Three weeks ago the Bush administration announced a new strategic-military policy. Named “The National Security Strategy of the United States,” the document contains little that has not been said earlier by Bush and his foreign policy aides.
In fact, the strategic perspectives outlined in the report are borrowed from earlier position papers. As far back the early 1990s and as recently as two years ago, documents were circulated in the top circles of our nation’s ruling class that bear a remarkable resemblance to the new Bush policy.
The earlier versions, however, never became government policy. One, written during the latter days of the first Bush administration and leaked to The New York Times, was greeted by a storm of criticism while the more recent versions never attracted much attention beyond a small circle of right wing ideologues.
So what accounts for the initially muted opposition to essentially the same document this time? Why is the latest incarnation of this doctrine, which had been discredited a decade ago, official policy now?
For one thing, the authors of the policy, from the initial to the latest versions, are now the principal foreign policy makers in the Bush administration.
But more importantly, the September 11 terrorist attacks transformed the political environment so much so that the Bush administration was able to neutralize or win over out of fear sections of the American people and ruling class. Had there been no attack, they would have been opposed to such a dangerous and provocative change in our military-strategic policy.
Previous U.S. administrations, to be sure, were not lambs in the international arena. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the relentless bombing of Yugoslavia in the mid-’90s are the bookends of five decades of covert and overt intervention against states and peoples.
And yet to see only the similarities between the policies of present and past governments masks the fact that the military-strategic doctrine of the Bush administration constitutes a qualitative break from the doctrine that guided U.S. foreign policy going back to the beginning of the Cold War.
Or, to put it differently, the new military-strategic doctrine – sometimes called the Bush doctrine – contains not a subtle adjustment but rather a radical change that elevates the danger of aggression, militarism and war to an entirely new level. Its implications are frightening, including the possibility of the destruction of human life on our planet.
Setting aside for a moment the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, what, in the wider objective situation, accounts for the emergence of this new strategic doctrine? Without being exhaustive, four developments come to mind.
First, this new strategic policy is bound up with the political ascendancy of the most right-wing sections of transnational capital and its control of the main branches of the federal government.
Although capitalist globalization harbors tendencies that move in the direction of imperialist aggression and war, and although the Democratic Party has its own track record of recklessness and militarism, neither can adequately account for this far-reaching change of policy. What was decisive was the role of the far right in effecting this change.
Second, the disintegration of the Soviet Union a decade ago removed the one state able to confront and contest the aggressive actions of U.S. imperialism. It is no accident that the initial thinking regarding this new military-strategic policy coincides with the collapse of Soviet socialism. Once this happened, a new strategic doctrine adapted to new conditions worldwide was almost inevitable.
Third, U.S. imperialism’s overwhelming military strength vis-a-vis its friends and foes conferred an enormous – really historically unprecedented – advantage to shape and reshape the world in the interests of U.S. transnational corporations. Never, according to scholars of international affairs, has a state possessed such superior forces compared to its rivals. This fact, perhaps more than any other, encouraged the extreme right to begin the process of overhauling the U.S. strategic doctrine.
Finally, the slowdown of the global capitalist economy and the accompanying intensified competition of rival capitalisms in already saturated global markets nudged the U.S. ruling class, and particularly its most reactionary sector, to pursue a more aggressive policy in the world arena. In doing so, it hopes to convert its superiority on a military and political level into advantage on an economic level.
What are some of the main features of the Bush doctrine?
• Nuclear weapons are weapons of first resort rather than last resort now. Limited nuclear war is no longer an oxymoron. And the Bush doctrine sanctions the first strike use of nuclear weapons in a range of military situations.
• Pre-emptive strikes generally are a legitimate and favored method of warfare against states that supposedly pose a threat to the security interests of the U.S. This too is a change of official policy of our government.
• A unilateral, go-it-alone posture is preferred over multilateralism. The assembling of a coalition of like-minded governments behind military actions is to be utilized or dispensed with depending on the circumstances.
• Preventing the emergence of a rival state power – be it friend or foe – is an essential requirement of the Bush strategic approach.
• Transforming the U.S. military and further widening its current unprecedented advantage over its closest competitor is of fundamental importance.
• International law, treaties and obligations that constrain the ability of the administration to act in a decisive manner wherever and whenever it chooses are to be ignored.
• Far less weight is attached to diplomacy and stability in international relations. Provoking mass opposition doesn’t worry the foreign policy makers in the White House and Pentagon. In fact, instability, in their eyes, may well offer opportunities to project U.S. military power to distant corners of the globe.
• Mothballed is the notion that the U.S. military can manage only one or two conflicts at a time.
• The U.S. reserves the right to police and punish; and annihilate with overwhelming force, nations and peoples that it deems “enemies of civilization.”
With this new military-strategic orientation, the policy makers in the White House aim to bring about a qualitative and permanent change in the world balance of forces, thereby allowing U.S. imperialism and its transnational corporations to absolutely dominate the world for the near and long term.
Spokespeople for the Bush administration, of course, are not so honest as to openly make this admission. Instead, they conceal their new policy and its objectives behind the rhetoric of combating terrorism and new security threats.
A year ago few people would have contested this. But a year does make a difference. Dissident and increasingly insistent voices, ranging from respected Congresspeople to various political observers, to growing numbers of ordinary Americans, are taking issue with the administration’s global ambitions.
Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, opined, “In essence, it [Bush’s military strategic policy] lays out a plan for U.S. military and economic domination of every region of the globe, unfettered by international treaty or concern. And to make that plan a reality, it envisions a stark expansion of our global military presence.”
In a similar vein, G. John Ikenberry writes in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, “America’s nascent neoimperial strategy threatens to rend the fabric of the international community and political partnerships. … It is an approach that is fraught with peril and will likely fail. It is not only politically unsustainable but diplomatically harmful. And if history is a guide, it will trigger antagonism and resistance that will leave America in a more hostile and divided world.”
And isn’t this already evident today? The rush to militarily invade Iraq with deadly force has met with resistance among the American people – not to mention people in near and distant lands – who are not only suspicious of the administration’s Iraq policy, but also of the overall direction of its military-strategic plans.
People are realizing that the war danger won’t exhaust itself. It won’t run out of steam on its own. And leaders of the labor and people’s movements are recognizing that they can’t be silent about the invasion of Iraq and Bush’s new war doctrine without sacrificing the lives and livelihoods of their own constituencies.
Thus, it is becoming clearer that the struggle against the growing war danger is the dominant and defining political reality in our own country for the foreseeable future. It shapes and conditions every issue and every struggle.
It increasingly strikes a nerve among a cross-section of people as aggression abroad combines with reaction, economic austerity and racism at home.
At this moment the interrelated tasks of preventing an invasion of Iraq and taking the Congress out of the hands of the ultra right on November 5 are the frontlines of resistance to Bush’s plans of world domination.
Indeed, nothing, absolutely nothing, will weaken more the overall war drive of the Bush administration, and in so doing create the most favorable conditions to fight the mounting economic crisis and for people’s needs, than blocking the war and shifting the political balance in Congress against the extreme right.
Objectively speaking, the defeat of right-wing Republicans will amount to a repudiation of Bush’s policies on every front.
The White House is well aware of this and is therefore attempting to give a sense of inevitability to its invasion of Iraq and to its efforts to win back control of the Senate and maintain its control of the House.
Thus the stakes are high, the lines are more clearly drawn, and above all, the struggle is winnable. In recent weeks a broadly based, loosely knit movement has begun to emerge against Bush militarist policies which have an exceedingly narrow objective social base.
While many commentators have noted the capitulation of the Democratic Party leadership, more salient is the emergence of a significant bloc in Congress that opposes the war drive. And when combined with the new level of activity in the streets at home as well as elsewhere, it augurs well for the formation of a vast domestic and worldwide front against the reactionary policies of the Bush administration and his reactionary corporate backers.
In the course of this struggle, progressive and left forces have to begin to project an alternative vision of our nation’s role in the world community. Such a vision should include the non-use of force in international relations, the worldwide destruction of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the enhancement of the role of the United Nations and its General Assembly, respect for sovereignty rights of big and small states alike, the just and immediate settlements of unresolved conflicts in the world, beginning with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and a readiness on the part of our nation to be an equal and contributing member of the world community with no special rights or privileges.
Of course, the vision of communists and socialists of a just and peaceful world is informed by our socialist ideal. Nearly a hundred years ago Rosa Luxembourg said that the choice facing humanity was either socialism or barbarism. At that time no world power possessed weapons of mass destruction. But since then such weapons proliferated and nowhere more than in our own country.
Thus her warning takes on a new urgency and the struggle for socialism gains a new necessity. Once the possibility of a better life for humankind animated the socialist vision. And it still does. But at a moment when weapons of mass destruction proliferate and our own country speaks of pre-emptive nuclear strikes, our socialist vision offers the best hope for humanity’s survival.
In the late 1980s, many people across the political spectrum hoped that the threat of annihilating war was giving way to a new era of peace as the Cold War slid into historical memory. But reality – punctuated first by the Gulf War a decade ago, and then a few years later by the bombing of Yugoslavia and now the new Bush doctrine of unending war – is severely testing such hopes. Nevertheless, while the dangers are palpable and enormous, a peaceful world is possible. And a first step in disarming the warmakers is to derail Bush’s plans to invade Iraq and to sweep the right wing out of Congress.
Sam Webb is the national chairman of the Communist Party USA.
He can be reached at email@example.com