How to Swagger & Bully Your Way to Disaster: Bush's Foreign Adventurism†
by Bernard Weiner
March 5, 2003
Americans don't like to distrust their leaders. In a world that appears so chaotic, one wants, needs, some sense of firm, unshakeable foundations. If we can't trust our cops, our priests, our corporate accountants, our elected officials, who will be there to provide that container of stability, our sense that the world works and that we're not just victims waiting for the random finger of fate to tap us on the shoulder?
I'm not just talking about other people here. I feel that way often.
For a long time, even though I didn't vote for them -- and had anxieties about their motives -- I didn't want to believe that the Bush Administration was all that bad, or had lied, or had done terrible things. I so believe in the goodness of this country and in its institutions -- especially in the Constitution that has served us so well for more than 200 years -- that I tried to avoid seeing the awful things being done in Washington, D.C.
But when time after time, the facts revealed otherwise, I finally left the world of denial and moved into the world of sadness and disappointment -- and anger. My government had been hijacked by those who cared hardly a wit for the genius of our Constitution, or for treating political opponents with civility, or for the traditions of careful, respectful diplomacy abroad.
It became more and more clear that the folks inhabiting the White House were not good people. Oh, they said publicly that their actions were being taken for all the right reasons -- freedom and liberty and the Constitution and to protect America -- and they certainly wrapped themselves not only in the flag but in religious-sounding trappings as well.
But their motives in private seemed mostly to involve a drive for profits for themselves and their corporate friends, and a seemingly insatiable lust for power and control. And all done in secret -- the most secretive Administration in modern times -- so that we wouldn't be able to find out what they're really up to.
Rather than delve into the full list of economic, political, environmental and civil liberties catastrophes for which they're responsible, let's just focus today on Bush Administration foreign policies, since they involve the U.S. in military adventures that are potentially disastrous to our citizenry.
We're about to launch a "pre-emptive" war against Iraq -- without an overt provocation, without a large international coalition behind us, without United Nations authorization, without the support of most of Europe's populations (not even in Great Britain, our lone major supplier of troops), without the support of more than half of the U.S. citizenry, without the support of Iraq's 22 fellow Arab countries, without the support of NATO-member Turkey, without even the support of the first President Bush's chief advisors, and without the support of many of America's military and intelligence leaders. In short, it's pretty much a unilateral White House operation, with a few hangers-on nations who don't want to risk angering the U.S.
Given this strange situation, we had better damn well be clear on how we got to this place. Having some context will help us shape our thinking, our tactics, our strategies, in trying to stop the war before it begins. (And, if we're unsuccessful in doing that, in how to deal with the political and strategic necessities of opposing U.S. policy during a war.) Whichever way we go, we need to be involved in helping build a Movement for peace and justice that will take back the country from the shadow forces currently in control.
The Paper Trail
The first thing to understand is that the true motivating factors for Bush&Co. policy in Iraq have precious little to do with Saddam Hussein's weaponry. That is but the pretext, the cover story -- which, as you may have noticed, tends to shift daily. First it's "regime change"; then (so as not to frighten potential U.N. supporters) it's "disarmament of Iraq"; then, when Saddam moves in the direction of at least partial disarmament, it's "regime change" again; then it's "democracy" for Iraq and the region. But it's really smoke and mirrors, my friends. Let's see what is actually at play here.
The Administration's stated reasons may flip on a dime -- how does Ari Fleischer do the daily flipping with a straight face? -- but a nation's major foreign policy doctrine doesn't arrive overnight, and certainly this one didn't emerge full-grown from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It had been in the works for quite some time, at least for a decade.
How can we be so sure? Well, it turns out that there's a long, highly visible paper trail that fills in the context. Let's take a look.
During the years when Bill Clinton was struggling with the rising tide of conservatism in the House of Representatives, and then with fighting off the various "scandal" investigations, and then battling for his political life when he was impeached for lying about sex, the intellectual cadres of the HardRight were shaping a foreign policy for the next century.
The situation was staring them in the face: There was a vacuum on the world scene. No more Superpower rival. The Soviet Union had collapsed of its own internal contradictions. The time was ripe for moving and taking in the world, as there was nobody and no force that could stop the U.S.
The Foundations Are Laid
A number of HardRight position papers and books spelled out the justification for the U.S. seizing the moment. Some of these you may have heard about already, others are less known. In all cases, the folks creating the imperial policy on paper are now creating and shaping the imperial policy for real inside the Bush Administration.
1. In 1992, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney had a report drafted for the Department of Defense, written by Paul Wolfowitz. In it, the U.S. government was urged, as the world's sole remaining Superpower, to move aggressively and militarily around the globe. Somehow, this report leaked to the press, and, since the objective political forces hadn't yet coalesced in the U.S. that could implement this policy free of resistance, President Bush the Elder repudiated the paper and withdrew it. (Wolfowitz, then undersecretry of defense for policy, is now Deputy Secretary of Defense; Cheney, of course, now holds the title of Vice President.)
2. Various HardRight intellectuals outside the government were spelling out the new policy in books and influential journals. Zalmay M. Khalilzad (formerly associated with big oil companies, currently U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan) wrote an important volume in 1995, "From Containment to Global Leadership: America & the World After the Cold War," the import of which was identifying a way for America to move aggressively in the world and thus to exercise effective control over the planet's natural resources. A year later, in 1996, neo-conservatives Bill Kristol (now editor of the rightwing Weekly Standard newspaper) and Robert Kagan, in their Foreign Affairs article "Towards a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," came right out and said the goal for the U.S. had to be nothing less than "benevolent global hegemony," a euphemism for total U.S. domination (but "benevolently" exercised, of course.)
3. In 1998, Kristol, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, out of nowhere, lobbied to convince President Clinton to attack Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. The January letter from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a HardRight think-tank founded the previous year, said that a war with Iraq should be initiated "even if the U.S. could not muster support from its allies in the United Nations." Sound familiar? (President Clinton replied that he was focusing on dealing with al Quaida terrorist cells.)
4. In September of 2000, the PNAC, sensing a GOP victory in the upcoming presidential election, issued its white paper on "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for the New Century." These were no lightweight pundits; these guys were (and are) the heavy-hitting movers and shakers of far-right Republican strategy, including: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Eliot Abrams, John Bolton, I. Lewis Libby, et al.
The 2000 PNAC report was quite frank about why the U.S. would want to move toward imperialist militarism, a Pax Americana, because with the Soviet Union out of the picture, now is the time most "conducive to American interests and ideals...The challenge of this coming century is to preserve and enhance this 'American peace'." And how to preserve and enhance the Pax Americana? The answer is to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major-theater wars."
In serving as world "constable," the PNAC went on, no other countervailing forces will be permitted to get in the way. Such actions "demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations," for example. No country will be permitted to get close to parity with the U.S. when it comes to weaponry or influence; therefore, more U.S. military bases will be established in the various regions of the globe. (A post-Saddam Iraq may well serve as one of those advance military bases.)
5. George W. Bush moved into the White House in January of 2001. Shortly thereafter, a report by the Administration-friendly Council on Foreign Relations was prepared ("Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century") that advocated a more aggressive U.S. posture in the world and called for a "reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy," with access to oil repeatedly cited as a "security imperative." (It's possible that inside Cheney's energy-policy papers -- which he refuses to release to Congress or the American people -- are references to foreign-policy plans for how to gain military control of oilfields abroad.)
6. Five hours after the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered his aides to begin planning for an attack on Iraq, even though his intelligence officials told him it was an al Qaida operation and there was no connection between Iraq and the attacks. "Go massive," the aides' notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not." (In the past year, Rumsfeld leaned heavily on the FBI and CIA to find any shred of evidence linking the Iraq government to 9/11, but they weren't able to. So he set up his own fact-finding group in the Pentagon, with similar results.)
7. Feeling confident that all plans were on track for moving aggressively in the world, the Bush Administration in September of 2002 published its "National Security Strategy of the United States of America." The official policy of the U.S. government, as proudly proclaimed in this major document, is virtually identical to the policy proposals in the various white papers of the Project for the New American Century and others like it over the past decade.
Chief among them are: 1) the policy of "pre-emptive" war -- i.e., whenever the U.S. thinks a country may be amassing too much power and/or could provide some sort of competition in the "benevolent global hegemony" sweepstakes, it can be attacked, without provocation. (A later corollary would rethink the country's atomic policy: nuclear weapons would no longer be considered defensive, but could be used offensively in support of political/economic ends.) And, 2) ignoring international treaties and opinion whenever they are not seen to serve U.S. imperial goals.
In short, and stated proudly to the public, the Bush Administration seems to see the U.S. as a New Rome, an empire with its foreign legions (and threat of nuclear weapons) keeping the outlying colonies, and potential competitors, in line. Those who aren't fully in accord with these goals better get out of the way; "you're either with us or against us."
The Bush Drool
Which brings us back to Iraq. Bush is like a drooling, fixated hounddog on scent; other vital crises may be exploding all around him (North Korea's increasingly bellicose nuclear-missile strategy, the U.S. economy in tatters), but his eyes and nose are locked onto Direction Baghdad.
Bush risks doing irreparable harm to America's short- and long-term economic, political and military interests, but, damn it, Saddam is still in Baghdad and he's gotta go. No second attack front via Turkey? Forget it, Saddam's gotta go. No support from the rest of the world? Ignore it, Saddam's gotta go. Why? Because America's foreign/military policy -- its goals of dominance and control of natural resources -- requires it. Don't bother me, I'm eatin'.
So, unless some amazing event occurs in the next several weeks -- a worldwide boycott aimed at U.S. economic interests, Saddam having a heart attack (or going into exile in Las Vegas), North Korea launching a nuclear missile at Kuwait, the courts ruling that only the Congress has the right to declare war -- hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops will head into the Persian Gulf desert, after the "Shock & Awe" cruise-missile bombardment, to locate and decapitate the Iraqi leader and to "protect" the oilfields "on behalf of the Iraqi people" (not).
Tens of thousands of civilians and military personnel likely will die or be maimed. Dissent inside the U.S. will make the Vietnam era look like a beach party. Terrorism will explode worldwide, especially inside America. The U.S. will be more and more isolated. The economy will tank. A global recession or depression will follow.
And why? Because a few HardRight ideologues, most of whom have never been to war, decided more than a decade ago to start a conflagration in the Persian Gulf that the U.S. could profit from, both monetarily and in terms of dominating power. It's disgraceful. It's disgusting. It may even be impeachable.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org), has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years. He is author of Boy Into Man: A Fathersí Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons (Transformation Press, 1992).