“America is not to be Rome or Britain. It is to be America.”
William Kristol boasts that September 11 proves the neocons to have been prophets because, after the Cold War, they alone warned that the world had become a more dangerous place, not a safer one. He and his crowd cite three factors that have made it so: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the rise of terrorism; and the emergence of rogue states. Kristol says that, if only the United States had increased defense spending in the 1990’s, intervened in the affairs of more countries, fought more wars, overthrown more governments, and tried more war criminals, September 11 would never have happened.
As usual, Kristol has everything exactly backward.
September 11 vindicated the paleoconservatives’ critique of American immigration and foreign policy. For over ten years now, the paleos have forecast an approaching clash of civilizations between a decadent West and Islam, pointed to the vulnerability created by mass immigration from the Third World, and warned of the dangers of blow-back from interventionism. If the country today is both more vulnerable and more likely to be attacked by terrorists, it is precisely because of the suicidal policies pursued by the last three administrations—with the full support of the neocons.
For any American, the foremost consideration should be for American security. With the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the United States became a safer country (as nearly everyone recognized at the time), no longer in need of a $300-billion defense budget or forward bases in Europe and East Asia. If Washington had devoted one third of the Cold War budget to guarding our borders and had stopped Muslim (and other) immigration, we would today be as secure and peaceful as our grandfathers were in the 1920’s. Regrettably, our ruling elite had a different plan.
It took them ten years to work out the details, find a new enemy, and prepare the public for a new 50-year war, but they have completed the work and are now busily showcasing the finished product. Less than one third of the new book by the neocon tag team of Kristol and Kagan is devoted to making the case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Mostly, it is a defense of the new national-security strategy, with its four key elements of preemption, regime change, unilateralism, and global military supremacy. President Bush had already defined preemption as the right to confront threats “before they emerge.” This definition, however, is far too restrictive for our authors, who cite Clinton’s military intervention in the Bosnian civil war and his bombing of Belgrade as early examples of the theory at work. Needless to say, they never explain what threat, in the present or the remotest future, Serbia could possibly have posed to the United States. Nevertheless, they are indignant at Clinton’s failure to take earlier action against Milosevic’s “aggression.”
Kristol’s and Kagan’s book is built on a series of presumptions, foremost among them the idea that the world would descend into chaos and mass slaughter without a global hegemon. “The alternative to American leadership is a chaotic, Hobbesian world where there is no authority to thwart aggression, ensure peace and security or enforce international norms.” A close second is American innocence. Not only can the American global rulers do no wrong; they have done no wrong—ever. This presumption is founded on another—the total ignorance of their readers. This book was written for those who know no history, remember nothing, and glean their knowledge of current events from Fox News. The authors are so blinded by ideology that no instance of American villainy, perfidy, or hypocrisy is allowed to penetrate their consciousness.
For Kristol and Kagan, the United States is, and should ever remain, “at once a European power, an Asian power and, of course, a Middle Eastern power.” Clearly, those who believe that the United States should return to being a mere North American power are in need of illumination. But why not a Latin American or South American power, also? The authors do not say, but there is no mystery here. These backwater regions are not strategically significant for Kristol and Kagan. What matters is achieving full-spectrum domination (military, political, and economic) over the Eurasian landmass. That is the real objective of Bush’s neocon-influenced foreign policy, the Anglo-American war on Iraq being simply one step toward that consummation. To those hand-wringers who believe that American world domination could pose a threat to freedom or could corrupt its possessors, Kristol and Kagan reply, “Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?” What indeed?
According to the writers, we have an “obligation” to defend “Taiwan, Israel, and Europe.” Since they also believe that we have the “obligation” to defend freedom everywhere, this list might seem redundant. In fact, of course, they wish to emphasize the second-named country, with Taiwan thrown in for balance and Europe as a sop to the Middle American helots. Kristol and Kagan never inform us of the identity of the country against which we must continue to defend Europe; to name Russia would expose them to ridicule. However, they do specify the authority that has laid the heavy “burden” of world leadership upon American shoulders. President Bush would say it is God Himself, but the godless neocons speak of “history” and “fate.” This investiture gives the United States the “right” “to impose its will on others” and to “be the world’s policeman or its sheriff,” as well as its “beacon and guide.”
According to Kristol and Kagan, the last three American presidents possessed “distinctive world views,” which led to radically different foreign policies. George H.W. Bush’s “narrow realism” inhibited him from intervening or waging war unless it was in the national interest, narrowly defined. Bill Clinton was averse “to the use of force” and wedded to a “wishful liberalism” of negotiation, treaties, and collective action. The authors contend that both administrations were far too mindful of such puerile considerations as “limits,” “restraint,” and “humility,” with which a power as great and good as the United States need not concern itself. They regret that Bush the Younger began his administration as a hesitant leader still under the influence of his father’s “narrow realism.” Thank God—err, history—for September 11, which transformed Bush overnight into a statesman of vision who saw that only American global suzerainty could save the world from the forces of evil. The authors remind us that “evil exists in the world, and it has consequences.” Not to worry, though: “Evil can be defeated”—but only by the United States of America.
Andrew Bacevich’s American Empire offers a much more accurate history of U.S. foreign policy over the past 12 years. Bacevich argues that the last three presidents have shared a common worldview and followed, essentially, the same foreign policy. Bush the Elder authorized the first postwar “humanitarian intervention,” in Somalia. His secretary of defense became his son’s Vice President, and his chairman of the joint chiefs became George Junior’s secretary of state. Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, championed the use of force as a regular component of U.S. foreign policy, and her idea of “the indispensable nation” became one of the core components of the Wolfowitz/Perle national-security strategy. And Clinton himself was not averse to acting unilaterally and without U.N. sanction when it suited his purpose (e.g., the Sudan bombing).
Without bothering to offer any evidence or argument, Kristol and Kagan allege that Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat both to the United States and to the peace of the world. According to them, Saddam’s regime qualified “as one of the world’s most dangerous.” (More dangerous than nuclear-armed and saber–rattling North Korea, for whom President Bush recommends diplomacy and regional pressure?) They also refer to Iraq’s “ever more threatening” “arsenal” of weaponry, without bothering to explain what it is, whom it threatens, or how. In their attempt to prove that Saddam possessed “weapons of mass destruction,” they fail even to mention Scott Ritter, much less refute the case of this former weapons inspector. Now that the war has ended without Saddam having unleashed his deadly “arsenal” upon the invading Anglo-American army, and without the occupation having uncovered evidence of “weapons of mass destruction,” Ritter has been vindicated.
For neoconservatives, exaggerating—or fabricating—the threat posed by foreign adversaries is a long tradition. Kristol and Kagan themselves refer to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s membership in “Team B” in 1976 as a matter for boasting. Yet Team B got it all wrong. CIA assessments of Soviet economic and military capabilities during the Cold War grossly overestimated the reality, yet Wolfowitz’s outside “experts” charged the intelligence community with underestimating the Soviet threat. The War Over Iraq claims that America’s mission to promote democracy is an “inheritance” that “has shaped two centuries of U.S. foreign policy.” Yet the authors offer no evidence for this brazenly unhistorical claim. Besides, what they really favor is imposing democracy by force, in accordance with a tradition begun by Woodrow Wilson and, thus, less than a century old.
Curiously, the authors endorse President Bush’s declaration that “America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish.” Clearly, she has both. What is the occupation of Iraq but an extension of the American Empire, and what is the President’s constant vow to bring about world peace and justice and to extirpate terrorism everywhere but a utopian fantasy? What’s more, many of the neocons are now boldly affirming the existence and desirability of an American Empire. Kristol and Kagan seem to be working from the old playbook here, it being OK nowadays to avow the imperial mantle. Nevertheless, they are clear about what must be done to maintain the empire: The government must spend an additional $100 billion on the “defense” budget and build a continental missile defense. Surprisingly, they admit the real purpose of the latter to be to protect our ability to project power overseas. In other words, defense is adjunct to U.S. offensive capabilities.
While Kristol’s and Kagan’s screed seems designed to give the reader indigestion, British historian Niall Ferguson’s history of the British Empire is enjoyable to read. It is a well-written book, light on p.c., balanced, thorough, beautifully illustrated with photos and maps, and would make a magnificent text for a college course on the subject. However, the introduction and conclusion read as a brief for the neocon case for empire. Ferguson argues that the blessings of modernization and globalization are largely fruits of the British Empire, without whose benevolent global rule the structures of liberal capitalism, parliamentary democracy, rule of law, and university education would be nonexistent in most parts of the globe. In his view, the empire, despite its flaws, was a force for enormous good in the world, especially in those countries that once were directly subject to it. Furthermore, he strongly implies that, without British naval and military might, these blessings would never have been diffused outward from the British Isles—not, at least, on a large scale.
Ferguson goes further. In his view, the chronic instability, violence, kleptocracy, and corruption that still afflict so much of the world, inhibiting development and orderly progress, can alone be suppressed by a new global power—the “only one power capable of playing an imperial role in the modern world . . . the United States. Indeed, to some degree it is already playing that role.” American world rulers, in their new capacity, can learn many things from studying the history of the British Empire. The first is that America “can do a very great deal to impose its preferred values on less technologically advanced societies.” The second is that she must be willing to use force to impose peace and civilization upon an unruly and barbarous world. A third is that the burden of an expanded empire would really be quite light. Whether measured in wealth, armaments, or population, the United States is today far more powerful than was Great Britain at her imperial zenith. Ferguson argues that the United States could double her military budget, more than double her foreign aid and investment, and send many more of her sons and daughters abroad as soldiers, sailors, aid workers, technicians, businessmen, missionaries, and educators. All America lacks is the will to empire. Ferguson is distressed that, since 1972, the United States has consistently imported more capital and labor than she has exported and that she remains “a reluctant ruler of other peoples.” In short, although America “has a much bigger economy, many more people, a much larger arsenal” than her British predecessor,
it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people and its culture to those backward regions which need them most urgently and which, if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threats to its security. It is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial.
To end this “denial” is one of the objects of his book.
There is one question that Ferguson never asks: Did the peoples of the British Isles (English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish) benefit or suffer from the burden of global empire? Are England and Scotland wealthier, more cultured, more civilized, more European, or less so because of their imperial role? Ferguson does not ask, because he does not care about the answer. His imperial altruism does not extend to his own nation.
The idea of an indispensable and innocent nation, which is the core of both Ferguson’s and Kristol’s and Kagan’s books, is profoundly un-Christian. God alone is sovereign over His world and, hence, alone indispensable. The close alliance between neocons and American theocons raises the question of whether the Christianity of the so-called Christian Right is really Christian at all. Regardless, a persuasion that endorses Jacobin crusades, flouts the laws and sovereignty of nations, imposes “democracy” by violence, and openly aspires to world domination certainly is not of the right or of God, but rather of the left.
[The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, by Lawrence F. Kaplan and William Kristol (San Francisco: Encounter Books) 146 pp., $29.95]
[Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, by Niall Ferguson (New York: Basic Books) 370 pp., $35.00]