‘The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning. Men will say, “Who has ever lived with might and with power like him?” As in the dark month, the month of shadows, so without him there is no light. O Gilgamesh, this was the meaning of your dream. You were given the kingship, such was your destiny; everlasting life was not your destiny.’
— From: The Epic of Gilgamesh (Ancient Mesopotamian epic poem.)
‘There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, the allies would be invented.’
— From: The Sociology of Imperialism, Joseph Schumpeter, Meridian Books, 1951.
‘Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.’ — [To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.]
— From: De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, Publius Tacitus, Roman lawyer, senator, orator, one of antiquity’s great historians.
‘The great of this world are often blamed for not doing what they could have done; they can reply, just think of all the evil we could have done, but did not do.’
‘……we’re all hegemons now.’
— From: “Doctrine of [the] Big Enchilada”, Max Boot, Council of Foreign Relations, October 15, 2002.
Brief: With the empire du jour embarking on one “Groundhog Day” military adventure after another, in this the second of two essays on the post-9/11 geopolitical milieu, and with pre-9/11 context and perspective in mind, we reflect on how America arrived at this point, what insights might be gained by looking back in time, and ponder what might have been and what could be. Oh, and who the real enemy might be after all. Depending on your viewpoint, a brave and/or foolish undertaking. But 50 years after America’s final retreat from Vietnam, over 25 years after the Fall of the Wall signalling the end of the Cold War, as we like to opine here, Uncle Sam needs all the help he can muster.
— The Project for the New American Caliphate —
Founded in 1997 by second-generation arch neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan (the latter of whom Stephen Walt cheekily observed, “never met a quagmire” he didn’t like), The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was a Washington-based foreign policy think tank. But as we will see, it was much more than that.
Although little known prior to 9/11 at least outside the Beltway, that all changed on that fateful day. And despite PNAC officially closing its doors in 2006, the pernicious ideology that informed this game-changing imperial project is still very much in play, and is arguably wielding even more influence than ever.
The PNAC’s ‘business model’ in essence was based on promoting and then, if necessary, enforcing American global leadership. Fundamental to the PNAC ‘vision’ was that “American leadership”—however ambiguously defined—was good both for America and for the world. Whilst this might in theory sound all very noble and magnanimous, for those looking the impact of the ultimately self-serving objectives underpinning the PNAC has already wreaked havoc on an apocalyptic scale.
And as indicated, all evidence points to the reality—one that should give us all pause for great concern going forward—the proselytes of the movement haven’t even stepped up to the ‘bully pulpit’.
Again, herein memory lane beckons, for the all-important context and perspective.
Since Ronald Reagan’s heyday then the neo-conservatives, hard-core hawks, ideological ‘exceptionalists’, and global economic (ir)rationalists for the most part had been keeping their powder dry. These included the estimable Dick Cheney, along with Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Richard Perle, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Douglas Feith, and last but not least, the ever irrepressible Donald Rumsfeld, a man of whom it can be safely said we might never know what he didn’t know and when he didn’t know it!
What we do know however is that most of these folks would go on to play a significant role in George W Bush’s rise to power. Once ensconced inside the new administration, in various measure all of them—as the powers behind the throne—would wield enormous influence within and outside the administration after Number 43 was ‘shoe-horned’ into the White House via the tradesman’s entrance.
Yet whilst the more obvious genesis for the PNAC ideology harks back to the end of the first Gulf War, we can in fact trace the predisposition fuelling it back beyond Reagan to George Kennan’s heyday (See Episode One), although I say this now with the benefit of some reflection. Some folks might even argue we could go back to the “splendid” Spanish-American War with future U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt’s triumphant ascent up San Juan Hill in Cuba in 1898 accompanied by his aptly named Rough Riders, and maybe even from there trace its roots back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine itself, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
For now though it’s enough to know the PNAC construct has its more immediate and recognisable origins in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, itself something of a modern-day (in)version of Monroe, albeit with steroids. Written by Paul Wolfowitz (later deputy Secretary of Defense to Rumsfeld) and Scooter Libby (later vice-president Cheney’s chief of staff) in the wake of the Gulf War, at its simplest it advocated unilateralism and pre-emption in U.S. foreign policy.
By way of explanation, those new to ‘diplo-speak’ and geopolitical jargon need only note herein that “unilateralism” means we’re not going to seek permission from the UN or anyone else to kick your ass if we feel we have to. And “pre-emption” means “if we feel we have to”, we’re going to go in hard, go in early and, kick your ass before you kick ours, preferably without any advance warning or any apologies either.
But like an X-Rated magazine one’s druggist might keep under the counter for ‘special’ customers, PNAC was kept under wraps throughout Clinton’s tenure, even if its authors were keen on it getting wider exposure and attention around the Beltway. They even implored Clinton to lend the presidential imprimatur to the Project, but Number 42 was generally not up for putting PNAC’s ‘hard-core hegemonic porn’ on the shelf for everyone to see.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that Clinton—himself no stranger to ‘full spectrum dominance’ inclinations, self-serving political expediency, and cozying up to the power elites—only delayed the momentum of the movement to corner the market on hegemonic dominion—along with the less well-documented but no less important goal of securing future U.S. energy supplies and other strategic resources—via such a policy. His decision to break with the standing agreement with Russia to expand NATO in the wake of the Soviet collapse and the reunification Germany, is ample evidence Clinton as much as any president is responsible for much of the present geopolitical instability.
In any event, even if he was inclined to embrace PNAC, regardless of any possible attractions it held, the deal-breaker for Clinton would have been knowing that with its broad ambitions and goals, convincing the American public to go along with them would have been an especially hard sell, even for a master political ‘carny-barker’ like Clinton. Not to mention how it would play with America’s allies and others less enamoured of such Bolshie geopolitical ambitions.
Tellingly, even the proposal’s authors acknowledged this. Contained in the document was a startlingly—indeed ominously—frank admission that achieving such ambitions without broad public support would not be a cake-walk in the ballpark; “absent a new Pearl Harbor”, it would be a long time in the making. If there were any more portentous words in anyone’s foreign policy manifesto in the course of modern U.S. history, this writer would be keen to know about it.
Suffice it to say that the day after 9/11, to the extent there were any ‘bets’ in play at the time, they were promptly taken off the geopolitical table. America’s foreign policy immediately morphed from an unstated ‘containment’ like stance that variously characterized much of the Cold War, to one of unilateral and aggressive pre-emptive action against those aforementioned “real and imagined threats”.
And in much the same way then that Kennan’s containment policy way back when morphed post-WWII into the (Harry) Truman Doctrine, so did Wolfowitz’s pre-emption and unilateralism policy morph post-9/11 into what would become known as the Bush Doctrine.
Radio Interview with Paul Craig Roberts
Conducted by TheMindRenewed.com, March 29, 2015
Drawing upon his extensive experience in government, academia and journalism, Paul Craig Roberts outlines in this extensive interview how Washington’s hostility towards Russia, with its demonisation of Vladimir Putin, is a bitter fruit of the neoconservative ideology of world hegemony that prevails amongst US power elites from the early 1990s onwards. Assessing the geostrategic landscape with an eye to historical, economic and political realities, Roberts judges there to be only two hopes for the world to avert nuclear Armageddon: a Europe decisively resistant to Washington diktat, or economic collapse of the US empire itself.
— The Gringos Imperialisimo Conquistadoros —
The go-to Koranic-like field manual for the PNAC faithful (with which they were all hafiz), was a document called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century” (RAD), published the year before 9/11.
The PNAC’s aim and brief (as distinct from its positioning statement) was to capitalize on America’s emergent status as the world’s preeminent, unchallenged superpower, and it was the above document that articulated how this might be achieved. The motive, means and opportunity for empire lined up serendipitously like never before, and within this epochal document we would find the way forward.
This “full spectrum dominance” (as the objective came to be known), would be accomplished by the waging of “multiple, simultaneous, small-scale wars”. One of the first items on the neo-con ‘agenda-benders’ to do list was to relieve Saddam Hussein in Iraq of the burdens of power, thereby providing for the US a foothold—with a view to an eventual stranglehold—in the oil-rich Middle East.
To all intents then, PNAC was in effect a WMD—a Weapon of Mass Destabilisation—designed to gum up the works of the geopolitical order in Uncle Sam’s favour. In much the same way one suspects then that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was an obscure manifesto read only by a handful of the future Fuerher’s cadre, and whose real significance only became apparent after its author’s ascension to power and especially so after the 1933 Reichstag Fire (a German 9/11 of sorts), the RAD document also took on a whole new meaning once those behind it were in a position to realise the goals and ambitions laid out therein.
This was of course, especially so after September 11, 2001. In this then it can be safely said that for the PNAC ‘congregation’, 9/11 was a godsend (or if one prefers, an ‘Allah-send’!) As we now know, the post-Cold War vacuum posited by George Kennan’s musings back in 1987 (See Episode One) was officially filled less than 10 years after the Cold War’s end on that September morning in 2001, by all official accounts, [by] a bunch of rag-tag Islamic/Arabic/jihadist radicals collectively massaging a mortal hard-on for Uncle Sam and everything he stood for.
America breathed a sigh of relief. It now knew who its real enemy was once again. Shortly thereafter, the RAD manifesto was rebooted and updated to a Cold War-like ‘us v them’ operating manual for the reshaping of a New World Order. For the brave and the free it would be on for young and old, and everyone in between. As it turned out the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, ‘hastily’ drafted in response to September 11, was already prefigured to deal with any number of real and/or imagined threats which had little connection to 9/11.
And as evidenced by the developments that followed in the wake of 9/11, this didn’t just include sundry al-Qaeda ‘terrormeisters’, Islamo-fascists, Wahhabi extremists, Taliban fundamentalists, sundry Salafists, Caliphists and jihadists, and monomaniacal Muslims in general. If it didn’t transpire there would be enough of them going forward, the Bush Doctrine also identified ‘clear and present’ dangers posed by ‘rogue’ nations such as Kim Il Jong’s North Korea, the Iranian ‘imamocracy’, and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, to name a few. As far as new best enemies go, America was blessed with a plethora of choice then. It doesn’t come any better than this!
All up, the godless infidel ‘communistos’ of the Cold War era were superseded by the god-(aw)ful ‘Islamistos’ of the War on Terror. And the Evil Empire over time became the Axis of Evil! As prescribed by the Bush Doctrine though, for the ROW, the “choice” was very limited and simple—you were either with us or against us!
Tellingly, the Bush Doctrine assumed, presumed then re-asserted American geopolitical dominion; the U.S. was now the one and only “indispensable” superpower, a status no rival power will ever be allowed to challenge. Manifest Destiny was retooled for the 21st Century.
And the BD provided a rationale for why the ROW should accept this state of affairs as a fait accompli: the expansion of more freedom, peace, democracy, liberty, and free markets than you could poke a shoulder mounted multi-purpose Stinger AAM launcher at in a month of Bloody Afghanistan Sundays. What was there not to like?
According to Bush, his gung-ho acolytes, and the Righteous proselytes of the New American Century, this time Pax Americana will be rolled out “in the service of a balance of power that favors freedom.” If achieving this version of Pax Americana means going to war, even if going to war means doing so twice—or even a third or a fourth time—and doing so on the basis of a monumental lie or three, then so be it.
Cue here, another memory lane flashback.
At the fag end of the Clinton tenure, the PNAC ‘exceptionalists’ were chomping at the bit for another crack at the biggest game in town. In their view said “game” was going to become even bigger under them, one that would operate by their rules, and a game in which there would be only one winner. The PNAC manifesto made that very clear for anyone listening or looking. As there was with the Clintonites, there’d be no more dragging the chain in the pursuit of, and on the road to, hegemonic happiness.
In fact in no small part, what motivated the New American Centurions and their righteous Grand Old Party (GOP) ‘liberal interventionists’ in the lead up to the 2000 presidential elections was the mortifying prospect of another Democratic administration after ‘Slick Willy’ and ‘Chilly’ Hillary’s Grand Old Potomac Soap-Opry. This looked highly probable given that their opponent almost certainly would be Clinton’s vice president Al Gore.
They needed a saviour of sorts to usher in their New American Century.
That they found one in the unlikely personage of George W Bush, the son of former president George HW Bush (Number 41), is a measure of either their sheer determination or desperation, or both. Hey, “The Junior” may not have been “The Gipper”, but he would just have to do until the next one got here or they could clone the original, neither prospect of which seemed possible before November 2000.
Getting George W Bush into the White House though would be the easy part. Realising their goals and ambitions as noted, would be—“absent a new Pearl Harbor”—another thing altogether. As it was, after the elections and before 9/11, Bush was seen by many to be keeping the seat warm. It was almost like he was wandering around trying to make himself useful or holding the fort whilst waiting for the real POTUS to make an appearance.
And few would have imagined Dubya as ‘foreman material’ in any wartime leadership role, much less the one in the offing.
For his part Bush Junior struggled to look presidential—his gravitas defying gravity as it were. To paraphrase Warren Harding, one of his ‘Oval’ predecessors, Bush did not seem to grasp he was the president.
It was almost as if Number 43 was acutely aware he had not actually won the election, but had been given it on a silver platter, albeit one with the U.S. Supreme Court’s logo engraved on it. Bush was not so much elected to be president; he was more ‘selected’. He was one suspects, as surprised as anyone.
Yet although from the off the affectionately dubbed ‘Dubya’ came across as a bit lacklustre, the much-touted Texas swagger somewhat less evident pre-9/11, everything changed on that fateful day. Even for a president with an apparently limited knowledge of the insights of history and nuances of geopolitics much less a full appreciation of the task ahead of him, it didn’t take long for him to understand how 9/11 would not only shape his presidency and the future of his country, but that it would enable him to undertake said task with a maximum amount of unquestioning support and a minimum level of effective opposition.
And best of all, Bush wouldn’t be required to do any heavy lifting; in the Grand Imperial tradition he would have plenty of chaps for that.
Even if the full import of the moment might have been lost on Bush, it was not lost on others in his administration. When those four planes inexplicably ploughed through America’s ‘impregnable’ air defense systems and into, respectively, the World Trade Centre (WTC), the Pentagon and an empty field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, it changed America, the world—and the geopolitical milieu—forever.
Such was the epic nature of the moment, the planes of 9/11 it could be said, tore a hole through the space/time fabric of history and rewrote the book on global power politics in one fell swoop. That the event contributed to the making and eventual unmaking of the George W Bush presidency may though have been a somewhat less recognised outcome at the time. That it was also the unmaking of the American Empire—the beginning of the end—is one consideration we cannot easily dismiss either.
Certainly few events in the always-compelling Grand American narrative have had a more timely, profound and seemingly unexpected impact— economically, militarily, and geopolitically. As noted it precipitated an unprecedented and revolutionary shift in American foreign, security, intelligence and economic policy.
The events of 9/11 (the unique numerical identifier instantly becoming America’s most valuable brand entity, recognized logo and most unambiguous geopolitical positioning statement), signalled to the self-styled if not so designated Conquistadoros of PNAC their momento had arrived.
Such an event was all they needed to all but hijack the U.S. foreign, defense, intelligence, economic, and national security policy agenda, and proceed to rethink, reinvent, redesign, rebuild, reboot and then privatize the whole of government infrastructure and apparatus and take control of the resources that sustain and define it.
The National Security Ship of State was theirs to command then. They didn’t just take advantage of the opportunity presented by the attacks; these guys were waiting ‘on the dock’ for something like 9/11 to happen, an event that they—possibly short of organising the attacks themselves—could not possibly have conceived of happening in their wildest dreams. Or so we thought. Or were led to believe.
In any event, they would change the world and not ask anyone’s permission to do so. They would outsource the machinery of state (including, indeed especially, the military, intelligence and security services if possible) to the private sector! Many would become richer than Croesus for their self-sacrificing service to the realm, and they used whatever possible means illegal and covert to achieve their aims.
And they would truck with no criticism. You are either with us or against us! With Bush as their Judas-goat, many lambs would be led to the slaughter for the cause. Any collateral damage would be just that, i.e. ‘collateral’! There would be no time or patience for body counts. The Empire don’t ‘do’ body counts!
In the grand, operatic and enthralling narrative that is modern American history few episodes compare with 9/11, the subsequent so-called War on Terror in general, and the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and occupations in particular, in demonstrating America’s total commitment to promoting, preserving and exporting freedom and democracy to the Rest of the World (ROW).
Interview with William Binney, NSA Whistleblower.
Post-9/11, in few areas is the dichotomy between national security and public safety, and personal freedom and individual privacy more prevalent than between the increasingly secretive inclinations of the power elites and the willingness of some people to hold the powers to account in respect of these tendencies. NSA Whistleblower William Binney talks about lost privacy and security, the Constitution-be-damned political climate, and being a whistleblower.
— In the Moment (Of Collective Vertigo) —
And as indicated, few people were as prepped as Donald (‘Rummie’) Rumsfeld, Dick (‘Dead-eye’) Cheney, George (‘Dubya’) Bush, and Paul (The Dark Horse) Wolfowitz, for this epochal development in the terminal battle between the forces of good and evil.
On September 10, 2001, this quartet—the Shock and Awesome Foursome of the Bespoke Apocalypse—already had firm views on how the world should be and could be. Twenty-four hours later these views had morphed collectively into one of how it would be.
The day after, in the words of Naomi Klein from her aptly titled book The Shock Doctrine, they “seized the moment of collective vertigo” and ran with it with both bits between their teeth. When it came down though to enacting the proposals contained in RAD it was the ‘Foursome’ who were the pitchmen.
For his part Wolfowitz provided the intellectual grunt for the Iraq invasion and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, outlined unambiguously in his eponymous Doctrine. He concocted this policy when he was Under-Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War in Bush Senior’s administration, and as indicated the document proposed a major revision—a ‘re-pivot’ to use the vernacular du jour—of America’s policy towards Iraq and the Greater Middle East after the Gulf War from one of containment to completer regime ‘redemption’.
Which is to say it morphed over the years from serious client dictator patronage to one of tolerance—to one of out-and-out aggression (mostly via sanctions in the Clinton era, themselves effectively an act of war) and then unilateral pre-emption post-9/11.
And when one considers that it was the ubiquitous and iniquitous CIA in 1963—a busy year for the Langley Gang as it turned out—that facilitated Saddam’s rise to power and inevitably, despotism and geopolitical brinkmanship of the first order in the first instance, his fall from grace in the eyes of the neo-cons and their ilk in the lead up to 2003 becomes even more compelling and profound.
In this case the Law of Unintended Consequences that so often accompanies the outcomes of both official and unofficial American foreign policy may have taken some time to kick in, but when it did, it had—and continues to have—disastrous consequences. The blowback to be sure has always been something of a feedback loop. Rarely in a good way mind you, and as we will see later, none more so than now, with ISIS (or Daesh) and their ilk being Exhibit A in this regard.
And with an unwavering certainty surpassed on a level it seems only by the delusion that drives the thinking behind it, America was determined well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, to Libya, Syria—and more recently the Ukraine—to further extend, exert and consolidate its political, military and economic hegemony over the rest of the world. Even those with only a vague awareness of history as it has shape-shifted over the past century or so would have to agree the signs are not promising. It is difficult—as noted—to see much good coming out of this.
But as indicated, the predisposition to militarism, imperialism and global hegemony has been a work in progress for some time in the American geo-strategic psychopathology.
As early as 1944, Friedrich Hayek—of all people—in a seminal tome The Road to Serfdom, posited the danger of the growth of “monopolistic organisation” and “inevitable industry restructure” from the political remnants World War Two. It seemed Hayek saw such a development as inevitable, as if driven by the baser aspects of the human condition, possibly even underscored by some Nietzschean will to power:
‘Another element which after this war is likely to strengthen the tendencies in this direction will be [that] some of the men who during the war…. tasted the powers of coercive control [and] will find it difficult to reconcile themselves with the humbler roles they’ll have to play [in peaceful times].’
Later on Charles Wright Mills’ 1956 book The Power Elite (the title of which became a catch-phrase in political debate, indeed a pejorative one in the Cold War discourse of the so-called New Left, a group Mills identified and for whom he coined the phrase), talked about the frequently unholy alliances, connections, interdependencies and interactions between and across the economic, political, military, legislative, intelligence, and academic hierarchies, aka the ‘powers that be’.
Tellingly here, without mincing his words, Mills noted—six decades ago it should be emphasised—that since end of the Second World War: ‘….the US power elite has [become] increasingly immoral, irresponsible, ignorant, stupid, and (in not valuing reason)…..mindless in its quest for wealth and power.’ (Original emphasis). What Mills would make of the New American Centurions is anyone’s guess, but it would not be difficult to imagine.
And of course, who can forget Dwight D (Ike) Eisenhower’s farewell address, warning us all of the Military-Industrial complex—the growth and influence of which he himself played no small part in nurturing up to that point—as he was handing over the keys to the White House to John F Kennedy in 1961.
As cited by Norman Cousins in The Pathology of Power, it was Lord Acton (he of the ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’ maxim) who suggested the reason why empires and powerful nations decline is because they fail to use their power wisely.
Moreover, Cousins went on to note other tendencies of power that underscore Acton’s famous aphorism. These were the “tendencies of power” to:
- drive intelligence underground;
- become a theology admitting no other gods;
- distort and damage the institutions it was designed to protect;
- create a language of its own, rendering other forms of communication incoherent or irrelevant;
- spawn imitators leading to volatile competition; and
- set the stage for its own use.
With these criteria in mind, it is one of the most telling aspects of the American experience and most confounding of its broader narrative that Bush went on to fulfil or facilitate most if not all of Cousins’ observed “tendencies” about the use of power.
If there is one simple way of summing up the Bush Doctrine, to coin a phrase, it would be thus: ‘power is a wonderful thing, if carefully (and absolutely) abused’. In the end and for his part, after serving two less than distinguished terms, and as seemingly oblivious to the ‘complexities and perils’ of power then as he did on the first day he showed up for work, Bush left behind a nation not only seemingly at war with the ROW that doesn’t agree with ‘our’ version of a Pax Americana, but at war with itself.
And it is here we might briefly consider some of the prevailing motifs in U.S. foreign policy since the Fall of the Wall and especially since 9/11, few of which—particularly if Barack Obama’s performance is anything to go by—seem destined to go out of fashion anytime soon.
Stephen Walt, in an article in Foreign Policy earlier this year, identified five key characteristics of that overarching policy approach, all of which aren’t just having a debilitating, counterproductive effect in resolving the geopolitical challenges of our time. They are in fact creating a whole new raft of challenges for the next generation.
Which is to say, Walt is suggesting that the U.S. is—Groundhog Day like—making a bad situation much worse. In his article “Uncle Sucker to the Rescue”, after noting that Washington keeps making “its favourite mistakes” over and again, cites the following as key to the problems:
- exaggerating the threat;
- squandering U.S. leverage;
- failure to set clear priorities;
- assuming others share our worldview and our interests; and,
- overpromising and underachieving.
We should keep Walt’s “mistakes” firmly in mind as we experience another flashback down memory lane.
— Another Splendid Little War (or Three or More) —
After noting the propensity of would-be empires to declare their aim in conquering the world is ‘to bring it peace, security and freedom, and is sacrificing her sons…. [only] for noble and humanitarian purposes’, George S. Boutwell, American statesman, abolitionist and Secretary of the Treasury under President Ulysses S. Grant, added the following:
‘That is a lie, and it is an ancient lie, yet generations still rise and believe it!…If America ever seeks Empire…then planned reforms in our domestic life will be abandoned, States Rights abolished—in order to impose a centralized government upon us for the purpose of internal repudiation of freedom, and adventures abroad. The American Dream will then die…and a nation conceived in liberty will destroy liberty for Americans and impose tyranny on subject nations.’
It seems that if Boutwell—a man who not only knew his history, he vehemently opposed the expansionist foreign policy favoured by President William McKinley and especially his preternaturally “pugnacious” vice-president Teddy Roosevelt, a policy which led to the “splendid little war” that was the 1898 Spanish-American War—was resurrected to witness how far the Republic had come since his passing, the melancholy resulting from his disappointment would surely impel him back to the grave pronto. Evidence of his prescience and insight would one imagines, be of little comfort on the return trip back to his eternally designated bolthole.
And such is the state of the Empire well over a century later, most people opposed to its recent and current “adventures abroad” would find little in Boutwell’s assessment with which to quibble.
With this in mind then, we can view the PNAC—itself the major catalyst for the ‘destruction of liberty’ for Americans and the ‘go-to’ playbook for the ‘imposition of tyranny’ upon other nations—as a signpost of sorts to the establishment of (to use a term much in vogue), an American ‘Caliphate’, albeit one premised on the more secular ‘theologies’ defined in its operating manual, the so-called Rebuilding America’s Defences (RAD).
Although PNAC itself as an organisation may now be defunct, the intellectual and ideological forces that propelled it along the pot-holed highway of US foreign policy are very much ‘Johnnie Walker’. And as the opening paragraphs indicate, similar forces have for quite some time played a significant—albeit less than auspicious—role in the Grand American Narrative.
And with most major Western nations, including my own country Australia (aka “Old Faithful”), once again lining up to salute the Stars and Stripes Forever in unstinting support of the ultimate quixotic quest for geopolitical dominion—whose leaders all the while having convinced not just the bulk of their own people but in some cases themselves it is all about freedom, democracy, stability, peace, security, liberty, the rule of law and human rights, to say little of truth, justice and the American way—we know in our heart of hearts, it is a delusion that can only end badly.
For a country then that has expended an inordinate amount of energy, blood, treasure, political capital and human ingenuity in exporting such abroad and premising the tenets of their foreign policy on the purported advancement and dissemination of such altruistic, humanist values, America’s track record country after country since World War II in subverting and perverting the very noble causes it purports to champion and uphold has left a path of destruction, misery, devastation and death in its wake that readily recalls the phrase, ‘And you will know us by the trail of dead’.
Although well documented at least in the alternative and independent media sphere, a stroll down memory lane here is timely for those not so familiar with both the history and the driving forces behind the current hegemonic pandemic—less Pax Americana, more ‘Pox Amerikana’—a viral contagion that’s been both mutating and metastasising for some time.
In an article in the Washington Post several months back, Andrew Bacevich contended that Syria has become the 14th country in the Islamic world that American forces have invaded, attacked, occupied, bombed and/or meddled in, and in which US military personnel have killed or been killed.
And that’s just since 1980, the year prior to Ronald Reagan‘s ascendance.
One of the most incisive, informed commentators on the U.S. National Security State and geostrategic affairs, Bacevich’s views are a welcome and necessary antidote to the asthmatic rhetoric we keep getting force fed by the ‘Beltway Bedlamites’ and their ilk about America’s ‘War on Everyone who Doesn’t Think we’re Exceptional and Indispensable’.
A former senior US army officer and ‘Nam veteran, Bacevich’s own son was killed in Iraq in 2007 by an IED. Yet he nonetheless opposed the Iraq invasion from the off, along with having written several books critiquing America’s ‘full spectrum dominance’ Doctrine. Indeed, his Post article previews his forthcoming book, a critical history of US meddling in the Greater Middle East.
After first noting that the Pentagon foresees with the current situation in Iraq and Syria a campaign that’s likely to “last for years” (by which we must assume for certain there will be boots back on the ground and in considerable quantities), Bacevich also observes, ‘[E]ven if we win, we lose’.
As for defeating the ISIS (or Daesh), this would he says only commit America “more deeply” to a decades-old enterprise that has already proved, over thirty years and then some, “costly and counterproductive”.
The following sums up his compelling argument:
‘In place of governing arrangements that Washington judged objectionable, the U.S. [is now] coping with the absence of any effective governments [at all]. Instead of curbing bad behavior, spanking induced all sorts of pathologies. By sowing instability, [America] has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in the portions of Iraq and Syria that Islamic State radicals control.’ [My Emphasis].
At least outside the mainstream media (MSM), where such observations don’t even get much of a look in, (including here in Australia), Bacevich is far from being the only observer to sheet home the blame to America for the present crisis and more broadly, call into question the legitimacy of the West’s response to it.
Earlier this year, in an op-ed piece, Michel Chossudovsky pointedly stated that the same people who ordered the bombing campaign in Libya, Syria and Iraq are the same ones behind the ISIS (or Daesh) “Caliphate Project”. He went further, stating unambiguously:
‘The Islamic State (IS)…currently the alleged target of a US-NATO bombing campaign under a “counter-terrorism” mandate, was and continues to be supported covertly by the U.S. and its allies...Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency (GIP)….NATO has been involved in the recruitment of jihadist mercenaries from the outset of the Syrian crisis in 2011.” [My Emphasis].
And when we have Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama seemingly simpatico with the goals and ambitions as laid out in the manifesto of PNAC’s pernicious global worldview, we know that history has not so much ended as been forgotten altogether. PNAC’s vision was nothing less than a tabula rasa for a new world order, with or without the normally attendant capitals, and one presumes with its own version of sharia law for all.
Much like one supposes the Caliphate redolent of the extreme Islamists’ own wet dreams. For their part, the New American Caliphists appear intent on wiping the slate clean, and starting from scratch. And they are willing for the rest of us to pay the price for doing so. In essence, the central ideology of PNAC puts a whole new meaning into the phrase, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, as noted, sounding not unlike their notional fundamentalist adversaries and namesakes.
It is here we need to ransack the past one more time. But first….a sober reminder of the blowback from all this hegemonic ambition, in particular the “war on terror”, which in part we were told was justified on the basis that it would make the world a safer place.
How’s that project coming along then? Let’s go shopping…..
After 14 years of permanent warfare, terrorist attacks around the world have escalated by a staggering 6,500%. If its objective was to end terrorism, the “war on terror” has abjectly failed. Since it was launched in 2001, terror attacks—and the number of people killed by them—have sky-rocketed.
For more, go here:
— “1984” is Not an Instruction Manual —
In “The Way We Were”, an opinion piece published in Foreign Policy magazine, Stephen Walt laid bare the strategic policy travails presently facing the U.S. Walt looks at what was and what might have been, with a degree of clarity that leads one to ponder how things might have turned out had he, Bacevich and others of a similar mindset been advising the last three or four presidents.
Walt wastes no time in acknowledging from the off where things stand and to whom we might award bragging rights for the existential quandary prevailing in U.S. foreign and national security policy: ‘Just 20 years ago the United States was a beloved superpower with a solid economy and [which] faced virtually no hostile threats. But that’s all gone to hell.’
Now leaving aside Walt’s assessment America was that “beloved” at this juncture of history (a debate for another time perhaps), few would dispute his “gone to hell” analysis. The graph above is striking evidence of that. From there Walt does not leave readers hanging. Nor does one get the feeling his is an exercise in rear view mirror gazing. He highlights any number of poor decisions made since the end of the Cold War right up until the present time that provide us all a salutary lesson in the wise use of American “unipolar power”.
He firstly cites Clinton’s aforementioned decision to break faith with post-Soviet Russia over the expansion of NATO, thereby contributing ultimately to the present impasse in Eastern Europe.
Along with Clinton’s “failure” to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Walt underscored the significance of his decision to retain the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf after the Gulf War. This he says, “unequivocally helped inspire” the emergence of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as declared enemies of the U.S., the consequences of which having been well documented herein and elsewhere.
Beyond Clinton, Walt unabashedly declares George W. Bush’s blunders “in a class by themselves”, citing obviously his supremely ill-fated, ill-judged decision to invade Iraq in 2003 thereby creating a failed state as the “main reason we now face problems from groups like ISIS”. Yet he says, Obama “has done no better”; he describes his efforts at Middle East peace brokering as “mostly acts of futility”, where the much sought after two-state solution is “farther away than ever”.
(To be fair to Obama, it is increasingly obvious Israel has little interest in a ME peace solution. Any such any attempts by American presidents in brokering such border on the quixotic. A discussion for another time perhaps.)
Walt, after noting that ‘[r]ealists know perpetual peace is an illusion” and that solutions to today’s problems “often sow the seeds of future trouble’, sums up the state of play this way:
‘….the current items in America’s foreign policy “inbox” are for the most part not the unintended consequences of past success; they are the entirely predictable results of previous errors. In many ways, what we are seeing today is a direct backlash against the various sins of omission and commission that took place during the post-Cold War “unipolar moment….It is Obama’s misfortune to be president when these chickens have come home to roost, but he also bears responsibility for not making them better and in some cases making them worse.” [My Emphasis].
Walt called for a more fundamental reappraisal of U.S. interests and capabilities—a call begging the following question: [W]hat does America need to be safe and prosperous, and which tools can best achieve those ends? Until and unless such reappraisals take place it seems then, the U.S. will keep “making the same mistakes.”
In his book National Security and Double Government, academic Michael Glennon examines a number of not so recognised factors that have led to the status quo, not the least being the “nominal” power of the presidency, the “dysfunctional” nature of Congressional oversight, and the “negligible” degree of judicial review in respect of formulating and enacting effective foreign policy.
‘The government is seen increasingly by elements of the public as hiding what they ought to know, criminalizing what they ought to be able to do, and spying upon what ought to be private. The people are [seen] by the government as unable to comprehend the gravity of security threats.” [My emphasis].
Compounding this Glennon observes, is also [that] any reform initiatives from without will require ‘a general public possessed of civic virtue,’ when there is a prevailing view in some quarters of the American polity of a ‘pervasive civic ignorance’.
Now it’s uncertain if Glennon had Pogo’s refrain (“We have met the enemy, and he is us!”) in mind when writing his book. But his view seems to be that if individual citizens allow invisible governments to grow and prosper at the expense of the collective demos—and where transparency and the normal checks and balances of government, especially within the judiciary and Congress, are bypassed then supplanted in favour of under the radar decision making and arbitrary executive action—little change will take place within the confines of the current framework, one that is increasingly at odds with the Constitution.
He offers the following: ‘…the term Orwellian will have little meaning to a people who have never known anything different, who have scant knowledge of history, civics, or public affairs, and who in any event have never heard of George Orwell.‘
(All of which brings to mind a phrase—now morphing into a meme of sorts, even making an appearance on T-shirts—that has begun to resonate within and across the zeitgeist: “Memo to the Power Elites: “1984” is not an instruction manual”.)
Whilst Glennon does not appear to be suggesting a secret global conspiracy or malevolent New World Order-type plot to deprive Americans of their individual rights and civil liberties in the narrative he is relaying, it is still nonetheless difficult to accept his summation of the situation he describes, that being, ‘…[it] is the unintended consequence of a thoughtful attempt to head off the very threats that those attempts have inadvertently created.’
It’s the words “thoughtful” and “inadvertently” that this author has some issue with. Yet, I will concede the truth for many may be somewhere in between, although I’m disinclined to be as generous in my summation of situation and circumstance as is the author.
If indeed Glennon is right, we may then have a more realistic prospect of redemption and salvation, both representing two of the Great American Narrative’s recurring motifs or—depending on which side of the fence one sits—myths. But that for me remains a very big “IF”.
In rounding things up here then, the following observation from Paul Krugman of the New York Times, is apposite. He wrote in 2010:
‘We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.’
Krugman’s loose expectation of the character of the Great American Demise as articulated above may or may not ultimately manifest itself as “grand and tragic”, but as he suggests otherwise, I suspect that it will be more banal and pathetic, if past history and present circumstances indicate. Either way, both outcomes presuppose an inevitable demise, the actual events of which preceding and directly contributing to said “demise” ultimately one suspects being of interest and value to future historians only.
Interestingly, even as Krugman wrote those words in 2010, he remained optimistic. Yet, a lot of dirty water has since flowed under the imperial bridge in the interim, and it’s uncertain if he is as optimistic as of this writing. One suspects not.
And the last word should go to that (formerly) irrepressible American Man of Letters Gore Vidal, someone who himself achieved no small repute for turning “the mirror on the follies, tragedies, trials and tribulations” of his beloved country.
In 2004 Vidal published Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia, a sardonic, plaintive wail on the notion of America as a contemporary empire, one whose political, military, and economic elite is collectively all too mindful of its place and position in the world. It is albeit an “empire” that is now grossly bloated beyond a manageable reality for many Americans and non-Americans alike—at once selectively amnesiac about how and by what means it got there to be sure, whilst remaining completely oblivious as to how much more it will cost to continue down said path.
In the following, and embodying sentiments light years removed from those which infected the PNAC ideology and which infected the American body politic in turn, Vidal ‘riffed’ on the notion of what it means to be a true American patriot, and how these folk might reflect their “true patriot[ism]”:
‘Those Americans who refuse to plunge blindly into the maelstrom of European and Asiatic politics are not defeatist or neurotic. They are giving evidence of sanity, not cowardice, of adult thinking as distinguished from infantilism. They intend to preserve and defend the Republic. America is not to be Rome or Britain. It is to be America.’
I suspect though it may be too late for that. More’s the pity I say. For all of us.
America, this is your empire! Come on down.
End Part Two
© Copyright Greg Maybury – 2014-2015
Perth, Western Australia