The Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strikes; A Global Pax Americana

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, April 24, 2004

A September 2002 document known as The National Security Strategy of the United States outlined U.S. President George W. Bush’s national security policy to guide the U.S. military, known as the Bush doctrine.

In it, for the first time, the United States reserved the option to wage a preventive war, also “opening the possibility for American use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states” as the Encarta encyclopedia noted.

This was said to be in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and new threats of international terrorism. Bush argued that the strategy of deterrence, and “mutually assured destruction” of states that prevented the Soviet Union and the U.S. from annihilating each other, was now outdated, for fear of stateless terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destruction.

However, this has proven controversial in many ways. For example:

  • This approach has been seen as a violation of current international obligations and treaties.
  • In line with this doctrine, the U.S. pulled out of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, one of the corner stones to international peace and stability. But this was met with much criticism of another power, this time global and almost unchallenged, to be able to get away with such things in a unilateral manner, rather than going through such changes with the international community and the United Nations. Side NoteMaybe there was, as the U.S’s arguments made, a reason to consider it outdated, but the manner in which they pulled out was seen as threatening by other states. At a time when American citizens are more and more threatened due to the policies of their leaders in the international arena, such acts when combined with many other examples of hostility to international agreements, risks fueling anger that might be directed at ordinary American citizens.
  • In addition, and in line with the above-mentioned report, the U.S. has also in its March 2002 Pentagon Nuclear Posture documents described possible nuclear options at named countries fueling the criticisms. (This is detailed further in the previous link.)
  • Other nations see the U.S. action as threatening and may be afraid, given the U.S.’s controversial Cold War history and actions, including supporting dictators and overthrowing popular leaders.
  • Throughout history, larger nations have been able to exert their desires more effectively than others. Military power has often been the final arbiter of law. We recall “gun boat diplomacy” tactics of various imperial powers in the past to ensure unwilling nations bent to their demands. The U.S.’s political and military power is unrivalled today. In terms of historical pattern, many in the third world see this as a continued pattern of projecting power and signs of a new form of imperialism as the Iraq crisis has shown.
  • Furthermore, the actions of the more powerful nations in the international arena, away from home, have contributed to such resentment and hatred, that it is sometimes not recognized that their own policies could be contributing to these terrible acts and threats of terrorism. Any such consideration is met with being labeled as soft (for the implication is to adapt and change foreign policy and to stand down the threatening armies, etc), or not even entertained as a possibility for it would affect the economy and “way of life” for those nations that benefit from this arrangement. It has appeared challenging for the mainstream and elite establishment in the powerful nations to accept that their own leaders may be acting undemocratically in the international arena even though they provide democracy at home.

But one other controversial thing about the Bush doctrine is its timing and originality. That is, the claim has been that the National Security document came out of the need to respond to the threats that September 11 had posed. However, in 2000 a report from a neo-conservative organization, New American Century, called Rebuilding America’s Defenses PDF formatted document, outlines the ideas behind global dominance and empire in the form of a global Pax Americana.

In that document, amongst various other things, some of the following were highlighted or stressed in key areas or boxes. (Formatting is slightly adapted to facilitate reading on this page, but the words are all original. Emphasis in bold is original. In some places bold replaces the original emphases via capitalization of words):

At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.

With this in mind, we began a project in the spring of 1998 to examine the country’s defense plans and resource requirements. We started from the premise that U.S. military capabilities should be sufficient to support an American grand strategy committed to building upon this unprecedented opportunity. We did not accept pre-ordained constraints that followed from assumptions about what the country might or might not be willing to expend on its defenses.

In broad terms, we saw the project as building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The Defense Policy Guidance (DPG) drafted in the early months of 1992 provided a blueprint for maintaining U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests. Leaked before it had been formally approved, the document was criticized as an effort by “cold warriors” to keep defense spending high and cuts in forces small despite the collapse of the Soviet Union; not surprisingly, it was subsequently buried by the new administration.

The report attempts to … Establish Four Core Missions for U.S. military forces:

  • defend the American homeland;
  • fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars;
  • perform the “constabulary” duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;
  • transform U.S. forces to exploit the “revolution in military affairs;”

To carry out these core missions, we need to provide sufficient force and budgetary allocations. In particular, the United States must:

Maintain nuclear strategic superiority

Restore the personnel strength

Reposition U.S. forces to respond to 21st century strategic realities by shifting permanently-based forces to Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia, and by changing naval deployment patterns to reflect growing U.S. strategic concerns in East Asia.

Modernize current U.S. forces selectively

Cancel “Roadblock” Programs … Savings from these canceled programs should be used to spur the process of military transformation.

Develop and deploy global missile defenses … to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world.

Control the new “international commons” of space and “cyberspace” and pave the way for the creation of a new military service—U.S. Space Forces—with the mission of space control.

Exploit the “revolution in military affairs” to insure the long-term superiority of U.S. conventional forces.

Increase defense spending gradually to a minimum level of 3.5 to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, adding $15 billion to $20 billion to total defense spending annually.

Rebuilding America’s Defenses; Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century PDF formatted document, The Project for the New American Century, September 2000

Perhaps on an initial reaction, such documents could be ignored as extremist, were it not for the authors, contributors and the audience of the document. Many include those that serve in the current Bush Administration, at least one who also worked in the former Clinton Administration, and many who served in the previous Bush Administration (some who also serve in the current Bush Administration). The Scottish Paper, the Sunday Herald broke this story and is quoted at length, which also has more details about some people involved:

A secret blueprint for US global domination reveals that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure “regime change” even before he took power in January 2001.

The blueprint, uncovered by the Sunday Herald, for the creation of a “global Pax Americana” was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice- president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s deputy), George W Bush’s younger brother Jeb and Lewis Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff). The document, entitled Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century, was written in September 2000 by the neo-conservative think-tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

The plan shows Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

The PNAC document supports a “blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests”.

This “American grand strategy” must be advanced for “as far into the future as possible”, the report says. It also calls for the US to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars” as a “core mission”.

The report describes American armed forces abroad as “the cavalry on the new American frontier”. The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document written by Wolfowitz and Libby that said the US must “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”.

The PNAC report also:

  • refers to key allies such as the UK as “the most effective and efficient means of exercising American global leadership”;
  • describes peace-keeping missions as “demanding American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations”;
  • reveals worries in the administration that Europe could rival the USA;
  • says “even should Saddam pass from the scene” bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will remain permanently—despite domestic opposition in the Gulf regimes to the stationing of US troops—as “Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has”;
  • spotlights China for “regime change” saying “it is time to increase the presence of American forces in southeast Asia”. This, it says, may lead to “American and allied power providing the spur to the process of democratisation in China”;
  • calls for the creation of “US Space Forces”, to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent “enemies” using the internet against the US;
  • hints that, despite threatening war against Iraq for developing weapons of mass destruction, the US may consider developing biological weapons—which the nation has banned—in decades to come. It says: “New methods of attack—electronic, ‘non-lethal’, biological—will be more widely available … combat likely will take place in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace, and perhaps the world of microbes … advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”;
  • and pinpoints North Korea, Libya, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes and says their existence justifies the creation of a “world-wide command-and-control system”.

Neil Mackay, Bush planned Iraq “regime change” before becoming President, Sunday Herald, September 2002 (Emphasis Added)

Indications such as that American leadership should be preferred over an international body such as the United Nations and that targetting specific genotypes as a “politically useful tool” could sound very alarming and threatening to people around the world. Even European allies are to be managed the authors would suggest.

William Rivers Pitt, teacher, and New York Times bestselling author on two books related to the Iraq crisis also adds:

Vice President Dick Cheney is a founding member of [Project for the New American Century] PNAC, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is the ideological father of the group. Bruce Jackson, a PNAC director, served as a Pentagon official for Ronald Reagan before leaving government service to take a leading position with the weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

PNAC is staffed by men who previously served with groups like Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America, which supported America’s bloody gamesmanship in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and with groups like The Committee for the Present Danger, which spent years advocating that a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was “winnable.”

William Rivers Pitt, Of Gods and Mortals and Empire, Truthout.org, February 21, 2003. See also Blood Money, also by Pitt, February 27, 2003, detailing more about PNAC members, corporate interests and the relation to the Iraq war and justifications used.

The PNAC’s own web site, in their statement of principles, lists the people that have agreed to their principles. As well as the people listed above, from Rumsfled, Cheney and so on, are also people like John Bolton (Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security), Steve Forbes (former U.S. presidential candidate and founder/CEO/chief editor of Forbes a leading business magazine), Francis Fukayama (author of the controversial End of History) and Zalmay Khalilzad (appointed by the Bush Administration as the special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq).

Jay Bookman, an editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper highlights how many key themes in the 2000 report are similar to the National Security Strategy document of September 2002, and how various policies have fallen in line with these suggestions:

Overall, that 2000 report reads like a blueprint for current Bush defense policy. Most of what it advocates, the Bush administration has tried to accomplish. For example, the project report urged the repudiation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty and a commitment to a global missile defense system. The administration has taken that course.

It recommended that to project sufficient power worldwide to enforce Pax Americana, the United States would have to increase defense spending from 3 percent of gross domestic product to as much as 3.8 percent. For next year, the Bush administration has requested a defense budget of $379 billion, almost exactly 3.8 percent of GDP.

It advocates the “transformation” of the U.S. military to meet its expanded obligations, including the cancellation of such outmoded defense programs as the Crusader artillery system. That’s exactly the message being preached by Rumsfeld and others.

It urges the development of small nuclear warheads “required in targeting the very deep, underground hardened bunkers that are being built by many of our potential adversaries.” This year the GOP-led U.S. House gave the Pentagon the green light to develop such a weapon, called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, while the Senate has so far balked.

That close tracking of recommendation with current policy is hardly surprising, given the current positions of the people who contributed to the 2000 report.

Paul Wolfowitz is now deputy defense secretary. John Bolton is undersecretary of state. Stephen Cambone is head of the Pentagon’s Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation. Eliot Cohen and Devon Cross are members of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Rumsfeld. I. Lewis Libby is chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Dov Zakheim is comptroller for the Defense Department.

Jay Bookman, The president’s real goal in Iraq, Atlanta-Journal Constitution, September 29, 2002

(The above Atlantic Journal-Constitution article also has more information on some of these key people as well. Note also that at least one person, Eliot Cohen, was a former policy advisor to the US Defence department during the Clinton Administration.)

Inter Press Service also notes (July 1, 2003) an example of where influential ideas come from a narrow range of sources. “When ‘The Washington Post’ published a list of the people who Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s closest adviser, regularly consults for advice outside the administration, foreign-policy veterans were shocked when Michael Ledeen popped up as the only full-time international-affairs analyst.” Ledeen, IPS noted, has been active in the neo-conservative community for 20 years, and works closely with one of the more famous members, Dr. Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, at the right wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institue (AEI) where George Bush has occassionally appeared to make speeches.

One of the tasks the report highlighted was to increase military spending to preserve the U.S.’s dominance.

  • “To preserve American military preeminence in the coming decades, the [U.S.] Department of Defense must move more aggressively to experiment with new technologies and operational concepts, and seek to exploit the emerging revolution in military affairs,” the report mentions (p. 50).
  • Changes in information technology, which is also transforming the larger world, should be taken advantage of.
  • “The effects of this military transformation” the report continues, “will have profound implications for how wars are fought, what kinds of weapons will dominate the battlefield and, inevitably, which nations enjoy military preeminence.” With such “military preeminence”, this can be read as global domination and ultimate power. (As J.W. Smith and the Institute for Economic Democracy’s research highlights, military power is often the final arbiter of law in international affairs and this has been the case throughout history.)
  • All this of course would take some time to put into place, depending on current events. As the report notes (p. 51): “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
  • Award-winning journalist John Pilger notes that the terrorist attacks of September 11 was that new Pearl Harbor that was needed. (He also suggests that extreme right wing think tanks have been stuck in a mind-set of war and conflict from the Cold War era.)
  • Michael Meacher, Member of UK Parliament and former environment minister up to June 2003, when he quit, also adds quit bluntly that, the 9/11 attacks gave the US an ideal pretext to use force to secure its global domination.

The National Security Strategy document, in its introduction for example, states that “as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats [of weapons of mass destruction proliferation] before they are fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. So we must be prepared to defeat our enemies’ plans, using the best intelligence and proceeding with deliberation. History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.”

This sounds proactive and positive from the American government’s standpoint. However,

  • Other nations have feared that this is a polite way of saying that they will use their abilities whenever they want.
  • The most recent example, the way the Iraq case was made, is notable, for all the intelligence and proceedings did not convince even many allies or most nations around the world of a credible threat. Yet, the U.S. and a few coalition forces still decided to invade Iraq. (See this site’s section on building the case for a war in Iraq.) Noam Chomsky notes that this was not a failure in diplomacy, but “a failure of coercion” as the U.S. did not succeed in getting the international community to bend to its will.
  • On Iraq, the PNAC report also notes (page 14) that “the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
  • In other words, the Iraq crisis could be more than just about oil, which a lot of critics suggest. Or, as Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars suggests in Mother Jones magazine, “Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel. Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It’s having our hand on the spigot.”
  • The international fury and concern this has caused for bypassing international processes and treaty obligations has caused nations to worry about the intent and nature of U.S. power even more. North Korea for example, has become even more frightened threatening to increase its nuclear weapons capabilities (whether North Korea is just trying to act frightening or if it is dead serious is hard to tell right now. Intelligence over time will perhaps confirm the nature of the threat.)
  • As described in the nuclear weapons section on this site, and many other geopolitics pages on this site, a result is that both rogue states and the use and abuse of power by the most powerful nations contribute to these concerns, and we risk having a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby
    • concerns are raised about rogue states;
    • increased military expenditure is increased to address the concerns by nations such as the U.S.;
    • rogue states (and others not deemed “rogue”), concerned about their own security increase military spending and such priorities;
    • powerful nations such as the U.S. can then point to the need to increase their military abilities in various ways as being justified.
    • A vicious spiral is a big risk.

Mother Jones magazine is quite blunt in what the National Security Strategy document represents:

It is limitless in time and space. It not only commits the United States to dominating the world from now into the distant future, but also advocates what it calls the preemptive use of force: “America will act against emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

The United States has many times sent armed forces to take over foreign countries for weeks, years, even decades. But the Bush doctrine is the first to elevate such wars of offense to the status of official policy, and to call “preemptive” (referring to imminent peril) what is actually preventive (referring to longer-term, hypothetical, avoidable peril). This semantic shift is crucial. When prevention of a remote possibility is called preemption, anything goes. CIA caution can be overridden, Al Qaeda connections fabricated, dangers exaggerated—and the United States will have a doctrine to substitute for international law.

The Bush manifesto displays bluster, romance, and illogic in equal measure. Premise: America is fundamentally righteous. “In keeping with our heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage.” This will be news to much of the world, but never mind.

Todd Gitlin, America’s Age of Empire: The Bush Doctrine, Mother Jones, January/February 2003 Issue

In an article in Alternet.org, Jonathen Schell describes U.S. imperialistic actions:

In the new, imperial order, the United States would be first among nations, and force would be first among its means of domination. Other, weaker nations would be invited to take their place in shifting coalitions to support goals of America’s choosing. The United States would be so strong, the President has suggested, that other countries would simply drop out of the business of military competition, “thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” Much as, in the early modern period, when nation-states were being born, absolutist kings, the masters of overwhelming military force within their countries, in effect said, “There is now a new thing called a nation; a nation must be orderly; we kings, we sovereigns, will assert a monopoly over the use of force, and thus supply that order,” so now the United States seemed to be saying, “There now is a thing called globalization; the global sphere must be orderly; we, the sole superpower, will monopolize force throughout the globe, and thus supply international order.”

And so, even as the Bush Administration proclaimed US military superiority, it pulled the country out of the world’s major peaceful initiatives to deal with global problems—withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol to check global warming and from the International Criminal Court, and sabotaging a protocol that would have given teeth to the biological weapons convention. When the Security Council would not agree to American decisions on war and peace, it became “irrelevant”; when NATO allies balked, they became “old Europe.” Admittedly, these existing international treaties and institutions were not a full-fledged cooperative system; rather, they were promising foundations for such a system. In any case, the Administration wanted none of it.

Jonathan Schell, The Empire Backfires, Alternet, March 12, 2004

To achieve this, International Law might need to be by-passed and the United Nations further undermined. As Schell continues:

Richard Perle, who until recently served on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, seemed to speak for the Administration in an article he wrote for the Guardian the day after the Iraq war was launched. He wrote, “The chatterbox on the Hudson [sic] will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.”

Jonathan Schell, The Empire Backfires, Alternet, March 12, 2004

Perhaps an irony here is that the United States was initially one of the main countries to push for the creation of the United Nations in the aftermath of the Second World War. Yet, it has constantly been undermined by powerful nations, including the United States itself, in various ways, from things like holding back massive payments, by-passing it when suitable, and so on.

France, Germany and Russia in particular, have been vocally opposed to a U.S.-led war in Iraq outside the U.N. Some have wondered why these nations, considered allies of the U.S. would dare to oppose it. Perhaps the PNAC 2000 report gives a hint: In Europe it says, “a requirement to station U.S. forces in northern and central Europe remains. The region is stable, but a continued American presence helps to assure the major European powers, especially Germany, that the United States retains its longstanding security interest in the continent. This is especially important in light of the nascent European moves toward an independent defense ‘identity’ and policy; it is important that NATO not be replaced by the European Union, leaving the United States without a voice in European security affairs” (page 16). This reiterates a concern by the Pentagon’s 1994-1999 Defense Planning Guidance report, mentioned briefly further below.

Various mainstream newspapers and outlets have reported on this too to varying degrees. The following is just a sampling. More will be added over time.

  • A German newspaper, Der Spiegel reported this (March 4, 2003) and was translated into English by the Australian daily, the Sydney Morning Herald (March 7, 2003).
  • New York Times (March 2, 2003).
  • The Guardian in UK (February 26, 2003)
  • This issue has been quite prominent, for ABC’s Nightline to air a piece on this (March 5, 2003). In it, it did point out though that “The group was never secret about its aims. In its 1998 open letter to Clinton, the group openly advocated unilateral U.S. action against Iraq because ‘we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition’ to enforce the inspections regime.” That letter, and the focus of the ABC Nightline program was only about the Iraq crisis, yet, the general thrust of the PNAC has a wider geopolitical ramification.
  • Salon.com (March 5, 2003)
  • The Age, Australia (March 20, 2003)
  • The BBC (March 2, 2003 and April 2, 2003)

Shortly after the Iraq war ended, the U.S. announced that it was going to pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia. Jim Lobe, writing for Inter Press Service (June 10, 2003), also notes that as well as there, there are planned sharp reduction of forces in Germany and Turkey (also two nations whose populations were openly hostile to a war on Iraq, incidentally), but at the same time, the U.S. still plans a military expansion.

In Iraq, for example, there are hints towards long-term U.S. military bases, even after some sovereignty is passed to Iraqis.

As Lobe mentions in the June 10 article above, U.S. “military planners are talking about establishing semi-permanent or permanent bases along a giant swathe of global territory—increasingly referred to as ‘the arc of instability’—from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asiaa[sic] and across to North Korea.”

In 1992, as also mentioned above, Paul Wolfowitz’s controversial Defense Planning Guidance document revealed a number of objectives of U.S. post-Cold War political and military strategy:

  • Preventing the emergence of a rival superpower
  • Safeguard U.S. interests and promote American values
  • And, if necessary, the United States must be prepared to take unilateral action

When this was leaked to the U.S. mainstream, then Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, was ordered by the White House (of the Bush Sr. Administration) to rewrite it, but this draft revealed some of the truer intentions.

Noting a parallel to this controversial document, and “now mostly codified in the September 2002 National Security Strategy of the USA”, Lobe also notes that the “arc of instability corresponds well to regions of great oil, gas and mineral wealth, a reminder again of Wolfowitz’s 1992 draft study. It asserted that the key objective of U.S. strategy should be ‘to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power’.”

On the issue of Wolfowitz suggesting that the U.S. should prevent other powers from dominating a region or resources, Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE), a research organization in India also notes that those other powers could also include allies that might be rivals in these “great games”. As such, some aspects of U.S. foreign policies are to challenge rivals such as Europe, China and others that might be alternative centers of power that could undermine the influence of the U.S.

Writing just before the Iraq war commenced, RUPE offers insights into why allies such as France and Germany would have been so against the U.S. actions this time. This “arc of instability” would seem to overlap with these additional geopolitical concerns raised by Wolfowitz:

The global crisis of overproduction is showing up the underlying weakness of the US real economy, as a result of which US trade and budget deficits are galloping. The euro now poses a credible alternative to the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency, threatening the US’s crucial ability to fund its deficits by soaking up the world’s savings. The US anticipates that the capture of Iraq, and whatever else it has in store for the region, will directly benefit its corporations (oil, arms, engineering, financial) even as it shuts out the corporations from other imperialist countries. Further, it intends to prevent the bulk of petroleum trade being conducted in euros, and thus maintain the dollar’s supremacy. In a broader sense, it believes that such a re-assertion of its supremacy (in military terms and in control of strategic resources) will prevent the emergence of any serious imperialist challenger such as the EU. In that sense the present campaign is in line with the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, which called for preventing any other major power from acquiring the strength to develop into a challenger to the US’s solitary supremacy. (A European foothold even in Iran could bring about a euro-based oil economy; this perhaps explains the puzzling inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil.”)

For these very reasons, the US is facing more serious opposition from France, Germany and Russia in relation to Iraq than on any strategic issue in the past. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union no imperialist power has had the military muscle to oppose US unilateralism, and other powers have focussed instead on getting their minor share of the spoils of the former Soviet empire and the intensified plunder of the Third World. However, these powers see that the present campaign is intended precisely to shut them out of contention for equal status with the US in the long term as well. Contention for such status is the very reason for the EU’s existence.

At the same time direct control over the region’s petroleum resources will give the US another important lever to use against China, which will become considerably more dependent on petroleum imports during the next decade. The US also sees capitalist China as a potential threat to its plans for domination of East and Southeast Asia. The US has taken various steps to block China’s plans to obtain independent (i.e., not controlled by the US), stable access to West Asian oil or Caspian oil. The US has already installed its military throughout oil- and gas-rich Central Asia; now it is in the process of doing so in vastly richer West Asia.

Behind the Invasion of Iraq, Research Unit for Political Economy, (Monthly Review Press, 2003), pp. 15—17. (Note, link is to a version on the web produced by their publication, Aspect of India’s Economy, Nos 33 & 34, December 2002)

These differences between the U.S. and a supposed France/German-centered Europe in the context of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is, as RUPE says, “the attempt by each imperialist power to exclude others from the prize” (p.20) which they also further detail in their above-mentioned book.

Writing in another Inter Press Service article (June 6, 2003), Jim Lobe discussed the ramifications of a Pew survey that revealed many people around the world feared the U.S. power. Polls and surveys are of course frought with many problems, and the issue here is not whether the poll captured the correct proportion of feelings and attitudes, but instead, as Lobe noted, the reactions to this. Lobe noted that “Some analysts said they were pleased that Washington now evokes fear, particularly in the Muslim world. ‘World leadership is not about popularity,’ Danielle Pletka, a neo-conservative analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, told Newhouse News Service. ‘The right thing is not always the popular thing.’” Quoting another analyst, “‘I think there’s new-found respect for American power,’ said Max Boot, a neo-conservative commentator at the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘I’d rather be respected than look weak and helpless as we did on Sep. 12’ when most of the rest of the world rallied to Washington’s side.” Even former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright reacted to the poll saying, “Something I never, ever thought I would see is the fear of American power.”

Debating the above poll, and other related issues about U.S. nationalism, Lobe detailed a debate between a scholar at Carnegie, Minxin Pei, and Francis Fukuyama, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School for advanced International Studies and author of the famous End of History published a decade ago. An interesting observation which Lobe noted, was that the unique and universal “qualities of U.S. nationalism, according to Pei, make Americans uniquely insensitive to the nationalisms of other countries, and also imbues it with both a ‘missionary spirit and a short collective memory’—a combination that can be particularly irritating to other countries when Washington asserts itself aggressively on the world scene, particularly in pursuit of its own interests. ‘American nationalism is based on universal values, but when it pursues narrow national interests, it looks hypocritical,’ said Pei, who noted that anti-Americanism is in large part generated by people who admire American values.” In addition, “Fukuyama agreed with most of that analysis, but added another element to the uniqueness of U.S. nationalism: the notion that the creed at the core of U.S. identity has historically taken ‘on some of the attributes of a religion’, in part because of the absence of a state religion, as well as a ‘legacy of sectarian factionalism’ among Protestant groups here…. The result is that U.S. nationalism has a strong moralistic flavour that not only tends to cast foreign policy issues in terms of good and evil and confuses U.S. national interest with the universal good, but also, as Pei argued, invites charges of hypocrisy when Washington’s policy fails to adhere to its basic values.”

On the one hand, people may argue that the U.S. is only doing what anyone else in their position of power would do: preserve and expand it where possible. That may be so. One concern though is what the geopolitical strategies are, and how it is spun and delivered to the American citizens and others around the world.

Consider the following, quoted at length, which highlights geopolitical concerns in a longer historical context that empires and powers have of rivals and others, and note the similarity with RUPE’s assessment above, and that of Wolfowitz and PNAC:

Check a globe and note the enormous expanse of the world where most of the world’s natural resources are located, which is undeveloped and impoverished, and which consumes only 14% of the world’s resources. Then note the small area of the world which has few resources, which is developed, wealthy and powerful and which consumes 86% of the world’s resources. The resources which produce the wealth and power of the imperial centers are primarily in, and thus properly owned by, the impoverished undeveloped world. The secret that can never be acknowledged is that—if the impoverished world had access to finance capital, technology, and markets—it is they who would be wealthy.

As impoverished nations started breaking free from the chains of neo-mercantilist imperialism after WWII and exercising their rights as free people, the words spoken by Western security councils demonstrated they clearly realized their dilemma: “China is moving towards an economy and a type of trade in which there is no place for the foreign manufacturer, the foreign banker, or the foreign trader.” “We cannot expect domestic prosperity under our system without a constantly expanding trade with other nations. The capitalist system is essentially an international system, if it cannot function internationally, it will break down completely.”

The threat of the governments of half of Europe being no longer allied with the West and the loss of China after that war led to Germany and Japan, as well as Taiwan and South Korea—right on the border of China—being included as allies. The strategy of allowing those once-threatening imperial-centers-of-capital access to finance capital, technology, resources, and markets rapidly rebuilt Germany and Japan and much of Southeast Asia.

The Friedrich List protection provided post-WWII Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea (which was democratic-cooperative-capitalism) would be a great model to develop the entire world. However, the rest of the colonial world—which was forming their own nonaligned bloc to control its destiny—was not only denied all those protections, they were covertly destabilized and the rules of Adam Smith free trade, as interpreted by neo-mercantilists, were applied. True free trade was nonexistent, all the free trade rhetoric notwithstanding.

America allied with Britain to defeat Germany in WWI, allied with both Britain and the Soviet Union to defeat Germany again, and defeated Japan almost alone, in WWII. The United States then allied with the former hostile imperial-centers-of-capital to defeat the rising center of capital to the East, the Soviet Union, and suppress the many breaks for economic freedom of the colonial nations. European nations were prostrate after bankrupting each other battling over the world’s wealth [World War II] and America picked up the baton as protector of the now-allied imperial-centers-of-capital.

That the Cold War was primarily to maintain control of the world’s resources, not to defend against attack, is proven by the fact that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West’s supposed imminent military threat, the U.S. military budget alone is becoming equal to that of the rest of the world combined. America and its allies together have at least 20-times the firepower of any possible combination of nations allegedly hostile to their interests.

Western imperialists may need that firepower. Much of Southeast Asia is highly industrialized and, in 2002, China alone graduated over 400,000 Ph.D.s in the hard sciences. We must remember it was Germany graduating 3,000 engineers to Britain’s 350 that made the German economy so much more efficient and it was Germany’s takeover of British markets with the production of those engineers that led to World Wars I and II. Only a philosophy of sharing resources, sharing productive capacity, and sharing in the wealth produced can avoid Fascist military control of world resources which could easily turn into WWIII.

America’s and NATO’s rapid-reaction forces snuffing out resistance worldwide is only control of resources and control of the wealth-producing-process hiding under other excuses.

J.W. Smith, World Wars: Battles over Who Decides the Rules of Unequal Trade, Economic Decmoracy: The Political Struggle for the 21st Century (3rd Edition, June 2003)

A high-ranking military officer in the U.S. revealed how Defense Department extremists suppressed information and twisted the truth to drive the country to war against Iraq. In doing so, the officer also gave some more insights into neoconservative ideology and thinking:

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.

I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.

While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and American foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and liberals alike, felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws or merits, had never been openly presented to the American people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand. That is why I have gone public with my account.

War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq—more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits—an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn’t get the chance for an honest debate.

Karen Kwiatkowski, The New Pentagon Papers, Salon.com, March 10, 2004

Further insights are provided by Jim Lobe, writing for Inter Press Service noting how some neo-conservative thinking is dangerously echoing 19th century ideologies typical in the British Empire of superiority:

While Washington appears to have found that out in Iraq, it is still remarkable how 19th century imperial ideology has come to dominate U.S. foreign policy these days.

There was, of course, the favourite neo-conservative notion that U.S. troops would “liberate” Iraq and that the locals would welcome with gratitude a U.S. occupation that would hand off power to a western-educated and financed Iraqi banker who had not set foot in Baghdad since the age of 14. If gratitude were not forthcoming, then “shock and awe” would compel their cooperation.

As the “Wall Street Journal” wrote in an updated version of its 19th century British counterpart, “The way to win friends in the Middle East is not by appeasement … it is by showing we have the will to wield force on behalf of our values and interests”.

Jim Lobe, True Reactionaries, Inter Press Service, March 12, 2004

One of the key justifications for war in Iraq for example, was based on getting rid of the tyrant, Saddam Hussein. A large number of American citizens support the removal of that dictator (as do most people, even war protestors). However, the above highlights that Saddam Hussein’s brutality is not necessarily the real concern, though it is the one used and stated to the public to arouse their support. In that context then, it might be harder to see how U.S. international policies, rather than addressing the root causes of terrorism, may be fueling more hatred, while a U.S. drive towards hegemony and Empire hardly enters mainstream discourse. Such dangerous policies would perhaps not receive so much support even from most American citizens if spoken in such terms.

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Thursday, November 27, 2003
  • Last Updated: Saturday, April 24, 2004

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Document Revision History

DateReason
April 24, 2004Updates on U.S. imperialism
March 12, 2004Updates on neo-conservative ideology and thinking

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