The Rockaway Irregular
Much has been made of the report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” written for the Project for a New American Century in the late nineties. The claims by administration critics suggest this report reveals the secretive and nefarious purposes of the people around President Bush and that the document serves as evidence for the argument that the forced military removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq was part of a larger Bush effort to achieve world domination by the United States. The fact that many in the Bush administration were affiliated with the Project , including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a number of their high level subordinates, lends weight to this critique.
People on the left like Neil Mackay or William Rivers Pitt, writing separately for the on-line Information Clearing House, have hyperventilated at times over the report’s suggestion that America’s interest lies in preserving its post-Cold War hegemony. To people who are uncomfortable with the notion of a military, or who just dislike the possibility that America might exert power globally, the report has proved itself a rich treasure trove of quotations, many taken out of context. So I went directly to the source.
The report, itself, is roughly 90 pages in length. Essentially, it details the state of the American military some ten years after the end of the Cold War and concludes that America’s armed services had seen a marked degradation of their capabilities by the late nineties. The report further notes that the American military mission during the Cold War, to provide a deterrent to Soviet expansion while the U.S. contested for global supremacy via its economic and social systems, had fundamentally changed since the Cold War’s end . . . though little had then been done to rethink American defense strategies in order to meet changing global needs.
The Soviet Union, of course, imploded in the late eighties, leaving the U.S. the sole remaining global superpower, militarily and economically dominant. That unique status, the report’s authors suggest, provided the world with an unprecedented opportunity for political freedom and stability, albeit one that would inevitably be challenged by the rise of other states seeking military superiority in various regional theaters. Critics reading these ideas interpret them as nothing less than a call for U.S. domination, as distinct from “dominance,” and suggest that such domination would mean the U.S. intended to ride roughshod over all other states on the planet. Indeed, the authors of the report do speak of the necessity of preventing the rise of global challenges to the U.S., for as long as possible, because such challenges would lead to increased conflict around the planet and increasing global instability.
The authors suggested that the U.S. could either pull in its horns and allow its military capabilities to continue to degrade, waiting for the inevitable breakdown of the global system as these challenges continued to appear and grow, or it could proactively pursue a policy of strengthening its forces now, preparing its military services for a different kind of conflict and redeploying them to places where they were more likely to be needed. The authors, of course, recommend this latter approach. But why? In the introduction to the report (page 4), they state:
“In sum the 1990’s have been a decade of ‘defense neglect’. This leaves the next president of the United States with an enormous challenge: he must increase military spending to preserve American geopolitical leadership, or he must pull back from the security commitments that are the measure of America’s position as the world’s superpower and the final guarantee of security, democratic freedoms and individual political rights.”
The aim, they note, is to defend and maintain American geopolitical dominance in order to preserve the conditions we associate with a free and prosperous society. It’s not about domination, i.e., world conquest, but, rather, about finding ways to preserve the global stability and prosperity that came our way in the wake of the Soviet implosion.
The authors also list a number of regional powers that had already begun to challenge U.S. capacities in this regard, noting that it was only natural to expect other powers to seek to do this over time. While such national desires might not be forestalled, the authors emphasized that U.S. passivity would hasten the day when the uni-polar post-Cold War world would break down in favor of a less stable multi-polar one.
The question before us then is whether this U.S. intention, to secure global stability by establishing and preserving U.S. military superiority for as long as possible, is a good or bad thing. Those who oppose the U.S., or military activity in general, obviously view such thinking with alarm. But is the alarm justified? And is it reflective of conspiracies to attain world domination, as these critics constantly suggest?
In fact it’s not unreasonable at all if you believe that peace depends on stability, stability on a power or powers strong enough to enforce it, and that the U.S. is best placed to fill that role at this time in history. Contrary to the conspiracy minded, there is nothing secret or nefarious about this report, which, after all, was issued for public consumption and has been accessible on-line for years. One may certainly disagree with its assumptions, as so many critics do, but shouldn’t they also offer a viable alternative? Is there one?
Of course, some on the left just want the U.S. to pull back and leave other nations alone regardless of all other consequences. This largely reflects their intense dissatisfaction with the things the U.S. stands for. But if we did that, wouldn’t it be an invitation to a rapid breakdown of global stability as countries like Iran and China seek to exert hegemony in their own regions, just as the report’s authors suggest? Would such a world, of multiple and contending regional powers really be a better one than a world presided over by a single dominant superpower like the U.S.?
Perhaps it would in the minds of those who maintain a basic hostility toward the U.S. and cannot abide the very notion of American dominance, confusing “dominance” with the more problematic notion of “domination”. But someone, after all, must dominate or you get a geopolitical vacuum leading to anarchy . . . and worse.
In fact, the condition of multiple contending regional powers the report’s authors describe is very much akin to the condition that preceded World War I and which led, ultimately, to the extensive suffering and devastation of World War II. Moreover, the view that U.S. dominance is to be deplored is certainly not justified in light of the history of the U.S. since World War II. The U.S., after all, has a commitment to open and liberal societies, a commitment it has repeatedly demonstrated in Europe and elsewhere around the globe, whereas those other regional powers now seeking to expand their reach and influence most assuredly do not.
On the other hand, in the face of the difficulties we have had in settling the Iraq matter, you have to ask whether the strategy explored and supported by the authors of this report is, in fact, really feasible. Can we really hope to maintain our military dominance around the globe in the way they propose without getting into a range of wars which we cannot quickly win and which, as some have claimed, would eventually burn us out? And could we accomplish this without inflaming other nations and people who lust for the same preeminence that has fallen so serendipitously into the American lap since the end of the Cold War?
Can America or any state, in fact, actively and explicitly pursue a policy of global dominance or does this, inevitably, turn friends into enemies and spur renewed efforts by others to break down the uni-polar model? If, as is so often said, nature abhors a vacuum, is it also possible that human nature demands one in the geopolitical realm and constantly tends toward it?