Ideas and visions have their ebbs and flows

The readers of this blog are familiar with the Group discussions about the recent works published by the American historian Larry L. Watts about the role of Romania in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War--see here, and here. Based on an unprecedented amount of primary sources, open source and/or recently declassified from both sides of the Iron Curtain, Watts makes a compelling case for Romania's maverick position in the Soviet Bloc. The contribution of the American historian is not just an epistemological tour de force, but also a convincing rebuttal of the predominant thesis according to which Romania was a mere Trojan Horse of the Soviets in the West.

As the students of the Romanian relationships with the West are preparing to welcome the 3rd, and last, installment from Watts' contribution on the subject, it is worth taking a look at a couple of American echoes to his first two volumes.

From the first enclosed review, from page 169 in the original publication, authored by Joseph S. Gordon, we learn the critique of someone who questions Watts' thesis and Romania's maverick position. Gordon faults Watts for not developing a "coherent narrative" towards his stated objectives, or, stated in other words, for failing to show the forest while belaboring on its many a leaf. Neither being sure about the standard employed by Gordon in his assessment, nor about a competing narrative or even factual correction of the arguments marshaled by Watts, I have to question the utility of the review beyond being an illustration for a telegraphed hatched job.

Yes, history is far from being an exact science, so that leaves room for competing interpretations. Yet, it so happens that Watts' critics cannot muster more than summary dismissals of his works, which is somewhat reassuring for his theses with the diligent readers.

From Gordon's critique, I take however a point: Once the groundwork of unearthing the facts has been done by Watts, more analytical work could help one arrive faster at conclusions. Surely, more facts, especially competing, could and should recenter the analytical arguments, if/when they become available. Until then, the historian would do well the consider Watts' works foundational.

The second enclosed review, from page 220 in the original publication, authored by Christopher E. Bailey, reads like an antithesis to Gordon's. The reader should also notice the chronology of these reviews in the same publication, the American Intelligence Journal, Gordon's in volume 29, No 2, Bailey's in volume 32, No 1.

At first sight, the Romanian reader should not overlook the nature of the US intellectual debate surrounding even a remote subject, such as the Romanian relations with the West during the Cold War. The between the lines readers can almost extrapolate the historical debate in terms of competing visions at the center of American power. Ideas and visions have their ebbs and flows, not always in line with some Platonic notion of truth.

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Joseph S. Gordon, a retired Colonel in the USAR who is currently the Colin Powell Professor of Analysis at the National Intelligence University. He was also recently elected Chair of the International Association for Intelligence Education.

Christopher E. Bailey, faculty member at the National Intelligence University, specializing in national security law, processes, intelligence ethics, and strategy.

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http://larrylwatts.blogspot.com/2015/12/studies-in-intelligence-2014-review-of.html spunea...

Watts’s texts proceed along three parallel tracks. One is an analytical challenge to the prevailing conventional wisdom on Romanian foreign policy and security during the Cold War. These views of Romania are held by most officials in the American and European intelligence agencies and foreign ministries, and by most Western academic specialists. Watts argues that Romania, nominally a member of Soviet bloc institutions, in fact pursued independent domestic and international policies that were, from the standpoint of bloc cohesion, even more subversive than those of Yugoslavia and Albania. Yugoslavia stopped participating in bloc activity after 1948, and Albania ceased its participation in the Warsaw Pact and Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) in the early 1960s. But Romania used its membership in these institutions to challenge specific Soviet policies and the Soviet claim to leadership within the bloc.

Demonstrating Romanian independence is more analytically difficult than the Yugoslav and Albanian cases because officials in Bucharest were eager to pose for photographs at Warsaw Pact diplomatic conclaves and, like Yugoslavia, maintained carefully managed economic ties with COMECON. But after 1964, Romania did not attend or host joint Warsaw Pact exercises and stopped coordinating educational and political indoctrination programs with Moscow. Bucharest refused to participate in and publicly condemned the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and even mobilized Romanian resistance to a possible Pact intervention against the Ceausescu regime. In the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, Romania refused to cooperate with the Soviet bloc’s anti-Israeli policies.

The second track is an argument based on Watts’s extensive—if not overwhelming—archival evidence that Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee “Secret Department” (for liaison with ruling communist parties abroad) and the Soviet intelligence agencies achieved what could be the most remarkable maskirovka (deception) of the Cold War: convincing Western observers that the Soviets orchestrated for their own purposes the entire gamut of Romanian policies that diverged from Soviet bloc programs for the states of the Warsaw Pact, COMECON, and the international communist movement.

The third track is an effort to explain why and how various Western bureaucracies (including intelligence services) and academic experts used erroneous analytical frameworks in dealing with the challenges posed by Bucharest. The Watts volumes claim that Western observers, both inside and outside government, sometimes also dismissed defections and challenges to Soviet hegemony posed by the ruling parties in Belgrade and Tirana, just as they were slow to accept the split between the CPSU and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In a plot line related to the third track, Watts also addresses a perennial intelligence question: How much does intelligence analysis really drive White House behavior? Watts argues that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter appeared to dismiss the views of intelligence and academic experts to engage in their own closely-held discussions with Romanian officials on a range of issues—especially China, the Warsaw Pact, the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

In pursuing the three tracks identified above Watts opens every chapter with a series of striking citations from various archives. His citations prepare readers for extensive discussion of key sources and for his challenges to the prevailing wisdom. I offer two examples...

Sy Hersh at http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/22/seymour_hershs_latest_bombshell_us_military spunea...


A new report by the Pulitzer-winning veteran journalist Seymour Hersh says the Joint Chiefs of Staff has indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups. Hersh reports the Joint Chiefs sent intelligence via Russia, Germany and Israel on the understanding it would be transmitted to help Assad push back Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Hersh also claims the military even undermined a U.S. effort to arm Syrian rebels in a bid to prove it was serious about helping Assad fight their common enemies. Hersh says the Joint Chiefs’ maneuvering was rooted in several concerns, including the U.S. arming of unvetted Syrian rebels with jihadist ties, a belief the administration was overly focused on confronting Assad’s ally in Moscow, and anger the White House was unwilling to challenge Turkey and Saudi Arabia over their support of extremist groups in Syria. Hersh joins us to detail his claims and respond to his critics.