The Clear and Present Danger
November 2, 1974
J. W. Fulbright
President Purcell, ladies and gentlemen, and last but not least, Senator Symington. It is a great privilege to be invited to the Green Lecture on this centennial anniversary of Winston Churchill's birth, at the same place where he delivered his famous speech, and to be introduced by a friend and colleague, who is also one of the wisest and most influential leaders of the Senate of the United States.
I am complimented that you should give me a degree as you did Churchill. I was born in Missouri and my children and grandchildren and sister live in Missouri, so this token of your respect has a very special meaning to me.
In the course of thirty years in the United States Senate I can recall few if any instances in which it has seemed to me that our national problems were beyond resolution. Far more often than not, a solution, or an approach, or an opportunity to advance in a creative way, has seemed both available and feasible. The obstacles, most often, have been political, and perhaps psychological: how can people and politicians be gotten to do what they ought to do, and what they usually very well know they ought to do, rather than do nothing, or do what is convenient or comfortable for the moment?
I have no answer to the question, my own powers of persuasion having been less over the years than I would have liked them to be. I have noted, however, that there are times -- usually times of dramatic adversity -- when human beings show a capacity for cooperation and sacrifice of which they had scarcely thought themselves capable. "Philosophy," wrote Shakespeare, "is adversity's sweet milk." And Thomas Carlyle wrote: "Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity."
Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain at a time of dramatic adversity, and he and his people together turned it into Britain's finest hour. Confronted with an adversary, Hitler, whom he could accurately describe as a "monster of wickedness," and "this bloodthirsty guttersnipe," Churchill offered his people "blood, toil, tears and sweat," and they rose magnificently to the occasion.
If adversity were all it took to get people to behave magnificently, or even sensibly, America and the West would be at this moment within minutes of their "finest hour." That, however, seems not to be the case, as we confront a different kind of adversity. In addition to his own courage and eloquence, Churchill had the added assist, in Hitler, of all that one could ask in the way of a villain. Today we face a different kind of adversary, not a tyrant but a condition and the ominous prospects to which it gives rise. The condition is economic crisis, and the prospects -- unless immediate and drastic corrective measures are taken -- are for economic depression, political breakdown, and perhaps war.
It is one of the perversities of human nature that people have a far greater capacity for enduring disasters than for preventing them, even when the danger is plain and imminent. Churchill, for all his prescience and eloquence, was powerless to prevent the Second World War: he wrote in 1936 of an England "decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent." The question for us today is whether we can succeed where Churchill failed -- a tall order indeed -- by preventing disaster so as not to have to endure it. Or in terms of Shakespeare s aphorism, can we draw the "sweet milk" of philosophy from the mere imminence of great troubles, or must we wait for tides of adversity to sweep over us?
The catalysts if not the cause, of our current, mounting difficulties was the Middle East war of a year ago. Like the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914, the October war set loose a chain reaction of events. The war precipitated the oil embargo, and the embargo, combined with Arab military successes, gave the Arabs a whole new sense of their own power and capacity. The oil-producing countries, non-Arab as well as Arab, became suddenly and belatedly aware of the power they held in their hands. United in OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), they set out to redress the imbalance between cheap oil and costly imports, and also, in a psychological sense, to redress centuries of colonialism and exploitation. They did so with a vengeance, through huge and precipitous increases in the price of oil. It came like an avalanche, but as the old aphorism goes, great crises may issue from small events but never from small causes. A great deal of causal debris had accumulated on the Arab mountainside -- the debris of mounting frustration over continued Israeli occupation of Arab lands, superimposed upon bitter memories of colonialism. All it took then was the sonic boom of the October war to send the rocks crashing down upon us.
The effect, within a single year, has been to bring the economies of the industrial countries to a degree of jeopardy no less than that of the Great Depression of the 1930 s. And as national economies falter, democracy itself is threatened -- in Europe, in the developing countries, and possibly even in North America. The immediate, compelling problem is runaway inflation, aggravated by -- though by no means wholly the result of -- the high cost of oil. There was no exaggeration in President Ford's warning in Detroit last September 23 of a "breakdown of world order and world safety." With inflation running at an annual rate of 12 percent in the United States and in excess of 20 percent in Japan, Great Britain, Italy and other countries, the industrial nations are threatened with depression, mass unemployment, and consequent civil disorder, while the poor countries, as Robert McNamara recently reported to the World Bank, face "appalling deprivation" and "the risk of death."
Depending upon their varying degrees of historic stability, the democracies of the world -- rich as well as poor -- will bend or break in the economic whirlwind. Japanese economists are openly predicting a depression, and they see no escape from it. Italy, with one of the most overstrained economies and a fragile parliamentary system, may conceivably succumb to communism or neo-fascism. Great Britain, on the other hand, with its strong parliamentary tradition, may weather the storm for a longer time, even though its economy is one of the most heavily strained. Whatever the circumstances of each individual country, the fact remains that inflation has become a clear and present danger to democracy, including our American democracy.
The major cause of accelerated inflation is the massive imbalancing of international payments caused by the quadrupling of the price of oil since the October war. The United States -- far more fortunate than other countries because we produce nearly two-thirds of our own oil requirements -- nonetheless will pay an estimated $25 billion for imported oil in 1974, more than triple the $7.5 billion paid in 1973. Meanwhile, the revenues of the producing countries will have risen from $15 billion in 1972 to nearly $100 billion in 1974, giving them surplus revenues on the order of $60 billion over and above their total import requirements. With this trend continuing and accelerating, the credit of consuming countries -- rich as well as poor -- will soon be exhausted, giving rise to economic collapse and political upheaval.
It would seem almost as if the Marxian prediction of breakdown resulting from the "contradictions" of capitalism were about to become a reality. Mr. Brezhnev himself said in a recent speech that inflation and economic crisis were "speeding up the disintegration of the political machinery of capitalist rule," and that this indeed was "unavoidable" because it stemmed from the "very nature of capitalism."
Is this crisis of democratic capitalism indeed fated and beyond our control? The answer, most emphatically, is that it is not. The cure for inflation is to live within your means, which is something we were not doing before the increase of oil prices. That comes first -- the elimination of the prodigal, outrageous waste of basic resources which has become endemic to the American way of life. Beyond that, through a wise and skillful foreign policy, we can bring peace to the Middle East, that fountainhead of so many of our troubles, and by so doing open the possibility of lower oil prices -- for long enough at least to allow of a gradual transition to new forms of energy. Although domestic political pressures have inhibited our leaders from exploring the possibility forthrightly, there is excellent reason to believe that resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict would bring a respite on oil prices.
In the remainder of these remarks I shall suggest what I believe to be rational and feasible courses of action, broadly as to domestic waste and inflation, somewhat more specifically as to the problems of the Middle East. I speak only, let me stress, of what we can and should do, not of what we will do. I am inhibited from prediction, as noted earlier, by a highly developed appreciation -- the product of a long career in politics -- of the human tendency to irrational behavior.
All indeed that can be predicted -- and that with some certainty -- is that as long as we temporize on inflation and the Middle East, these time bombs will keep ticking away. Palliatives will no longer suffice in either area. The truce of last year, followed by the disengagement agreements and the lifting of the embargo, which got our cars back on the road, lulled us into supposing that the crisis was over. In fact, the embargo did us less harm than the quadrupled oil prices which followed. At home we now face the threat of economic collapse, while in the Middle East the tide moves inexorably toward another war and another embargo. If that comes, as Secretary Kissinger knows better than anybody, it will take more than a renewal of "shuttle" diplomacy, more than disengagement agreements, more indeed than Mr. Kissinger's brilliant best, to retrieve the calamity.
We cannot blame the oil producers for the irresponsible, rapacious extravagance of our vaunted "way of life." We Americans are not only living beyond our economic means; we are damaging the world's ecology by depleting irreplaceable raw materials, by consuming renewable resources such as forests and fish faster than the earth's natural processes can replace them, and by fouling the rivers and oceans beyond their natural capacity for cleansing themselves.
Even if we could afford our extravagant life style -- the overpowered automobiles, the beefsteak diet -- for dogs and cats as well as for humans -- the throwaway boxes and bottles, the gadgets and whimsies that clutter our surroundings from the kitchen to the Pentagon and even the moon -- it would still be important to conserve and cut back, to go back to living more simply. Over and above the material waste, our high living is also wasteful and destructive in the psychological sense. We have long passed the point of diminishing returns as between our gadgets and luxuries and the human satisfactions that they yield. Like spoiled children who have had too many toys, we are always looking for new playthings -- and encouraged to do so by the massive advertising industry -- but the gadgets only amuse us for a moment or two, and then we are off in search of something else.
Living affluently is not the same thing as living well. Living well requires a certain harmony with nature, a sense of pace about time, the taking of pleasure in simple things -- the view of a mountain or the sea, a fine day, the company of family and friends. I recently visited the People's Republic of China, where I saw a great deal that I admired. The people move around on bicycles or on foot, and they wear simple clothes, but they look well-fed and healthy, and so far as I could tell, happy. We visited farms on which every square inch of arable land was cultivated, rice paddies on terraces sculptured out of hillsides which no American farmer would dream of cultivating. In China nothing is wasted because there is nothing to waste. I thought as I visited the Chinese cities and countryside that the American people must be fifty or a hundred times more affluent than the Chinese, but not -- surely not -- fifty or a hundred times happier.
It is being said these days in Washington -- that most charitable of communities -- that in calling for only voluntary restraints to curb inflation, President Ford shrank from "biting the bullet," offering up a "marshmallow" instead -- a 5 percent surcharge on incomes over $15,000, but no gas rationing, and no price and wage controls. This may have been no more than a marshmallow, but as the President promptly retorted, Congress found even the marshmallow too tough for its tastes. It appears that no one is yet prepared to take the drastic steps -- voluntary and mandatory -- to curb inflation. It is almost as if we did not quite believe the evidence before our eyes, or our own words acknowledging that evidence. President Ford was not overstating the matter when he warned Congress that inflation threatens to "destroy our country, our homes, our liberties ..." Congress applauded the President's warning but rather in the way one applauds a Fourth of July speech, as oratory to be appreciated and then forgotten, but not as literal truth to be absorbed and acted upon. It is rather as if Churchill had qualified his clarion call for "blood, toil, tears and sweat" with a statement that of course he could never advocate compulsory military services or higher taxes, and as if the British people and Parliament had then set to squabbling over whose blood and toil would be offered up and in what exact amounts.
The German blitz did not allow the British that luxury, and we cannot afford it either. Our inability thus far to recognize the imminent danger to our most cherished institutions arises from the novelty of the circumstances which threaten us, from the absence of a recognizable "monster of wickedness" like Hitler to whom we can attribute our troubles and against whom we can organize our hatred and our fear. Because our troubles are primarily the result of our own misguided policies of several years and of the careless waste of our resources, and because our leaders have chosen to minimize the difficulties ahead rather than lay them candidly on the line, we have been unable to grasp the dimensions of the disaster which threatens us.
An intellectual effort of unprecedented magnitude is required to unite and inspire the American people to make the effort and the sacrifices required. We must prepare ourselves for even greater and more painful changes in our mode of living than we made during World War II. We can and should take the voluntary measures Mr. Ford called for -- saving money, conserving energy, recycling scrap. We also can and should take mandatory measures, including a tax increase of more than the amount recommended by the President. Most important of all we must conserve energy, first and foremost to give our scientists and engineers time to adjust.
I am sure that our leaders underestimate the capacity of the American people for pulling together and modifying their life style in difficult times. During the acute oil shortage last winter, people did lower their thermostats, pool their cars and obey the lower speed limits, and they did it with a certain cheerfulness, with a kind of satisfaction in the sense of shared inconvenience and common effort to overcome it. We felt for a moment like a community again -- as we had not since before Vietnam and Watergate. Then the embargo was lifted, the gas lines disappeared, and we went back to our old ways -- while the crisis mounted. Now our leaders are asking for sacrifice, but their trumpet blows so feebly as to leave one in doubt that they expect or really want it. Fearing political retaliation if they ask for real austerity, they ask for no more than token self-denial; they are asking the least of people, and that, to their dismay, is what they are getting. In this respect they differ from those titans of a generation ago, Churchill and Roosevelt, who expected and asked the most of their people -- and got it.
Turning now to the Middle East, I believe that the current situation is shaped by two central facts: One is the volatility of the Arab-Israel conflict, the high probability of another, greater war if the central issue of the occupied territories is not soon resolved. The second fact -- which for domestic political reasons we are exceedingly reluctant to acknowledge -- is the close relationship between the Arab-Israel conflict and the price and availability of oil.
The danger of a fifth Arab-Israel war is acute, and if such a war comes, it will almost certainly be more violent and more protracted than the previous wars. In the year of truce since the October war of 1973 both sides have rearmed heavily. The consensus of military experts is that the strategic balance is shifting to the Arab side, not only because of Soviet supplies but also because of the greatly improved training and technical competence of the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces. Egypt, and perhaps Syria, are now armed with Russian surface-to-surface "Scud" missiles, which would enable them to attack Israeli cities as well as Israel's vulnerable oil storage facilities. Israel, for her part, is generally assumed to have acquired nuclear weapons, and if Mr. Joseph Alsop -- whose Israeli connections are excellent -- is to be believed, Israel is prepared to use those weapons if her cities are attacked. In Mr. Alsop's view, Israeli warnings already issued amount to a veiled but unmistakable threat of nuclear war.
The alternative to war -- and the only alternative -- is a general settlement. It is no derogation from Secretary Kissinger's great achievements to note that the disengagement agreements of the past year and the limited Israeli pullbacks in Sinai and the Golan Heights were no more than preliminary accomplishments. The difficult issues remain -- especially Jerusalem and the West Bank. Unless they are resolved, there will almost certainly be war -- a war that would devastate Israel, quite possibly provoke a Soviet-American confrontation, and most certainly bring on a new, ruinous oil boycott. This prospective crisis, let me emphasize, is not a remote or hypothetical one; it is closer to being a clean and present danger.
It cannot be permitted, and it is up to the United States, not alone but in collaboration with the Soviet Union and the United Nations, to prevent it. Israel, it appears, is stalling, and with nothing concrete in mind except to get all the arms and money she can get from the United States so as to try to hold off the inevitable. The Israeli leaders might have made good use of time gained since last year's truce to prepare for the necessary accommodations. They might have been telling their people, as Israel's first and wisest leader, David Ben-Gurion, tried to tell them in 1971, that peace is Israel's "great necessity," and "to get it" -- Mr. Ben-Gurion said -- "we must return to the borders before 1967." "As for security," Mr. Ben-Gurion added, "militarily defensible borders, while desirable, cannot by themselves guarantee our future. Real peace with our Arab neighbors -- mutual trust and friendship -- that is the only true security."
The shift of the balance of power gives added force to Mr. Ben-Gurion's prescient words. This shift is more than a matter of improved weapons and fighting skills on the Arab side. The rise of the Arabs is based upon two powerful and growing forces: money and nationalism -- the enormous wealth which is accruing to the oil-producing states of the Persian Gulf, and the surging national feeling of the Arab peoples, especially the embittered, tenacious nationalism of the Palestinians. The brief, spectacular ascendancy of the Israelis in the middle East has been based primarily on human assets which cannot be expanded -- discipline, energy, bravery, and competence. Impressive as these human assets are, they do not and cannot outweigh the fact that Israel is a small country with modest natural resources and heavy liabilities -- with no oil except that of the occupied Sinai fields, with an economy burdened by military costs and inflation, an economy so dependent on the United States as to make Israel -- however little we or the Israelis may care to admit it -- a client state of the United States.
What is taking place in the Middle East is a long-term historical unweighting of the scales of power, comparable, say, to the inexorable displacement of France by Germany as the paramount power of Europe in the nineteenth century. The difference in the Middle East is that it is all happening much faster. The friends of Israel in the United States do her no service by refusing to recognize these facts of power and change. Myopia among the Israelis, with their siege mentality, is perhaps understandable. It is much less so among Israel's supporters in the United States, who, by underwriting intransigence, are encouraging Israel on a course which must lead toward her destruction -- and just possibly ours as well.
Israel, I am convinced, can and should survive as a peaceful, prosperous society -- but within the essential borders of 1967 as called for by the Security Council's Resolution 242 of November 1967. That resolution calls as well for a settlement "guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area ..." This provision, as I have suggested in the past, can be implemented by great power guarantees contracted through the United Nations Security Council, and in addition, by an explicit, binding American treaty guarantee of Israel.
That much we owe them, but no more. We do not owe them our support of their continued occupation of Arab lands, including old Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank. The Palestinian people have as much right to a homeland as do the Jewish people. We Americans -- who have always professed adherence to the principle of self-determination -- should be the first to appreciate that. But when the United Nations General Assembly voted on October 14 of this year, by 105 to 4 with 20 abstentions, to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in the Assembly debate on Palestine, the United States was in the minority of four -- with Israel, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.
So completely have the majority of our officeholders fallen under Israeli domination that they not only deny the legitimacy of Palestinian national feeling; but such otherwise fair-minded individuals as the two current candidates for Senator from New York engage in heated debate as to which one more passionately opposes a Palestinian state. We have nearly allowed our détente with the Soviet Union to go on the rocks in order to obtain an agreement on large-scale Jewish emigration -- a matter of limited relevance to the basic issue of human rights in the Soviet Union, and of no relevance at all to the vital interests of the United States. Senator Jackson further obfuscates the matter with invocations of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Note that the Article refers not only to the right to leave but also to the right to return. Is the right of the Palestinians to return to homes from which they were expelled any less fundamental than the right of Soviet Jews to make new homes in a new land?
Within the broader question of the West Bank there is a special importance about Jerusalem. It is here especially that the Arab-Israel conflict converges with the question of the price and availability of oil. Let me explain why:
The oil countries, united in OPEC appear to be on a kind of power "trip," and their lack of restraint is widely, and properly, condemned. Those most insistent on repeated price increases, however, have not been the Arab states, but two of the principal non-Arab producers, Iran and Venezuela. The largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, has shown a keen awareness of the dangerous disruptions threatened by the four-fold increase in the price of oil, and Saudi officials have made known -- both publicly and privately in unmistakable terms -- their strong desire to lower prices and to work out long term supply arrangements for the industrial nations, especially the United States. The Saudis are motivated by strong feelings of friendship and also of reliance upon the United States. Greatly fearing communism and Soviet and Chinese influence in the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia looks to the United States as its mainstay against communism in the Middle East.
But the Saudis are caught in a dilemma. It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for them to accommodate the United States while the United States provides the money and arms which enable Israel to occupy Arab lands. Further -- and this is the heart of the matter -- King Faisal feels a special responsibility -- indeed a stewardship -- for the holy places of Islam. Saudi Arabia is the most orthodox of Muslim societies: the holy city of Mecca is within its territory, and the Kingdom uses the Koran as its Constitution. Second only to Mecca in sanctity to Muslims is Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock is located, scarcely a hundred yards from the Wailing Wall, which is Judaism's holiest site, and within a half-mile of the Christian shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As a city sacred to three religions, Jerusalem warrants a special status. Under the original United Nations partition plan of 1947 -- to which the United States subscribed, and which, to my knowledge, it has never repudiated -- Jerusalem was to be a "corpus separatum under a special international regime." After Israel annexed the old city of Jerusalem in 1967, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the action, on July 4,1967, by a vote of 99 to 0, and then condemned it again on two subsequent occasions.
In a world without effective international law, sovereign nations are often required to choose between justice and self-interest. A fair solution for Jerusalem, however, as indeed of the Arab-Israel conflict as a whole, requires no such choice, although uncritical supporters of Israeli policy have insisted that it does. The choice for the United States, they say, is one between Israeli democracy and Arab oil, between high morality -- as they would have it -- and the crassest greed. In fact, the withdrawal of Israel to her approximate borders of 1967 and the internationalization of Jerusalem would be wholly consistent with the principle of the self-determination of peoples, an international principle to which we have always professed to subscribe and one which is also central to the United Nations Charter.
An Arab-Israeli settlement will not put an end to the energy crisis. Nor could it be counted upon to bring about an immediate substantial reduction of oil prices. It would, however, eliminate the major irritant in relations between the United States and the Arab states -- especially Saudi Arabia -- and in so doing create a much improved environment for negotiations on oil supply and prices. A settlement making just provision for the old city of Jerusalem and for the other occupied territories would greatly increase the political influence of Saudi Arabia, and therefore its weight as a force for moderation within OPEC. Saudi Arabia would be liberated, in effect, to do what King Faisal and his ministers want very much to do: cooperate to keep the West, and especially the United States on which Saudi Arabia relies, prosperous and strong.
Such an approach would not constitute a "sellout" of Israel. Quite the contrary, it calls upon Israel to do nothing more than she ought to do anyway, even if there were not a drop of oil in the Middle East. Indeed it would be to Israel's advantage -- probably her salvation -- because there can be no lasting security for that small, beleaguered community without a settlement, and there can be no settlement without withdrawal. For the United States the occasion -- if we rise to it -- is one of those rare and happy ones in which justice and self-interest coincide.
Unfortunately, neither the Israelis nor their uncritical supporters in our Congress and in our media have appreciated what is at stake and the enormous distortion of American interests in our present course. Endlessly pressing the United States for money and arms -- and invariably getting all and more than she asks -- Israel makes bad use of a good friend. Unlike the Saudis, the Israelis seem not to recognize that if the United States is gravely weakened, they themselves can hardly hope to survive.
For these reasons it has become incumbent upon the United States -- working with the Soviet Union through the United Nations -- to take the decisive lead in bringing the quarter century of crisis in the Middle East to a prompt and equitable solution. The general outlines of such a solution are clear and even obvious: explicit acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist by the Arabs, including the Palestinians; Israeli withdrawal to the approximate borders of 1967 with United Nations forces patrolling demilitarized zones on both sides of Israel's borders; self-determination for the Palestinian people of the West Bank, either as an independent state