Saturday, June 01, 2013

John Kenneth Galbraith's "Age of Uncertainty: Weekend in Vermont" (Pt. 3)

Continuing with John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 documentary series, The Age of Uncertainty, Episode 15, Weekend in Vermont Part 3:

This is the third of three segments featuring conversations with a group that includes:

  • Soviet expert on the US Georgi Arbatov
  • German liberal Ralf Dahrendorf
  • Then-Washington Post owner Katherine Graham
  • Former British Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath
  • Jack Jones (Bristish trade unionists)
  • Kukrit Pramoj who was Prime Minister of Thailand 1975-6
  • Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
  • Canadian stress expert Hans Selye
  • British Secretary of State for Education and Science and then-Labour MP Shirley Williams.
  • Tom Winship of the Boston Globe

It is also the concluding episode of the documentary. It's focus is on nuclear arms control. In kicking of the conversation, Galbraith says, "Arbatov has persuaded me that we're wicked, and everybody else has persuaded me that the Soviets are wicked."

Since this discussion includes the US Secretary of State and a senior Soviet official discussing nuclear arms talks, this is, as Galbraith suggests in his opening, an actual view of high-level diplomacy between the two superpowers. Unfortunately, the companion volume does not include transcripts of these discussions or summarize them directly.

There are a lot of bad things about Henry Kissinger and his record. And some very constructive things. But it is notable in his discussion of Soviet-American relations was on the basis of a "realist" outlook, not the kind of militaristic zealotry associated with the neoconservatives. We catch a glimpse of the heat Kissinger was getting from the rightwingers at around 14:00 where he talks about the term "detente", which had already become a synonym for "appeasement" and cowardice for the Reagan wing of the Republican Party. And also for those neoconservatives who still at that time considered themselves "Henry Jackson Democrats."

During the Ford Administration in which he still served at the time these discussions were filmed, Kissinger was eventually effectively sidelined in foreign policy matters to a significant degree by two young men who were already showing their talents as political-bureaucratic operators, White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Dick Cheney. Few of us realized until much later how much more toxic those two men were than Henry Kissinger. And that's saying a lot!

I notice around 44:00 that Heath mentions as a commonly known fact that Israel had nuclear weapons, although he did couch it in a bit of diplomatic obscurity.

In the previous two episodes, the other participants treat Georgi Arbatov as something like the carrier of a dangerous disease. So I assume this last episode's discussion of nuclear weapons proliferation was the main point of inviting him. Here everyone treats him respectfully and takes what he says seriously, or at least as diplomatically important. This was an area where Arbatov spoke for a powerful country.

We now think of 1976-7 as the middle of the Cold War. But I recalled as I was watching this last episode that during that time, it was not unusual to hear the current state of relations between the US and the Soviet Union as detente, and not as Cold War. But with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Carter Administration's decision to make that a major issue, the "Cold War" terminology quickly became current again.

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