Pre-emptive force and empire; how we got here

Thursday, March 16, 2006 at 11:53 AM

On the day that President Bush has reaffirmed his commitment to the principle of preemptive use of force, and a joint operation of American and Iraqi forces undertook the "largest air operation" on Iraq in years, it seemed appropriate to revisit the Project for a New American Century, and how we got to this point.

If you don't already know about the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), check out their web site. The front page of that site offers up this:
The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

The Project for the New American Century intends, through issue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars, to explain what American world leadership entails. It will also strive to rally support for a vigorous and principled policy of American international involvement and to stimulate useful public debate on foreign and defense policy and America's role in the world.

William Kristol, Chairman

Members of PNAC include Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, and Bill Bennet.  Zalmay Khalilzad, America's number one man in Iraq, is also a member.

The PNAC's infamous 1997 Statement of Principles, which many credit as the foundation for the Bush administration's military forays,  includes the following (emphasis added):

...But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America's role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. ...
We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

  • we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

  • we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

  • we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

  • we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.

Signatories are Elliott Abrams, Gary Bauer, Bill Bennett, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes, Aaron Friedberg, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen, Don Rumsfeld, Vin Weber, George Weigel, Paul Wolfowitz.

In reading that excerpt, I urge you to pay attention to the 3d and 4th bullet items.  "Economic" freedom and "our prosperity" should tell you a lot.  This vision of empire is as much about "free markets" and corporate interests as it is about democracy and personal liberty.

If you study enough of the rationalizations these people throw around, you begin to see pretty clearly that these neocon philosophers have convinced themselves that personal freedom is a derivative subset of business freedom.  It was not by coincidence that the US hit the ground in Iraq far better prepared to construct a free market business society than it was to protect Iraqis and American troops.  Incorporate and be free.  Deregulate and be free.  They do not seem to see--or maybe they just don't care about--the distinction between how these policies affect the major owners of the businesses and how they affect the rest of us.  Which is to say, the vast majority of us.

You'll find similar pro-empire and pro-economic liberty sentiments among the folks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and many other right wing think tanks. Max Boot (a very appropriate name) of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is on record in the Wall Street Journal  as favoring an American Empire where we are always at war with somebody, somewhere, just as England was during the height of its empire.  He'd create an American version of the French Foreign Legion, using foreigners eager to become US citizens to do our fighting for us.  After they fulfill their enlistment, those still alive would be awarded citizenship.

The war with Iraq was literally one of convenience.  Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Kristol were determined to establish military dominance somewhere in the Middle East in accord with the philosophy embodied by the PNAC.  Iraq offered a very tempting target because other Arab countries didn't like Saddam, we had already defeated them easily only a dozen years before, and there was no problem whipping up public sentiment for a war (because of 9-11) or for overthrowing Saddam.  Hence the immediate White House focus on Iraq beginning on the very day that the World Trade Center buildings fell.  And it didn't hurt that Iraq was a major source of oil.

These people are, in my view, stark raving mad; indeed, Rumsfeld and Cheney were reportedly referred to as "the crazies" when they worked in the Ford administration.  Yet they, and representatives of the CFR, the AEI, and countless other empire seekers and corporate shills now regularly appear in mainstream media where they are treated as sane, rational voices, even experts, on foreign policy.  Millions of Americans think of them as the voice of reason and resolve.

Why do the talking heads of mainstream media rarely ever mention PNAC, or explain what that group believes, or mention the fact that Kristol, Rumsfeld, Bennett, and Perle are members, even when interviewing those people? Why do you never hear that the CFR is home to Max Boot who yearns for permanent war when some shill from the CFR is being offered up as an expert?  Is there much hope of the public seeing through their abstract rationalizations without at least minimal help from the press?

When you put life and death decisions in the hands of people who are irrational, arrogant, blinded by ideology, and totally lacking in objectivity you get what we now have.  For those who don't understand the anger that many of us retain for the Supreme Court's decision to hand Bush the presidency, or the deep disgust with Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, and John Bolton (a leader of the thugs sent to Florida to "disrupt" the recount efforts), it stems from knowledge that these people handed the presidency to a man remarkably unqualified to hold it, and to his coterie of ideological warmongers who, not surprisingly, mongered a war at the very first opportunity.