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October 4th, 2002 - The Militarization of American Foreign Policy

Commentary by Asia Times

Summary of the U.S. Military Complex

The Militarization of American Foreign Policy


By Ahmad Faruqui

Asia Times

October 4th, 2002


The White House has issued its vision of a National Security Strategy for the United States. Written by a team of advisors headed by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the document enunciates the Bush doctrine. In marked contrast to US foreign policy over the past half century, the Bush doctrine states that the US will never allow its military supremacy to be challenged. On June 1 Bush told graduating cadets at West Point, "We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace - a peace that favors liberty. We will defend the peace against the threats from terrorists and tyrants." The doctrine outlines how that mission will be accomplished. "We do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom."


The militarization of American foreign policy is a key theme of the Bush doctrine. It was first laid out in a document published in September 2000 by the neo-conservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources For a New Century", the document was written for individuals who now hold senior positions in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


Neil Mackay published excerpts from the PNAC document in the Sunday Herald; 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 "as far into the future as possible", the document says. It also calls for the US to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars as a 'core mission'".


In plain English, the document describes American armed forces abroad as "the cavalry on the new American frontier". The PNAC blueprint builds on an earlier document written by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy, that argued that the US must "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role".


Seeking to deflect criticism that the US was pursuing a self-centered agenda of global domination, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the US had consistently worked for the advancement of good over evil during the 20th century. He seemed to gloss over the fact that these very same US policies made "Yankee Go Home" a household phrase throughout the third world, and produced a best selling book and movie, The Ugly American.


Not much else could have been expected, given that the US chose to install tyrants such as Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia and the Shah of Iran, and to fight on behalf of the corrupt regime of South Vietnam.


The doctrine singles out the Muslim world as an incubator of terrorism, and pledges to support "moderate and modern government, especially in the Muslim world, to ensure that the conditions and ideologies that promote terrorism do not find fertile ground in any nation". It does not mention state-sponsored terrorism as a source of regional instability, nor does it urge world governments to protect the human rights of their citizens.


The doctrine is focused on fighting wars with enemies. Since "we cannot let our enemies strike first", it states that the US must adopt a strike-first policy against terrorist threats "before they are fully formed". The policymakers in Washington have concluded that enemies will forever remain enemies, and should be taken out. It also presumes that the US can accurately detect terrorist threats, and that it can guarantee the safety of civilian populations while pursuing military action against the terrorists.


While the US will seek allies in the battle against terrorism, it "will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary". That includes "convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities" not to aid terrorists. When the US began its war against terrorism, British historian Sir Michael Howard cautioned that it was a mistake to call that program a war. As evidence of civilian casualties in Afghanistan mounted, American historian Howard Zinn noted that fighting terrorism was a just cause, but the White House had confused a just cause with a just war.


When President George W Bush orders the UN to show some "backbone", he indirectly undercuts his commitment to promoting the cause of democracy around the globe. Such edicts have more in common with those of imperial Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, than with those of the founding fathers of the United States of America.


When the Bush administration has been asked why no ally except Britain is supporting US policy on Iraq, it responds that the allies will ultimately come around to supporting US policy. When asked why German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was opposed to any attack on Iraq, Cheney said that Schroeder was being forced to make these statements because of pre-election pressures.


Ironically, others are saying the same about the Republican party. MSNBC TV program host Phil Donahue noted on his program recently that winning the war had become a political issue. He cited a top White House aide who hectored a meeting of the Republican party that everything should be done to prevent the economy from becoming the focus of the fall elections. If Americans began to focus on the failure of corporate governance at major corporations such as Enron and World Com, or on the shrinking size of their pension funds, the Republicans would lose. Donahue also cited another Bush aide who had concluded that August was not the time to introduce new "political" products, such as a war against Iraq. That might explain why the administration has chosen to make Iraq the single point on its agenda during September.


A small number of congressmen and senators have voiced their concern that a pre-emptive war against Iraq - while Israel is still engaged in a campaign of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza - would make a terrorist attack more likely. This concern comes across strongly in a recent US poll, where eight out of 10 Americans express this view.


As expected, the White House has shrugged off these concerns by saying that nothing succeeds like success. They say that when the Arabs see Saddam's army deserting him in large numbers, they will see the wisdom of the Bush doctrine. Republican strategists say that similar concerns were cited during the war in Afghanistan, and were quickly alleviated when the Taliban were deposed.


Attacking Iraq may break the global coalition against terrorism. The US needs to deal with the menace of terrorism before taking on new challenges. It may benefit from listening to its newfound ally, President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. Speaking last October at a globally televised press conference at the beginning of the war against Afghanistan, Musharraf compared terrorism to a tree. One can pluck off its leaves, or even cut off its branches, but the tree will grow them back again unless one cuts off its roots. The root causes of terrorism have to be tackled, and they are more often than not political. They cannot be solved through military means, but need to be addressed through a political and economic process.


Sir Michael Howard makes a similar point. In dealing with the problem of transnational terrorism, "the rhetoric and expectations of 'war' are counter-productive and much military experience irrelevant. With skillful political management and patient police work, backed up where necessary by armed force 'in aid of the civil power', this particular conspiracy can, perhaps, be eradicated. But 'the war against terrorism' cannot be won, for terrorism will always be available as a weapon in the hands of people desperate and ruthless enough to use it."


Unfortunately, the Bush administration has chosen to emphasize the military dimension of strategy almost exclusively. Like imperial Rome, the US is the superpower of the day. Its military budget of $400 billion exceeds that of the next nine countries combined. Its navy is unchallenged wherever it goes, because it is equipped with 12 aircraft carrier battle groups capable of launching 1,040 strike aircraft on a few day's notice. The carrier groups are integrated into five major fleets that are stationed in Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic and the Pacific.


Notes Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, "There always has been an imperial streak in American foreign policy. For some historians, the founding of America and its 19th century push westward were no less an exercise in empire-building than Rome's drive to take charge of the Mediterranean." This point is seconded by Yale's Paul Kennedy, who notes, "From the time the first settlers arrived in Virginia from England and started moving westward, this was an imperial nation, a conquering nation."


Today, the US has military bases, or base rights, in some 40 countries across the world - giving it virtually the same global muscle it would enjoy if it ruled those countries directly. According to author Chalmers Johnson, these military bases, numbering in the hundreds around the world, are today's version of the imperial colonies of old. Washington may refer to them as "forward deployment", says Johnson, but their presence effectively converts the host countries into US colonies. They cease to have an independent foreign policy. On this definition, there is almost no place outside America's reach. Pentagon figures show that there is a US military presence, large or small, in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations.


Observes Paul Kennedy, "The American military revolution, astounding though it is in so many ways, is of limited application when fighting a war among the shadows. In today's fractured, war-torn, neo-medieval world, it is quite inadequate to guarantee lasting peace and security, even in the American homeland itself, let alone in the protection of US interests abroad. One wonders, though, how many of President Bush's talented strategic advisors fully realize that fact?"


Regaining American primacy


The US accounts for a 20th of the world's population, generates a third of its gross domestic product and owns about half of its financial wealth. As noted above, it has no military equal. Culturally, it is the world's leading film and television exporter, and its colleges and universities attract the most foreign students each year. But, as noted by Harvard's Joseph Nye in his new book The Paradox of American Power, "the largest power since Rome cannot achieve its objectives unilaterally in a global information age".


On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked symbols of American primacy in broad daylight on American soil, causing massive loss of human life and property. Their barbaric acts were condemned throughout the world, and garnered empathy for America's plight. In many ways, they helped soften the image of a superpower that was arrogant, unilateralist and self-centered.


A year later much of the goodwill generated by the attacks appears to have dissipated. According to Sebastian Rotella of the Los Angeles Times, the accumulation of this goodwill may have been "a mere pause in a steady rise of disillusionment with the world's only remaining superpower. With a few important exceptions, foreign leaders and voters say the US may have missed a historic opportunity to forge a broad international coalition and revamp its increasingly negative image." This same point was stressed in former Vice President Al Gore's address to the Commonwealth Club of California.


Why did this happen? Initially, the war in Afghanistan appeared to be a spectacular success. Precision weapons and new tactics resulted in the removal of the tyrannical Taliban regime from power in record time, and in the apparent destruction of the al-Qaeda network. In a few months, it became evident that most of the senior leaders of al-Qaeda were still at large, as was Taliban leader Mullah Omar. And in the past several months, the US campaign in Afghanistan has begun to look like a failure. Musharraf, perhaps the strongest ally of the US in the region, has openly voiced his concerns about the manner in which the US is prosecuting the war. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's authority is increasingly under attack, and it seems to not extend beyond the boundaries of Kabul. Without his American bodyguards, he would be a dead man, having narrowly survived an assassination attempt.


Others have begun to question the moral premises of fighting such a war. Appearing on Fox TV, the editor of a major British magazine noted recently that the IRA's terrorist activities had resulted in more than 4,000 deaths over the past several decades. He said that there was ample evidence that much of the financing for the IRA's terror campaign had come from areas in New England, and asked rhetorically whether the UK would be justified in sending in the Royal Air Force to bomb Boston.


The US has lost further goodwill by adopting an increasingly strident tone on seeking "regime change" in Iraq. Writing in the Independent, London Mayor Ken Livingstone has observed that US foreign policy in the Middle East "is breathtaking in its hypocrisy" and is totally counterproductive. He notes that the much-awaited peace dividend since the Cold War has been lost as the world's only superpower has made its overriding objective the creation of a global system in which its will goes unchallenged. According to him, this is the only reason that the US is pushing ahead with its missile defense program.


Frustration has turned out to disillusionment as the world has seen the US abandoning one global institution after another. A key example is the decision by the Bush administration to "unsign" the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. This has drawn much criticism, even within the US, where Congressman Joseph Crowley and 44 of his congressional colleagues wrote to Bush asking him to reverse his decision.


Another prominent US decision that drew international disapproval was the rejection of the protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. This protocol was designed to fill a major gap in international arms control and security arrangements, and had the support of every US ally and all of Europe, Latin America, Japan and many other countries. US officials said the treaty would have put US bio-defense and business interests at risk, but the chief US negotiator was not able to come up with a valid example of treaty provisions that would have endangered the US.


Earlier, the Bush administration had rejected the Kyoto Protocol. What was worse than the rejections was the reasoning behind them. Washington argued that the Kyoto Protocol was "fatally flawed" because it would have been expensive to implement and did not apply to developing nations. The protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention would not catch all cheaters, and the International Criminal Court might be used to harass US citizens.


To make matters worse, US trade policy has become increasingly protectionist. The US decision in March to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported steel has led to a barrage of complaints to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two months later, Bush signed into law a bill awarding US farmers up to $180 billion in subsidies over the next decade. The European Union has warned of retaliation, and the subsidies have been criticized by Australia and Canada. A WTO arbitration panel has suggested that $4 billion of trade sanctions should be imposed on the US.


There is increasing apprehension over America's insistence that all nations play by US rules. The backlash against US unilateralism has begun. In May 2001, the US was voted off the UN Human Rights Commission, a body that it helped found. The US lost its bid for a third term on the International Narcotics Control Board. In the same month, a top-level delegation from the European Union had to step in for the absent US in negotiations with North Korea.


Washington, with a proud tradition of democracy, has long advocated that all states with a "command and control" type of government make a transition to democracy. If a majority of a state's citizens can be empowered to determine its policies, it follows that a majority of the world's states should be empowered to determine global policies. If Iraq is in violation of UN resolutions, and poses a threat to regional and international security, then it is the UN that should authorize an attack on Iraq. The US needs to persuade a majority of the world's countries to go along with its decision. That is the only way for it to regain its primacy.


2002 Asia Times Online Co Ltd. All rights reserved.


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