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"A Dream Only American Power Can Inspire"

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Issue: 1 Section: Features Geography: USA Topics: dick cheney, donald rumsfeld

May 16, 2003

"A Dream Only American Power Can Inspire"

Faces of the New American Century: Francis Fukuyama, William Kristol, Dick Cheney

by Dru Oja Jay

Faces of the New American Century: Francis Fukuyama, William Kristol, Dick Cheney

Critics of US foreign policy no longer need to make the argument that the US is trying to undermine the UN and international law, while making active use of global military dominance. The Project for the New American Century is doing it for them. Founded in 1997 on the premise that "too few political leaders today are making the case for [American] global leadership", the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) is a right wing, Washington-based think tank committed to "promoting the idea that American leadership is good both for America and for the world."

What makes the Project different from other think tanks and foundations is the amount of direct influence it wields. Signatories of the organization's 1997 "statement of principles" include high-profile positions within government--current Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush (George W's brother)--as well as prominent neoconservatives Francis Fukuyama, Steve Forbes, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle and William Kristol.

What does increased "American leadership" consist of? The Project has made the case for its comprehensive vision of global governance through a series of open letters to the president and high-profile op/ed articles, which are available at newamericancentury.org.

Donald Rumsfeld greeting Saddam Hussein in 1983: the Project for the New American Century advocated invading Iraq before it was stylish.

Most prominently, PNAC explicitly insists that the UN and international law do not govern, but are simply means by which specific action can gain legitimacy. But they also contend that such an approach to the UN is already widely agreed upon by members the American elite. In a Washington Post op/ed, Robert Kagan argued that "to most American multilateralists the U.N. Security Council is not the final authority. It's like a blue-ribbon commission. If it makes the right recommendation, it strengthens your case. If not, you can always ignore it."

But PNAC is in this case not much different from Bill Clinton, who declared that the US would act "multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary." PNAC and the Bush Administration differ only to the extent to which they have shed any veneer of multilateral intention.

But PNAC's vision of "global American leadership" goes beyond the mere denial of limits on American power. In almost every article or publication that bears its name, PNAC insists on massive increases in defence spending. "Rebuilding America's Defenses," a 75 page report authored by PNAC members in 2000, calls for raising US defense spending to "a minimum level of 3.5 to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, adding $15 billion to $20 billion to total defence spending annually." The year following September 11, the Bush Administration has shown increased enthusiasm for PNAC's plan, calling for a $48 billion defense budget increase in 2002.

"Advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool." —PNAC
At the time the report was written, the US already outspent Russia--the closest military power--by a factor of six to one. And yet in PNAC's reports and articles, hugely increased defense spending is never presented as anything less than crucial. Their reasoning is twofold. First, if the US allows its global military dominance to slip, then powers such as Russia, China or North Korea will grab more regional power, leading to a decline in US dominance worldwide. The extra $20-$40 billion per year in defense spending will go to developing technologies to keep the US military able to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars", proactively overshadowing regional sovereignty. Secondly, they insist, American power is necessary for maintaining US interests globally. Not surprisingly, US interests are equated with the well being of all other countries on the planet.

At issue is what various PNAC members describe as the "American Peace," or, in a direct reference to the Roman Empire, the Pax Americana . The authors of "Rebuilding America's Defenses" write, "at current budget levels, a [military] modernization or transformation strategy is in danger of becoming a 'no-war' strategy. While the American peace might not come to a catastrophic end, it would quickly begin to unravel; the result would be much the same in time." In other words, if the US does not maintain the clear global dominance it continues to possess in the post-Cold War years, then the international order will collapse back into regional spheres of influence; India, Europe, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China will attempt to carve out their own regional niches, unless American military power is there to stop them.

For PNAC, rebuilding US military power involves at least three main objectives. First, an "increase in active-duty strength from 1.4 million to 1.6 million," which would enable the US to better fight and win the aforementioned "multiple, simultaneous theater wars" in addition to performing "'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions."

Second, missile defense is central to continued American dominance. The notion of "mutually assured destruction", whereby countries that possess nuclear weapons can "assure" that anyone who attacks them will suffer a nuclear annihilation, is anathema to PNAC's goals: it places an unacceptable limit on American power. "Without [ballistic missile defenses], weak states operating small arsenals of crude ballistic missiles, armed with basic nuclear warheads or other weapons of mass destruction, will be a in a strong position to deter the United States from using conventional force, no matter the technological or other advantages we may enjoy." The US would be left unable to attack who it chooses, when it chooses.

Third, PNAC advocates funding research into assessing the threat and potential uses of new technology ("cyber warfare"), and the development of new weapons. In the case of nuclear weapons, the influence of PNAC on the current Administration's policy is clear. In addition to keeping an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear warheads (to ensure the destruction of anyone who attacks the US directly), new "tiny nukes" have recently been developed for the stated purpose of targeting deep underground bunkers, though their use in deterring smaller attacks and adding another facet to US military might are also well documented. The plans for these developments were clearly laid out in PNAC's 2000 report, and given the significance of using nuclear weapons as anything other than a deterrent, the degree of influence PNAC wields is all too clear.

PNAC does not stop at nukes on the battlefield, however; biological weapons are also newly in-bounds when American power is at stake. The authors of "Rebuilding" write: "advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool." The simultaneous, casual willingness to develop biological weapons, target civilians based on their race, and use terror to maintain global US dominance could be dismissed as the rantings of deranged right-wing wackos, were it not for PNAC's clear power and influence.

But PNAC is adamant that it does not merely advocate US power for its own sake. The writings of William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Gary Schmitt, and the official PNAC reports make constant reference to "moral clarity", American principles, democracy, and freedom. The American "commitments" and "global responsibilities" are invoked repeatedly in reference to US military activities overseas.

PNAC's justification for American dominance seems to be based on the use of overwhelming American power for moral ends that are in the interest of everyone's security and economic well-being. PNAC advocates using US power "to spread democratic principles and deter and defeat the opponents of our civilization." A "safer future" can be built if the US "promotes democracy in the Arab world as an antidote to radical Islam". "This is not a crusade. It's a foreign policy of enlightened self-interest."

Since Sept 11, this vision of foreign policy has gained a new legitimacy. Last January, Robert Kagan wrote, "must we wait for another attack, perhaps involving these awful weapons, before we use our power and influence to compel change?" As in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is no longer enough to "spread democratic principles"; they must now be instilled, if not imposed directly through military force.

The definition of democracy employed in US foreign policy, however, is a particular one. Democracy is desirable to the extent that it is synonymous with a free market economy open to foreign (read: US) investment. Democratic states that are dependent on the US for much their economic well being are, in turn, also much more likely to side with the US on international issues.

In this respect, PNAC's ascent does not represent a shift from the foreign policies of Reagan or Clinton. As they write in their "Statement of Principles", "such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next."

The "enlightened self interest" approach to foreign policy does not, then, preclude terrorizing people who choose a path other than Washington-approved liberal democracy, or supporting dictators who are willing to align with US interests. Iraqis, for example, still remember seeing Donald Rumsfeld shake hands with Saddam Hussein when the US mended relations with Iraq in time to supply Hussein with weapons and funding for the duration of the Iran-Iraq war.

More recently, early PNAC member Paul Wolfowitz expressed dismay that Turkey's Military did not play enough of a "leadership role" when the overwhelming popular opposition to hosting US troops resulted in a Parliamentary vote against allowing access to the US.

PNAC signatory Eliot Abrams, who pled guilty to two counts perjury after he lied to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair but was pardoned by George Bush Sr. and hired as "Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations" by George Bush Jr. is another example of selectively democratic tendencies that PNAC inherits from the Reagan years. Abrams was central to the US training and funding of right-wing paramilitary groups in El Salvador, to which a UN truth commission attributed the majority of 22,000 atrocities that took place in the 1980s. According to reports published by the Observer , Abrams was involved in the attempted coup in Venezuela last year (another example of a democracy not being in line with US interests). No doubt, the members of PNAC are sincere when they speak of democracy being in US interests, but it is presumably more so when the country is bombed and occupied by American troops.

Despite frequent references to "rule of law", PNAC is singularly opposed to any limits placed on US power, including international law. In this, however, they are hardly unique; no one in the US elite is interested in considering the possibility of US generals or presidents being charged with war crimes, or the possibility of paying reparations to countries bombed and forgotten. PNAC itself emphasizes the underlying consensus about US global dominance; where they differ is in the extreme to which they are eager to take such dominance, and in their will to declare this eagerness willingly.

Further reading:

NewAmericanCentury.org, the official web site.

Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, the September, 2000 report authored by PNAC

PNAC.info, "An effort to investigate, analyze, and expose the Project for the New American Century, and its plan for a 'unipolar' world."

StopSleeping: Project for the New American Century, an overview with links to thoroughly researched information on PNAC members.

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