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Peddlers of crisis: the committee on the present danger and the politics of containment.

Jerry Sanders' Peddlers of Crisis surveys the Committee in its original manifestation (1950-53) and then concentrates on its contemporary formation in the mid-1970s. He lays out the major differences between the Committee and the Trilaterialists, and explains the Committee's resounding victory in 1980 in capturing the presidency and imposing its agenda.

As an investigation of the original CPD, Peddler of Crisis is an excellent recounting of how a handful of political elites quickly perceived the need to overcome contradictory tendencies in American postwar policies with a relatively unified strategy focused on the ecomonic reconstruction of Europe and Japan. The main political lever for achieving consensus in this regard was a consistent emphasis on the "Soviet threat" to Europe. This secured public support for the vast military expenditures and economic security assistance programs that comprised the core of the Committee's program. To some extent, Sanders treads over familiar territory her, and his treatment of "containment militarism" is not particularly original. His real achievement is to expose the Committee's leading role in a vast propaganda effort to construct a viable political base for these polocies. Sanders had access to the papers of key Committee people, notably Tracy S. Voohees, and he uses this material effectively to reconstruct the impetus for and implementation of the Committee's program.

Sanders lays out the contending lines of struggle within the policy-making elite, a struggle that can be encoded as isolationism versus internationalism. The "internationalism" championed by the Committee was then the program supported by the consensus of Wall Street and Foggy Bottom, and is today the politica legacy of the liberalism and later the Trilateralism of the Democratic and Republican parties through the mid-1970s. Sanders provides here a fascinating case study of political manipulation and advertisement, a disquieting portrait of the forces and interests that shape the fundamental expressions of American power.

Sanders provides an informative discussion of the born-again Committee as it arose to meet the challenge of Jimmy Carter's Trilateralism. He presents much interesting detail on the various organizations and key figures involved, and he appreciates the profoundly different context in which the contemporary Committee operates: where the old CPD was out to mobilize liberals and isolate the right wing, the new CPD has a diametrically opposite purpose. In this chapter on the Carter persidency, Sanders shows how the administration tried to straddle rather than resolve the contending policy lines, and how it ultimately collapsed to the right as those lines split more definitively around Iran and Afghanistan.

This is an important and valuable study. Unfortunately, the trenchant experssiveness of the totle, Peddlers of Crisis, is missing in much of the book, particularly the large part devoted to the contemporary Committee. To some extent this problem could have been alleviated by more extensive editorial intervention. The text is often repetitious, and could have been cut substantially. This is no more detail, but addresses the responsibility of the left press not only to make available works like that of Jerry Sanders, but also to help make them accessible to the widest possible audience.

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Author:Stork, Joe
Publication:Monthly Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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