In recent days, those missing pieces have finally begun to fall
into place. As it turns out, this is not really about Iraq. It
not about weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism, or Saddam,
or U.N. resolutions.
This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence
of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole
responsibility and authority as planetary policeman. It would be
the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried
out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity
for global domination, even if it means becoming the "American imperialists"
that our enemies always claimed we were.
Once that is understood, other mysteries solve themselves. For
example, why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit
strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled?
Because we won't be leaving. Having conquered Iraq, the United
States will create permanent military bases in that country from
which to dominate the Middle East, including neighboring Iran.
In an interview Friday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld brushed
aside that suggestion, noting that the United States does not covet
other nations' territory. That may be true, but 57 years after World
War II ended, we still have major bases in Germany and Japan. We
will do the same in Iraq.
And why has the administration dismissed the option of containing
and deterring Iraq, as we had the Soviet Union for 45 years? Because
even if it worked, containment and deterrence would not allow the
expansion of American power. Besides, they are beneath us as an
empire. Rome did not stoop to containment; it conquered. And so
Among the architects of this would-be American Empire are a group
of brilliant and powerful people who now hold key positions in the
Bush administration: They envision the creation and enforcement
of what they call a worldwide "Pax Americana," or American peace.
But so far, the American people have not appreciated the true extent
of that ambition.
Part of it's laid out in the National Security Strategy, a document
in which each administration outlines its approach to defending
the country. The Bush administration plan, released Sept. 20, marks
a significant departure from previous approaches, a change that
it attributes largely to the attacks of Sept. 11.
To address the terrorism threat, the president's report lays out
a newly aggressive military and foreign policy, embracing pre-emptive
attack against perceived enemies. It speaks in blunt terms of what
it calls "American internationalism," of ignoring international
opinion if that suits U.S. interests. "The best defense is a good
offense," the document asserts.
It dismisses deterrence as a Cold War relic and instead talks
of "convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities."
In essence, it lays out a plan for permanent U.S. military and
economic domination of every region on 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.
"The United States will require bases and stations within and
beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia," the document warns, "as
well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment
of U.S. troops."
The report's repeated references to terrorism are misleading,
however, because the approach of the new National Security Strategy
was clearly not inspired by the events of Sept. 11. They can be
found in much the same language in a report issued in September
2000 by the Project
for the New American Century, a group of conservative
interventionists outraged by the thought that the United States
might be forfeiting its chance at a global empire.
"At no time in history has the international security order been
as conducive to American interests and ideals," the report said.
stated two years ago. "The challenge of this coming century is to
preserve and enhance this 'American peace.' "
Overall, that 2000 report reads like a blueprint for current Bush
defense policy. Most of what it advocates, the Bush administration
has tried to accomplish. For example, the project report urged the
repudiation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty and a commitment
to a global missile defense system. The administration has taken
It recommended that to project sufficient power worldwide to enforce
Pax Americana, the United States would have to increase defense
spending from 3 percent of gross domestic product to as much as
3.8 percent. For next year, the Bush administration has requested
a defense budget of $379 billion, almost exactly 3.8 percent of
It advocates the "transformation" of the U.S. military to meet
its expanded obligations, including the cancellation of such outmoded
defense programs as the Crusader artillery system. That's exactly
the message being preached by Rumsfeld and others.
It urges the development of small nuclear warheads "required in
targeting the very deep, underground hardened bunkers that are being
built by many of our potential adversaries." This year the GOP-led
U.S. House gave the Pentagon the green light to develop such a weapon,
called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, while the Senate has
so far balked.
That close tracking of recommendation with current policy is hardly
surprising, given the current positions of the people who contributed
to the 2000 report.
Paul Wolfowitz is now deputy defense secretary. John Bolton is
undersecretary of state. Stephen Cambone is head of the Pentagon's
Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation. Eliot Cohen and Devon
Cross are members of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Rumsfeld.
I. Lewis Libby is chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Dov Zakheim is comptroller for the Defense Department.
Because they were still just private citizens in 2000, the authors
of the project report could be more frank and less diplomatic than
they were in drafting the National Security Strategy. Back in 2000,
they clearly identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as primary short-term
targets, well before President Bush tagged them as the Axis of Evil.
In their report, they criticize the fact that in war planning against
North Korea and Iraq, "past Pentagon wargames have given little
or no consideration to the force requirements necessary not only
to defeat an attack but to remove these regimes from power."
To preserve the Pax Americana, the report says U.S. forces will
be required to perform "constabulary duties" -- the United States
acting as policeman of the world -- and says that such actions "demand
American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations."
To meet those responsibilities, and to ensure that no country
dares to challenge the United States, the report advocates a much
larger military presence spread over more of the globe, in addition
to the roughly 130 nations in which U.S. troops are already deployed.
More specifically, they argue that we need permanent military
bases in the Middle East, in Southeast Europe, in Latin America
and in Southeast Asia, where no such bases now exist. That helps
to explain another of the mysteries of our post-Sept. 11 reaction,
in which the Bush administration rushed to install U.S. troops in
Georgia and the Philippines, as well as our eagerness to send military
advisers to assist in the civil war in Colombia.
The 2000 report directly acknowledges its debt to a still earlier
document, drafted in 1992 by the Defense Department. That document
had also envisioned the United States as a colossus astride the
world, imposing its will and keeping world peace through military
and economic power. When leaked in final draft form, however, the
proposal drew so much criticism that it was hastily withdrawn and
repudiated by the first President Bush.
Effect on allies
The defense secretary in 1992 was Richard Cheney; the document
was drafted by Wolfowitz, who at the time was defense undersecretary
The potential implications of a Pax Americana are immense.
One is the effect on our allies. Once we assert the unilateral
right to act as the world's policeman, our allies will quickly recede
into the background. Eventually, we will be forced to spend American
wealth and American blood protecting the peace while other nations
redirect their wealth to such things as health care for their citizenry.
Donald Kagan, a professor of classical Greek history at Yale and
an influential advocate of a more aggressive foreign policy -- he
served as co-chairman of the 2000 New Century project -- acknowledges
"If [our allies] want a free ride, and they probably will, we
can't stop that," he says. But he also argues that the United States,
given its unique position, has no choice but to act anyway.
"You saw the movie 'High Noon'? he asks. "We're Gary Cooper."
Accepting the Cooper role would be an historic change in who we
are as a nation, and in how we operate in the international arena.
Candidate Bush certainly did not campaign on such a change. It is
not something that he or others have dared to discuss honestly with
the American people. To the contrary, in his foreign policy debate
with Al Gore, Bush pointedly advocated a more humble foreign policy,
a position calculated to appeal to voters leery of military intervention.
For the same reason, Kagan and others shy away from terms such
as empire, understanding its connotations. But they also argue that
it would be naive and dangerous to reject the role that history
has thrust upon us. Kagan, for example, willingly embraces the idea
that the United States would establish permanent military bases
in a post-war Iraq.
"I think that's highly possible," he says. "We will probably need
a major concentration of forces in the Middle East over a long period
of time. That will come at a price, but think of the price of not
having it. When we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions
in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no
disruption in oil supplies."
Costly global commitment
Rumsfeld and Kagan believe that a successful war against Iraq
will produce other benefits, such as serving an object lesson for
nations such as Iran and Syria. Rumsfeld, as befits his sensitive
position, puts it rather gently. If a regime change were to take
place in Iraq, other nations pursuing weapons of mass destruction
"would get the message that having them . . . is attracting attention
that is not favorable and is not helpful," he says.
Kagan is more blunt.
"People worry a lot about how the Arab street is going to react,"
he notes. "Well, I see that the Arab street has gotten very, very
quiet since we started blowing things up."
The cost of such a global commitment would be enormous. In 2000,
we spent $281 billion on our military, which was more than the next
11 nations combined. By 2003, our expenditures will have risen to
$378 billion. In other words, the increase in our defense
budget from 1999-2003 will be more than the total amount spent annually
by China, our next largest competitor.
The lure of empire is ancient and powerful, and over the millennia
it has driven men to commit terrible crimes on its behalf. But with
the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union,
a global empire was essentially laid at the feet of the United States.
To the chagrin of some, we did not seize it at the time, in large
part because the American people have never been comfortable with
themselves as a New Rome.
Now, more than a decade later, the events of Sept. 11 have given
those advocates of empire a new opportunity to press their case
with a new president. So in debating whether to invade Iraq, we
are really debating the role that the United States will play in
the years and decades to come.
Are peace and security best achieved by seeking strong alliances
and international consensus, led by the United States? Or is it
necessary to take a more unilateral approach, accepting and enhancing
the global dominance that, according to some, history has thrust
If we do decide to seize empire, we should make that decision
knowingly, as a democracy. The price of maintaining an empire is
always high. Kagan and others argue that the price of rejecting
it would be higher still.
That's what this is about.