Monday, December 04, 2006

Assessing US (Bush Administration) Assessments - Part 1

Robert Seitz headshot by Bob Seitz

Three-and-a-half years ago (May 2003) several of us contributed articles relating to the just-completed investment of Iraq. It might be interesting to assess where those interpretations stand today. But first, a word of preamble… (If you're au courant regarding the "Project for the New American Century," you might want to skim this next- page-and-a-half, which re-plows furrowed ground.)

During the 44 years of the "Cold War" (1947-1991), the U. S., as the paraclete of the "Free World", acted both overtly (The Korean War, the Viet Nam War) and covertly (The Bay of Pigs, the anti-Soviet arming of the Afghan mujahideen) to thwart the spread of communism. During that period, the U. S. would have obeyed no rules but its own, so it may have come naturally that in 1992, with U. S. foreign policy "drifting", the U. S. Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, and two of his employees, Dr. Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, came up with their audacious, idealistic, and visionary plan, "Defense Policy Guidance". To recap: "Defense Policy Guidance" proposed that the U. S. would

(1) seek to remain the world's sole surviving superpower, allowing no other country to grow strong enough to challenge our superpower status;

(2) install representative republics throughout the world (which would presumably then be friendly to us); and

(3) become the world's policeman, beefing up our defense budget, and creating a set of permanent "forward operating bases" around the world.

A draft copy of "Defense Guidance Policy" was leaked to the New York Times, whereupon Senator Joseph Biden, Secretary of State James Baker, and Foreign Policy Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski prevailed upon SecDef Dick Cheney to withdraw the plan (which he did). In their eyes, the plan called for global control.

In 1997, the plan's authors updated and re-issued the plan under the rubric "Project for the New American Century" (PNAC). The PNAC sets forth the "Main military missions" necessary to "preserve Pax Americana" and a "unipolar 21st century". By now, the players had expanded to include Richard Armitage, Ellen Bork (wife of unconfirmed Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork), Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Zahmay Khalilzad (our current ambassador to Iraq), Lewis Libby, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

The men and women who supported this concept considered themselves to be "realistic idealists", shooting for a comity of independent nations in which the United States would be assured of safe haven. Their lodestar (which, I guess, would also be my own) was that democratic governments (insuring individual rights that protect the minority from the majority) are what the world wants and needs. They cited the paradigm of the conversion of Germany and Japan to democracies after World War II, and Reagan's tough stance vis-à-vis the U. S. S. R. that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as examples of successful republic-incubation interventions.

In 1998, following "perceived Iraqi unwillingness to co-operate with UN inspectors", several members of the group wrote President Clinton, asking him to invade Iraq and finish the job of removing Saddam Hussein from power. During the 1991Gulf War, the reason given by Dick Cheney for not continuing into Baghdad and deposing Saddam was that Saddam was holding together the Shi'ites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, at gunpoint in an effort to weld together a modern, secular nation. Also, Iraq was a counterweight to oil-rich Iran. If Saddam were removed, it wasn't clear what would happen (though it's clear enough by now).

As you probably know, Iraq consists of the autonomous, peaceful, prosperous Kurdish enclave Kurdistan (with its own flag and government) in the oil-rich north, an oil-poor Sunni area in the middle, and an oil-rich Shi'ite demesne in the south. And as you also probably know, the Shi'ites are the underprivileged 10% minority in the Arab world except in Iran, where they are dominant"¦ one people divided by a common faith. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, and under him, the Sunni Iraqi minority played the wicked stepmother to the Shi'ite's Cinderella. But now that the Sunnis and the Shi'ites are voting blocs in a republic where the Shi'ites hold a 2:1 majority, the tables are turned.

What you might not know is what I learned a few minutes ago: that Iraq is a actually patchwork quilt of intermingled Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds along the general axis of the Tigris-Euphrates river, and that it's in this half of Iraq that the internecine warfare is taking place.

You're left wondering what became of those insights when the U. S. invaded Iraq in 2003. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what would happen if the Sunnis and the Shi'ites were given an opportunity to even old scores (especially if there were agents provocateur to drop seed crystals into this steaming brew). Nor does it take a >180 IQ to deduce what advantages might accrue to Iran if Iraq were eliminated as the chess piece holding Iran in check. With its oil wealth, Iran has been infiltrating Syria, converting Syrian Sunnis to Shi'ites. Tiny Jordan and Lebanon would be pawns in this game. Iraq's Shi'ite population might be expected to fit in naturally with Iran's Shi'ite population. Although Iran doesn't seem to want to open that Pandora's Box, might Iran offer the Iraqi Kurds an expanded Kurdistan? Could Iran convert some of the oil-poor Sunnis to Shi'ites in Iraq as it has in Syria? On the other hand, both Iran and Syria are concerned that the fratricide between the Iraqi Sunnis and the Iraqi Shi'ites might spill over into their lands.

Given the most favorable outcome, Iran might become the dominant regional player, with the next firewall being Israel.

A recent article cites the labeling of Iran and Syria as an "axis of evil" as one of President Bush' five mistakes. That statement, combined with the invasion of Iraq, contributed to a shift during the elections two years ago in Iran from a moderating government to its current right-wing regime. (A similar shift took place in Pakistan in 2003, where there was a seismic shift from a secular and moderate parliament to an Islamic majority.)

But back to the plot. During the 1990's, the drafters of the PNAC crafted a potent political machine, appealing to evangelical Christian, to defense contractors, and to industry in general.

Just before the 2000 election, the PNACers issued an update entitled, Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, further detailing their plans if elected. The plan observed that what was needed was another Pearl Harbor to motivate the American public to support the PNAC and a military buildup.

Between 1992 and 2000, Saddam Hussein orchestrated an assassination attempt upon ex-President Herbert Bush. I've wondered what role that might have played in the Bushes' backing of the invasion of Iraq. (Perhaps different players had different motivations.)

During the 2000 election, as quietly as falling snow, a political cabal with its own agenda hijacked the Republican Party and then the U. S. agenda, all unbeknownst to us, the people. Whether we favor the PNAC plan or whether we don't, it seems to me that this coup d'état revealed how easily our government can be subverted. And for me, this is shocking. This may have happened before, politics as usual, without most of us being aware of it, but that doesn't make it any less ominous.

To anticipate the rest of this assessment of our assessments, everything we collectively published in 2003 still seems as relevant as it did then. The difference is that by now, over half the U. S. public agrees with us, whereas then, it probably didn't. By now, it's abundantly clear that the invasion of Iraq had been planned well before 9/11, and had everything to do with the PNAC.

One major problem with the PNAC is that for all intents and purposes, it was implemented on the sly. Although, to their credit, the PNAC proponents made no secret of their plans, and have published them on the website, most people are still unaware that it exists, let alone that it has formed the playbook for our current administration. Consequently, it came as a sinister surprise to those of us who had to "learn it on the street" rather than hearing from more conventional sources.

And this raises a mystery: why have there been no illuminations of the "Project for the New American Century" in the media or on the part of politicians? By now, references to America's new imperialism and to the "neocons" are legion, but they all assume that the reader is conversant with these topics. In my experience, these references whiz right by the average reader. So where was our immune system: the media?

The problem that struck me most, first, about this "audacious, idealistic, and visionary plan" is the effect it would seem to me to have had upon foreign leaders. Even if the PNAC's idealistic leaders were as pure as the driven snow, what would the condottiere who implemented the plan do with it? Would they say to the idealists, "Thank you very much for assembling these reins of power. Now we'll take over. You run along and play." What would happen in 20 years? 50 years? Would foreign leaders want to kiss the ring of the almighty United States? Who would control this juggernaut? Where are the checks and balances? Once you build and sell the nation such a political machine, it becomes an attractive target for whoever can commandeer it. "If you build it, they will come."

New Arms Races?

In my view, this bold and visionary plan would trigger (and has triggered) a new international arms race. Given CIA renditions, assassinations (President Bush reinstated CIA assassination policies in 2005 after a 32-year hiatus), U. S. armed interventions, and now, full-scale invasions in violation of international law, you wonder if some might be so uncouth as to consider - unfairly, I'm sure - the U. S. to be the world's leading terrorist nation. Surely not!

The abrogation of the SALT II Treaty, coupled with U. S. announcements that we would develop tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear "bunker busters", and that we plan to use nuclear weapons against third-world nations that displease us must have triggered a nuclear arms race. Added to that is our shift from a belligerent to an accommodative stance once we found out that North Korea had nuclear weapons, our endorsement and nuclear partnership with India when we perceived it to be in our interests to boost India against China, and our whole-hearted endorsement of Israel's nuclear weapons developed in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and you can see why a nuclear arms race has developed among some third-world countries.

Nuclear Armageddon?

In the meantime, we are still living half-an-hour away from nuclear Armageddon. In 1991, when the Cold War ended, I heaved a sigh of relief, and decided it was time to forget about mutual assured destruction. But in point of fact, the threat is still there, and in some ways, more sinister than it was during the Cold War. Russia has an alleged 8,200 nuclear warheads, with about 950 ICBM's to deliver them. The (plausible?) perception of the U. S. as a rogue nation must have caused the Russians to crank back into their ICBMs the coordinates of U. S. cities and missile farms. There are fewer than 300 cities in North America with populations of 50,000 or more, all of which are said to be targets for nuclear warheads. At the same time, the U. S. has an estimated 7,000 nuclear warheads, with some of them loaded onto nuclear submarines, presumably ready to vaporize Russian targets. It has been estimated that 1,000 nuclear warheads exploded more or less simultaneously would start enough fires and loft enough dust into the atmosphere to bring on a nuclear winter, destroying civilization, and perhaps, all higher life forms on this planet. I'm under the impression that there are nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems in some of the former Soviet nations such as the Ukraine(?) and Kazakhstan(?) as well. Further, Russian early warning systems are allegedly becoming old and rickety. I've read the claim that in 1996, Norway launched an Earth observation satellite that initiated a Russian red alert. Boris Yeltsin was said to have been 10 seconds away from a retaliatory strike when the all-clear signal was sounded. In addition, there has been a leakage of nuclear technology from the lightly funded, lightly guarded arsenals of former Soviet satrapies.

A popular speculative topic in conjunction with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is the Fermi Paradox: if other intelligent races exist in our galaxy, where are they? If I look ahead, it would appear that it will become ever easier and cheaper to destroy higher life forms on our planet, leading, in the limit, to a time when even minor-league fringe groups could annihilate humanity. Applying this to the galaxy as a whole, we might conclude that technological civilizations self-destruct when they develop the capability to readily do so.

Have a nice day!

Does Democracy Come Out of the Muzzle of a Gun?

Other concerns are that the "Project for the New American Century" delivers democracy at gunpoint. While the targets of this "gunpoint diplomacy" are to be repressive regimes and dictatorships, and the beneficiaries the people whom they repress, it's not clear that the populations themselves will trust democracies imposed by a Western Christian nation like the United States. Invading one's homeland to install a new and unfamiliar government from without can trigger strong territorial imperatives.

Exporting Democracy Even As We Are Perceived To Be Abandoning It At Home

Should I mention the incongruity of the U. S.' exportation of democracy and human rights to other nations when we are perceived to be curtailing our own democratic institutions and human rights? Our own Supreme Court, after the appointment of the most conservative Justices our Republican-controlled Congress would accept, has ruled several of the abridgements of detainees' rights to be unconstitutional.

The Meanings of "Democracy"

For op-ed writers in Lahore's Friday Times, US-imposed "democracy" means Walmart, MacDonalds, single-parent families, drug pushers, gay marriage, and evangelical Christian missionaries. Third-world nations tend to be old-fashioned, and aren't eager to enjoy those modern liberties.

The Naïveté of the Project for the New American Century

This plan for a "Pax Americana" seems to me to be dangerously naive. The concept of the U. S. becoming the superhero who installs democracies around the world against the will of existing governments assumes that the U. S. has the capability to do this. Modern nations would seem to derive their powers not just from military supremacy but also (and perhaps, more importantly) from such diverse strengths as economics, education, personal probity, and an equitable distribution of wealth. I have the impression that the PNACers are approaching this as power politicians who are taking for granted all the other capabilities that are needed for such a grand vision. "When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Poly Sci. types would think in their idiosyncratic way, economists in another way, and sociologists in yet another.

Seeking Guidance in the Rear-View Mirror

One recent article I read extolled the Roman extirpation of Carthage as a scorched-earth model for present-day warfare, and I've already mentioned the members of the Bush Administration who suggested that Rome didn't do so badly - that maybe a New Rome was the proper future for the U. S. That would be fine if we're willing to return to the technology, and particularly to the military technology of the 2nd century B. C. Otherwise, forget it. We live in era of potential self-destruction as a species (a process that may already be in train if runaway global warming takes place). This is the 21st century, and some strategies that were permissible for our grandfathers are no longer permissible for us (or at least, that's what I think).

Semantics - The Tyranny of Words

As I sit here writing this, I'm struck with the fuzziness of the meanings of the words I'm bandying about. When we talk about newtons, meters, and joules, we can communicate unambiguously, but when we use the word "democracy", there's no such precision. Does "democracy" refer to an Athenian democracy in which all decisions are made by majority vote? If so, modern nations are orders of magnitude too large to permit such governing machinery. I suppose, if I thought about it, I might define "democracy" to mean governments in which the public elects a congress or parliament which then promulgates laws intended for the common good. Democracies also typically have an executive branch and a judicial branch, providing for a separation of powers. The citizens of the state are considered to be parties to a binding contract with the state that assures them of certain legal protections from one another, and from the powers of the state. Or at least, that's how I might define a democracy. Like most words, I've learned my definition of "democracy" from context rather than by looking it up in a dictionary. But you might define it slightly differently, and therein lies the rub: when I talk about "democracy", I have one concept in mind, and when you talk about "democracy", you might think in terms of a somewhat different concept. Meanwhile, neither of us knows that the other isn't quite on the same wavelength. And so it goes. For example, when I use the word "renditions" above, I'm using a term that I've inferred from context, and have never looked up in a dictionary. I interpret it to mean a kidnapping by the CIA, followed by imprisonment in a secret detention center (concentration camp?) somewhere around the world. ("Rendition" is evidently a euphemism coined by the CIA because it sounds better than "kidnapping" and sneaking the victim out of the country", which is what it really is). But this particular definition of "rendition" is in this useage another application of the term that is too new to appear in my dictionaries, and I really don't have a precise definition for it, much less a commonly defined definition upon which we can all agree.

Labels - the Tyranny of Abstractions

One of the taproots of our human powers is our ability to generate and manipulate abstractions. We attach labels to vastly complicated and variegated entities, and then proceed to manipulate these symbols as though they truly represented their referents. The ultimate abstraction might be "the universe". For example, I label someone "Sunni" or "Shi'ite", and then proceed to operate as though there were two categories: "Sunni" and "Shi'ite". In reality, these are usually human beings who are trying to live their lives caring for their families, and who can just as easily be "Sunni atheists" as "Sunni zealots"… like my brother-in-law, who says he's a Methodist atheist. In short, there's a spectrum of religious involvement. Most people don't lead lives that are primarily devoted to religion, and labeling someone this way may shift emphasis from the important issues in their lives to something that's incidental. Labeling someone Jewish tells us absolutely nothing about what that person is like, or about what's important to, or about him or her.

Of course, this problem arises with everything I'm writing here: I'm attaching labels such as "Pax Americana" to something complex and variegated whose definition I've acquired through osmosis.

I think the same thing may have happened with the PNACers. They want to introduce "democracy" around the globe. But this entails premeditated invasions and the wholesale killing of innocent "enemies" - other people's children, along with their family members. Thanks to the power of abstraction, chicken hawks can order the maiming and death of innocent children without ever having to listen to their screams. (Hey, you've got to accept some collateral damage to impose a new political order.) Now, we're faced with the deaths of 160,000, or 2/3rds of a million Iraqis (take your pick) in the name of bringing Western democracy to that country. The idea that the survivors of this carnage will view the United States with gratitude and acceptance is… well, fill in the blank____.

Iraq has become a "darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night" (…"nor all the Prez' horses nor all the Prez' men can put Humpty-Dumpty together again.").

Many of the prime movers who formulated the "Project for the New American Century", such as Richard Perle, have now disavowed the invasion of Iraq because of the wonderfully incompetent way that the Bush Administration has implemented it. But I'm wondering if it wasn't the invasion of Iraq itself that has led us into our quagmire, in keeping with the 1991 decision to avoid investing Baghdad. I guess historians will sort this out.

I think that the hawks on both sides who try to egg on the rest of us to fight each other ought to be forced to fight each other in the flesh. It would be interesting to see just how eager they themselves would be if they had to hazard their own lives. (You may have noticed that the Islamic leaders who are exhorting young Muslims to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers so that they can go immediately to Paradise, aren't volunteering as suicide bombers themselves. If the rewards are all that great, why aren't the leaders leading the way?)

Depth and Complexity of Knowledge

I have just read an article observing that the incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is going to have to engage a different group of political consultants now that she has become the Speaker of the House. These "handlers" will insure that she doesn't make the mistake she did in backing Jack Murtha to be the House majority leader. Apparently, politics has become so complex that politicians have to hire political experts to perform the jobs for which they were hired.

Furthermore, I realize that in dealing with any issue such as the war in Iraq or the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there are depths and subtleties of which I haven't a hint. Those of us who are brighter than average may know more than average, but we're still babes in the woods when it comes to expertise in all fields. (It may take some future AI to pull together all the perspectives.)

After the Year-2000 Presidential Election…

My reason for reviewing this early post-election history is to underscore the wild and, as we now know, incompetent steps taken by the new Bush Administration not just in foreign policy but in other areas of government as well.

After the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of President Bush on the Florida election, I said to myself that it was time to support our new president. After all, the vote was very close. The country had exercised the legal apparatus designed to resolve such close elections, and it was time to consider the decision of the referee to be final (though it was a bit disconcerting to read that business leaders were staging a once-in-a-lifetime blowout to celebrate this coming era of corporate fiscal unaccountability).

Among of the first developments after the inauguration of our new president were news releases out of Washington warning of the growing military threat from China. China? Maybe some day there would be a military threat from China, but you had to be pretty hard up for enemies to begin grooming China for the role.

Then in February 2001 President Bush announced that we needed to subsidize the construction of coal-fired electrical power stations because of our energy crisis. Energy crisis? There had been brownouts in California during the summer of 2000, but they were alleged to be a result of mismanagement. (It later transpired that they were engineered by Enron to jack up the prices of Enron's electricity.)

Next, President Bush cut the Department of Energy's solar research budget in half five months into the fiscal year! Part of their money must already have been spent. It must have decimated them.

Following this, President Bush rejected the Kyoto Treaty. (Please see the companion article "Global Warming Update" posted earlier.) He announced that this was because it would cost U. S. industry extra money to implement Kyoto. Here we are, one of the richest nations on Earth. We helped craft the Kyoto Treaty, and we expected third-world nations to sign and implement it, but we weren't willing to participate because the global corporations that contributed to our politicians' campaign funds were too greedy and short-sighted… short-sighted because there would be a burgeoning global market for renewable energy equipment.

After that, he renounced the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II. I told myself that he must have access to the nation's leading experts to help guide him in these decisions and that there must have been cogent, hidden reasons why they deemed these moves to be wise. But then it occurred to me: it isn't only a matter of what hidden justifications the U. S. might have. What kind of messages was our government sending to the world? This should trigger (I thought) a nuclear arms proliferation race.

It was at that point that I went from mild unease to serious alarm.

In concert with these high-profile moves, the new administration was doing umbrage in divers and sundry other less-visible arenas such as environmental protection, SEC rules and regulations, giving oil companies drilling rights in our nature preserves, and allowing the consolidation of media outlets.

At first, the media seemed unresponsive to these derelictions, but by summer, 2001, they were on the scent.

Meanwhile, there were some alarming quotations coming from members of the new administration. One was the statement that, "We make our own realities here in this administration". Another a statement was that Rome didn't do so badly. Maybe we needed a modern-day Roman Empire. A third was that the policy manual for the new government was Nicolo Machiavelli's "The Prince".

And then came 9/11 and the War on Terror.

The first "War on… " was Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. I don't think it made a serious dent in poverty, but it must have been well-received politically because ten years later, President Nixon announced his "War on Cancer", followed by the Reagans' "War on Drugs".

Within an hour or two after the second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, President Bush/Karl Rove announced that we would declare war on terror, and that it would probably last fifty years. President Bush then sought and got temporary wartime emergency powers to last for the next 50 years - in other words, a permanent suspension of our constitutional rights. (In 2051, are our grandchildren going to approach whoever is leading us then and say, "Please, sir, the War on Terror is over. May we have our constitutional rights back?")

(To be continued in a later posting)

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