Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies, by S. Steven Powell
Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies.
by S. Steven Powell.
Green Hill Publishers. 469 pp. $29.95.
The chief issues adviser to Reverend Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign this year was Robert Borosage, for the past decade the executive director of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). At the Democratic national convention Jackson was anointed as the “conscience” of the party, and it is apparently Borosage who to a large extent formulates the content of that conscience. If Michael Dukakis becomes President of the United States, it is safe to assume that Borosage or others chosen by him will be among those appointed to important positions.
This is a rather handsome new feather in the cap of IPS, which was already well plumed. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, is now ensconced as a fellow at IPS, and the other former Democratic Senator from South Dakota, James Abourezk, serves on the institute’s board. So does Paul Warnke, America’s chief arms-control negotiator during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and so too does William Winpisinger, the president of one of this country’s largest labor unions. In addition, IPS runs something called the Washington School at which a long list of former Carter-administration officials—including Stuart Eizenstat, Anthony Lake, Patricia Derian, and Matthew Nimetz—have taught, as have Senator Mark Hatfield, former Senator Paul Tsongas, a slew of Congressmen, and a number of reporters for the Washington Post. Indeed, one of IPS’s more impressive accomplishments consists of the ties it has built to the mass media, especially the Post, several of whose reporters have at various times served as IPS associates.
Other individuals have gone back and forth between posts at IPS and on congressional staffs. IPS maintains a network on Capitol Hill of friendly legislators and aides, and much of its program aims at influencing a still wider circle on the Hill. Every year or two, IPS publishes an “alternative” federal budget, the gist of which is to take the funds the government now spends on fighting Communism abroad and use them instead to build what can best be described as socialism at home. This budget is invariably accompanied by a preface signed by some fifty to sixty Congressmen.
Though IPS has no official line or political position, it describes itself as “radical,” and though there is some variation in opinion among its officers and fellows, there is a rough common denominator that unites them all.
To begin with, they seem to prefer socialism in some sense to capitalism. Second, within the realm of “socialism,” they prefer Lenin’s heritage to Karl Kautsky’s. Rarely in IPS’s corpus does one encounter friendly treatment of the latter’s social-democratic progeny. In contrast, IPS literature abounds in praise of Ho and Mao and Fidel and the Sandinistas, not to mention all manner of still more obscure Leninists like Angola’s ruling MPLA, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Oman, the governments of Mozambique, Laos, and even Somalia—at least until a decade ago when Somalia’s enemy, Ethiopia, joined the Soviet camp and propelled Somalian strongman Siad Barre toward the West. (“We in our country have much to learn [from]. . . Siad’s thought and that of his fellow revolutionaries in Somalia,” declared one British-based IPS publication before Siad’s turn.)
On the other hand, this admiration for Communist governments does not usually extend to the Soviet Union. One exception was a comment made by IPS fellow Saul Landau (as reported in the Wall Street Journal in 1982) that “the Soviet Union has been the one insurance policy of successful revolutions.” But even here the Soviet Union is praised less for the quality of its own institutions than for its role as bulwark of Third World Communist movements. Typical of the IPS view is the comment Borosage made to me in an interview in 1980 that paired the United States and the Soviet Union as two countries with “systems that lead to dead ends.” However, the Soviet Union, according to Borosage, had spawned a “whole range” of “interesting social experiments” like “Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”
This attitude toward the Soviet Union would seem to differ from that of the current president of IPS, Peter Weiss. An attorney, Weiss has been active in the National Lawyers Guild, the American affiliate of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, a barely camouflaged Soviet-front organization whose own president has received the Lenin Peace Prize. Weiss is also an officer of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a grouping of leftist lawyers which includes former National Lawyers Guild president Michael Ratner, as well as such other far-Left legal luminaries as William Kunstler and Arthur Kinoy.
Nor is Weiss’s wife Cora—who runs the Rubin Foundation, from which the bulk of IPS’s budget comes—noted for being critical of the Soviet Union. In fact, in one IPS publication she complains that “anti-Soviet Communism” (not merely anti-Communism) is “a hereditary disease transmitted over the past sixty years.”
The fact that IPS has become so successful despite its radical views was bound to invite scrutiny. In 1980, the best-selling novel The Spike by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss depicted a group obviously patterned on IPS as the nerve center of KGB influence on the American media. Then a groundbreaking article in Midstream by Rael Jean Isaac, a series in the New York Post by Michael Novak, some articles in Barron’s by John Boland, and one by me in the New York Times Magazine brought IPS some additional critical attention. These writings were greeted by howls of “McCarthyism” on the Left, while simultaneously whetting the curiosity of the Left’s opponents for a fuller accounting of IPS’s history and activities.
Covert Cadre: Inside the Institute for Policy Studies by S. Steven Powell is the first book-length attempt to satisfy that curiosity. It, too, is sure to be labeled “McCarthyite” by the Left, which uses that term, and wants others to use it, merely as a synonym for “anti-Communist.” In this, the Left is at one with the late Senator himself, who wrote a book titled McCarthyism: The Fight for America. But it was not for his anti-Communism that McCarthy was censured by the Senate and condemned in the court of public opinion, and in fact many of those who led the fight against him argued that he was a liability to the cause of anti-Communism. What made “McCarthyism” a justifiable term of obloquy were the intellectually scurrilous methods for which the Senator became famous.
Unfortunately, Powell’s book, while providing by far the single most compendious collection of facts about IPS that anyone has yet compiled, is guilty of using some of these scurrilous methods.
For example, Powell at times imputes guilt by association. Thus: former ambassador Sol Linowitz chaired a commission that made recommendations for U.S. policy toward Latin America just on the eve of the Carter presidency. A parallel report was issued by an IPS task force whose membership overlapped to some degree with that of the Linowitz commission. Because Linowitz and several of his associates subsequently served in influential capacities in the administration, a question arises about the extent of IPS influence. In order to magnify this question, Powell, on the strength of a snippet of a quotation from one of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s books, refers to the “Brzezinski-Linowitz approach” and the “Brzezinski-Linowitz philosophy.” Yet the truth is that Brzezinski and Linowitz are at the opposite poles of the Democratic-party spectrum of opinion about policy toward Latin America.
Again, trying to impress his readers with the extent of IPS influence, Powell mentions the importance to Capitol Hill staff of the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS). He then says: “And CRS in turn uses IPS publications for its source material.” Powell offers two pieces of evidence for this startling revelation. First, that according to one CRS staff member he interviewed, the director of the service and an aide “introduced to CRS several papers on Cuba by IPS associate William LeoGrande, papers which favorably portrayed Castro and Cuban life.”
On the face of it, all this means is that someone on the CRS staff was told to read, or perhaps merely to file, some of LeoGrande’s publications. But since LeoGrande is a recognized authority in the field of Latin American studies, it would be surprising if CRS researchers did not read his writings, whatever his views. Powell offers not even a suggestion that this particular incident reflected itself in any of CRS’s voluminous output.
For his second exhibit, Powell says that “Stanley Higinbotham,” chief of the foreign-affairs and national-defense division of CRS, “collaborated with Joe Eldridge of WOLA [the Washington Office on Latin America].” WOLA plays a leading part in what the New Republic’s Fred Barnes calls “the Sandinista lobby,” and Powell presents some interesting evidence to show that it is pro-Castro as well. But his evidence of “collaboration” consists entirely of a single letter from “Higinbotham”—whose name actually is Heginbotham—to Eldridge asking for his ideas about drawing up categories of human-rights violations. Powell says nothing about how many other people Heginbotham put this question to, what use he made of Eldridge’s reply, or even whether Eldridge replied at all. In my own research on human rights I have encountered some of Heginbotham’s work and found it the very soul of ideological neutrality, as one would expect from CRS.
Powell also makes exaggerated accusations. He twice refers to the late Samuel Rubin, the father of Cora Weiss and the founder of the fortune by which IPS is now largely supported, as “a registered member of the Communist party.” But the evidence on which Powell bases this charge is a record of the New York City registration roll of the 1930’s that shows Rubin to have been a registered Communist-party voter—suggestive evidence, to be sure, but not conclusive in proving that Rubin was a member in the sense of being under party discipline.
Elsewhere Powell asserts that “the mass demonstrations against the Vietnam war [were] largely organized by Communist party members,” a doubtful claim for which in any event he offers no evidence.
Powell, again like McCarthy, sometimes relies on innuendo. In a section under the heading “None Dares Call it Treason,” he writes: “It is, of course, possible that the high degree of correlation between Soviet and IPS objectives is merely coincidental.” The reader is, I suppose, expected to snicker. But the question is not whether there is “coincidence.” The real question is whether IPS acts at the behest of an enemy power, which would indeed be treason, or whether it acts out of its own sympathies for Communist movements, which may be morally and intellectually reprehensible, but is not against the law.
Yet another McCarthy-like technique to which Powell resorts is to misrepresent documents. For instance, he criticizes a 1979 feature story on Cuba by Peter Osnos in the Washington Post of which he says: “Despite Cuba’s economic dependence on Moscow . . . Osnos could find little evidence of Soviet influence. . . .” Yet here is what Osnos wrote: “For all its distinctive features, Cuba is still very much like other countries in the Soviet bloc. Indeed, on some important points of style, the Cuban way seems more Soviet than that of some of Moscow’s closer neighbors.” After elaborating on this point for seven or eight paragraphs, Osnos added: “Official Cubans make no apologies for their closeness to the Soviet Union. . . . The Kremlin, everyone acknowledges, is paying increasingly massive subsidies . . . without which Cuba would be in desperate straits.” And there is more in this vein.
But for me, Powell’s most irritating flaw is his use of sources. On some occasions he gives no source at all, and at numerous other points, he puts in footnotes which turn out to be empty. For example, he offers a damning quotation from nuclear-freeze leader Randall Forsberg calling for out-and-out collaboration between the American peace movement and the Soviet government. Powell says that she spoke these words at one of the IPS-sponsored arms-control meetings with Soviet representatives held in Minneapolis, but the footnote here reads simply: “Randall Forsberg, statement, Minneapolis, May 25, 1983.” The reader gets not a clue as to whether there is a transcript, whether the words were recorded, or whether Powell himself was present—whether, in short, there is anything to verify the quotation.
In various other places, Powell uses anonymous sources, undated news clippings, secondary sources whose objectivity would not be accepted by those not predisposed to believe his case, and a string of references to an apparently purloined batch of the correspondence of Joseph Eldridge, the head of WOLA, without any indication of how this came into Powell’s hands.
These methods are offensive in themselves. They also undermine confidence in Powell’s book, which does indeed, as I have already indicated, contain some interesting new information about IPS. Thus he reports that Gareth Porter, the leading American apologist for Pol Pot during the Cambodia genocide, now is employed as an aide to Senator John Kerry. Nor did I know that Julia Preston, a Washington Post correspondent in Central America since early 1986, worked previously for Pacific News Service, an IPS spin-off, and for the North American Congress on Latin America, a group in unabashed solidarity with Latin America’s Communist guerrillas. Powell also adds some good quotations to the storehouse revealing the true colors of his subjects, such as this from the Reverend William Sloane Coffin: “I think that communism is a page torn out of the Bible. . . .” Alas, the source is weak—an interview in the Columbia College Spectator.
Powell is fixated on the question of whether IPS is secretly financed or run by the Soviet or Cuban governments. His book is replete with photos of and textual references to Soviet-embassy officials attending IPS meetings. Yet neither he nor I nor any of the other writers who have treated with IPS has been able to substantiate that suspicion. Nor is it necessary to do so in order to discredit IPS.
For IPS deserves discredit in its own right and on its own terms. It deserves discredit, first, because of the apologies and even applause that it furnishes to so many of the world’s crudest regimes. Secondly, it deserves discredit because its own intellectual method is dishonest. IPS fellows talk among themselves about “the ‘S’ word,” meaning socialism. This is a jocular way of acknowledging to each other that they believe in something that they are unwilling to espouse openly. (And “socialism” itself is something of a euphemism for the regimes with which IPS identifies.)
Finally, IPS deserves discredit because its work is harmful to our country and the whole democratic world. Powell seems to fear that IPS may actually succeed in bringing socialism to America. But it is doubtful that the leaders of IPS seriously entertain any such hope. Instead, they aim to persuade America not to resist Communist expansion abroad, knowing that this will facilitate the triumph of the “progressive camp.” As IPS founder Richard Barnet put it in his book, Intervention and Revolution, “the first imperative is that the world must be made safe for revolution.” The “revolutions” that IPS admires are all virulently anti-American and the revolutionaries virtually all ally themselves with America’s most deadly enemy. Making the world safe for them means making it a lot less safe for America in particular and the democratic cause in general.
IPS is and should continue to be free to express its views, but it is morally scandalous that Senators, Congressmen, labor leaders, and major journalists should be encouraging or participating in the legitimation and the spread of those views.
It is a pity that Powell did not restrict himself to developing some such point as this instead of relying on dubious methods to prove a charge for which the evidence is less than conclusive.