The Anniversary of a Neo-Imperial Moment

When excerpts of the document first appeared in the New York Times in the spring of 1992, it created quite a stir. Sen. Joe Biden, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was particularly outraged, calling it a prescription for "literally a Pax Americana," an American empire.

The details contained in the draft of the Defense Planning Guidance(DPG) were indeed startling.

The document argued that the core assumption guiding U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century should be the need to establish permanent U.S. dominance over virtually all of Eurasia.

It envisioned a world in which U.S. military intervention would become "a constant fixture" of the geo-political landscape. "While the U.S. cannot become the world's 'policeman' by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends," wrote the authors, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby –- who at the time were two relatively obscure political appointees in the Pentagon's policy office.

The strategies put forward to achieve this goal included "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role," and taking pre-emptive action against states suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

The draft, leaked apparently by a high-ranking source in the military, sparked an intense but fleeting uproar. At the insistence of then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, the final DPG document was toned down beyond recognition.

But through the nineties, the two authors and their boss, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney, continued to wait for the right opportunity to fulfill their imperial dreams.

Their long wait came to an end on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan and a third into the Pentagon outside Washington.

And the timing could not have been more ideal. Dick Cheney had already become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, while the draft's two authors, Wolfowitz and Libby, were now Deputy Defense Secretary and Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, respectively.

In the year since, these three men, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded officials strategically located elsewhere in the administration, have engineered what former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently described as a "radical break with 55 years of bipartisan tradition" in U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. foreign policy after World War II was based on two broad strategies: a realist policy organized around containment and deterrence to U.S. power; and a more liberal, internationalist policy based on the construction of a set of multilateral institutions and alliances to promote open market-based economies and democratic values.

While Republican administrations leaned more towards the realist agenda and Democratic administrations toward the internationalist perspective, neither deviated very far from the core assumptions.

But now, "[f]or the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, a new grand strategy is taking shape in Washington," says Georgetown University professor G. John Ikenberry. In his article 'America's Imperial Ambition' published in the current edition of "Foreign Affairs," he argues that the Bush administration's foreign policy since Sept. 11 is driven by the desire for global dominance rather than the threat of terrorism.

"According to this new paradigm, America is to be less bound to its partners and to global rules and institutions while it steps forward to play a more unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorist threats and confronting rogue states seeking WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," Ikenberry writes. "The United States will use its unrivaled military power to manage the global order."

Advocates of the new paradigm are part of a coalition of three major political forces, which include right-wing Machtpolitikers, like Rumsfeld and Cheney, mainly Jewish neo-conservatives closely tied to the Likud Party in Israel, and leaders of the Christian and Catholic Right.

The events of Sept. 11 effectively empowered this coalition within the Bush administration at the expense of the more-traditional realists led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, significantly, has received strong support from veterans of the first Bush administration, most prominently Brent Scowcroft and James Baker.

Aside from a strong belief in U.S. military power, these men share a number of key attitudes that shape their foreign policy prescriptives. These include a contempt for multilateralism which necessarily denies the "exceptional" nature of the United States; a similar disdain and distrust for Europeans, especially the French; and a conviction that "fundamentalist" Islam poses a major threat to the United States and the West. They also consider China a long-term strategic threat that should be confronted sooner rather than later.

And these views have shaped the White House's policy decisions, including its strong support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its attack on various multilateral institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), and key arms-control accords, like the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, not to mention its push for a war on Iraq and "regime change" in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In other words, U.S. foreign policy today looks and sounds remarkably like the DPG draft leaked nearly ten years ago.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, it is increasingly clear that Cheney and his proteges have used the tragedy to validate their dangerous delusions of grandeur. The so-called War on Terror was always just an expedient reason for the unilateral use of military power to achieve global dominance.

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