National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 4, 2003

Iraq is a stop on Bush ‘unipolarist’ track

So how did we get from liberty and justice to shock and awe? How did enshrined ideals become buried under military policies aimed at exporting fear, not respect?

All the military might in the world cannot win a single heart or still a conscience. It cannot turn back the rising sea of protesters taking to streets worldwide. Historically, U.S. ideals have set our nation apart.

However, in a matter of months, the Bush administration has broken with our beloved past to recklessly set off along a path of peril, of empire building. First it broke loose from a host of international treaties; then it turned its back on the most loyal of democratic allies to wage preemptive war.

This is not the America we grew up with and learned to love.

The story of how we got here has emerged in a number of reports in such publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and The Christian Century. NCR ran its own story on the subject in the Dec. 13 issue.

It was after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 that a number of hard-line anti-Communists began arguing that the U.S. must use its military and economic supremacy to remake the world and put down America’s remaining enemies. They declared that the “unipolarist moment” had arrived. Among those holding to this new creed were figures familiar to NCR readers, including Elliott Abrams, William F. Buckley Jr., Richard Cheney, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Novak, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, Donald Rumsfeld, Ben Wattenberg and James Woolsey.

In his article “Universal Dominion: Toward a Unipolar World,” Krauthammer spelled out the unipolarist idea: “America’s purpose should be to steer the world away from an approaching multipolar future toward a qualitatively new outcome -- a unipolar world whose center is a confederated West.” Elsewhere he explained that unipolarism refers to “a single pole of world power that consists of the United States at the apex of the industrial West.”

The term didn’t catch on, but the idea was seized upon by hawkish conservatives and neoconservatives in the early 1990s and was debated within the first Bush administration. In 1990 then Secretary of Defense Cheney commissioned a new strategic plan. Paul Wolfowitz (undersecretary for defense policy) led a team that outlined a policy of U.S. global domination. Cheney’s attempt to create a new big-picture strategy was derailed by the Persian Gulf War and the leaking of Wolfowitz’s plan to the press.

The Clinton election followed, sending the hawks back to their think tanks to wait another day.

In 1997, meanwhile, a group of unipolarists led by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Abrams, and Rumsfeld founded the Project for the New American Century, which issued a statement of principles that called for an aggressive American policy of global domination.

In January 1998, the same men warned President Clinton in an open letter that the “containment” of Iraq was a failure and that removing Saddam Hussein from power “needed to become the aim of American foreign policy.” Among the 18 signers were Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle. They wrote with no particular knowledge that they would, within five years, be in a position to turn their ideas into policy.

Two months before the presidential election of 2000, the unipolarists issued a key position paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century” that spelled out the particulars of a global empire strategy: Repudiate the ABM treaty, build a global missile defense system, increase defense spending by $20 billion per year to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, and reinvent the U.S. military to meet expanded obligations throughout the world.

Bush’s election provided them a dramatic opening. Key architects of the U.S. supremacist policy, Wolfowitz and Perle, were appointed to the positions of deputy defense secretary and chair of the Pentagon’s defense policy board. In the early months of the second Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell resisted this aggressive unilateralism, but lost the argument after 9/11.

On Sept. 14, 2001, Wolfowitz declared at a news conference that the U.S. government was committed to “ending states who sponsor terrorism.” On Sept. 20, Bush declared that any nation that sponsors, aids or harbors terrorists is an enemy of the United States.

Afghanistan became the first target. Once the Taliban were scattered, Bush turned his attention to Baghdad. He highlighted its perceived threat in his State of the Union address in January 2002, declaring Iraq part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and North Korea, that could provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists bent on attacking America. Months later, Bush issued the most radical foreign policy document in history, titled “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” It declared the right of the United States to wage preemptive wars on rogue states. The following month, Wolfowitz asserted: “This fight is a broad fight. It’s a global fight. … The war on terrorism is a global war, and one that must be pursued everywhere.”

The unipolarists have brought us to bloody and perhaps protracted battles in Iraq, but even now they have their sights set on Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, if not quite North Korea. To the unipolarists, America must not shrink from its moral and ideological obligation to establish a new Pax Americana. They hold that no other nation has the means or stature to put tyrants in their place or uphold the rules of a liberal democratic world order. To accomplish this new order, military means will be necessary.

The U.S. already spends as much on defense as the next 15 nations combined. Bush is calling for nearly $400 billion in military spending, not including a $75 billion Iraq war emergency appropriation. No domestic funding program can stand up to the Pentagon’s insatiable needs. When military spending by U.S. allies is excluded, the United States now spends nearly twice as much on “defense” as the rest of the world combined.

Bush and his key advisers show little concern about the costs of the war and the looming Iraq occupation, because occupation is a necessary means to their goal of “a transformed Middle East” and an American-dominated world. Since they can’t say that, they have stumbled in explaining why the United States must go to war. They began by claiming that we have to overthrow Saddam because he is building a nuclear bomb. That didn’t pan out, so they switched to the claim that he is connected to terrorism. That didn’t pan out either, so they switched to the possession of weapons of mass destruction. That may well be the case, but the United States steamrolled the inspections process and the international consensus that had developed around how to keep Saddam contained and to continue to seek out such weapons. By moving so quickly to the most extreme course, we not only alienated a huge portion of the world, we also left ourselves little room for dealing with other crises beyond Iraq.

This is a path leading to bankruptcy of U.S. ideals, to say nothing of the U.S. economy. Bush and his crew of U.S. supremacists are asking us to betray our democratic traditions and go down the road of empire. They are removing hope and replacing it with fear as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. They are turning their backs on the generous visions of generations of patriotic Americans.

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2003

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