EMPIRE FOR FANTASISTS
For the past 7 years, the United States has been battling to establish global hegemony. The project’s ignominious failings expose its brittle foundations and flawed design. Yet, there is an odd silence as the audacious enterprise comes to grief on every front. Americans who, for the most part, had no idea what they were getting into remain oblivious both to what has befallen the country and the consequences. The two
phenomena are intimately related.
The British Empire, it is said, was built in a fit of absentmindedness. America’s bid for world mastery has been marked by self-delusion and willful ignorance. Its quick and decisive fate impels us to register how this misadventure came to pass before memory dissolves in the mists of history – especially since the past has become so unpredictable. Let us enumerate what is distinctive about this singular affair.
First, there is the sheer magnitude. American military forces are now engaging ‘the enemy’ from the jungles of interior Colombia to the barren plains of Somalia, from the sands of Mali’s Saharan frontier to the Hindu Kush, from remote ‘black sites’ for incarcerating the badest bad guys to hush-hush CIA operations in Iran’s Baluchistan, from bases in Britain to bases in Kyrgyzstan (soon to be evicted), from the slums of Sadr City to the dusty hamlets of Helmand province. The scope of the battlefield equals that of World War II.
Second, ‘the enemy’ bears many names - all mysterious and vaguely menacing – yet has no fixed identity. We hear of ‘transnational criminal organizations, Islamo-fascism, narco-states, rogue states, WMD precursor proliferation, international terrorism – of course; and then the more academic euphemisms: cyber-terrorists, , etc. The enemy seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder. The personalities merge, separate, wax and wane with a speed that adds to their menace. With an enemy at once elusive and omni-present, danger is eternal and victory indefinable. Only total control of the external environment could kill the former and secure the latter. That means America must marshal all its powers and deploy them globally, i. e. hegemony.
Whole industries have been created de novo to serve the cause: purveyors of anti-terrorist nostrums, nation building projects galore, democracy promotion consultants, private militaries for hire, escort services offering gun-toting anthropologists and psychologists, a phalanx of surveillance specialists, and the inescapable market makers for derivatives of the Great Threat.
Third, the goal and the strategy for achieving total security were clearly enunciated by persons who animated it. Among the most prominent were the self-conscious coterie devoted to ensconcing the United States’ dominance by Americanizing the world. The spirit of these true-believers in a crusade for freedom was conveyed by Paul Wolfowitz in his incessant promotion of unilateralism and military preemption as key elements in a strategy that aimed at American strategic dominance. He authored a first draft while in the Pentagon under Bush the Elder. These neo-conservative ‘brothers in Christ’ found common cause with the ultra nationalists led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Their main vehicle was the Project for the New American Century whose reports represented a second telling of the Gospel. The two sects shared core premises, namely:
* The peace and security of the democratic world is threatened as never before. The principal danger comes from nihilistic Islamic terrorist movements, which may benefit from the refuge and/or assistance provided by failed or rogue states.
* The United States is the primary target because it is the cynosure of liberty and fountainhead of the profane forces of globalization, as witness 9/11 and the vitriolic verbal attacks on America as Satan incarnate.
* Rogue states present the even graver menace of weapons of mass destruction, which may fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
* It is legitimate, even imperative, for the threatened democracies to use their power to forestall assaults on them, whether striking preemptively against extant threats or preventively where the lethal combination of tyranny, WMD, and terrorism may coalesce.
* The only durable solution is the transformation of those repressive, ideologically bankrupt regimes which foster, encourage, tolerate or provide breeding-grounds for the jihadist mindset.
* Traditional concepts of state sovereignty do not constitute an acceptable legal or political barrier to efforts at imposing that solution.
* The democratization project should maximize its effectiveness by enlisting as many democratic countries as possible in a multifaceted campaign of suasion. This is a moral undertaking whose actions are justifiable, indeed validated in ethical terms.
* The United States is uniquely endowed to lead such an enterprise. In addition to its material strength, it has the capacity to inspire – it remains the beacon of idealism for those yearning to be free of repression.
* American efforts to impress its vision on other governments are not tainted by imperial ambition. America’s rectitude and civic virtue validate its role as guide and prophet.
* The United States, therefore, is not a ‘global Leviathan’ that advances its selfish interests at the expense of others. It is, rather, the benign producer of public goods.
* The privilege of partial exception from the international norms, including the right to act unilaterally, is earned by an historical record of selfless performance.
When opportunity presented itself, the blueprint was in hand. A pliable, indolent George Bush would be their instrument; 9/11 the God-given occasion.
It is sobering to remind ourselves that these ideas were marginal to the mainstream discourse within the foreign affairs community just a decade ago. They evoked only the faintest echo in political circles. There was nothing preordained by their ascendancy. It was the fear and dread evoked by the horrific experience of 9/11 that allowed the plan’s authors to mobilize the public in support of actions that set it into motion. At no time were ultimate objectives revealed to the country at large. Only oblique remarks hinted at the dimensions of the project. The convenient, all-justifying ‘war on terror’ was the ideal cover. Scared, vengeful Americans found satisfaction in the war’s imagery and initial actions. They grafted their passions onto the un-heroic person of George Bush. Every great cause must have a chief, however improbable the beneficiary of this transference. So it was. It was an easy passage for a people who, victimized as never before in their collective lives, were stirred by righteous faith in a cause whose necessity was sanctified by truth and justice. Moreover, America’s intrinsic virtue provided the assurance that none of its actions could be heinous.
The country lurched forward into turbulent, uncharted waters. As of early 2009, America had invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. There, the result was hundreds of thousands killed and broken societies. There, it has tried to manipulate domestic politics so as to create American friendly governments. Washington fell flat on its face in both places. It was regularly launching drone missile strikes in northwestern Pakistan while meddling in Pakistani politics and pursuing Special Forces missions across the Durand Line. The scheme to arrange a shotgun marriage between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto while excluding other political figures went up in flames. The outcast, Nawaz Sharif, has become the country’s most acclaimed leader after thwarting an attempt at exclusion from Pakistani politics by the American protégé, Asif Ali Zardari, whose two Manhattan psychiatrists declared him incompetent to stand trial in London a few years back. Insurgent attacks have blocked the Khyber Pass and now the critical supply route into Afghanistan runs through Russia at the sufferance of Vladimir Putin. America organized the invasion and occupation of Islamic Somalia by Christian Ethiopians. Special Forces operated in the seams hunting ‘suspected terrorists.’ CIA agents participated in the torture and interrogation of captive Islamists in Addis Ababa prisons. Now the war weary Ethiopians have retreated and more radical Islamists rule Somalia. Elsewhere, the United States has deployed Special Forces in the African Sahel region in order to interdict the movement of Islamist groups from Algeria entering Mali and adjacent countries.
Simultaneously, the United States is confronting the Islamist Republic of Iran, convinced that it is the prime source of all things evil in the region. For that reason, it supplied and incited internal attacks against the regime while strong-arming third parties to join in an economic quarantine of Iran. Integral to this strategy were the bloody Israeli assaults on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza justified on the grounds that both were merely handmaidens of Teheran. Accordingly, the United States conspired with Israel to launch the 2006 war in southern Lebanon that resulted in the destruction of a good part of the country’s infrastructure. To break Hamas after its surprise electoral victory in Palestine, America joined Israel in a policy of suppression that entailed arresting Hamas government ministers, the economic strangulation of Gaza, the arming/training of Fatah militias to seize control of Gaza (a plan preempted by Hamas action) and finally giving the Israelis the green light for the 2009 onslaught by the IDF. Washington consequently finds itself bound at the hip to a far-right Israeli government with an outspoken fascist as its number 2.
We dared to transform the political landscape of the Greater Middle East; now we are hated from Morocco to Malaysia. All this grandiosity and audacity from a country that is literally broke and dependent on Asian central banks for cash to cover its operating expenses.
Recitation of these self defeating enterprises reveals two stunning truths about the state of American foreign policy. The country has invested enormously in serial failure relieved only by the modest success of dislodging the Taliban – temporarily. The global struggle goes on against enemies real and imagined without any appreciable change in strategic thinking. Its sole convincing victory has been mastery of the American public mind.
March 25, 2009