The Gadfly Bytes -- February 20, 2007
The Malleable World of the Neo Cons.
“A hegemon is nothing more or less than a leader with preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain. That is America's position in the world today.... [P]eace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it... American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order. The appropriate goal of American foreign policy, therefore, is to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible.”
William Kristol and Robert Kagan
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States became the sole remaining super-power. Many saw this extraordinary situation as an opportunity at last for world disarmament, a concerted attack on poverty and disease, and global harmony under a rule of international law.
Not the neo conservatives.
Instead, they announced, this was to be “The American Century” – a “benevolent global hegemony” imposed upon the world by the sole remaining super-power, the United States. In this new world order, the United States would renounce treaties and international law at will if they were found to be contrary to the interests of the “hegemon.” Military action by the super power would be taken “preventatively” if there was a perceived possibility that an upstart nation might resist the imposed global order. Aggressive initiatives would be taken to assure that no rival super power would arise to challenge the global hegemony.
The United States would, in short, become the kind of world empire we claimed that we were struggling, throughout the cold war, to prevent the Soviet Union from becoming.
Much of this neo con program has been implemented by the Bush administration. The test-ban and anti-ballistic missile treaties have been abrogated, along with the Geneva Conventions against torture and the Nuremberg Accords forbidding unprovoked war. The United States has refused to allow its citizens to be tried in the international criminal courts. The military budget has been expanded so that it now equals the combined military budgets of all other nations.
But in Iraq, the neo cons have been rudely awakened from their imperial dreams.
In August 2002, General Tommy Franks gathered a few of his senior officers, and together they predicted what Iraq might look like four years after an invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein. These projections, assembled in a PowerPoint presentation, were recently obtained by the National Security Archives (a non-governmental research organization) through a Freedom of Information Act request. There we find that had the prophecies of Franks group proved true, today there would be only 5,000 American troops remaining in Iraq, while a representative government would be in place and the Iraqi army would be keeping the peace throughout the country.
But the spectacular failure of these rosy predictions should not surprise us. For at about the same time, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney were assuring us that the overthrow of Saddam would be a “cakewalk,” and that we would be “greeted as liberators,” with flowers and sweets. The cost of “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (O.I.L.) (oops, make that “Operation Iraqi Freedom”), we were told, would be paid for by oil revenues.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way, did it? And why not? Many explanations have been offered. Among these: incredibly poor management by unqualified party hacks, failure to plan for the post-war occupation, failure to involve the Iraqis in the reconstruction. To be sure, all these factors and more have led to the appalling mess that is Iraq today. Underlying all these factors, perhaps, is a mind set of the neo conservatives who successfully urged Bush and Cheney to launch the war and who, before that, drew up and signed the neo con manifesto of 1997: “The Project for the New American Century” (PNAC).
By a “mind set” I mean assumptions that might be so far in the background of the neo cons thinking and planning that they are scarcely aware of them. These assumptions become apparent, not in what the neo cons say, but in how they act.
Three of these “mind set assumptions,” I suggest, are especially significant:
The world beyond the US borders is essentially passive. Nations and peoples can be acted upon, but they will not react unexpectedly or resist effectively. In a sense, then, the “outside world” is like a sculptor's clay, a painter’s canvas, or a writer’s sheet of paper. Action without reaction. (The neo cons appear to have the same attitude toward the American public. But that must be the topic of another paper).
We American elites know what’s best for the peoples of the world beyond our borders. And what is best for them is that they be just like us. Thus they should gratefully accept our bestowal of “truth, justice and The American Way.” The neo cons see themselves as “missionaries to the heathen” – to the “little people” desperately in need of enlightenment and salvation, whether they want it or not. (Perhaps this is what Bush had in mind when he carelessly called the “war on terror” a “crusade”). Thus we find “Viceroy” Paul Bremer imposing a pre-formed libertarian “paradise” upon the Iraqis, complete with unregulated free markets, the privatization of public properties, and the abolition of all vestiges of the pre-existing “socialism.”
“Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.” If the people of any nation abroad resist our “benevolent global hegemony,” this will be of no consequence, since our overwhelming military power will guarantee the endurance of our “hegemony,” and will prevent the rise of a rival global power.
All three assumptions are profoundly false, as we are discovering each day as the PNAC dream unravels.
The World can respond, unexpectedly and effectively. When King George III dispatched the Howe brothers (General William and Admiral Richard) to crush the rebellion in the American colonies, they expected that standard European military tactics would defeat the rebels. And so they did at the first encounter in Long Island when Washington’s colonials obligingly behaved as expected. But then the American patriots responded creatively, adapting and improving guerilla warfare, taking advantage of “home territory,” and eventually seizing the initiative. Thus action is followed by a reaction that is innovative, intelligent, and unexpected. History teaches us that this is a fundamental condition of human conflict. A lesson sorrowfully learned by the British in India, by the apartheid government of South Africa, by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, by the segregationists in the American South, and by the American military in Viet Nam.
No greater error can be committed in war or in peace, than to presume that one’s opponent will respond exactly as one expects them to respond. Yet, as one reads the manifestos and publications of the neo cons, one is struck by how little speculation is found therein as to how the “others” might respond to the “benevolent global hegemony.”
One often hears from the supporters of Missile Defense, the challenge: “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we develop as system that will destroy incoming strategic missiles?” The answer is simple: the moon is passive, while a strategic enemy is reactive and resourceful. The moon did not actively attempt to foil the Apollo landing. But any and all improvements in missile defense will result in countermeasures in the missile offense, and the offense has insurmountable advantages.
The people in other nations are the best judges of what is “good for them.” This is a lesson learned by most freshman students of cultural anthropology. Why it evades the notice of the well educated neo cons is a mystery.
Once again, history is a guide: Attempts from outside a culture to improve the lives within that society, however well intentioned those attempts might be, can have disastrous consequences if the culture and history of the “beneficiary” people are not carefully studied and taken into account. And it is doubtful that the interventions of the neo cons are either “well intentioned” or well informed.
Put simply: while the “golden rule” is an excellent guide for conduct within one’s culture, a more appropriate variant for dealing with other cultures and peoples might be: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” This rule requires that the “outsider” be well aware of what “they would have you do unto them.”
“But haven’t American political ideals and culture been widely accepted throughout the world?” Indeed, they have – from national constitutions patterned after ours, to blue jeans and rock and roll. But these cultural importations succeed best when the people within the society decide on their own to accept them and integrate them into their culture. Attempts to force alien ideas and customs upon a society can have disastrous consequences, as missionaries and conquerors throughout history have learned.
Neo cons will tell us that they are trying to “spread democracy and freedom” abroad. (“Freedom is on the march.” G. W. Bush).
This is a cruel hoax, as is evident when one looks past the word to the deeds. There one finds that the “freedom” of the neo cons, is a freedom to exploit, to seize a nation’s resources, and to reap enormous profits with the connivance of the US government.
As for “democracy,” the neo cons are pleased to see nations abroad hold free elections, so long as these elections select candidates that the neo cons approve of. But if the neo cons don’t approve, then they will not hesitate to “correct” the voters’ “errors.” Consider, for example, the overthrow of Salvadore Allende in Chile, the attempt to oust Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
To this day, I cannot think of one authentic democracy that has been established through the implementation of neo con foreign policy. Can you?
Iraq provides us with the most recent and vivid test example of neo con “liberation.” As noted above, soon after Saddam was ousted, Paul Bremer was installed as “Viceroy” whereupon he issued 97 “edicts” establishing a libertarian utopia of unregulated free markets and privatization. He didn’t think to ask the Iraqis what they wanted in a post-Saddam Iraq, nor did he invite them to participate in the reconstruction of the country. Instead, Halliburton, Bechtel, et al, swooped in with licenses to steal, as eight billion dollars in cash were shipped on pallets into Iraq and then disappeared, like fresh rain on the desert sand. Now, as Seymour Hersh tells us, some of that purloined cash has apparently fallen into the hands of the Iraqi "insurgents."
The Iraqis responded to these abuses exactly as we would in such circumstances; they rose up in a struggle to drive out the occupiers and to take back their country.
Despite its military might, the United States can be humbled, if “the world” so chooses. The neo cons proclaim that the United States boasts a military that can not be defeated in conventional war. And they are right. But it does not follow that the US military cannot be defeated. It can be defeated through unconventional warfare, as we discovered in Vietnam, and are apparently discovering anew in Iraq.
But more significantly, the American “hegemon” can be defeated without a shot being fired. As I have argued elsewhere (The Vulnerable Giant), beneath the bombast and bluster of the American military lies a pitifully week economic structure. More than half of our eight trillion dollar national debt is in foreign hands (mostly China and Japan). We have dismantled much of our industrial base and shipped it overseas, and most of our strategic resources (primarily oil) are imported. Should our foreign rivals “call” our debts and switch from the dollar to the euro, the value of the dollar will sink like a stone and we will no longer be able to purchase strategic materials. An embargo on imported oil would be the coup de grace.
True, this would create chaos and hardship in the world economy, but grave threats can call for extreme remedies.
Put bluntly, we can be assured that “the world” will not submit to a “Pax Americana” – an American “benevolent global hegemony.” Not when the nations abroad take note of how American political ideals have been compromised and even abolished at home by the neo con Bush administration, and how this administration has treated American citizens and captured foreigners.
The nations abroad will not stand for this. And they need not stand for this. If the neo con arrogance, threats and bullying become intolerable, the community of nations can, in concert, demolish the American economy and reduce the United States to a ruined irrelevancy.
Hopefully, before that terrible tipping point is reached, the American public will at last wake up, regain its lost liberties, restore the Constitution, and renounce the imperial ambitions of the neo cons.
It is just possible that the sleeping giant is beginning to stir, and that a counter-revolution is afoot.
Let us hope that it is not too little and too late.
Copyright 2007 by Ernest Partridge