Leslie Gelb: “These guys were so brilliant, it makes me jealous”

Question: What foreign policy experts do you admire?

 

Leslie Gelb: The people I found to be the greatest of all were the people who led our country at the end of World War II and at the start of the Cold War, President Harry Truman, Secretary of State George Marshall and his successors, Secretary of State Dean Acheson. These guys were so brilliant, it makes me jealous. Here's what they did.

First, they set up all these international institutions, the UN, the World Bank, IMF, NATO, and the like. Real international institutions that we led. We didn't try to dictate. We couldn't dictate even then but we led them. And these institutions were so good, they helped us prevail in the Cold War, and they exist even today. That's how good they were, workable.

Secondly, they understood even then that our economy was our ultimate strength for our democracy, for our military power, for our diplomatic power, for everything. And they looked at a world where the Soviet Union, at the end of World War II, had five million troops in Eastern Europe, and people here were clamoring, go nuke them. Because if they take over Eastern Europe, they'll take over Western Europe, all Europe will be gone. But they didn't do that. Instead, they concentrated on building up the economies in Western Europe and Germany in particular. And last time I looked, we won the Cold War, not the Soviet Union. And all the predictions about the Soviets taking over Western Europe, I don't think it happened.

And take China. Mao conquered China and everyone said, Chinese communists are in control in China, they'll take over all of Asia. Last I look, China's our biggest investor.

Truman, Marshall, and Acheson concentrated on building up the economic power of Germany, Japan, along with that of the United States on the presumption, which was absolutely correct, that once you added up those three economies, strong economies, that we would have 75%, 80% of all the economic, military, and diplomatic power in the world. And we did. And they figured out if you had that, you couldn't lose.

 

Recorded on 5/1/09.

 

The author praises the American diplomats who established international institutions.

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