Is US policy-making run by a bipartisan elite cartel? Perhaps the president is a figurehead; the media show changes, but the long-term goals—chosen by the CFR—are always the same. If so, Trump’s Middle East policies will feel different, but they will yield familiar fruits.
In Part 3 we pointed out that in the Trump administration everything is happening according to the predictions we made in Part 1. Despite the contrary perception promoted in his speeches, Trump is supporting jihadism, strengthening Iran, and undermining Israeli security. But we don’t have a crystal ball; how then do we manage to predict?
We try to see, first, whether we can find patterns in the policy history of past US administrations. This allows us to infer, as a hypothesis, an intention. This exercise has revealed a stable pro-jihadist and anti-Israeli tradition (Part 2). Then we try to estimate the probability that a new president will change that tradition; to do that, we study the structure of the policy-creation system. In what follows, we summarize that structure.
The think tanks at the center of the system
The smaller the number of people involved in a policy-creation system, and the less diverse their origin, the easier it will be for them to organize around common interests, and to husband and conserve a policy line to protect them.
According to the academics who study this system in the US, it is very small. The United States has at most 4000 well-connected people in the key institutional positions that determine public policy. And however small this number may seem, political scientist Thomas Dye puts it forth as a corrective to the even smaller figures offered up by other political scientists.
The lords of the system, an even smaller group, are those who control “corporate and personal wealth,” because, as Thomas Dye explains, “the initial resources for research, study, planning, and formulation of national policy are derived from corporate and personal wealth.” The process begins when “this wealth is channeled into foundations, universities, and policy-planning groups.” The latter are commonly called ‘think tanks.’
Think tanks are private organizations where industrial leaders, academics (carefully chosen by those industrial leaders), and former and current top officeholders meet to think. Top officeholders for the next administration are also groomed here; after being named, they will return to their ‘alma maters,’ the same think tanks, to harvest recommendations.
Many consider the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York as the most influential think tank. In 1970, William Domhoff, an important political sociologist, wrote the following:
“Douglass Cater, a journalist from Exeter and Harvard who served on the staff of President Lyndon B. Johnson, has noted that ‘a diligent scholar would do well to delve into the role of the purely unofficial Council on Foreign Relations in the care and breeding of an incipient American Establishment.’ …Turning to the all-important question of government involvement… the point is made most authoritatively by John J. McCloy… director of CFR and a government appointee in a variety of roles since the early 1940s: ‘Whenever we needed a man,’ said McCloy in explaining the presence of CFR members in the modern defense establishment that fought World War II, ‘we thumbed through the roll of council members and put through a call to New York.’ ”
Such opinions are fairly common:
“Political scientist Lester Milbraith observes that the influence of [the] CFR throughout the government is so pervasive that it is difficult to distinguish CFR from government programs: ‘The Council on Foreign Relations, while not financed by government, works so closely with it that it is difficult to distinguish Council actions stimulated by government from autonomous actions.’ ”
For government and CFR to be so thoroughly fused, the relationship must survive the alternation in power of the two main parties, so it is no surprise that the CFR, not unlike other important think tanks, is ‘ecumenical’: it brings together ‘Democratic’ and ‘Republican’ functionaries who jointly produce policy for both Democratic and Republican administrations.
What does that imply?
In a market with few competitors it is sometimes discovered that, behind the scenes, these putative ‘rivals’ in fact collude with each other in the manner of a monopoly. We call that a cartel. In the United States’ political market there are only two competitors that matter: the Republican and Democratic parties; and these, as we see above, appear to be intimately integrated with each other in a single policy-creation system. On this evidence, and considering that “CFR meetings are secret [and] the remarks of government officials who speak at CFR meetings are held in confidence,” we may propose the hypothesis that a political cartel governs the United States.
The hypothesis of a bipartisan cartel can explain why certain foreign policies (and other public policies) orient themselves on a consistent course despite the alternation in power of the two main parties, as happens with the pro-jihadist and anti-Israeli tradition (Part 2).
“The big three” foundations
In Mexico we say: “By the owner’s watchful gaze, the cow gets nice and fat.” The lords of wealth, masters of the system, understand this.
“corporate presidents, directors, and top wealth-holders also sit on the governing boards of the foundations, universities, and policy-planning groups [think tanks] to oversee the spending of their funds.”
These funds are poured through the foundations, which “provide the initial seed money to identify social problems, to determine national priorities, and to investigate new policy directions.”
One cannot exaggerate the importance of these foundations, for they provide “essential linkages between wealth and the intellectual community,” and they articulate with the large corporations and with government agencies. As Dye points out, the justification for public policy comes from academic research, and “on the whole, intellectuals respond to policy directions set by the foundations, corporations, and government agencies that underwrite the costs of research.”
But all foundations are not equal.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, though it “dwarfs all other foundations in assets,” it is dedicated to “ending world poverty, eradicating malaria, conquering polio, and so on,” and it has a global focus, which “tends to dissipate the Foundation’s public policy influence.” Who does determine public policy? For that we must look, “historically, [to] the largest and most powerful foundations…[, those] established by the nation’s leading families—Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie [and a few others]…”
In our investigation into the very influential Council on Foreign Relations, we established that it was created by the industrial networks of Carnegie and Rockefeller, and then financed by the foundations that bear their names, and also by the Ford Foundation:
Top functionaries of these three industrial networks routinely involve themselves in the direction of the CFR. But they don’t stop there; they also see to the financing and direction of many other influential groups, as political scientist Donald Abelson documents in his erudite study of think tanks.
If my suspicious eyes do not deceive me, then I am seeing a bipartisan ruling cartel centered on the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller networks.
And if that is so, it is an old tradition. These foundations concentrated so much power already in the 1950s that a great controversy raged in the US Congress, fanned by the Cox Committee and then the Reece Committee investigations.
Rene Wormser’s work (1958) is witness to the complaints in Congress that these foundations, making use of almost unimaginable sums, were involved in “the promotion of political ends… disguised as charitable or educational activity,” The Reece Committee spoke of a “ ‘network or cartel’ in the social sciences” (their words) dominated by “the big three” foundations: Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller. By controlling almost all funds for research, “the big three” had undermined the free market in social-knowledge production. In this manner, they dominated the generation of public policy.
Things never improved. Beyond pointing out that a cartel existed, Wormser explains, the Reece Committee of the 1950s achieved nothing, for “there was powerful opposition to any investigation of these multi-billion-dollar public trusts.” In fact, “The Reece investigation was virtually hamstrung from the start to its early demise—which was aided and abetted by the leading newspaper of the country,” the New York Times.
Media integration with the political cartel
I find the last detail most intriguing. Why would the New York Times wish to protect “the big three”? Historian Christopher Simpson’s investigation provides the context in which to try out an answer.