History and Hubris

excerpted from the book

Tainted Legacy

9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights

by William Schulz

Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003, paper

"Let them hate us as long as they fear."

The first person to translate that global vision into a universal compact was Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The UDHR is the bedrock of all international human rights covenants. It has been accorded the status of "customary international law" by international bodies of jurisprudence around the world and been incorporated, at least in part, into dozens of national constitutions and legal statutes. It is in fact a far more revolutionary document than even its authors may have conceived. The U.S. State Department may well have sensed that when, at the time of the declaration's adoption, it emphasized that the document was to have no force of law but constituted only a "hortatory statement of aspirations."

Senator Jesse Helms on international law

"It's an appalling intrusion by the UN . . . there's only one court that matters here. That's the U.S. Supreme Court. There's only one law that applies. That's the U.S. Constitution."

Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush

"Foreign policy in a Republican administration . . . will proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community."

Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1992, describing plan to build up U.S. military power so that no other nation on earth would ever dare to challenge us.

"I want to be the bully on the block."

With Cheney and his cohort out of office, the task of promoting American preeminence fell to the neoconservative consortium, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), founded in 1997 by William Kristol and Robert Kagan of the right-wing magazine, The Weekly Standard. In its 1997 "Statement of Principles," PNAC made clear that its name meant exactly what it said: the twenty-first century was to be the "new American century," and the only way to make that happen was through massive military power. "A Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity . . . is necessary," the statement read, "if the U.S. is to . . . ensure our security and greatness in [the coming century]." The signers of the "Statement of Principles," in addition to Cheney, included Jeb Bush, the president's brother; Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defense; Paul Wolfowitz, now assistant secretary of defense; I. Lewis Libby, now chief of staff and national security advisor to the vice president; Elliott Abrams, now senior director of the national security council; Paula Dobriansky, now under secretary of state for global affairs; and Zalmay Halilzad, now special envoy to Afghanistan.

But exactly how was such "greatness to be achieved? In 2000 PNAC came up with the answer in the form of a policy paper entitled Rebuilding America's Defense: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century. Among its recommendations were that the United States undertake a massive increase in defense spending, the development of "a new family of nuclear weapons,' permanent "constabulary missions" around the world led by the United States instead of the U.N., control of outer space and cyberspace, a permanent military presence in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the creation of a U.S. Air Force "global first-strike force," and consideration of the removal from power of regimes in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, which President Bush would dub two years later the "Axis of Evil." The ultimate goal was to do whatever it took to secure '`unquestioned United States military preeminence," a Pax Americana, and to prevent any other country from ever challenging the United States, just as Cheney and Powell had outlined eight years before. Like many similar policy tomes, Rebuilding laid out an ambitious program. But unlike most of the rest of them, this was an agenda that was actually to spring off the printed page and into life.

Its formal birth occurred on September 19, 2002, when the Bush administration, with Cheney et al. back in power, issued, as required by law, a summary of U.S. defense policy in the form of a document called The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS). While now official government policy and hence a much sanitized version of the privately authored Rebuilding, NSS left no doubt that "our best defense is a good offense," that the United States "will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary" against terrorists and that "the greater the threat, . . . the more compelling the case for anticipatory [preemptive] action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack." The document, in parallel to Rebuilding made reference to military bases "beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia," the development of "long range precision strike capabilities," and the need to protect U.S. interests in outer space. Not surprisingly, North Korea and Iraq (though not Iran, which was in the midst of an internal struggle to open up its political system) were singled out as "rogue states" that, among other things, "display no regard for international law"-a criticism tinged with irony given that the NSS reserved some of its most vituperative language for an attack on the International Criminal Court (ICC). "In exercising our leadership, the report concluded, we will respect the values, judgments, and interests of our friends and partners. Still, we will be prepared to act apart when our interests and unique responsibilities require." In the NSS, the bully inside Defense Strategy for the l990s and Rebuilding had been told to behave himself, to dress up, comb his hair, clean his teeth, but, despite the cosmetics, his inner nature kept threatening to break through.

For one thing, his sponsors kept giving the truth away. "What should [the U.S.'s international] role be?" Kristol and Kagan had asked. And they had answered, "Benevolent global hegemony.

"Having defeated the 'evil empire, 'the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of US foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance.... " Though the NSS made gestures toward multilateralism, the second Bush Administration (in marked contrast to the first with its coalition-based "New World Order") had signaled its contempt for the "values, judgments, and interests of our friends and partners" almost from its inception-with its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty; its "unsigning" of the International Criminal Court and threats to stop all funding of U.N. peacekeeping missions; its veto of a protocol designed to put teeth into the Biological Weapons Convention; its vote against the optional protocol to the U.N. Convention Against Torture; its review of the U.S. commitment to cease using antipersonnel landmines by 2006 and its solitary refusal to accept any norms related to civilian possession of small arms in the U.N. convention to limit small weapons. These actions, coupled with the imposition of high protective tariffs on steel imports, the increase in government farm subsidies, the unilateral action against Iraq in the face of Security Council opposition, and Secretary Rumsfeld's regular assertion that the war against terrorism "should not be fought by committee," stripped the Bush Administration of its multilateral veneer.

But not, paradoxically enough, of all justification for claiming a commitment to human rights. For though, as we have seen, the sacrifice of multilateralism is in and of itself a major blow to the human rights scaffolding, many of the Bush unilateralists are no George Kennans, declaring, "I would like to see our government gradually withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights . . . I don't think any such questions should enter into our diplomatic relations with other countries.... The State Department [and] the White House . . . have more important things to do." They are no Henry Kissingers confiding to Augusto Pinochet's foreign minister, "I hold the strong view that human rights is not appropriate for discussion in a foreign policy context."

No, the situation with the Bush strategists is much more complicated than that and has thrown some human rights advocates off stride. The PNAC's "Statement of Principles," after all, called for "A Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity." Kristol and Kagan have often editorialized about the importance of grounding U.S. foreign policy in moral principles and insisted that "No one today can doubt that support for democracy [is] profoundly in our strategic interest." Elliot Abrams has written that "preserving [U.S.] dominance will not only advance our national interests but will preserve peace and promote the cause of democracy and human rights." Paul Wolfowitz, much of whose father's family perished in the Holocaust, has made a similar point: "The greatest advantage the United States had over the Soviet Union during the Cold War was our moral advantage," he has said, and "It's a mistake to dismiss [human rights] concern as merely humanitarian and not related to real interests." Wolfowitz strongly favored U.S. military intervention to stop genocide in Bosnia. The NSS itself proclaims that 'We will champion the cause of human dignity and oppose those who resist it." And the war in Iraq was ostensibly fought in part to put an end to Saddam Hussein's outrageous human rights record.

The problem is not that these neoconservatives think the world would be better off with less democracy or fewer regimes that respect human rights. The problem is that they have a very narrow, ideological understanding of human rights and would impose that understanding on the rest of the world... The problem is that they display enormous contempt for the international instrumentalities that are designed to give weight to human rights claims. And the problem is that they have a raging aversion to having those claims applied to the United States.

... the proponents of a new American century are intent upon defining and enforcing human rights in such narrow terms: in order that they might get ahead of the curve, so to speak, and obviate the inexorable march-from the passage of the UDHR in 1948 . . . to the worldwide ratification of one human rights treaty after another . . . to the proliferation of indigenous human rights groups in virtually every country in the world . . . to the decision by the European Union that national laws would be subject to international review . . . to the establishment of war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda . . . to the decision of the British courts regarding Augusto Pinochet . . . to the ratification of the International Criminal Court- the inexorable march toward the preeminence not of one country's preferences alone but of a culture of respect for human rights that transcends any one nation's predilections. Such a vision must, very simply, be destroyed. And if it can be destroyed in the very name of human rights, so much the better. So much more perfect the symmetry. So much more clever the irony. .`

Of the other 190 countries in the world, Vice President Cheney asked starkly a few days after 9/11, "Are they going to stand with the United States and believe in freedom and democracy and civilization or are they going to stand with the terrorists and the barbarians?"

How profound the paradox. A Republican president who promised to restore humility to U.S. foreign policy revealing, as he said at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001 that "our responsibility to history is . . . clear: to . . . rid the world of evil."

... Bush partisans have ... rarely made a secret of their endgame or their methods. The strategic groundwork for a crusading America intent upon cashing aside international constraints and remaking the world in its image was laid as far back as the 1970s when the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), convinced of the redemptive mission of the United States, began calling for American hegemony. It was given intellectual heft by Harvard's neoconservative political theorist, Samuel Huntington, with his contention that the West faces a "clash of civilizations" between itself and Islam. It has been repeatedly bolstered by the dyspeptic writings of former AEI Vice President John Bolton, now under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, who has spent a career debunking the U.N. and anything else that "inhibits America's ability . . . to use force" and who, recognizing that support for human rights means sacrificing an element of sovereignty, has ridiculed their importance, saying they include "values often at war with liberty."

Nor have those who would undermine human rights at the domestic level come to their perspectives suddenly. Attorney General John Ashcroft hardly required 9/11 to convince him that "a calculated, malignant, devastating evil has arisen in our world," for he had predicted in a 1999 speech at Bob Jones University that any culture that had any king other than Jesus would "release Barabbas-criminality, destruction, thievery, the lowest and the least." When he was in Congress, Ashcroft favored legislation (the Effective Death Penalty and Antiterrorism Act of 1996) that put severe limitations on the right of habeas corpus, limitations he has subsequently applied in the treatment of so-called "unlawful combatants," whether U.S. citizens or not.

... the delusion that the antagonism we experience is not about our policies and practices but about who we are, about our ideals, what we stand for, and our very existence. Not only does such self-delusion provide the perfect excuse not to subject those policies to scrutiny, but it also forces us to fight the war on terrorism under the gravest handicap, with one hand tied behind our back. For what we stand for, at our best, is our greatest strength. What we stand for is the "unalienable right" of every person to pursue "life, liberty, and . . . happiness." What we stand for is equal justice and equal opportunity for all, free speech, a free press, fair elections, and no fear that secret police will storm your house at night because you have criticized the government. What we stand for is the highest of respect for human rights, not the denial of legal counsel to suspects or the infliction of torture on prisoners.

These principles sound like clichés to Americans because we so take them for granted, but none of us can take them for granted anymore. And they are anything but clichés to the millions of people around the world who live every day with a very different reality. For such people, the United States has been a symbol of the best the world has to offer. "I respect the United States, said Hamda el-Mari, a twenty-two-year-old from the United Arab Emirates. "People in the United States have rights. In my country, we can't have rights. I would like to vote." Our political and economic systems, for all their flaws, offer that better idea, that alternative ideology, that the retinue needs if it is to reject the dead-end blandishments of Al Oaeda.

If we fail to see that if we allow ourselves to be convinced that it is our ideals, not our actions, that are under assault, that, despite our enormous power, our very "civilization" is at stake, then there are no limits to what we may do to defend ourselves and no limits on our allies, either. But if we take that route, we risk sacrificing those very ideals that most inspire the rest of the world; we risk suborning the conclusion that human rights are a mere bagatelle compared to life itself and that "all is fair . . . in war"-particularly a war of unlimited duration designed to "rid the world of evil."

Do that and we will have lost the war on terrorism for certain. For if we jettison the human rights scaffolding, we throw away the very measures of a good society. And without those, whatever victory we may obtain will surely be a Pyrrhic one.

Tainted Legacy

Index of Website

Home Page