded to be contrary to Greek national interests was a tipping point.

In October 1964, he gave an interview to Le Monde in which he criticized US tactics over Cyprus and declared that "Greece...has been for a long time a satellite of NATO; she wants from now on to be a full partner and is not prepared anymore to take orders from just anyone." Taken by surprise, American officials were disturbed and upset. Suddenly, they were confronted with a Papandreou who was not a "stabilizing influence" in the Greek government—not someone they could count on to "help counter anti-American feelings". Instead, they faced a defiant Papandreou who put Greek national interests, as he saw them, ahead of the Cold War strategic interests of the West as defined by Washington. Worse, he had inflamed Greek opinion by making his opposition explicit and public.

For all that, Papandreou's emergence as a Cold War renegade had deeper roots than this disagreement over Cyprus. The deeper cause for his acquisition of renegade status was not connected specifically with Andreas Papandreou at all. Instead, it was connected to a failure by liberal internationalists to carry through on their strategy of supporting the Non-Communist Left in Greece. Whether this failure represented a loss of nerve on their part, or an inability to have their views and objectives prevail over the views and objectives of other players determining American policy is, I think, still an open question.

But what is clear, I think, is that, looked at from the standpoint of American decisions, the military coup of 1967 was a case of policy failure.

Reviewing the political scene in November 1964 after one year of Center Union rule, embassy political officer John Owens wrote a remarkable memorandum which painted in dramatic terms a "very definite change" in Greece's political atmosphere. "On all fronts," he reported, "the left in the country is on the offensive and the right is everywhere on the defensive...both in...domestic politics and in..foreign policy...[a] situation made to order to develop an anti-American atmosphere." Owens credits the Cyprus crisis for being "a major factor in this leftward shift", in particular for discrediting anti-Communism as "a popular political position." Among the alarming developments that Owens notes is George Papandreou's dismantling of "the elaborate anti-communist informational and security apparatus which had been established by his predecessors", his release of political prisoners and granting of increased civil liberties. What Owens memo suggests is that the declining effectiveness of anti-communist appeals and the increasing atmosphere of political freedom brought to the surface American fears that the liberalization movement that Kennedy officials originally embraced was going too far. Hopes that the ascent of the Center would serve as a bulwark against the Communists gave way to fear that the Center had opened the door to the eventual domination of the Communist Left.

Notably, Andreas Papandreou's name appears nowhere in Owen's report. At the time, November 1964, his efforts to start a political career in Greece appeared, to the pros at least, to have failed. He had little public following and, after his surprise resignation from his ministerial post, a former Papandreou colleague told the Embassy that, "Andreas is finished politically."

Seemingly against all odds, Papandreou made a stunning comeback over the next several months by starting a grassroots campaign. But given the anxieties that seem to have overtaken the Embassy, Papandreou's comeback turned him into, not so much a target of Embassy attacks, as a magnet for their inchoate fears that that things were running out of control and that Greece was drifting outside of the Western orbit. By 1966, Papandreou had few allies among the American contingent in Athens or among policymakers in Washington. Instead, the CIA briefing book described him as the "most dangerous, opportunistic, ruthless and unscrupulous politician in Greece."

By the time of the 1967 coup d'etat, the US Ambassador had come to believe that the political options in Greece had come down to a "brutal choice between dictatorship and Andreas Papandreou-led attacks on [the] monarch and probably Greece's foreign alignment." The day after the coup, Walt Rostow, Johnson's national security adviser, sent the President a top secret memorandum. Rostow's memo expresses understanding for Greece as a country that had been "feeling its way to a new position in this world of relaxing East-West tensions." But he also faults Andreas Papandreou for wanting "to go too fast." He then bemoans the lack of acceptable options for heading off the coup, implicitly admitting American foreknowledge. The tacit message was that the coup was unfortunate, but unavoidable.

In December 1968, a year after his release by the military junta and exile from Greece, Andreas Papandreou attended an international conference at Princeton University. At the conference, Harvard international relations professor Stanley Hoffmann criticized a conservative German participant for advocating the continued strong military presence by United States' in Europe. "It is precisely this kind of clinging to the United States that...perpetuates the circle of dependency," Hoffman complains, confirming "Americans in their conviction that only they can deal with European political problems." Instead, Hoffmann proposes "selective disengagement" of US forces from Europe to enable "middle powers" to take a "bigger part in settling their own affairs" and to realize that the US "is not prepared to play a nursing role forever."

One might expect that, in light of his deep suspicions over the US's role in the Greek military coup, Papandreou would heartily endorse Hoffmann's advocacy of America's selective disengagement from Europe. Instead, Papandreou reacted to Hoffmann's position in a way offers a revealing glance at the political assessments that led him to the neutralist positions he would finally adopt when he returned to Greece in 1974. "...a question," he begins, "and not an academic one, to Mr. Hoffmann.

Is it historically possible for a policy [of selective disengagement] to be adopted in the United States? That takes us to another question: Who makes foreign policy in the United States?

Policy requires a power propellant. Who are the people who make foreign policy...? Is it the American citizenry? Congress? The President? I doubt it.

"We should look carefully at the new alliance between the military, the intelligence services and the large economic interests.... It constitutes the social base of a new type of imperialism. Soviet bureaucratic socialism is not much different within its sphere of influence. The progressive forces released during the postwar period constitute a threat, real or imagined, to the interests of both superpowers, which have trampled upon them. A heightening of Cold War tensions tends to justify and encourage restrictive measures within both blocs, so that the process is mutually reinforcing and cumulative."

There is not enough time to recite the intepretation of Cold War history in which Papandreou then engages. What I have read, I think, is enough to indicate where he is coming from. The "progressive forces" that both superpowers, in his view, perceived as a threat are pretty well identical to the forces that, back in 1948, Arthur Schlesinger identified as the forces of the Non-Communist Left.

What Papandreou's Cold War renegadism represented was not so much his abandonment of his identification with the Non-Communist Left as his conviction that the decision by liberals to participate in the American foreign policy consensus had turned out to have been a mistake and no longer possessed a valid rationale given the "power propellants" now driving American foreign policy.

In the attacks on the Nixon-Kissinger policies of détente that marked the advent of their sensibility, neoconservatives appeared to share Papandreou's assessment of the power propellants driving US foreign policy. But where Papandreou chose to take a stand in opposition to them, the neo-conservatives hoped to mobilize them on behalf of a resurgent Americanism that would overcome the demoralizing experiences of Vietnam and Watergate.

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