Anthony P. Maingot
Sociology/Anthropology Department, FIU
November 19, 2003
I. I can only assume that the expectations when one is given only eight minutes to address issue as complex as "The United States in Post-War Iraq" is that one will be as succint, bold and perhaps even as outrageous in ones opinions as possible.
I will not disappoint.
First, let me outline my two basic premises and my conclusion:
Premise No. 1
Iraq represented no short or medium-term threat to the U.S. or any of our allies. The following facts support this position: (1) Militarily it was a shadow of what it was in 1992; (2) We controlled the skies and our "no-fly zone" allowed us to continually damage their defense systems; (3) Our embargo had weakened their economy; (4) Saddam Hussein had no significant allies; (5) U.N. inspection teams were on site.
Premise No. 2
We need only turn to the "leaked" memo by Sect. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to understand that they understand that we have no way of knowing whether we are winning in Iraq or, indeed, knowing how long the war will last. In other words, we do not know when the "post" in our title will kick in. In addition, one need only look at the distressing unraveling of the situation in Afghanistan and the instability in Pakistan to know that the level of predictability in the Middle Eastern "front" decreases rather than increases as time goes by.
We are less a secure nation and world today than before we declared Iraq to be "the central front" on the "War on Terrorism."
The question becomes: If there was no immediate threat, why did we go to war? Answer: We talked and read ourselves into it.
The first thing we have to enquire into is what was the general ideological atmosphere or zeitgeist under which the strike against Irak was carried out.
To understand the collective logic of the Bush administration foreign policy ideology one has to understand a general epistemological given: A principle articulated 75 years ago by Carl L. Becker (The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers, 1932):
Arguments or ideas will command assent not so much upon the logic or proven facts which they convey but upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained. This fact is supported by a veritable library of works in the sociology of knowledge, perhaps best exemplified by the work of Karl Mannheim.
What, then, is this climate of opinion or ideology and how did it evolve?
There is one dominant theme in this ideology perhaps best understood in the very title of Joshua Muravchik's 1996 book, The Imperative of American Leadership. It was typical of the "realist" thinking of the American Enterprise Institute which would soon become one of the favorite think tanks of the George W. Bush administration. This doctrine spelling out an American imperative, moral obligation or duty, is now identified as "Neo-Conservative."
The doctrine is certainly not new. There was an imperative to Manifest Destiny, at home and later abroad. After all, didn't President McKinley not tell us that God himself had counseled him on the imperative to go to war with Spain over Cuba? We are not talking, thus, of military action taken when we had "a dagger pointed at our heart" such as World War II, Korea, or Afghanistan or to liberate a people (such as Grenada, Panama or Kuwait) who were quite evidently desirous of such a military move. We are talking about a sense of national obligation to rise, and stay, in a position of world dominance sufficient to guarantee a new Pax Americana.
Clearly September 11 created a legitimate and understandable sense that we were under attack (which we were and still are), what was to be done with that climate of opinion was not born in September 2001. It was spelled out as early as 1992 in a study commissioned by the Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and drafted by the then Undersecretary for policy Paul Wolfowitz.
That "program" became the basis for the "Statement of Principles" of the New American Century Project of June 3, 1997.
This was followed by a September, 2000 Report of the New American Century "Rebuilding America's Defenses" which was much more specific and detailed in terms of military strategy.
This, in turn, was followed by a study commissioned by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and presented to him in August, 2001: "Strategies for Maintaining U.S. Predominance." This was a month before September 2001.
The basic principles of this ideology as they are spelled out in all these studies are as follows (and I cite from the texts):You must not for a minute believe that this was just another piece of "Think Tank type" rhetoric. The administration was staffed with people who actively promoted this ideology.
The allegation that under the Democrats, "American foreign and defense policy is adrift". The very strong vow that, "We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership." A spelling out of the doctrine of preemption: "...it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire." And, then, the broad statement of principles, based on a notion of American exceptionalism: the need to support the goal and idea of "America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles." In other words, a PaxAmericana and American hegemony equivalent to any imperial hegemony.
III. Look at the authors of the Statement of Principles of the New American Century Project (Sept. 2000) and their roles in the Bush administration:
Dick Cheney -- all powerful V.P.
Donald Rumsfeld -- Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz -- Deputy Defense Secretary
John Bolton -- Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Eliot A. Cohen -- Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board
I. Lewis Libby -- Chief of Staff to V.P. Chaney
Elliott Abrahams -- National Security Council representative for Middle Eastern Affairs
Dov Zackheim -- Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) of the Pentagon
Stephen Cambone -- Head, Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation of the Defense Department.
Then, there are the intellectuals who joined in the drafting of that document:
Donald Kagan (co-chair of the 2000 New Century Project).You get an idea of this ideological thrust when you listen to Professor Kagan (Yale):
Midge Decter Forbes,
Norman Podhoretz, and
"If [our allies] want a free ride, and they probably will, we can't stop that, but we, given our unique position, have no choice but to act anyway."
"You saw the movie ‘High Noon'? We're Gary Cooper." [(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (4/11/03)].
Hubris and imperial prepossessiveness for sure, but also proof that the principles of unilateralism and preemption were there well before September 11, 2001.
Is it any surprise that it is precisely this group which had been giving vent to their frustration with what they argued was an America which was asleep and relinquishing its global obligations (see Donald Kagan and son, Frederick Kagan, While America Sleeps, 2001).
The initial military victory in Iraq led to a series of triumphalist articles in the conservative press by the authors of the New American Century Project. Here is Francis Fukuyama (Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2003) arguing that U.S. forces are today welcomed in Baghdad as liberators.
"After enduring criticism from much of the world for embarking on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Americans this week have been justly celebrating the downfall of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and the fact that the war was neither as protracted nor as morally ambiguous as many had feared. Once again in the U.S. military has shown itself to be the best in the world by any conceivable measure....
We need to exploit this moment of strength. There has been a lot of speculation as to ‘where next,' whether Syria, Iran, or North Korea. But the best way to take advantage of our current position may be to contract our empire, rather than expand it."
Listen to Robert L. Bartley (Editor, The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2003) noting that V.P. Cheney had been widely criticized for saying on the Tim Russert show: "We will be greeted as liberators" in Baghdad:
"Jubilant crowds in Baghdad show that President Bush and his team were spectacularly right and his critics spectacularly wrong. And this says something about who are the smart guys and who are the dullards in this society–or at least, what kind of mind set leads to good judgment."
Jacob Burkhardt defines "history" as "the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another." We accept that as true of all societies and generations. We are not surprised, therefore, when the New American Century's Statement of Principles speaks repeatedly of the "lessons" which "history" should have taught Americans.
But, we add and conclude with another sociological Principle: the political uses of "history" as moral lessons is particularly dangerous when the "lessons" are drawn from historical analogies rather than empirical comparative studies. Analogies tend to draw lessons opportunistically and as such run the danger of the fallacy of parallelism: thing might appear alike but are not alike in either causes or context.
Where do the Neo Cons search for those moral lessons?
Two approaches:1. The study of other empires. No surprise that the August, 2001 study, Strategies for Maintaining U.S. Predominance," contains a section titled "Lessons of History" which has case studies on the British, Roman, Chinese and Ottoman Empires.But it is arguably Robert Kagan (Of Paradise and Power, 2003), who is not a neo-con, but who states the case for American hegemony most starkly. His basic argument is that the U.S. is the "indispensable" (p. 94) nation because Europe is a "weak" continent. Kagan is worth citing at some length:
No surprise either that one of the favorite reads of the group, and many other Americans, has been Niall Ferguson's Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (2003). His message is hardly concealed: Today, the US, like Britain before, is the most successful economy in the world and should impose its preferred values on less technologically advance societies.
2, The second, and most immediately significant for policy, source of their view of history is the "era" of Ronald Reagan. According to the New American Century group "We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success..."
Even Robert D. Kaplan (Warrior Politics, 2002) who argues that ancient and classical history teaches us that leadership demands a "pagan ethos", sees R. Reagan as exemplifying such leadership. This is strange since it is Machiavelli who according to Kaplan, is the essential teacher of "pagan leadership." Calling Reagan a Machiavellian does not sound right except, perhaps, when we select Machiavellian principles such as "All armed prophets succeed, whereas unarmed ones fail." That does have a Reaganesque ring to it.
"Americans seek to defend and advance a liberal international order. But the only stable and successful international order Americans can imagine is one that has the United States at its center. Nor can Americans conceive of an international order that is not defended by power, and specifically by American power. If this is arrogance, at least it is not a new arrogance." (P. 94)
"Such law as there may be to regulate international behavior, they believe, exists because a power like the United States defends it by force of arms. In other words, just as Europeans claim, Americans can still sometimes see themselves in heroic terms–as Gary Cooper at high noon. They will defend the townspeople, whether the townspeople want them to or not. (P. 95)
In other words, for all their idealism, according to Robert Kagan, Americans ultimately believe in the fundamental tenet of realism: the necessity to back up ideals (read "American" ideals") with power. And, what Europe and the rest of the world who disagree with how the U.S. uses its power have to do is, in Kagan's words "readjust to the new reality of American hegemony." (P. 97) In street terms, like it or lump it.
Whether such unbridled imperial hubris will survive a protracted war in Iraq (and Afghanistan) is the real question to be addressed.
A Neo-Conservative Reading List
All are part of the New American Century project whose thoughts were summed up by Stephen Peter Rosen (Yale) in The Wall Street Journal: "We will be called imperialists regardless, so we might as well be competent imperialist." Machiavelli, Hobbes are openly cited as intellectual mentors, I suspect Nietzsche is lurking in the shadows and made to speak through the mouth of Ortega y Gasset.