268. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Solomon) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Some Themes from your “Cultural Tour” of Southern Europe2

One of the benefits of your trip to Paris, Turkey, Athens and Rome—including the touring of cultural sites—is the historical perspective it provides on your current diplomacy:

The endurance of regional and religious conflicts. The friezes on the Parthenon capture ancient “national” rivalries that remain very much alive today, several millenia after their time. Iranians (Persians), Turks, Greeks, Egyptians all contended with each other, had their periods of dominance and decline, and fought for the advance of their versions of civilization, culture and religion over the forces of barbarism, violence and religious heresy.

These conflicts endure for us—Turks vs. Greeks, Islam vs. Christianity and Judaism—in contemporary variations, giving a humbling sense of the limits of our diplomatic efforts in the flow of time. Terrorism is only one manifestation of the contemporary clash of great and contrasting cultures and political aspirations.

The Iran-Iraq war at present is the most pivotal of these conflicts. If Iran should defeat Iraq, radical Islam is likely to advance its influence throughout Asia Minor and North Africa, eventually sharpening the confrontation within the Arab world between revolutionary (revivalist) and conservative states, between Islam and Israel, and eventually between Arab and Christian states.

If Iran’s military impulse fades, however, the Islamic world is likely to remain fractured and unstable. The current decline in oil prices will help to constrain the outreach of the radicalized Arabs (Libya, Iran), but our security cooperation with both moderate Arab and European states in the areas of conventional defense and counterterrorism is important to dampening the violence and containing the influence of would-be empire builders like Khomeini and Qadhafi.

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In your tour, the impact on the region of Soviet power—today’s version of the threat from barbarians to the north—was remarkably muted. The Soviets are not a major source of influence in the Islamic world, although they can incite existing conflicts via arms sales and will intervene with their own forces when tempted/threatened (as in Afghanistan and Yemen). The disparity between our global concerns about the extension of Soviet power (in Europe and East Asia) and the secondary concern of the Mediterranean states for Moscow’s influence relative to regional rivals (Greek vs. Turk, radical vs. conservative Arab) presents an ongoing problem for us as we try to maintain a coalition of states that will contain Moscow’s imperialism.

The advance and decline of major power centers. One sees in the ruins of Istanbul, Athens and Rome the historical truth that centers of power and culture grow and flourish for a time, but then pass into decline and ruin. We are still flourishing, with our sense of moral purpose (democracy, human rights, and the advance of material well-being), as well as our technology (of the new information age) and economic power, as the core of Western vitality. But if, like ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Constantinople, we fail to maintain our economic strength, and if our elite loses its sense of moral purpose and discipline, we too will enter a period of degeneration. The administration’s efforts to resolve the budget problem and to manage the development and transfer of new technologies, are all vital to this effort.

The evolution of a new economic power center (Japan) is before us, even if it does not as yet have a global political vision or the military power to promote its objectives. And if we do not manage the energy issue well and take advantage of our current good fortune in the dramatic decline in oil prices, we could again see our economy drained by the Islamic states who, most unfortunately, do not share our global sense of purpose or our desire to ameliorate regional conflicts.

A particular economic challenge, we face is to manage the dynamic commercial linkages which unite the U.S. with its allies and friends and gives vitality to the free world in its confrontation with the Soviets and other ideological socialist powers. The access we can give a Turkey or an Egypt to U.S. markets and technology is a major vehicle for projecting our influence and strengthening our global coalition. The difficulty of handling the textile issue, however, underscores the need to make our own economy more flexible and adaptive by heightening the mobility of our domestic labor force and promoting the technological advance of our production processes.

Alliance-management. Unlike past imperial powers, the U.S. relies heavily on a diverse coalition of states to project its influence and protect its interests. Your trip gave evidence—as if it was needed—of the difficulty of maintaining this coalition where enduring geopolitical rivalries, reinforced by differing cultures, divide our allies. Turkey now [Page 1174] offers us the prospect of a more intimate association, via economic and military cooperation, which would give the U.S. a “regional anchor” for our defenses against the Soviets and the projection of influence into the Islamic world. Our interest in pursuing Prime Minister Ozal’s opening is constrained, however, by Turkey’s limited capacity to actually support our objectives in the region—even as its economy grows—and our need to maintain concurrent defense and economic relations with the Greeks and West Europeans.

Libya’s threat to our interests is not so much the outrage of terrorism, but its effort to use its self-created conflict with the U.S. to build its own power center in North Africa and the Middle East (which would give it the power base it does not now have). Italian criticism of our approach to Qadhafi is a way of saying we are playing into the Colonel’s political game. Our limited military actions against him are not hurting him (unless they stimulate a domestic coup); yet we can’t ignore him as he will continue to provoke us for his own purposes. Something more drastic is likely to be required.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/P Files, Memoranda and Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary and Other Seventh Floor Principals: Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons 3/1–31/86. Confidential. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “EXPEDITE.” McKinley’s stamped initials appear on the memorandum.
  2. Shultz visited Paris, March 21–22; Istanbul, March 22–24; Ankara, March 24–25; Athens, March 25–28; Rome, March 28–30; and the Vatican, March 29.