February 22, 2003

Empire Building Makes Strange Bedfellows

Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. The conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.

President Bush
Washington, D.C.
September 14, 2001

I think [it’s important] to ask where the long-term American future lies, whether we really think it’s in our interest to be hated…or whether we think that…we can somehow perform this exercise and not alienate those on whom we will depend for the next generation or the generation after that.

Simon Schama

According to Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker writer and investigative reporter, it’s Pakistan we should be more concerned about, not Iraq. While it’s clear Saddam possesses both biological and chemical weapons, Iraq is as secular a regime as a Muslim country can get. Pakistan, on the other hand, has nuclear weapons and Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s President is struggling to keep his country from becoming an Islamic theocracy. When talking about weapons of mass destruction, the US government might consider what’s at stake should nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery systems fall into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.

Interviewed on Bill Moyer’s NOW program last night, Hersh explained that’s exactly what our government is worried about. And, because of this, we have courted Musharraf and looked the other way on a number of important matters. How dangerous is this foreign policy?

During the war in Afghanistan, the “cream of the crop of Al Queda” were surrounded by US Special Forces in the town of Konduz, about 200 kilometers from the Pakistani border. Our soldiers were suddenly told by the US military to steer clear of a small air and land corridor that led from the town to the border. According to Hersh, the Pakistanis were evacuating their security forces, the ISI, who had been training and advising both the Taliban and Al Queda in Afghanistan.

But in addition to the ISI, the cornered Al Queda were also being evacuated by Pakistani forces, anywhere from 2500 to 5000 people in total. Included in this group were Pakistani generals and, it is believed, even bin Laden’s immediate family.

Pakistan’s military, which the American people had been told was our ally in the war on terrorism, was actually helping Al Queda to escape. Our government allowed this evacuation. And, Hersh believes its approval came from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, if not the White House.

HERSH: If we suddenly seized, in the field, a few dozen military soldiers, including generals, and put them in jail, and punished them, [Musharraf] would be under tremendous pressure from the fundamentalists at home.

Hersh also makes an important connection between the Pakistanis and the North Koreans. The Pakistanis, in need of missiles for their nuclear weapons turned to the North Koreans who were more than willing to sell their number one export for much needed cash. Unfortunately, after the sale the Pakistanis couldn’t pay their bill but instead offered the Koreans nuclear technology, including prototypes of centrifuges and warheads plus important test data.

Just as it did when it armed Iraq in order to fight Iran in the 1980s, the United States’ foreign policy may come back to haunt us. This time, however, Americans at home are at risk. We are being asked to “sacrifice” in order to win the war on terrorism. The way the Bush Administration conveys it, it seems so simple, so black and white: good versus evil. And every Level Orange John Ashcroft declares creates fear for our personal safety and pushes us to accept “whatever it will take” to win. This does a disservice to the American people and gives the impression abroad that Americans, by and large, support Bush’s policies.

• • •

In a November 8, 2002, post-election edition of NOW, Moyers spoke with Simon Schama and Samatha Powers on the international ramifications of the Republican mid-election win. Mr. Schama is an historian and art historian at Columbia University, and Ms. Powers is a journalist and war correspondent, and author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, exploring why our country did nothing to stop the genocides of the 20th century. She is also the founder of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard.

SCHAMA: So we’ve always seen it, and historians generally feel that when you declare yourselves to be an empire, it’s a kind of declaration to commit suicide. I mean, you attract, it’s a Pandora’s Box of buzzing, whirring hostility. America was born, after all, as an attack on the arrogance of empires.

MOYERS: We like to say, however, that if we are creating an empire we are creating an empire for democracy.

POWER: We can tell ourselves whatever story we need to tell ourselves to enable what it is that we want to do for our own reasons, usually for reasons that have to do with physical security and economic interests. But the rest of the world tends to see what we’re doing as being not about democracy, as being all about us, all about our sort of corporate interests and so on. They don’t see the domestic special interests that might be influencing…congressional policy.

They don’t see, especially after an election like Tuesday’s election, the division in the American society about what our foreign policy should be. They don’t see any humility at home because it’s not projected in the way that our foreign policy is being conducted abroad. And one of the really deeply troubling aspects I think of the election results is that it confirms for people abroad that the President has support for an imperialistic agenda. That is, that it isn’t contested at home, that all Americans are the same. That we’re all…we’re for it.

Bush’s National Security Strategy, his vision of America on the world stage reinforces an imperialist notion of world dominance by calling for not just a military buildup to fight terrorism but one which will dominate any force anywhere that challenges us.

Jay Bookman, in his September 29, 2002 Atlanta Journal-Consitution article, describes Bush’s plans for Pax Americana this way:

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.

As Powers points out, the trouble with Bush’s agenda, like presidents before him, is that he felt he started anew when he first entered the White House. Any foreign policy that preceded his tenure was a totally separate chapter in world history. The rest of the world, however, remembers and to them our foreign policy is seen as a whole and a continuous path. This only adds to the disparity between domestic policy and international public opinion.

When I first read Swedish blogger Tomas Jogin’s blog entry from February 12 I was incensed. Was this the way others saw Americans? I couldn’t decide if I was mad at his viewpoint of the American people or if I was angry at the truth of his words:

By soliciting American ignorance, through persistently yet unsubstantially bundling Iraq with al-Qaeda and Usama bin Laden, the Bush administration has America fooled. Bush has, by continuously affirming that their enemies are driven by nothing more complex than a blind unreasoning hatred of freedom, lead Americans to believe an attack is justified, and well over due.

Bush does make it too simple. He and his Administration have a myopic and therefore dangerous vision of America on the international stage. The Cold War forced us to rely on our friends abroad as allies against the Communists. Our interests were also our allies’ interests. But this isn’t as clear cut as it once was. This, by itself is destabilizing if we act and react in a unilateral empire-like way.

I don’t want to believe the American people are so isolated as to ignore what’s really happening. As we can see from the Konduz incident, while the President envisions our military as omnipotent, it isn’t. It can be subjected to political forces beyond its control. Short-range policy risks longer range stability. To rely heavily on a strong military as the core of your foreign policy is shortsighted. To divert our precious and finite resources to become the world’s policemen is reckless.

The United States is the dominant power at the moment. But whether its influence will be civilizing or autocratic and self-serving is the question every American should be asking themselves.

Related Stories:
The Getaway: Questions Surround a Secret Pakistani Airlift by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker

The Cold Test: What the Administration Knew about Pakistan and the North Korean Nuclear Program by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker

The President’s Real Goal in Iraq by Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via rebeccablood.net)

View Most Recent Story:::Notify me when there's a new missive!

Related Posts with Thumbnails