Toward the end of last month, there emerged from Important Places a statement of the strategic thinking of the Bush administration. Much was made of the document’s unilateralism and rhetorical embellishments. Further examination suggests that the chief novelty lies in the sheer nakedness of present US claims to universal rulership.
Of course the United States only aspires to rule the world in order to do Good.
Even so, the underlying notions have been around for quite a long time. Already by the late 19th century, US leaders in effect asserted a non-negotiable right of the US government to be "secure." Any anxieties experienced by that government were the world’s fault and the world could be held to answer for them. America, or at least its leaders, were sinless preachers to a sinful world and thus had every right to externalize their psychic crises and historical traumas onto the world stage.
Every challenge resembled Fort Sumter, if not the Pequots vs. the Puritans. Every foe must be met with total war, "unconditional surrender," and Reconstruction. At a later stage, new challenges could be seen as Munich 1938, or Fort Sumter, or both. Having internalized their checklist, US leaders still call for total war, unconditional surrender, and reconstruction, no matter what the concrete circumstances.
We must forever deal with a sort of US Ruling Class Historical Inflexibility Syndrome.
Later "successes" and other bad habits compound the situation. No longer do US leaders merely demand absolute subjective security, access to any and all markets worldwide; they now aspire to reconstruct the mentalities of all backward, refractory foreign leaders and failed states (the newest buzzword). "One model" for world society outlived the Cold War, says the Bush Manifesto of Universal Empire, and that is the US model. It is the Perfected Millennial State, to take a phrase from Richard M. Weaver. No one may resist it.
It would be wrong for them to do so.
Resistance is also futile. On a typical day, the US leaders will read some recalcitrants their rights. The latter will have a period of time to comply, depending on the US election cycle, "defense" contract awards, and other factors. Failure to comply will lead to bombing, more bombing, and "regime change" as needed.
US leaders will fight two and a half wars at a time, have a dingo’s breakfast, and be back in the World Situation Room in time for lunch.
Enemy leaders, having inevitably lost, will be tried for "war crimes," no matter the facts, so that everyone may see that All Justice flows from the hegemon.
EMPIRE NOT ACQUIRED IN A FIT OF ABSENT-MINDEDNESS
Serious and detailed strategic thinking about total security for the US government and its interests dates from World War II. As historian Melvin Leffler writes, strategic planners early decided that future US defense would require effective control of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The US would need bases all over the globe, along with "wartime access to the resources of southeast Asia."(1)
These discussions took place in 1943-1944, before anyone was complaining of a Soviet menace and before anyone had heard of Ho Chi Minh.
Leffler writes: "The basic strategic concept underlying all American war plans called for an air offensive against a prospective enemy from overseas bases."(2)
In other words, US post-war planning already included the (by now) boringly predictable bombing of the enemy and thus incorporated as preferred policy the kinds of war crimes which were then taking place over Germany and Japan.
The US would need to be able to "preserve its access to vital raw materials in Asia, deny these resources to a prospective enemy, help preserve peace and stability in troubled areas, safeguard critical sea lanes, and, if necessary, conduct an air offensive against the industrial infrastructure of any Asiatic power, including the Soviet Union."(3)
Anticipating good old Zbiggy Brzezinski by some decades, the strategic planners reasoned that the US could not permit any rival power to control the Eurasian land mass. To prevent that, the US required an array of overseas bases which would make it possible to bomb, whomever, as needed. Whether any power actually could dominate all of Eurasia, was apparently beside the point.
As the Cold War set in, these plans were put into play. It is important to see, however, that US claims to total security requiring global near-hegemony preceded any Soviet actions in any direction. The key is that "American war plans relied so heavily on air power and strategic bombing…."(4) It followed that the US must organize and subsidize western Europe against Soviet aggression, lest a Soviet foothold in the west should inconvenience future bombing campaigns.
It is doubtful that very many US policy makers actually believed the Soviets wanted to, or could, make serious inroads into western Europe. The whole thing seems to have unfolded from a regression theorem about bombing as the centerpiece of American civilization. If there were a war, the US would have to bomb; to bomb effectively the US would have to control most of the world; and, therefore, the US must and had a right to control most of the world. Q.E.D.
We have paid a high price in order to overcome roadblocks in the path of our leaders’ preferred war crimes.
To say that "we" must rule the world in order to bomb it, and that "we" must bomb as the only possible means of self-defense, is to say that "we" must have an empire in order to be free and prosperous. This seems like a pretty good deal for the rulers and their friends and contractors. It may not be such a good deal for the American people, whose interest, could they articulate it, might be as modest as the actual defense of the United States.
FAST FORWARD TO THE MUCH-MOOTED GULF WAR II
What does all this have to do with the present crisis? Directly, not much.
And there’s the rub: an empire has come into being on the basis of a set of mistaken, even criminal, policies the Open Door for US exports, an over-the-top notion of security, and the centrality of bombing. The Cold War provided a perfect ideological rationale for things the leaders wished to do anyway. Absent the Cold War, they have been looking for new missions.
It would never do to give up empire, would it? The Bush Manifesto states that it has taken a decade for US planners to understand the New Menace. It would be more correct to say that it has taken them that long to wheel a new villain into place for the edification of the TV-besotted masses.
The facts of US-Iraqi relations over the last eleven years do not matter as much as the ideology of global philanthropy via hegemony. The ideology of benevolent US world-overlordship is in many respects a mask for all the older motives; but, as if we didn’t have enough trouble, some of these people really believe in their mission of uplift, reform, and reconstruction. As Auberon Herbert told Beatrice Webb, they will do a great deal of harm and feel good about doing it.
Orwell was wrong. The future nightmare is not about a totalitarian boot stomping on a face forever. It is about some ragtag opponent of the day running (hopelessly) from a US cruise missile. The missile comes his way accompanied by a load of US humanitarian cant. It is hard to say which of the two assaults is more cruel.
Read more by Joseph Stromberg
- An Anti-Imperialist’s Reading List: Part Two – February 7th, 2005
- An Anti-Imperialist’s Reading List: Part One – January 24th, 2005
- Murray N. Rothbard on States, War, and Peace: Part II – January 17th, 2005
- Murray N. Rothbard on States, War, and Peace: Part I – January 10th, 2005
- Inventing Iraq Yet Again? – May 12th, 2004