USA: ".. menace to itself and to mankind

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Posted by andreas from ( on Monday, November 25, 2002 at 8:16AM :

USA: ".. menace to itself and to mankind"

... says the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.


Carnegie Endowment for Peace

The Push for War

By Anatol Lieven

Originally published in the London Review of Books (Vol. 24 No. 19) on 3
October 2002

Anatol Lieven considers what the US Administration hopes to gain

The most surprising thing about the Bush Administration's plan to invade
Iraq is not that it is destructive of international order; or wicked, when
we consider the role the US (and Britain) have played, and continue to
play, in the Middle East; or opposed by the great majority of the
international community; or seemingly contrary to some of the basic needs
of the war against terrorism. It is all of these things, but they are of no
great concern to the hardline nationalists in the Administration. This
group has suffered at least a temporary check as a result of the British
insistence on UN involvement, and Saddam Hussein's agreement to weapons
inspections. They are, however, still determined on war - and their power
within the Administration and in the US security policy world means that
they are very likely to get their way. Even the Washington Post has joined
the radical rightist media in supporting war.

The most surprising thing about the push for war is that it is so
profoundly reckless. If I had to put money on it, I'd say that the odds on
quick success in destroying the Iraqi regime may be as high as 5/1 or more,
given US military superiority, the vile nature of Saddam Hussein's rule,
the unreliability of Baghdad's missiles, and the deep divisions in the Arab
world. But at first sight, the longer-term gains for the US look pretty
limited, whereas the consequences of failure would be catastrophic. A
general Middle Eastern conflagration and the collapse of more pro-Western
Arab states would lose us the war against terrorism, doom untold thousands
of Western civilians to death in coming decades, and plunge the world
economy into depression.

These risks are not only to American (and British) lives and interests, but
to the political future of the Administration. If the war goes badly wrong,
it will be more generally excoriated than any within living memory, and its
members will be finished politically - finished for good. If no other fear
moved these people, you'd have thought this one would.

This war plan is not like the intervention in Vietnam, which at the start
was supported by a consensus of both political parties, the Pentagon, the
security establishment and the media. It is true that today - for reasons
to which I shall return - the Democrats are mostly sitting on the fence;
but a large part of the old Republican security establishment has denounced
the idea and the Pentagon has made its deep unhappiness very clear.

The Administration has therefore been warned of the dangers. And while a
new attack by al-Qaida during the war would help consolidate anti-Muslim
American nationalism, the Administration would also be widely accused of
having neglected the hunt for the perpetrators of 11 September in order to
pursue an irrelevant vendetta. As far as the Israeli lobby is concerned, a
disaster in the Middle East might be the one thing that would at last bring
a discussion of its calamitous role into the open in the US.

With the exception of Donald Rumsfeld, who conveniently did his military
service in the gap between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, neither Bush nor
any of the other prime movers of this war served in the military. Of
course, General Colin Powell served in Vietnam, but he is well known to be
extremely dubious about attacking Iraq. All the others did everything
possible to avoid service. If the war goes wrong, the 'chicken hawk' charge
will be used against them with devastating political effect.

Vietnam veterans, both Democrat and Republican, have already started to
raise this issue, stirred up in part by the insulting language used by
Richard Perle and his school about the caution of the professional
military. As a recent letter to the Washington Post put it, 'the men
described as chicken hawks avoided military service during the Vietnam War
while supporting that war politically. They are not accused of lacking
experience and judgment compared to military men. They are accused of
hypocrisy and cowardice.' Given the political risks of failure - to
themselves, above all - why are they doing this? And, more broadly, what
has bred this reckless spirit?

To understand the Administration's motivation, it is necessary to
appreciate the breathtaking scope of the domestic and global ambitions
which the dominant neo-conservative nationalists hope to further by means
of war, and which go way beyond their publicly stated goals. There are of
course different groups within this camp: some are more favourable to
Israel, others less hostile to China; not all would support the most
radical aspects of the programme. However, the basic and generally agreed
plan is unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority,
and this has been consistently advocated and worked on by the group of
intellectuals close to Dick Cheney and Richard Perle since the collapse of
the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

This basic goal is shared by Colin Powell and the rest of the security
establishment. It was, after all, Powell who, as Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, declared in 1992 that the US requires sufficient power 'to
deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world
stage'. However, the idea of pre-emptive defence, now official doctrine,
takes this a leap further, much further than Powell would wish to go. In
principle, it can be used to justify the destruction of any other state if
it even seems that that state might in future be able to challenge the US.
When these ideas were first aired by Paul Wolfowitz and others after the
end of the Cold War, they met with general criticism, even from
conservatives. Today, thanks to the ascendancy of the radical nationalists
in the Administration and the effect of the 11 September attacks on the
American psyche, they have a major influence on US policy.

To understand the genesis of this extraordinary ambition, it is also
necessary to grasp the moral, cultural and intellectual world of American
nationalism in which it has taken shape. This nationalism existed long
before last September, but it has been inflamed by those attacks and,
equally dangerously, it has become even more entwined with the nationalism
of the Israeli Right.

To take the geopolitical goals first. As with National Missile Defense, the
publicly expressed motive for war with Iraq functions mainly as a tool to
gain the necessary public support for an operation the real goals of which
are far wider. The indifference of the US public to serious discussion of
foreign or security affairs, and the negligence and ideological rigidity of
the US media and policy community make searching debate on such issues
extremely difficult, and allow such manipulation to succeed.

The immediate goal is indeed to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction. There is little real fear, however, that Saddam Hussein will
give those weapons to terrorists to use against the United States - though
a more genuine fear that he might conceivably do so in the case of Israel.
Nor is there any serious prospect that he would use them himself in an
unprovoked attack on the US or Israel, because immediate annihilation would
follow. The banal propaganda portrayal of Saddam as a crazed and suicidal
dictator plays well on the American street, but I don't believe that it is
a view shared by the Administration. Rather, their intention is partly to
retain an absolute certainty of being able to defend the Gulf against an
Iraqi attack, but, more important, to retain for the US and Israel a free
hand for intervention in the Middle East as a whole.

From the point of view of Israel, the Israeli lobby and their
representatives in the Administration, the apparent benefits of such a free
hand are clear enough. For the group around Cheney, the single most
important consideration is guaranteed and unrestricted access to cheap oil,
controlled as far as possible at its source. To destroy and occupy the
existing Iraqi state and dominate the region militarily would remove even
the present limited threat from Opec, greatly reduce the chance of a new
oil shock, and eliminate the need to woo and invest in Russia as an
alternative source of energy.

It would also critically undermine the steps already taken towards the
development of alternative sources of energy. So far, these have been
pitifully few. All the same, 11 September brought new strength to the
security arguments for reducing dependence on imported oil, and as
alternative technologies develop, they could become a real threat to the
oil lobby - which, like the Israeli lobby, is deeply intertwined with the
Bush Administration. War with Iraq can therefore be seen as a satisfactory
outcome for both lobbies. Much more important for the future of mankind, it
is also part of what is in essence a strategy to use American military
force to permit the continued offloading onto the rest of the world of the
ecological costs of the existing US economy - without the need for any
short-term sacrifices on the part of US capitalism, the US political elite
or US voters.

The same goes for the war against al-Qaida and its allies: the plan for the
destruction of the existing Iraqi regime is related to this struggle, but
not as it has been presented publicly. Links between Baghdad and al-Qaida
are unproven and inherently improbable: what the Administration hopes is
that by crushing another middle-sized state at minimal military cost, all
the other states in the Muslim world will be terrified into full
co-operation in tracking down and handing over suspected terrorists, and
into forsaking the Palestinian cause. Iran for its part can either be
frightened into abandoning both its nuclear programme and its support for
the Palestinians, or see its nuclear facilities destroyed by bombardment.

The idea, in other words, is to scare these states not only into helping
with the hunt for al-Qaida, but into capitulating to the US and, more
important, Israeli agendas in the Middle East. This was brought out in the
notorious paper on Saudi Arabia presented by Laurent Murawiec of the Rand
Corporation to Richard Perle's Defense Policy Board. Murawiec advocated
sending the Saudis an ultimatum demanding not only that their police force
co-operate fully with US authorities, but also the suppression of public
criticism of the US and Israel within Saudi Arabia - something that would
be impossible for any Arab state. Despite this, the demand for the
suppression of anti-Israeli publications, broadcasts and activities has
been widely echoed in the US media.

'The road to Middle East peace lies through Baghdad' is a line that's
peddled by the Bush Administration and the Israeli lobby. It is just
possible that some members of the Administration really believe that by
destroying Israel's most powerful remaining enemy they will gain such
credit with Israelis and the Israeli lobby that they will be able to press
compromises on Israel.

But this is certainly not what public statements by members of the
Administration - let alone those of its Likud allies in Israel - suggest.
Rumsfeld recently described the Jewish settlements as legitimate products
of Israeli military victory; the Republican Majority Leader in the House,
Dick Armey (a sceptic as regards war with Iraq), has advocated the ethnic
cleansing ('transfer') of the Palestinians across the Jordan; and in 1996
Richard Perle and Douglas Feith (now a senior official at the Pentagon)
advised Binyamin Netanyahu to abandon the Oslo Peace Process and return to
military repression of the Palestinians.

It's far more probable, therefore, that most members of the Bush and Sharon
Administrations hope that the crushing of Iraq will so demoralise the
Palestinians, and so reduce wider Arab support for them, that it will be
possible to force them to accept a Bantustan settlement bearing no
resemblance to independent statehood and bringing with it no possibility of
economic growth and prosperity.

How intelligent men can believe that this will work, given the history of
the past fifty years, is astonishing. After all, the Israelis have defeated
Arab states five times with no diminution of Palestinian nationalism or
Arab sympathy for it. But the dominant groups in the present
Administrations in both Washington and Jerusalem are 'realists' to the
core, which, as so often, means that they take an extremely unreal view of
the rest of the world, and are insensitive to the point of autism when it
comes to the character and motivations of others. They are obsessed by
power, by the division of the world into friends and enemies (and often,
into their own country and the rest of the world) and by the belief that
any demonstration of 'weakness' immediately leads to more radical
approaches by the 'enemy'.

Sharon and his supporters don't doubt that it was the Israeli withdrawal
from Lebanon - rather than the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian
territories - which led to the latest Intifada. The 'offensive realists' in
Washington are convinced that it was Reagan's harsh stance and acceleration
of the arms race against the Soviet Union which brought about that state's
collapse. And both are convinced that the continued existence of Saddam
Hussein's regime of itself suggests dangerous US weakness and cowardice,
thus emboldening enemies of the US and Israel across the Middle East and

From the point of view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, war with Iraq also has
some of the character of a Flucht nach vorn - an 'escape forwards' - on the
part of the US Administration. On the one hand, it has become clear that
the conflict is integrally linked to everything else that happens in the
Middle East, and therefore cannot simply be ignored, as the Bush
Administration tried to do during its first year in office. On the other
hand, even those members of the American political elite who have some
understanding of the situation and a concern for justice are terrified of
confronting Israel and the Israeli lobby in the ways which would be
necessary to bring any chance of peace.

When the US demands 'democracy' in the Palestinian territories before it
will re-engage in the peace process it is in part, and fairly cynically,
trying to get out of this trap. However, when it comes to the new rhetoric
of 'democratising' the Arab world as a whole, the agenda is much broader
and more worrying; and because the rhetoric is attractive to many liberals
we must examine this agenda very carefully.

Belief in the spread of democracy through American power isn't usually
consciously insincere. On the contrary, it is inseparable from American
national messianism and the wider 'American creed'. However, this same
messianism has also proved immensely useful in destroying or crippling
rivals of the United States, the Soviet Union being the outstanding

The planned war against Iraq is not after all intended only to remove
Saddam Hussein, but to destroy the structure of the Sunni-dominated Arab
nationalist Iraqi state as it has existed since that country's inception.
The 'democracy' which replaces it will presumably resemble that of
Afghanistan - a ramshackle coalition of ethnic groups and warlords, utterly
dependent on US military power and utterly subservient to US (and Israeli)

Similarly, if after Saddam's regime is destroyed, Saudi Arabia fails to bow
to US wishes and is attacked in its turn, then - to judge by the thoughts
circulating in Washington think-tanks - the goal would be not just to
remove the Saudi regime and eliminate Wahabism as a state ideology: it
would be to destroy and partition the Saudi state. The Gulf oilfields would
be put under US military occupation, and the region run by some client
emir; Mecca and the Hejaz might well be returned to the Hashemite dynasty
of Jordan, its rulers before the conquest by Ibn Saud in 1924; or, to put
it differently, the British imperial programme of 1919 would be resurrected
(though, if the Hashemites have any sense, they would reject what would
without question be a long-term death sentence).

Beyond lies China. When the Bush Administration came to power, its major
security focus was not the Middle East. There, its initial policy was
benign neglect ('benign' at any rate in the case of Israel). The greatest
fears of right-wing nationalist gurus such as Robert Kagan concerned the
future emergence of China as a superpower rival - fears lent a certain
credibility by China's sheer size and the growth of its economy. As
declared in the famous strategy document drawn up by Paul Wolfowitz in the
last year of the first Bush Administration - and effectively proclaimed
official policy by Bush Jr in his West Point speech in June - the guiding
purpose of US strategy after the end of the Cold War should be to prevent
the emergence of any 'peer competitor'anywhere in the world.

What radical US nationalists have in mind is either to 'contain' China by
overwhelming military force and the creation of a ring of American allies;
or, in the case of the real radicals, to destroy the Chinese Communist
state as the Soviet Union was destroyed. As with the Soviet Union, this
would presumably involve breaking up China by 'liberating' Tibet and other
areas, and under the guise of 'democracy', crippling the central Chinese
Administration and its capacity to develop either its economy or its Army.

To judge by the right-wing nationalist media in the US, this hostility to
China has survived 11 September, although in a mitigated form. If the US
can demonstrate overwhelming military superiority in the Middle East, there
will certainly be groups in the Republican Party who will be emboldened to
push for a much tougher line on China. Above all, of course, they support
formal independence for Taiwan.

Another US military victory will certainly help to persuade these groups
that for the moment the US has nothing to fear from the Chinese Navy or Air
Force, and that in the event of a Taiwanese declaration of independence,
the island can be defended with relative impunity. Meanwhile, a drastic
humiliation of China over Taiwan might well be seen as a key stepping-stone
to the overthrow of Communism and the crippling of the Chinese state

At present these are only long-term ambitions - or dreams. They are
certainly not shared even by a majority of the Administration, and are
unlikely to be implemented in any systematic way. On the other hand, it's
worth bearing in mind that the dominant groups in this Administration have
now openly abandoned the underlying strategy and philosophy of the Clinton
Administration, which was to integrate the other major states of the world
in a rule-based liberal capitalist order, thereby reducing the threat of
rivalry between them.

This tendency is not dead. In fact, it is strongly represented by Colin
Powell, and by lesser figures such as Richard Haass. But their more
powerful nationalist rivals are in the meantime publicly committed to
preventing by every possible means the emergence of any serious rival or
combination of rivals to the US, anywhere in the world, and to opposing not
just any rival would-be world hegemon, but even the ability of other states
to play the role of great power within their own regions.

Under the guise of National Missile Defense, the Administration - or
elements within it - even dreams of extending US military hegemony beyond
the bounds of the Earth itself (an ambition clearly indicated in the
official paper on Defense Planning Guidance for the 2004-09 Fiscal Years,
issued this year by Rumsfeld's office). And while this web of ambition is
megalomaniac, it is not simply fantasy. Given America's overwhelming
superiority, it might well work for decades until a mixture of terrorism
and the unbearable social, political and environmental costs of US economic
domination put paid to the present order of the world.

As things stand, the American people would never knowingly support such a
programme - nor for that matter would the US military. Even after 11
September, this is not by historical standards a militarist country; and
whatever the increasingly open imperialism of the nationalist think-tank
class, neither the military nor the mass of the population wishes to see
itself as imperialist. The fear of casualties and of long-term overseas
military entanglements remains intense. And all opinion polls suggest that
the majority of the American public, insofar as it considers these issues
at all, is far more interested than this Administration in co-operation
with allies.

Besides, if the US economy continues to stagnate or falls sharply, the
Republicans will most probably not even be in power after 2004. As more
companies collapse, the Administration's links to corrupt business
oligarchies will become more and more controversial. Further economic
decline combined with bloated military spending would sooner or later bring
on the full consequences of the stripping of the public finances caused by
this Administration's military spending and its tax cuts for the rich. At
that point, the financial basis of Social Security would come into
question, and the Republican vote among the 'middle classes' could shatter.

It is only to a minimal degree within the power of any US administration to
stimulate economic growth. And even if growth resumes, the transformation
of the economy is almost certain to continue. This will mean the incomes of
the 'middle classes' (which in American terminology includes the working
proletariat) will continue to decline and the gap between them and the
plutocracy will continue to increase. High military spending can correct
this trend to some extent, but because of the changed nature of weaponry,
to a much lesser extent than was the case in the 19th and most of the 20th
centuries. All other things being equal, this should result in a
considerable shift of the electorate to the left.

But all other things are not equal. Two strategies in particular would give
the Republicans the chance not only of winning in 2004, but of repeating
Roosevelt's success for the Democrats in the 1930s and becoming the natural
party of government for the foreseeable future. The first is the classic
modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert
mass discontent into nationalism. The second, which is specifically
American, is to take the Jewish vote away from its traditional home in the
Democratic Party, by demonstrating categorical Republican commitment not
just to Israel's defence but to its regional ambitions.

This is connected both to the rightward shift in Israel, and to the
increasingly close links between the Republicans and Likud, through figures
like Perle and Feith. It marks a radical change from the old Republican
Party of Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush père, which was far more independent of
Israel than the Democrats. Of key importance here has been the growing
alliance between the Christian Right - closely linked to the old White
South - and the Israeli lobby, or at least its hardline Likud elements.

When this alliance began to take shape some years back, it seemed a most
improbable combination. After all, the Christian Right and the White South
were once havens of anti-semitic conspiracy theories. On the other hand,
the Old Testament aspects of fundamentalist Christianity had created
certain sympathies for Judaism and Israel from as far back as the US's
17th-century origins.

For Christian fundamentalists today the influence of millenarian thought is
equally important in shaping support for Israel: the existence of the
Israeli state is seen as a necessary prelude to the arrival of the
Antichrist, the Apocalypse and the rule of Christ and His Saints. But above
all, perhaps, this coming together of the fundamentalist Right and hardline
Zionism is natural, because they share many hatreds. The Christian Right
has always hated the United Nations, partly on straight nationalist
grounds, but also because of bizarre fears of world government by the
Antichrist. They have hated Europeans on religious grounds as decadent
atheists, on class grounds as associates of the hated 'East Coast elites',
and on nationalist grounds as critics of unconstrained American power. Both
sides share an instinctive love of military force. Both see themselves as
historical victims. This may seem strange in the case of the American
Rightists, but it isn't if one considers both the White South's history of
defeat, and the Christian Right's sense since the 1960s of defeat and
embattlement by the forces of irreligion and cultural change.

Finally, and most dangerously, both are conditioned to see themselves as
defenders of 'civilisation' against 'savages' - a distinction always
perceived on the Christian Right as in the main racially defined. It is no
longer possible in America to speak openly in these terms of American
blacks, Asians and Latinos - but since 11 September at least, it has been
entirely possible to do so about Arabs and Muslims.

Even in the 2000 elections, the Republicans were able to take a large part
of the white working-class vote away from Gore by appealing to cultural
populism - and especially to those opposed to gun control and environmental
protection. Despite the real class identity and cultural interests of the
Republican elite, they seem able to convince many workers that they are
natural allies against the culturally alien and supercilious 'East Coast
elites' represented as supporting Gore.

These populist values are closely linked to the traditional values of
hardline nationalism. They are what the historian Walter Russell Mead and
others have called 'Jacksonian' values, after President Andrew Jackson's
populist nationalism of the 1830s. As Mead has indicated, 11 September has
immensely increased the value of this line to Republicans.

If on top of this the Republicans can permanently woo the Jewish vote away
from the Democrats - a process which purely class interests would suggest
and which has been progressing slowly but steadily since Reagan's day -
there is a good chance of their crippling the Democrats for a generation or
more. Deprived of much of their financial support and their intellectual
backbone, the Democrats could be reduced to a coalition of the declining
unionised white working class, blacks and Latinos. And not only do these
groups on the whole dislike and distrust each other, but the more the
Democrats are seen as minority dominated, the more whites will tend to flee
to the Republicans.

Already, the anti-semitism of some black leaders in the Democratic Party
has contributed to driving many Jews towards the Republicans; and thanks to
their allegiance to Israel, the liberal Jewish intelligentsia has moved a
long way from their previous internationalism. This shift is highly visible
in previously liberal and relatively internationalist journals such as the
New Republic and Atlantic Monthly, and maybe even in the New Yorker.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that as a result the internationalist
position in the Democratic Party and the US as a whole has been

The Democrats are well aware of this threat to their electorate. The Party
as a whole has always been strongly committed to Israel. On Iraq and the
war against terrorism, its approach seems to be to avoid at all costs
seeming 'unpatriotic'. If they can avoid being hammered by the Republicans
on the charge of 'weakness' and lack of patriotism, then they can still
hope to win the 2004 elections on the basis of economic discontent. The
consequence, however, is that the Party has become largely invisible in the
debate about Iraq; the Democrats are merely increasing their reputation for
passionless feebleness; whereas the Republican nationalists are full of
passionate intensity - the passion which in November 2000 helped them
pressure the courts over the Florida vote and in effect steal the election.

It is this passion which gives the nationalist Right so much of its
strength; and in setting out the hopes and plans of the groupings which
dominate the Bush Administration, I don't want to give the impression that
everything is simply a matter of conscious and cynical manipulation in
their own narrow interests. Schematic approaches of this kind have
bedevilled all too much of the reporting of nationalism and national
conflict. This is odd and depressing, because in recent decades the
historiography of pre-1914 German nationalism - to take only one example -
has seen an approach based on ideas of class manipulation give way to an
infinitely more subtle analysis which emphasises the role of socio-economic
and cultural change, unconscious identifications, and interpenetrating
political influences from above and below.

To understand the radical nationalist Right in the US, and the dominant
forces in the Bush Administration, it is necessary first of all to
understand their absolute and absolutely sincere identification of
themselves with the United States, to the point where the presence of any
other group in government is seen as a usurpation, as profoundly and
inherently illegitimate and 'un-American'. As far as the hardline elements
of the US security establishment and military industrial complex are
concerned, they are the product of the Cold War, and were shaped by that
struggle and the paranoia and fanaticism it bred. In typical fashion for
security elites, they also became conditioned over the decades to see
themselves not just as tougher, braver, wiser and more knowledgeable than
their ignorant, innocent compatriots, but as the only force standing
between their country and destruction.

The Cold War led to the creation of governmental, economic and intellectual
structures in the US which require for their survival a belief in the
existence of powerful national enemies - not just terrorists, but enemy
states. As a result, in their analyses and propaganda they instinctively
generate the necessary image of an enemy. Once again, however, it would be
unwise to see this as a conscious process. For the Cold War also continued,
fostered and legitimised a very old discourse of nationalist hatred in the
US, ostensibly directed against the Communists and their allies but usually
with a very strong colouring of ethnic chauvinism.

On the other hand, the roots of the hysteria of the Right go far beyond
nationalism and national security. Their pathological hatred for the
Clinton Administration cannot adequately be explained in terms of national
security or even in rational political or economic terms, for after a very
brief period of semi-radicalism (almost entirely limited to the failed
attempt at health reform), Clinton devoted himself in a Blairite way to
adopting large parts of the Republican socio-economic agenda. Rather,
Clinton, his wife, his personal style, his personal background and some of
his closest followers were all seen as culturally and therefore nationally
alien, mainly because associated with the counter-culture of the 1960s and

The modern incarnation of this spirit can indeed be seen above all as a
reaction to the double defeat of the Right in the Vietnam War - a defeat
which, they may hope, victory in Iraq and a new wave of conservative
nationalism at home could cancel out once and for all. In Vietnam,
unprecedented military defeat coincided with the appearance of a modern
culture which traditionalist Americans found alien, immoral and hateful
beyond description. As was widely remarked at the time of Newt Gingrich's
attempted 'Republican Revolution' of the mid-1990s, one way of looking at
the hardline Republicans - especially from the Religious Right - is to see
them as motivated by a classical nationalist desire for a return to a
Golden Age, in their case the pre-Vietnam days of the 1950s.

None of these fantasies is characteristic of the American people as a
whole. But the intense solipsism of that people, its general ignorance of
the world beyond America's shores, coupled with the effects of 11
September, have left tremendous political spaces in which groups possessed
by the fantasies and ambitions sketched out here can seek their objectives.
Or to put it another way: the great majority of the American people are not
nearly as militarist, imperialist or aggressive as their German equivalents
in 1914; but most German people in 1914 would at least have been able to
find France on a map.

The younger intelligentsia meanwhile has also been stripped of any real
knowledge of the outside world by academic neglect of history and regional
studies in favour of disciplines which are often no more than a crass
projection of American assumptions and prejudices (Rational Choice Theory
is the worst example). This has reduced still further their capacity for
serious analysis of their own country and its actions. Together with the
defection of its strongest internationalist elements, this leaves the
intelligentsia vulnerable to the appeal of nationalist messianism dressed
up in the supposedly benevolent clothing of 'democratisation'.

Twice now in the past decade, the overwhelming military and economic
dominance of the US has given it the chance to lead the rest of the world
by example and consensus. It could have adopted (and to a very limited
degree under Clinton did adopt) a strategy in which this dominance would be
softened and legitimised by economic and ecological generosity and
responsibility, by geopolitical restraint, and by 'a decent respect to the
opinion of mankind', as the US Declaration of Independence has it. The
first occasion was the collapse of the Soviet superpower enemy and of
Communism as an ideology. The second was the threat displayed by al-Qaida.
Both chances have been lost - the first in part, the second it seems
conclusively. What we see now is the tragedy of a great country, with noble
impulses, successful institutions, magnificent historical achievements and
immense energies, which has become a menace to itself and to mankind.

Anatol Lieven, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace in Washington DC, is the author of Chechnya and Ukraine
and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.

1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
202-483-7600 Fax: 202-483-1840

-- andreas
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