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SPEAKING FREELY
What the neo-cons can't tell Americans
By Richard Daniel Ewing

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Why did the United States invade Iraq? President George W Bush claims that Iraq was an immediate threat, while Senator John Kerry says we Americans were misled into war. Other theories abound: filial revenge, oil dependency, or Halliburton's profits. But in fact, Bush's foreign policy advisers are driven by Cassandra-like visions of a dangerous future.

Bush's foreign-policy team is a bold group. They do not see history in terms of news cycles or election intervals. These grand strategists view the world in century-long sweeps. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, often identified as the chief neo-conservative architect, is a gifted intellectual. He fully appreciates the Iraq campaign's complexities and the historic parallels to Vietnam. Still, Wolfowitz and Bush's other advisers perceive the world in a light that ordinary Americans do not.

So what did they see on September 11, 2001? As New York's World Trade Center burned, this group saw two new terrifying trends coming together with devastating results. First, they saw a deadly new terrorist enemy and a greater Middle East festering with anti-Americanism. But we all saw this. Wolfowitz, however, saw this trend arcing decades into the future. To him, the Persian Gulf was becoming more dangerous and increasingly unstable. Next, Wolfowitz saw the inevitable spread of weapons of mass destruction. In 1950, only the US and the Soviet Union had atomic bombs. By 2000, poverty-stricken Pakistan and autarkic North Korea had acquired nuclear capabilities. With the threshold clearly dropping, what's to stop Micronesia or Sudan from getting the bomb in 2050? Only lack of effort.

Foreseeing a porous anti-American region possessing nuclear weapons, the architects of Bush's security strategy became driven by the fear of a nuclear terrorist attack on a major US city. While the odds of a mushroom cloud over Manhattan are unlikely this year, it increases substantially over the longer term. If by 2050 the Gulf region became a mix of unstable nuclear-armed autocracies, weapons would inevitably leak to nameless terrorist groups - resulting in undeterrable destruction.

Like the Greek prophet Cassandra, endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated by Apollo never to be believed, Wolfowitz & Co see a doomsday looming on the horizon and they are desperately working backward to change our fate. They decided to divert either the diffusion of nuclear technology or Middle Eastern instability. Because globalization makes technological quarantine impossible, and they hold multilateral conventions in low esteem, they chose to accelerate the spread of democracy. If the region is going nuclear down the road, it must be as benign as possible. With no confidence that a participatory government was likely in the next few decades on its own, the administration wanted to give the region a superpower push. September 11 gave them the perfect opportunity to act.

Iraq became the lever to transform the region for several reasons. To start, the US had been making a case against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for more than a decade. Advancing that argument was easier than starting over with another country. Second, Iraq would certainly acquire nuclear weapons - it might just take decades for the technology to spread. But if Iraq could become a stable democracy, it would send shock waves through the region, forcing other governments to change. In that case, the inevitable spread of nuclear technology would involve safe democracies, not hostile theocracies.

Make no mistake - Bush's advisers believe that the US, guided by their policies, can change the world. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice argued that the geopolitical "tectonic plates" started shifting after September 11 as they had after World War II. Consider that comparison. That period witnessed America's determination to contain Soviet power, to reconstruct Europe and to establish a global economic system. It was the most audacious peacetime decision to use US power to reshape the planet.

Bush's advisers have identical aspirations today. The collapse of the Soviet Union validated their belief that US power can be globally transformative. Wolfowitz & Co embraced a willingness to act - over the short and long runs - to enhance US security (not credibility or status). If US muscle could fell the Soviet colossus, they calculated, why couldn't it create stability in the Middle East?

The major obstacle for that policy, however, was that Americans have always been uncomfortable exercising power for naked national interest. Instead, as historian Walter McDougall argues, Americans picture their role in the world as an extension of their personal values - promoting liberty, spreading democracy, and fighting evil. Moreover, Bush's advisers believe that ordinary Americans cannot comprehend and should be shielded from complex foreign policy (or even energy policy). Knowing that the US will not go to war based on hazy geopolitical trend lines, Bush's advisers justified their grand strategy in tangible terms - chemical weapons, links to terrorists, and tyranny. September 11 provided an opportunity to cloak geopolitical transformation in righteous intervention.

This Machiavellian gambit carries several deeply troubling implications. To start, the controversy over the intelligence used to justify the war becomes nearly irrelevant when grand strategy drives planning. But most important, it begs the question: if transformation was the goal, why has the post-war reconstruction gone so badly? Where were the planning and resources? Besides miscalculating the Iraqi reception, Bush's advisers were unable to ask Americans for prolonged sacrifice of blood and treasure to ensure its desired, yet unspoken, objectives. Unfortunately, this is where Wolfowitz's grand world view collided with nearsighted media cycles. The result is a less stable Iraq and a more dangerous region. Perhaps, like Cassandra, Wolfowitz hasn't changed the future after all.

Richard Daniel Ewing is a non-resident fellow at the Nixon Center in Washington, DC.

(Copyright 2004 Richard Daniel Ewing.)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.


Sep 14, 2004




Why al-Qaeda is winning (Sep 11, '04)

The clash of fundamentalists (Sep 11, '04)

The Bush crusade (Sep 8, '04)

Toward a secure America in a secure world (Sep 4, '04)

 

 
   
         
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