History and Hubris
excerpted from the book
9/11 and the Ruin of Human
by William Schulz
Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003,
"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
"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
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
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
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
... 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.