The President's Real Goal
by Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
October 2, 2002
The official story on Iraq has never made
sense. The connection that the Bush administration has tried to
draw between Iraq and al Qaida has always seemed contrived and
artificial. In fact, it was hard to believe that smart people
in the Bush administration would start a major war based on such
The pieces just didn't fit. Something
else had to be going on; something was missing.
In recent days, those missing pieces have
finally begun to fall into place. As it turns out, this is not
really about Iraq. It is not about weapons of mass destruction,
or terrorism, or Saddam, or U.N. resolutions.
This war, should it come, is intended
to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged
global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary
policeman. It would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more
in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States
must seize the opportunity for global domination, even if it means
becoming the "American imperialists" that our enemies
always claimed we were.
Once that is understood, other mysteries
solve themselves. For example, why does the administration seem
unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled?
Because we won't be leaving. Having conquered
Iraq, the United States will create permanent military bases in
that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including
In an interview Friday, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld brushed aside that suggestion, noting that the
United States does not covet other nations' territory. That may
be true, but 57 years after World War ll ended, we still have
major bases in Germany and Japan. We will do the same in Iraq.
And why has the administration dismissed
the option of containing and deterring Iraq, as we had the Soviet
Union for 45 years? Because even if it worked, containment and
deterrence would not allow the expansion of American power. Besides,
they are beneath us as an empire. Rome did not stoop to containment;
it conquered. And so should we.
Among the architects of this would-be
American Empire are a group of brilliant and powerful people who
now hold key positions in the Bush administration: They envision
the creation and enforcement of what they call a worldwide "Pax
Americana," or American peace. But so far, the American people
have not appreciated the true extent of that ambition.
Part of it's laid out in the National
Security Strategy, a document in which each administration outlines
its approach to defending the country. The Bush administration
plan, released Sept. 20, marks a significant departure from previous
approaches, a change that it attributes largely to the attacks
of September 11.
To address the terrorism threat, the president's
report lays out a newly aggressive military and foreign policy,
embracing pre-emptive attack against perceived enemies. It speaks
in blunt terms of what it calls "American internationalism,"
of ignoring international opinion if that suits U.S. interests.
'The best defense is a good offense," the document asserts.
It dismisses deterrence as a Cold War
relic and instead talks of "convincing or compelling states
to accept their sovereign responsibilities."
In essence, it lays out a plan for permanent
U.S. military and economic domination of every region on the globe,
unfettered by international treaty or concern. And to make that
plan a reality, it envisions a stark expansion of our global military
"The United States will require bases
and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia,"
the document warns, "as well as temporary access arrangements
for the long-distance deployment of U.S. troops."
The report's repeated reference to terrorism
are misleading, however, because the approach of the new National
Security Strategy was clearly not inspired by the events of Sept.
11. They can be found in much the same language in a report issued
in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century,
a group of conservative interventionists outraged by the thought
that the United States might be forfeiting its chance at a global
"At no time in history has the international
security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals,"
the report said,. stated two years ago. "The challenge of
this coming century is to preserve and enhance this "American
Overall, that 2000 report reads like a
blueprint for current Bush defense policy. Most of what it advocates,
the Bush administration has tried to accomplish. For example,
the project report urged the repudiation of the anti-ballistic
missile treaty and a commitment to a global missile defense system.
The administration has taken that course.
It recommended that to project sufficient
power worldwide to enforce Pax Americana, the United States would
have to increase defense spending from 3 percent of gross domestic
product to as much as 3.8 percent. For. next year, the Bush administration
has requested-a defense budget of $379 billion, almost exactly
3.8 percent of GDP.
It advocates the "transformation"
of the U.S. military to meet its expanded obligations, including
the cancellation of such outmoded defense programs as the Crusader
artillery system. That's exactly the message being preached by
Rumsfeld and others.
It urges the development of small nuclear
warheads "required in targeting the very deep, underground
hardened bunkers that are being built by many of our potential
adversaries." This year the GOP-led U.S. House gave the Pentagon
the green light to develop such a weapon, called the Robust Nuclear
Earth Penetrator, while the Senate has so far balked.
That close tracking of recommendation
with current policy is hardly surprising, given the current positions
of the people who contributed to the 2000 report.
Paul Wolfowitz is now deputy defense secretary.
John Bolton is undersecretary of state. Stephen Cambone is head
of the Pentagon's Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation.
Eliot Cohen and Devon Cross are members of the Defense Policy
Board, which advises Rumsfeld. I. Lewis Libby is chief of staff
to Vice President Dick Cheney. Dov Zakheim is comptroller for
the Defense Department.
Because they were still just private citizens
in 2000, the authors of the project report could be more frank
and less diplomatic than they were in drafting the National Security
Strategy. Back in 2000, they clearly identified Iran, Iraq and
North Korea as primary short~term targets, well before President
Bush tagged them as the Axis of Evil. In their report, they criticize
the fact that in war planning against North Korea and Iraq, "past
Pentagon wargames have given little or no consideration to the
force requirements necessary not only to defeat an attack but
to remove the" regimes from power."
To preserve the Pax Americana, the report
says U.S. forces will be required to perform "constabulary
duties" -- the United States acting as policeman of the world
-- and says that such actions "demand American political
leadership rather than that of the United Nations."
To meet those responsibilities, and to
ensure that no country dares to challenge the United States, the
report advocates a much larger military presence spread over more
of the globe, in addition to the roughly 130 nations in which
U.S. troops are already deployed.
More specifically, they argue that we
need permanent military bases in the Middle East, in Southeast
Europe, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, where no such
bases now exist. That helps to explain another of the mysteries
of our post-Sept. 11 reaction, in which the Bush administration
rushed to install U.S. troops in Georgia and the Philippines,
as well as our eagerness to send military advisers to assist in
the civil war in Colombia.
The 2000 report directly acknowledges
its debt to a still earlier document, drafted in 1992 by the Defense
Department. That document had also envisioned the United States
as a colossus astride the world, imposing its will and keeping
world peace through military and economic power. When leaked in
final draft form, however, the proposal drew so much criticism
that it was hastily withdrawn and repudiated by the first President
Effect on allies
The defense secretary in 1992 was Richard
Cheney; the document was drafted by Wolfowitz, who at the time
was defense undersecretary for policy.
The potential implications of a Pax Americana
One is the effect on our allies. Once
we assert the unilateral right to act as the world's policeman,
our allies will quickly recede into the background. Eventually,
we will be forced to spend American wealth and American blood
protecting the peace while other nations redirect their wealth
to such things as health care for their citizenry.
Donald Kagan, a professor of classical
Greek history at Yale and an influential advocate of a more aggressive
foreign policy -- he served as co-chairman of the 2000 New Century
project - acknowledges that likelihood.
"If [our allies] want a free ride,
and they probably will, we can't stop that," he says. But
he also argues that the United States, given its unique position,
has no choice but to act anyway.
"You saw the movie 'High Noon'? he
asks. "We're Gary Cooper.
Accepting the Cooper role would be an
historic change in who we are as a nation, and in how we operate
in the international arena. Candidate Bush certainly did not campaign
on such a change. It is not something that he or others have dared
to discuss honestly with the American people. To the contrary,
in his foreign policy debate with Al Gore, Bush pointedly advocated
a more humble foreign policy, a position calculated to appeal
to voters leery of military intervention.
For the same reason, Kagan and others
shy away from terms such as empire, understanding its connotations.
But they also argue that it would be naive and dangerous to reject
the role that history has thrust upon us. Kagan, for example,
willingly embraces the idea that the United States would establish
permanent military bases in a post-war Iraq.
"I think that's highly possible,"
he says. "We will probably need a major concentration of
forces in the Middle East over a long period of time. That will
come at a price, but think of the price of not having it. When
we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions in
our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption
in oil supplies."
Costly global commitment
Rumsfeld and Kagan believe that a successful
war against Iraq will produce other benefits, such as serving
an object lesson for nations such as Iran and Syria. Rumsfeld,
as befits his sensitive position, puts it rather gently. If a
regime change were to take place in Iraq, other nations pursuing
weapons of mass destruction 'would get the message that having
them ... is attracting attention that is not favorable and is
not helpful," he says.
Kagan is more blunt.
"People worry a lot about how the
Arab street is going to react," he notes. "Well, I see
that the Arab street has gotten very, very quiet since we started
blowing things up."
The cost of such a global commitment would
be enormous. In 2000, we spent $281 billion on our military, which
was more than the next 11 nations combined. By 2003, our expenditures
will have risen to $378 billion. In other words, the increase
in our defense budget from 1999-2003 will be more than the total
amount spent annually by China, our next largest competitor.
The lure of empire is ancient and powerful,
and over the millennia it has driven men to commit terrible crimes
on its behalf. But with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance
of the Soviet Union, a global empire was essentially laid at the
feet of the United States. To the chagrin of some, we did not
seize it at the time, in large part because the American people
have never been comfortable with themselves as a New Rome.
Now, more than a decade later, the events
of Sept. 11 have given those advocates of empire a new opportunity
to press their case with a new president. So in debating whether
to invade Iraq, we are really debating the role that the United
States will play in the years and decades to come.
Are peace and security best achieved by
seeking strong alliances and international consensus, led by the
United States? Or is it necessary to take a more unilateral approach,
accepting and enhancing the global dominance that, according to
some, history has thrust upon us?
If we do decide to seize empire, we should
make that decision knowingly, as a democracy. The price of maintaining
an empire is always high. Kagan and others argue that the price
of rejecting it would be higher still.
That's what this is about.
Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page
editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution