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William Rivers Pitt: Out of History Into History

Out of History Into History

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday, 23 September, 2002

Some will tell you the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Others will say it ended when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, when their breed of communism was cast aside in favor of free-enterprise democracy. In truth, the Cold War finally ended this past week, when the Bush administration chose to reframe the strategic posture of the American military away from the concept of deterrence.

Replacing that time-tested and diplomatically pliable stance are two steel fists. One declares the United States supreme over all nations, now and forever, and warns the world that we will never allow another nation to come close to matching our power. The other bluntly proclaims that we will attack any nation, at any time, in a pre-emptive fashion, if we so choose.

The language of the document codifying this new reality, which is entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America," is bland and warm and fuzzy and relatively obscure. No surprise there, as the majority of the text is culled and polished snippets of speeches delivered by George W. Bush since September 11, 2001. It calls for peace between nations, brotherhood, economic freedom, the advancement of human rights, and the unquestionable fact that we are the biggest dog on the lot, forever and ever, amen.

Hoo-rah. This will doubtlessly go over well with a majority of Americans, and why not? We were viciously attacked, and must warn the world that we will swing the big stick if anyone should ever think of attacking us again. Besides, we are already the greatest nation in the history of the planet, no? There should be no shame in coming right out and saying it. Pax Americana shall enshroud the globe like eagle's wings. As the preamble to this remarkable document states, "The United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world."

The devil, as ever, is in the details. "The U.S. national security strategy," reads the document, "will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests. The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better."

Consider the unrestrained arrogance of this statement. American military might and economic influence shall endeavor to make the world better...for America. There is little room within these words for the wishes and values of sovereign nations such as China and Russia, or national collectives like the European Union. "Better" is in the eye of the beholder, and if any nation should come to decide that the American version of "better" is unacceptable, the new National Security Strategy leaves little doubt what our response will be:

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security," reads the document. "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively."

Essentially, the new doctrine for American national security offered by the Bush administration erases all borders, along with several centuries worth of respect for territorial, cultural and governmental sovereignty. Despite several sunshine-filled sentences praising NATO and the United Nations, this strategy would seem to offer little say for anyone but the American government and the American military. My way or the highway. With us or against us. Pick your phrase.

By threatening to unilaterally attack anyone we choose, the Bush administration has threatened the entire international community. In stating that American values and an American concept of what constitutes a "better" world shall define the playing field, we cast aside respect for any nation that would dare exist within its own cultural or economic sphere. By demanding that no nation, anywhere, attempt to strengthen themselves, and by framing that demand with threats of war, we invite deadly challenges from governments that do not take kindly to having their futures dictated to them. Shot through it all is the premise that diplomacy is a waste of time, that treaties are for suckers, and that any nation that dares to try and play by American rules will have its back decisively broken.

The Cold War ended with the publication of this document, and a new one was born in its place. The deterrence strategy we employed against the Soviet Union has been replaced with naked, threatening aggression against the entirety of the global community. Such a move will never bring peace, but will cause us to arm ourselves to an ever-greater degree in the face of international contempt. America, already trapped in a bunker mentality after 9/11, with be further ostracized from the international community. The walls will grow higher.

As always with this administration, there is more than one game afoot.

George W. Bush has presented to Congress a proposed resolution regarding his intentions towards the nation of Iraq. Like his recent address to the United Nations, this would seem to be a defeat - the Bush administration spent the summer declaring that they would make war against Iraq without Congressional approval, and without any sort of official UN resolution on the matter. Congressional pressure, as well as some dispiriting poll numbers which indicated that the American people were not with him on this game plan, forced Bush to back down. He went to the UN, and has now gone to Congress for approval.

If the Bush administration has its way, however, that seeming defeat will be a temporary thing. The new strategic plan outlined above, if acted upon, unilaterally does away with any influence the UN may hold. The resolution sent to Congress, if accepted as it stands, will effectively remove Congress as a deliberative body from any war decisions made by America, and will give Bush carte blanche to make war on any nation he wishes. Despite the gloss, the resolution is about much more than Iraq.

The resolution demands that Bush be given the ability to "use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."

Someone once said that laws are only as good as the people who would enforce them. If Congress passes this resolution with that purposefully opaque reference to "the region" intact, they will have given George W. Bush a veneer of legal protection for any aggressive action he might take. "Region" does not mean Iraq. "Region" means Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan for starters. We know that his foreign policy is currently being run by neo-conservative hawks like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, men who would love nothing more than to re-write the map of that "region" by instigating total war, and damn the consequences.

As it always seems to do, the argument comes down to trust in motives. Peace and international cooperation is not on the agenda, as is evident by his reaction to Saddam Hussein's offer to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq. Bush scored a major victory there - his bombast and threats browbeat a tyrant into compliance - but before the ink dried on the offer his administration dismissed it as a joke and continued to prepare for unilateral aggression. That alone exposes his motives, and they are not to be trusted in any sense.

The setbacks Bush absorbed by having to pander to Congress and the UN are temporary. If he gets his way on these two matters, he will have the dangerously legal ability to act in ways utterly antithetical to the best interests of this country. Another set of confrontations, with Congress and with the UN, is in the offing because of these plans.

Already, Democrats in the House and Senate are preparing to resist the language of the resolution as stated. Senator Patrick Leahy has released a statement that states, "The draft language is so open-ended that it could authorize anything from backing up weapons inspectors to a unilateral attack, and beyond." Leahy's statement goes on to note, "The negotiations at the United Nations are still ongoing, and we do not know what type of military action the Administration wants to take, or what costs and risks to our national interests are involved. At this point there do not seem to be answers to even basic questions about the conditions that would trigger warfare." The reference to the United Nations is telling.

Nineteen Democratic House members have couched their opposition to the Bush administration's plans in terms less diplomatic than Leahy's. Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington, has said, "I am very skeptical of this whole operation and have the feeling that it has much more to do with oil than anything else." Marcy Kaptur, Democrat from Ohio, has said, "Naked aggression is not the American way. America, wake up." Many other Democrats have voiced similar concern. The likelihood that the Bush administration will be able to barnstorm this resolution through Congress is questionable.

Congress seems likely to link any approval for war on Iraq with a UN resolution approving of same. This will open the door for entities like the European Union to make themselves powerfully heard on the world stage. The EU's future will be badly disrupted by the new strategic plan offered by the Bush administration, and their influence would be gutted if Bush chooses to ignore the UN and push towards war unilaterally.

The stage is set. Congress stands on one end, the fate of its viability resting on its willingness to give Bush the ability to bypass them and the world in pursuit of battle. The European Union and the rest of the international community stands on the other, facing an America that would force its culture and imperial designs down their collective throats. The Bush administration sits foursquare in the middle of the mess it has made. If they win this confrontation, this nation will never be the same. If they lose, their credibility and standing will have been seriously diminished.

One way or another, though, the endgame will be played out. In the words of Robert Penn Warren, we shall go "out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time."


William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.

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