"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The Unamerican Century
Deborah Campbell

The Twentieth Century was the American Century, as Time publisher Henry Luce famously asserted in 1941. The son of a Presbyterian missionary, Luce called on Americans to spread their values throughout the world. As a student at Yale, he belonged to the same elite fraternity that later welcomed George W. Bush, whose fraudulent election in 2000 dealt a grave blow to the democratic process that was once the foundation of America’s powerful moral vision. It was an ominous beginning to a new century in which the United States has emerged as the world’s sole superpower with a view of itself as a “benevolent hegemon” free to enforce its will while spurning the international agreements and institutions it once helped create.

All has not worked as planned. An over-reliance on military force has seen American soft power, the cultural capital accumulated over the course of a century, melt away faster than the snows of Kilimanjaro. Like Kilimanjaro’s increasingly barren crags, what remains is an abundance of hard power – the US accounted for half of the record $1.12 trillion in global military expenditures for 2005 – and a dawning awareness that bombs are no match for ideas.

Such news should not have come as such a surprise to the current administration, defined as it was by ideologues – in particular the architects of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a Washington think tank dedicated to furthering global American dominance through military supremacy. Founded in 1997 by the same group of neoconservatives who seized the reigns of power in 2000, PNAC was “dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.” The latter two priorities were, unfortunately, sacrificed to a determination to “shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.”

The signatories of PNAC advocated an aggressive new foreign policy that can only be described as revolutionary. In 1998, they wrote a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Though Clinton never heeded their words, it was not long until the neoconservatives themselves, as members and close advisors of the incoming Bush Administration, brought their revolution to the White House. Iraq would soon become a laboratory in which to put their ambitious ideas to the test.

The test has failed more disastrously than even the war’s most vocal critics predicted, with consequences that are only now becoming apparent. Not only has Iraq succumbed to a bloody civil war from which it may never fully recover, but world opinion of the United States, according to a recent international poll by the Pew Research Center, has dropped precipitously. The US is now viewed by most of the world as the number one threat to global security.

It would be tempting to dismiss external critics as merely resentful of US power or, as is often argued, “jealous of our freedoms,” were they not in such distinguished company. Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress recently compiled the views of more than a hundred leading American foreign policy experts – Democrats and Republicans – in the first comprehensive survey of how the United States is faring in its global war on terror. The survey aimed to derive “definitive conclusions about the war’s priorities, policies, and progress from the very people who have run America’s national security apparatus over the past half century.”

These former holders of key government security portfolios, retired military commanders, intelligence professionals, academics and journalists are even less optimistic than the American public, which holds an increasingly bleak view of the administration’s record in making the nation safer. According to the report, “A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. . . . Eighty-one percent . . . believe the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, negatively affects the war on terror.” In addition to criticizing the administration’s handling of relations with European allies and “rogue” and “failed” states, more than two thirds said that US policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions.

“We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” said participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “[O]ur insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time . . . feeds al Qaeda’s vision of the world.”

The most high-profile neoconservative to jump ship is Francis Fukuyama – a signatory to the original pnac document and another pnac letter dated the week after 9/11, which urged Bush to pursue regime change in Iraq “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.”

In his very public attempt to distance himself from the failures of neoconservative policies he helped shape, he writes: “The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism.” While neocons like Richard Perle are trying to pin the blame for faulty intelligence on the CIA, Fukuyama writes that “the intelligence community never took nearly as alarmist a view of the terrorist/wmd threat as the war’s supporters did. Overestimation of this threat was then used to justify the elevation of preventive war to the centerpiece of a new security strategy, as well as a whole series of measures that infringed on civil liberties, from detention policy to domestic eavesdropping.”

He adds: “Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy” to “demilitarize what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other types
of policy instruments.”

Regimes under pressure often resort to drastic measures that further compromise the ideals for which they claim to be fighting. Journalists, the watchdogs of that vaunted value, democracy, have fallen afoul of the current administration in cases where they have reported on the worrisome concentration of power within the presidential office and its willful disregard of the civil liberties on which America was founded. When the New York Times published an account of the government’s monitoring of financial transactions – building on reports of its surveillance of tens of millions of Americans (the vast majority, of course, in no way linked to terrorism – prominent journalists were reportedly also under surveillance) – a chorus of voices charged the paper with treason. A conservative pundit – one of the far-right radicals flourishing on TV and radio talk shows – went so far as to suggest that the paper’s editor be “sent to the gas chamber.” Such tactics should be interpreted as a naked attempt to instill fear in members of the press.

While the Supreme Court recently deemed military tribunals at the prison in Guantánamo (which allowed hearsay and evidence acquired under torture) unconstitutional and a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the court was strongly divided, with conservative members siding against the ruling. In other recent rulings, the Court has determined that free-speech rights do not protect government whistle-blowers – such as those who have leaked details of government surveillance activities – and refuted a centuries-old ruling that requires police to knock and announce their presence before entering a suspect’s home, essentially allowing police to conduct home invasions. The Supreme Court’s slide to the right coincides with the appointment of two new judges personally selected by George W. Bush.

The result is the weakening of an independent judicial body capable of reigning in executive abuses of power. The sun has set on the American Century and the ideals it once recognized as its best self, but the long night is far from over.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:57 AM | Permalink |


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