Global Policy Forum

Introduction to "Selling US Wars"


By Achin Vanaik

Transnational Institute
March 2007

The US today is militarily far and away the most powerful country in the world. Who can doubt this? Nor should anyone be surprised that its leading elites seek to sustain, extend, and deepen the US's political dominance. The major lines of division within the elites are on how to go about doing this. Indeed, the terms of discourse have now shifted so dramatically that the language of empire and empire-building can be considered respectable, a view worthy of a hearing in the mainstream media in the US. Even in Europe, there is a greater willingness than in decades past to talk of the "benevolence of Empire" or of the US as the "benevolent" imperial power; of how the expansion of this empire can now be understood as the pre-condition for the "expansion of freedom." A side consequence of the emergence of this new kind of political discourse is also a much greater willingness to reassess in a much more favorable manner previous imperialisms such as the Pax Britannica with a view to providing historical insights and advice on how a Pax Americana can be instituted. Niall Ferguson's recent works are but one striking example of this turn toward a modern form of the "White Man's Burden"-the claim that British imperialism was (and by analogy US imperial behavior today is) in fact primarily of benefit to its supposed victims, the colonized rather than to the colonizers. The former were the real beneficiaries, the liberated rather than the exploited or oppressed!

But if such right-wing effervescence is to be expected in today's climate, perhaps more disturbing is how liberal intellectuals like John L. Gaddis and Paul Kennedy are now willing to lend legitimacy and an attentive ear to such views. If during the Cold War liberals justified US foreign policy behavior as a necessary "defensive posture" to "contain" the threat of communism and the USSR; today the blatantly offensive character of US foreign policy behavior can no longer be disguised and is therefore in greater need than ever before of legitimizing discourses, which many North American and European intellectuals of the right and "liberal" center seem eager to provide and endorse. One possible overarching discourse-of "expanding freedom" through imperial behavior-is apparently unable to quite fit the bill. A range of such legitimizing discourses has been required partly because global domination requires not just one all-encompassing discourse but separate discourses to justify US actions in different parts of the world that have different political contexts; that is, where there exist variant alliance arrangements and rationales for a US presence.

This book therefore aims to delineate, analyze, and evaluate these discourses separately in chapter treatments, thereby exposing their role in relation to how the US's overall empire project is unfolding in different parts of the world. At the same time, there is one overarching imperial project and though the components of the legitimizing discourses differ, they remain part of an overall package. These discourses have their separate dynamics. They aim to highlight different "dangers" and "concerns" to the US. But they also have their areas of overlap and reinforcement, which therefore need to be uncovered. Such overlaps mean that the US can and does shift from the use of one discourse to that of the other. For example, justifications for the invasion of Iraq shifted from "weapons of mass destruction" to "regime change" to "fighting terrorism," and Washington has continued to justify its occupation via periodic slippages between, and combinations of, the latter two themes, all "in the name of democracy."

The objective here is to reveal the origins, nature, and purposes of these ideological constructions or political discourses as well as the consequences of their application in particular geographical contexts. It should be clear that this is a project to dissect the "software" of US empire-building. The book is not primarily about the hardware of empire-building or aiming to be a narrative about the conduct and course of US foreign policy behavior.

All the contributors to this book are in one way or the other associated with the Transnational Institute (TNI), founded in the early 1970s and based in Amsterdam. As both a research body devoted to addressing the various developmental problems of the South and their linkages to the practices and perspectives of the countries and institutions of the North, and (perhaps uniquely) a longtime international fellowship of scholar-activists from the South and North, the TNI is uniquely placed to initiate and carry out this project. Its participants are bound by a shared commitment to a "radical necessity"-the struggle for a qualitatively more humane and just world order than that which currently exists.

The fellows, associates, researchers, and friends of TNI all have their individual areas of expertise and concerns, ranging from issues of water conflicts to the iniquities of the WTO to the dangers of nuclear weaponization to promoting solidarities with the antiinvasion and anti-occupation movements of Iraq to the search for a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue. Given this intrinsic character, the TNI is ideally situated to bring such a project to fruition since the central themes of this book meshed naturally with the ongoing preoccupations of the respective contributors.What is more, almost all the chapters were subjected to collective discussion and argument-often fierce-the result being that there were substantial rewrites of these chapters in response to criticisms of style and content. This was another important way to utilize the advantages of a grouping like the TNI and to make this a genuinely collective work and not just a collection of disparate essays simply brought together by the editor.

The thematic structure of the book, then, is as follows. In place of the one overarching ideological banner of the Cold War era-defending the "free world" against the communist threat- six ideological banners have emerged, which to greater or lesser extent serve the interests of US empire-building. These are:

(1) the global war on terror (GWOT),
(2) weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the "wrong hands,"
(3) failed states,
(4) the necessity and justice of external and forcible humanitarian intervention,
(5) regime change in the name of democracy, and
(6) the war on narcotics.

The domains in which consent is to be elicited through use of these banners are threefold. There is the domestic population of the United States itself-a terrain of very great importance. There are the elites, governments, and general public of the target areas of US imperial activity themselves, be these Central andWest Asia (the Middle East) or the countries of Upper Amazonia. There is finally the rest of the world, comprised of countries that might be allies, neutrals, or critics of the US, but whose governments and publics need also to be persuaded of the righteousness of American behavior. None of these six themes are purely or solely functional for the purposes of empire-building. They all refer to concerns that actually predate the end of the Cold War, though it was not until after the collapse of the Soviet Union that a calculated US projection elevated most to a newer and much higher status, where they could achieve a much stronger public and international resonance.Moreover, they all represent genuine problems and dangers that, regardless of how the discourses about them may be manipulated, need to be addressed in their own right. That is why the extent to which each banner is functional for empire also varies. Some are more useful than others in this regard even when their political and geographical terrains of application are separated and do not overlap.

Keeping all this in mind, each of the chapters on these six themes are broadly united by their common concern (a) to identify the origins or emergence of the particular legitimizing discourse or ideological banner; (b) to examine the character and composition of the banner; (c) to point out the purposes or aims that lie behind the unfolding of the banner; (d) to evaluate how effective the use of the banner has actually been; (e) to highlight the falsity of the banner or the dishonesties, deceits, and hypocrisies that have guided or lain behind its use; (f) to suggest how in all moral honesty and seriousness one should address the particular problem, be it terrorism or violations of universal human rights or the proliferation of WMDs or opium, heroin, and cocaine production, distribution, and use.

These six chapter presentations-the section on the ideological banners-are preceded by three other chapters. Empires are always constructed for the purposes of accumulating power and wealth for some, even if many seek to justify empire in the name of prosperity for all. There is then always an economics of empire. The American imperial project today, unlike those of the capitalist past, is an informal one. It is not a formal colonization project of establishing long-term direct foreign rule but of ensuring indirect domination and enduring and significant influence on local elites and their governments. How is this to be achieved? Why, through the organization of consent, which itself is of three types. There is active consent, which is the best of all. Here, local elites and middle classes and even sections of the population lower down must be persuaded to believe that such indirect domination or "influence" is good because they have come to share the values that the hegemonizer claims to uphold, be these the fight against terrorism, the assurance of democracy, or the promise of prosperity. The second form of consent- passive-will do. But this is essentially resignation in the face of a dominant power rather than enthusiastic embrace of its proclaimed values and promises, and therefore carries the potential of being somewhat politically unstable for empire.

The third form is bought consent-not just the promise of prosperity for collaborating groups but the institutionalized realization of such benefits. And if the price for such prosperity for some is rising inequality and deprivation for substantial others, so be it. This is where current neoliberal economic globalization and the US imperial project converge. These are the two sides of the same coin. US political expansion also aims to expand neoliberalism. An expanding neoliberalism (as economic doctrine and policy direction) promotes and helps stabilize the project of securing US political hegemony globally through the recruitment of cohort groups materially benefiting from such expansion. This means even this survey, essentially of the software of empire, finds it necessary to precede its dissection of legitimizing discourses by an initial overview of the character of the current global economy, its distinctive characteristics, and the roles played by US capital economically and financially and by its dominant classes through and besides the US government. This initial overview is followed by two other chapters that examine the ideological preconditions that underlie both the ascendance globally of neoliberalism as the economic and social "common sense" of our times, and the role played by the belief in an American exceptionalism.

The ascendance of neoliberalism ideologically was not a happenstance. It was systematically prepared for, to begin with in the US and Britain from the late 1970s, but has since spread its influence worldwide. Here, is the story par excellence of the organization of consent, of creating hegemony, one that rewards study even-especially-for its opponents. This chapter is also the logical follow-up to the preceding one on the economics of empire since it uncovers the institutional and ideological foundations that have led to the practices themselves.Moreover, the six legitimizing discourses of the American right and center after the end of the ColdWar benefited from the changed intellectual-political climate (the shift rightward) from the late 1970s onward; that is, the rise of neoliberalism in economic, social, and political thought. This came about through a deliberately constructed and systematic intellectual-institutional process in the US, the West in general, and more widely. And empire-promoting doctrines since the end of the Cold War have also emerged through some of these established mechanisms and structures of the fast rising and increasingly hegemonic right. All the more reason therefore for having an important chapter treatment of all this.

"Americanism" or "American Exceptionalism" is the belief in the special worth and mission of the US globally. It is the belief that the US is uniquely equipped to be the best model of a modern and humane society, which others should seek to substantially emulate-really the best that a modern capitalist democracy has to offer (though some lessons from the European experience can also be imbibed)-and furthermore, that the US must take on the responsibility of helping other countries and societies to move in this direction. Empire then is a misnomer. The US is merely the leading power in a global project to bring prosperity and dignity to all. It is a lumbering giant. It needs sympathetic but also critical friends. It makes mistakes. It even sometimes abuses its enormous power. But who can doubt its fundamentally good intentions or the importance and validity of its global project? There is no way then that this US imperial project can be undermined intellectually and politically without attacking the self-deluding and self-serving character of this belief in American uniqueness. The fact that the US might consider itself exceptional is not exceptional. Many countries or societies have their own versions of exceptionalism. But their exceptionalisms reside in their past and make them inimitable. They cannot be exported. American exceptionalism is different because it also claims to be imitable universally, indeed insists on the necessity and desirability of being emulated. It is the emblem of "modernity" without parallel and the US has the responsibility, nay duty, to use its immense power to share this vision and its construction with all who also wish to be truly modern. Hence the innate connection of 'Americanism' to the US's current empire-building project.

In the survey of chapters that follows the aim is not so much to provide a comprehensive summary but more to provide a window of sorts, an enticing glimpse of some of the furniture in the larger room of ideas and arguments presented by each contributor.

The Economics of Empire: Neoliberal Globalization and the US

Amidst so much hype about the emergence of a "new economy" centered on the revolutionizing impact of information and communications technologies (ICT), and about the spreading benefits of globalization, Walden Bello provides a cool and balanced corrective. It is the Northern economies taken together that most shape the character of the world economy and it is an unassailable fact that the "golden age" era (1950-1975) had higher average growth rates and far more equitable distribution of benefits to the general public than the era of neoliberal globalization (roughly from 1980 onward). Indeed, Bello argues that this very pattern of globalization characterized much more by the incredible financialization of the world economy than by the transnationalization of production, is basically a response to the structural crisis of capitalism after the golden age.

This is a crisis of overaccumulation, that is to say, of overproduction and excess capacities relative to demand in the North; of too much capital and too few investment opportunities. The overall result is declining profit rates and therefore the search for another way to continue the never-ending pursuit of more and more profits. This, after all, is the engine that drives capitalism. It explains why neoliberal globalization is what it is-investing hopes in ICT to create new areas of massive and continuous investment and product expansion; the shift from productive to financial activities as a way of making profits; the extension of capital to other territories; the commercialization of hitherto public spheres of life such as health and education, public utilities and transportation, pensions and social security measures. If it wasn't for China's extraordinary growth over the last two-and-ahalf decades, absorbing huge amounts of investment at home and from abroad, and churning out goods for a debt-based consumption boom in the US (still the locomotive of the global economy), the world would have been in an even greater mess.

Nevertheless, according to Bello, all that has happened is a postponing of a time of greater reckoning. The crisis of overaccumulation remains. Compared to the golden era of "stable cooperation" the era of neoliberal globalization is one of "unstable competition." Earlier, tension between the major European allies and the US were much less. The US was the accepted hegemon in a world order where the pie was growing fast enough for others to grow relatively faster than the US itself. But from 1980 onward with a slowly growing world pie, the US is much more concerned to corner as much of the benefit as possible relative to other major capitalist powers. If this is one source of growing tension, the impact of neoliberal structural adjustment programs in the South has been devastating- promoting ever greater inequalities and further impoverishment. The constitutionalization of neoliberalism through the WTO, IMF, and WB is getting stalled.

If the Clinton administration at least sought to sustain some degree of multilateral cooperation on the world scale for both economic and political purposes even while seeking competitive advantages for US capital and strategic dominance for the American state, the administration of George W. Bush has been much more nakedly partisan toward a certain faction of the US ruling class, namely the oil companies, steel, agribusiness, the military-industrial complex. These are sectors more concerned about protecting their existing turfs via government support than with expanding free trade and the market mechanism globally. Furthermore, Bush differs from Clinton in his greater unilateralism and militarism. Here, the goals of enhancing both US economic power and strategic power remain, but the former gets subordinated to the latter. Yes, the invasions of Central and West Asia (Middle East) are partly motivated by the need of the US to secure control over energy sources, but the political-imperial behavior here and elsewhere is motivated as much, if not more, by the need to assert itself-to send an "exemplary" message that the US will not hesitate to use all means necessary (including the military) to secure whatever it considers to be its vital interests. Either accept US domination or face the consequences of resistance, big or small.

Bello's central point is that this greater belligerence is not the expression of a greater strength but of a greater weakness- deepening problems of the world economy and of the US economy; a massive overextension of US military power; a growing disillusionment politically and ideologically that is progressively undermining the credibility of the US as a supposed force for positive change worldwide.

Neoliberal "Common Sense"

No rightward shift in economic thinking can hope to stabilize itself as the dominant "common sense" if it is not also accompanied by a rightward shift in political and social thought. That is why the rise of neoliberalism in the Anglo-Saxon world (US and Britain) necessarily has an impact on the thinking and behavior of policymaking and policy-shaping elites with respect to both domestic politics and foreign affairs. In tracing the rise and spread of neoliberalism in the US, it is just this general paradigm shift that Susan George writes about, as much a shift in moral attitudes, positions, and concerns as of anything else.

Neoliberalism is a marriage of the most conservative interpretation of neoclassical economic doctrine with the Austrian school of libertarian political-legal thought best embodied in the work of Friedrich von Hayek. Neoclassical economics recognizes "market failure." The most right-wing current within the neoclassical streaminsists, however, that "government failure" is so much more serious that better market failure than government intervention, hence the advocacy of the minimalist state. But the minimalist state also gets its defense from the libertarian contractualist political philosophy of those like Robert Nozick and Hayek. There is no such thing, they declare, as society, only individuals. Notions about collectivities having common needs and goals or pursuing a common conception of the good life are extremely dangerous. Above everything else must be the freedom of individuals anchored firmly in property rights thatmust be protected legally, and it is this freedom that must take precedence over all illusory claims to promoting social welfare, justice, or equality.

This is a vision of liberal democracy in which a conservative liberalism (the most restrictive conception of the individual) is considered far more important than a fulsome democracy (the search for greater collective empowerment of ordinary people). How in some three decades this has become the dominant vision of how society should be organized nationally and internationally is the story that George seeks to reveal. Much has been made recently about the emergence of neoconservatives. George reminds us, however, that they are but a subset of neoliberals and that the similarities among them are ultimately more important than the differences. That neoliberals only aim to roll back the state is incorrect. They also aim to roll forward the state in other domains, most notably in regard to domestic surveillance and defense preparations. Withdrawing the state from the economy worldwide goes hand in hand with promoting the power of the American state worldwide, precisely to constitutionalize and stabilize neoliberal globalization. George points out that the same institutions and connections in the US that have promoted the ideology of neoliberalism have promoted the ideology of empire.

At the heart of this chapter then, is a remarkable exposure of the institutional network that made possible this victory of rightwing ideas. It is in fact more a galaxy than a network that has as its sun, key funding institutions (extremely wealthy, private, rightwing family foundations) that support a host of orbiting bodies from think tanks to university departments to single-issue development centers to grassroots organizations to publications to electronic media channels to individual intellectuals and activists. Over the last thirty years and more, these funders have put in over a billion dollars into the pores of civil society in the US with profound effects at both the popular and policymaking levels.

What the political right has done, says George, is what the genuinely liberal center and the political left can learn from. They must draw the necessary lessons for their own task-to carry out their own form of what the great Italian thinker, Antonio Gramsci called, "the long march through the institutions" to establish another kind of intellectual and moral hegemony that unequivocally rejects neoliberalism and empire.

American Exceptionalism

Mike Marqusee starts off by alerting us to the US government's National Security Strategy (NSS) paper of 2002, which declared that there was now only a "single sustainable model" for the world, and the US represents this model and is the vanguard of progress worldwide. American exceptionalism (AE) has always insisted that the US has a mission, that it is the one country whose pursuit of the "national interest" is at one and the same time the pursuit of a cosmopolitan universal interest! AE has of course historical roots as well as a variability of component themes that amalgamate in flexible ways, all of which Marqusee seeks to investigate. To what extent and in what ways has the US been exceptional? If it really is exceptional then how does it deviate from the supposedly general law of development? Unlike in other cases, US nationalism elevated national identity to the status of an ideology-Americanism. Other nations have ideologies; America is one. And since this ideology is supposed to express the best elements of Enlightenment universalism and rationalism- "freedom, individualism, opportunity, the rule of law"-America could simply not be or have an empire, formal or informal.

This is the mystification thatMarqusee dissects. America as a mission or ideal meant that from the beginning it was not to be seen as a fixed territorial entity but as a "great social experiment" whose own expansion was natural and benevolent, bringing "freedom" and "progress" to those it embraced. That, indeed, is how its history of expansionist wars against Mexico, Spain and the indigenous Indian population has always been portrayed in mainstream discourse. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 was not to be seen as an expression of the US desire for hemispheric dominance but as its adoption of the generous role of "protector" against possible European depredations. In short, Marqusee documents a long history of the US as an "empire in denial." For a certain period from the 1890s onward as the US began to acquire territories in the Pacific outside the continental landmass, elite opinion for the first time talked of the US becoming an empire to rival those of Europe, of accepting the "White Man's Burden" of bringing civilization to the Philippines. This phase also saw the emergence within the US of an intellectual and political current that opposed such imperialist behavior and, ironically, both sides sought sanction for their respective views from the tenets of AE.

Expansion in the Pacific and in the Americas was always compatible with a posture of isolationism that only meant (in contrast to the "internationalists") refusal to involve the US in the politics of the European powers. And once again, both isolationists and internationalists could call upon AE in their support.WorldWar II discredited isolationism and AE could now be brandished to justify the US mission of exercising moral and political leadership worldwide against the danger of Communism. It was Vietnam, Marqusee says, that shook the general US selfimage as nothing else had ever done. But it did not overturn AE. The rise of the right during Reagan's presidency and then the collapse of the USSR put paid to the prospects of any further selfquestioning. Indeed, this retreat from Vietnam-inspired self-doubt gathered increasing momentum, so much so that a new hubris and triumphalism emerged by the beginning of the new millennium. AE was once again alive and well. Through all the political twists and turns-the rise of the New Democrats and then of the Neoconservatives, the post-Cold war interventions in Central America, Africa, the Balkans,West and Central Asia-the empire remains in denial. True, elite discourse is now much more willing to talk of today's America as an empire that should recognize itself as being one and behave accordingly. But Marqusee correctly points out that this elite discourse cannot hope to displace the mass public discourse and belief that the US is not and cannot become an empire.

9/11 though, reinforced already existing tendencies in American society toward insularity, chauvinism, and xenophobia. It also reinforced existing expansionist and imperial interpretations of what legitimate self-defense should entail. Not only does the dominant ideology of AE feed such interpretations, it also obscures realization of what is truly exceptional or at least distinctive about US society in comparison with other advanced capitalist democracies. Compared to them, the US has the worst system of public healthcare, the highest levels of poverty, the greatest levels of inequality of income and wealth. AE prevents comparison between, even an interest in comparing, the US and other advanced capitalist democracies; just as AE prevents a more truthful engagement by Americans with their own history.

Yet, as Marqusee also points out, no other empire has experienced as great a degree of internal dissent that on occasions rises to very significant policy-changing levels. There is much then, in the history of the US that gives cause for optimism-rejection in many circles of the Cold War, the anti-Vietnam war movement (the greatest anti-imperialist popular movement of modern history), the black exception to AE (Malcolm X's declaration to blacks that they were not so much Americans as victims of America). Today, more young Americans are traveling abroad than ever before and developing a greater awareness of how the US is perceived abroad, while at home there is growing disillusionment with the consequences of America's war on, and occupation of, Iraq.

Global War on Terror

Though a war on terrorism has been announced by the US on past occasions during the Cold War (when the USSR was designated the main terrorist culprit) it is really after 9/11 that the declaration of a global war on terror (GWOT) takes center stage. It becomes the latest and among the most important of the ideological banners of empire. Using the metaphor of war to combat terrorism only militarizes the approach to dealing with it and paves the way for using one unacceptable form of political violence-terrorism-to deal with another form of terrorism. Indeed, the most dangerous and damaging form of terrorism has been that of the state, whose scale has always been enormously greater. The main reason why state terrorism has never been as strong a focus for public recrimination and anger is because states have had much greater capacities to disguise their terrorism as something else or to justify it in the name of some higher ideal, be it national security or some other supposedly worthy goal.

This essay starts from an examination of the complexities of the very concept of political terrorism, which has prevented any universally accepted definition of it from emerging. Yet, a working understanding of it adequate to identifying most of its forms and its agents is easily reachable. Its agents are multiple from al-Qaeda to the US government. GWOT provides an excellent framing device for the imperial project, for in comparison to the other five ideological banners, it possesses the greatest capacity to mobilize domestic support for the US pursuit of empire abroad. This is not to decry its capacity to win over other governments and publics. Terrorist bombings as in London, Madrid, Bali, and elsewhere strengthen the claims of those who would justify GWOT, which in any case is a cover that so many governments needing to repress their own insurgency movements (Russia, China, India) and others needing to justify their collaboration with the US assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, find indispensable.

An inevitable corollary of the US-led GWOT has been the demonization of Islam and Muslims. This is unfair but the temptation to resort to it has proved irresistible. At the heart of the empire project is the requirement that Muslim Central and West Asia be permanently subordinated to American power. And for this it is necessary to mobilize maximum support from within the US population and from the publics and governments of the West and Japan. This demonization must be resisted and exposed for its dishonesty and hypocrisy. Along with this, the whole issue of terrorism must be put into proper perspective. We need to impartially condemn both the "terrorism of the weak" (non-state actors) and the "terrorism of the strong" (state actors). Indeed, it is the latter that is our biggest problem. Without developing and strengthening adequate international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court and addressing fairly the actual political contexts in which terrorism occurs, we cannot hope to diminish significantly the occurrence of such terrorism by any and all its agents. Meanwhile, it remains incumbent on us to expose the GWOT for what it primarily is-currently the most widely and frequently waved banner to hide and justify the US government's imperial ambitions and practices.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapons of mass destruction (more specifically nuclear weapons) in the "wrong hands" was first used as an excuse to justify external military intervention by the US in 2003 when it invaded Iraq. There were no such WMDs and no real evidence that Iraq was preparing them after its secret nuclear program had been dismantled following the 1991 invasion. Zia Mian shows conclusively how the US deliberately created and promoted this falsehood and how systematically the government sought to manipulate the media to deceive the American public, and succeeded. The point, though, is that there was already a strong predisposition to believe whatever theWhite House declares, with the media only reinforcing prior prejudices. This suggests a deeper malaise in the American political system especially as it affects foreign policy behavior. The "presidentialization" of the political system both reinforces and expresses a general "depoliticization" wherein very large sections of the public, unaffected by the availability of alternative information sources, is simply willing to take the US president on trust. For a quite significant part of the public what he says goes.

Of course, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was motivated by various strategic calculations well beyond the specific issue of WMDs. And now that this ideological banner has been unfurled it is not about to be quietly stashed away. Despite the deluge of criticism that the US government has had to face once it became clear that there were no WMDs in Iraq, Washington is perfectly willing to use the same justification ofWMDs in the wrong hands against other deemed enemies. This is what has happened with respect to Iran, which has been singled out for a campaign aimed at politically isolating it in the wider comity of nations. Again, broader geo-strategic considerations lie behind this pressure that given appropriate conditions could escalate to the level of a US military assault on Iran. Naturally enough, this issue features prominently in Mian's analysis. But his exposition also aims to highlight two other key themes.

First, there is the obvious selectivity and hypocrisy with which the US treats the problem of nuclear proliferation, horizontal and vertical. Since the end of the Cold War, American conservatives have established as a guiding framework for US foreign policy the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The threat of military power must now be exercised as never before to ensure American supremacy globally. The specifically nuclear dimension of the PNAC perspective requires the preparation of new kinds of weapons such as low-yield tactical and battlefield weapons alongside the more traditional high yield ones. The Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system and its associated Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) systems are to be constructed to give the US "fullspectrum dominance" over the coming decades. There is to be (1) the blurring of lines between nuclear and conventional arms in wartime policy planning, deployments, and preparations; (2) the blurring of the distinction between nuclear weapons and biological/chemical weapons, that is, a shift in doctrine justifying the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear opponents suspected of having or preparing biological or chemical weapons; and (3) a selective identification of enemy countries that must on no account be allowed to possess or develop WMDs, even if this requires pre-emptive and preventive military action/war against them. Here, the contrasting perspectives with which the US has related to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Israel, India, and Pakistan have come in for investigation, not only to highlight the obvious hypocrisies and contradictions but also to explore the flexibility with which the US uses this discourse about WMDs to pursue its regional-global ambitions.

But the second crucial and distinctive argument that Mian makes is that the US belief in the power of the nuclear bomb comes back to constantly haunt it. The bomb that the US has wanted to possess to drive fear into others also creates fear within the American power establishment, even from countries lower down in the power scale. From the beginning in 1945 when the US first acquired this weapon, it has sought to prevent perceived opponents from securing the same, to the point that it has seriously contemplated a possible nuclear launch against Russia and China in the past and North Korea and Iran more recently. The US has created an "empire of fear" but also finds itself trapped within its own construct. If we want a sane future, perhaps any kind of future, then there is no escape from the necessity of global nuclear disarmament, and this can only come about if the US is willing to take the lead in pursuing it.

In the Name of Democracy: Humanitarian Intervention & Regime Change

The ideological cover for direct and forcible intervention can also be described as "military humanism." Not all such intervention ends with, or aims to, unseat existing governments and install another. But it can also at times mean precisely such "regime change." Of all the legitimations of empire this is among the most useful for the US because it is the most widely applicable geographically, and because it can claim great plausibility in the areas of most strategic concern for the US-West and Central Asia-since most regimes in the region are authoritarian and undemocratic. This discourse also has the advantage of being among the most persuasive for a wider global audience beyond the population of the targeted area who can also be expected to be most resentful of the US's foreign policy behavior and the rationales provided for it. This particular ideological banner is probably more effective for winning over a European public, which historically has already been socialized to interpret its colonial past in relatively more benign terms than colonialism's victims, and is more willing to accept the idea of a "democratic mission" for the non-Western world-the gift of the occident to the rest.

How much continuity and change of structure and subthemes, of carriers and agents, is there between this discourse of military humanism and the dominant discourse of the Cold War, namely the "defense of freedom and democracy" against the evil of that time, namely Communism? Can this "democratic crusade" be as successfully sustained and promoted as the "anti- Communist crusade" was? Or is it doomed to be much shorter-lived? If so, why? Since "defending democracy" and "defending the free world" was the principal banner behind which the US fought the ColdWar, it was very important. There were no other equally effective or convincing optional banners. But despite the emergence of new and more banners in the post-ColdWar era behind which to advance US interests, it can be said that in certain respects the "democracy banner" has become even more important now. The absence of a Soviet countervailing force means that US imperialism has shifted into a much more offensive mode and must therefore have a more aggressive interpretation of the need to "promote" democracy (not merely "defend" it) as its preeminent disguise.

There is a difference between the two banners of humanitarian intervention and a democracy promotion that envisages regime change. Humanitarian intervention is supposed to be a response to a humanitarian crisis and is supposed to end after it has accomplished its purpose-the ending of that crisis. Regime change in the name of democracy is necessarily a more long term and drawn-out affair. There is, of course, no Chinese Wall between the two. The first can easily flow into the second-shortterm intervention becoming a longer-term occupation. Mariano Aguirre's chapter is a powerful defense of international law and the limits it imposes on forcible, that is military, intervention to correct human rights violations. It is also a subtle analysis of the crucial differences between concepts that are often deliberately jumbled together so as to provide the most flexible set of justifications for unjustifiable state actions.

Humanitarian action should not be confused with humanitarian intervention, or the latter with war operations. Nor should humanitarian action or humanitarian intervention be confused with peacekeeping and peace-enforcing, the special domains of the UN. US behavior since the end of the Cold War has relied on a discourse which carries out just such distortions and the result has been the delegitimation of the UN, the usurpation of its functions by NATO, and the self-elevation of the US to a level where it claims not just global leadership but endorsement from all others for its interpretation of the dictates of international law and the articles in the UN Charter. Under the pressure of contemporary developments, the UN top bureaucracy has conceded ground to the legally ambiguous notion of the "right to interfere," sometimes interpreting the failure of states who have the "responsibility to protect" their citizens-that is, correct severe human rights violations-as tantamount to being "threats to" or "breaches of" international peace.

This opens the way for powerful countries like the US to pressure the UN Security Council to sanction military interventions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, when the spirit and letter of the Charter basically makes national sovereignty paramount and denies forcible intervention except in the case of genuine self-defense. Not that the US has bothered too much about securing UN endorsement for its actions. It has generally preferred since the end of the Cold War to manipulate and suborn the UN when possible and to ignore it when it has somehow resisted such subordination. Aguirre provides illuminating evidence of this in his surveys of humanitarian intervention and "democracy promotion" in such cases as Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq.

Phyllis Bennis makes much the same point. After 9/11 the US could have, if it had wanted to, propelled the UN and international law to a new level of global authority and credibility. No one then would have objected to a proposal to set up a special global anti-terrorist tribunal backed by an international police force empowered to trace out and bring to trial the perpetrators of 9/11. Instead, the US preferred not to bring in the UN but to leave itself a completely free hand to do whatever it wanted with regard to Afghanistan. The hollowness of US claims to be concerned about democracy is revealed in several ways, all coolly exposed by Bennis. Democracy promotion was a later justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 preceded by the false claims of the presence of WMDs and then of some kind of nexus between alintroduction Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime. Similarly, the "Coalition of the Willing" rounded up by the US was no glorious front of democracies. All too many of its members had dismal democratic records, witness Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The likes of Russia, China, India, Turkey were delighted that their own repressive behavior toward the insurgency movements they faced could now be overlooked internationally, courtesy the US, since they too had jumped onto the American war bandwagon.

As for the post-invasion experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq, no one can seriously claim that democracy has been institutionalized or that this is the genuine concern of the US as the main occupying force. In Afghanistan a puppet Karzai government reigns in Kabul on the basis of a tacit acceptance of the rule of different warlords in the rest of the country. Both drug production and even the Taliban are making a comeback. But as long as the government in Kabul holds and obeys the Americans, Washington is satisfied. In Iraq, the faí§ade of elections is all that the US can point to as evidence of establishing democracy. It is a fraudulent claim common to many a colonial master who has sometimes had to set such elections up precisely to more effectively rule over a foreign terrain through better collaboration with local elites. The British did this repeatedly in India in the decades before India achieved genuine freedom and established a real democracy. The reality in Iraq is (1) the establishment of an American puppet regime that will enable the US to have permanent military bases; (2) the shameful imposition of a basically American drafted Constitution under foreign occupation; (3) the promotion of a corporate-privatization that most suits American business and state interests; (4) the activation of a divide-and-rule policy that has created terrible sectarian hostilities now threatening to become an enduring civil war. So much then, for the US claim to promoting democracy!

As for democratization of the Arab world as a whole, who, asks Bennis, is the US fooling? Its major allies in the region are all authoritarian regimes-Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies. Worst of all is Israel, further emboldened by US behavior and policy declarations after 9/11 to become even more brutally repressive of Palestinians and to further expand its land grab activities in the West Bank. For Bennis, matters are quite clear-the pursuit of empire and the promotion of democracy are utterly incompatible. And who exactly does the US think it is? Its own model of democracy suffers from deep imperfections. On so many counts it contrasts unfavorably with European models. It is being eroded by the pre- and post-9/11 assaults on civil liberties, earlier justified in the name of neoliberal efficiencies, now in the name of fighting terrorism. Bennis's account is an honest, hardhitting, unsparing exposure of the US and how it is anything but the "beacon of freedom" for the rest of the world that it claims to be.

Failed States

State failure, David Sogge tells us, has many labels-"weak states, fragile states, crisis states, Countries at Risk of Instability, Lowincome Countries Under Stress." But it is a term that panders to Western condescension and to its strong sense of superiority. This discourse of state failure emerges really after the end of the Cold War. Before that theWest, led by the US, wasmuchmore concerned about the "threats" represented by "strong" but enemy states to the world order, which therefore needed the benevolent guardianship of the US and the Atlantic Alliance. In the 1990s "state failure" became the source of danger. According to some right-wing ideologues, what was happening in the Balkans, Asia, and Africa reflected an encroaching "anarchy," a "re-primi-tivization" ofman's behavior, a resurfacing of barbarisms and ethnic hostilities inconceivable in the more "civilized" parts of the world. Left to fester, these places would become hotbeds of terrorism and retrograde forms of development antithetical to the needs of a globalizing economy and to the associated stability that only theWest (led by the US) could provide. After 9/11 these fears were further accentuated.

While some of the characteristics of a weak state-inadequate provision of vital public services, great country-wide lawlessness, immense difficulties in establishing and giving effect to collectively binding decisions-are clearly recognizable, they can fit a very wide array of countries. The more important question is "failure for whom"?Who decides the norms according to which failure is to be judged? And why? The disturbing answer here is that it is invariably the powerful countries of the West who decide. For them "success" is measured by the degree of "fit" of other states in the developing world (whether in the Balkans, Central,West, or South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, or the Americas) to the current scheme of things-neoliberal globalization stabilized by, above all, the power and authority of the US. Thus recalcitrant states unwilling to accept the rules as laid down by the US as well as those states well-endowed with valuable raw materials but poorly governed, can all be designated as "failed" or "failing" states with the sword of Damocles-the threat of external intervention-hanging over them.

The part of the world where the stigma of "failed states" is most likely to be applied (though far from being the only geographical area) is sub-Saharan Africa, where internecine strife, often connected to issues of control over scarce or valued material resources (minerals, timber, oil, diamonds, et cetera) of considerable importance toWestern powers, has been of great intensity. This has drawn in theWestern powers including the US and led to direct or indirect (via the UN) forms of military intervention. The US has generally seen the strategic importance of these regions in terms of the resources they possess rather than considering them of geopolitical significance. Thus human rights abuses whether in Sudan or Rwanda or in the Republic of Congo have not been taken as realities that compel military interventions by the US or other Western powers. Geopolitical rather than moral considerations have usually been a much stronger spur to direct military interventions. Moreover, interventions can be covert as well as overt, indirect as well as direct, partial as well as comprehensive. Direct intervention is one way of "punishing" recalcitrant states and creating "friendly" ones. But at another level, low-intensity warfare against "undesirables" (be they the forces of politicized Islam or other anti-US currents) will do. After all, state failure comes in many degrees and guises and the response to it need not always be regime change but different forms of "nation-building," "state-building," and "institution-building."

Yet those who most talk of the dangers of state failure and its spreading ambit refuse to recognize the reasons most responsible for it. For Sogge, there are two crucially important reasons for this. First, neoliberal forms of economic globalization demand that states greatly reduce their involvement in the economy but then bemoan their failure to overcome the negative consequences of neoliberal recipes for growth and development-rising debt, escalating inequalities, and greater poverty in much of Africa and elsewhere. Export-oriented primary production as the main source of wealth for ruling elites only reinforces their disregard for balanced and widespread domestic development. Unmotivated and independent studies, says Sogge, show clearly that the two main sources for state breakdown and deep instability are rising socioeconomic inequalities (not just poverty) and the criminalization and informal "privatization" of state apparatuses meant to serve the public but now suborned to the pursuit of powerful sectional interests. Nor is the legacy of the Cold War- the damage done by the superpower conflict through proxies in much of Africa, for example-properly taken into account. Pushing forward "democratic change" via the "shell of elections" is no answer. Not when these states are really accountable not to their publics but, as Sogge puts it, "upward and outward" to foreign powers and external agencies via structural adjustment programs, debt repayments, and pressures to meet World Bank requirements of what "good governance" means.

Second, Western powers led by the US demand that states everywhere conform to what they believe are the conditions for sustaining international peace and stability, a misleading label that really means acceptance of a hegemonic global supervision carried out by the US in conjunction with willing allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. States not willing to abide by these "rules" risk being designated as "failed" states, or even worse, "rogue" states.

Unless the efforts at further neoliberal globalization and empire are thwarted, there will be a growing trend toward the emergence of more militarized protectorates for shorter or longer periods of time. The big power interventions whether under UN missions or separately that took place since 1990 in Cambodia, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, and Iraq should serve as a salutary reminder of what might lie ahead.

War on Narcotics

According to David Bewley-Taylor and Martin Jelsma, the two pillars on which US drug policy has been based are (1) a moralist "prohibition above all" approach, and (2) a recognition of how useful the "war on drugs" can be for legitimizing US military presence and intervention in certain parts of the world. This second aspect was made possible because in the 1970s President Nixon first used the war metaphor to define US drug policy, and in the 1980s the US went on to militarize this policy by creating specially trained armed personnel to carry out counter-narcotics interdiction operations in the Andes. Bewley-Taylor and Jelsma remind us that this "war on drugs" in effect bridged an ideological gap between the end of the Cold War and the post-9/11 declaration of the "war on terror," by helping to justify US bases, interventions, and military operations abroad in this interregnum.

Historically, the US has always had a preference for supply-side approaches to tackling the drug problem. It could externalize blame on outside drug producing countries (opium-heroin and cocaine) even though demand and much profit-making trade was from within its own shores where Protestant moralism criminalized drug use. Internationally formulated policies and conventions on drugs both before and afterWorldWar II more or less faithfully reflected the American approach. The way in which after 1945 the US could lay down UN drug policy along the lines it wanted was an early example of how much control the US generally had over the UN and other multilateral bodies and how it could use this to shape the structure of international laws and conventions. The 1961 Single Convention, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Trafficking Convention provided the international ground rules that identified which drugs were to be banned and how their trade was to be made illegal.

This international framework policed by the US through the use of various coercive measures made it difficult for national governments to pursue a very different approach to that of the US.Moreover, the US would link a country's "good behavior" on the drug front to other issue areas between itself and the country in question. Indeed, the US has a "drug certification" procedure whereby the US Congress has authorized the executive to impose sanctions on countries that do not cooperate with US antinarcotics efforts. This certification mechanism is, understandably, widely resented, especially in Latin America.

The militarization of US drug policy linked it to issues of security. Thus, having high military budgets found yet another rationale. In 1989 one of the main reasons used to justify the US invasion of Panama and the overthrow of one-time ally General Noriega was the claim that he was involved in drug-trafficking. Politically, this militarization of drug policy was clearly useful, but when evaluated by the yardstick of how effective it was in curbing the drug trade and use within the US, it was clearly a dismal failure. Interdiction campaigns simply have not affected overall supplies. But despite this, US drug policy has not seen any shift in influence from the department of defense to the department of health. Plan Colombia and the "war on drugs" has been just too useful an approach for other more political purposes such as attacking leftwing insurgency groups termed "narco-guerrillas" in Colombia, putting pressure on left-wing governments from Venezuela to Bolivia, and for justifying the maintenance of a large US armed presence on the territories of collaborating regimes. The US has gone ahead to link the "war on drugs" with the "war on terror," which has helped to re-legitimize a militarized approach that was being discredited because it was both expensive and unsuccessful. It has also provided a convenient avenue for channeling funds to allied governments and right-wing counterinsurgency groups operating against leftist groups and governments in Latin America. For this there are historical precedents in Indochina and Nicaragua, where US allies were funded through heroin and cocaine smuggling.

On the other side of the globe, Bewley-Taylor and Jelsma point out how poorly US drug policy has fared in Afghanistan. The Taliban drug control policy of banning and destroying production, backed internationally, was no way to deal with a huge humanitarian problem given the huge numbers of Afghans dependent on poppy production. With the overthrow of the Taliban, the opium economy has again boomed but its financial beneficiaries are mainly the warlord allies of the US who helped it overthrow the Taliban regime. Meanwhile the drug business continues to flourish in the North, especially in the US.

Quite apart from how the "war on drugs" serves US imperial interests, it remains a serious problem in its own right. Bewley- Taylor and Jelsma reject the US "zero-tolerance" attitude to drugs. It is in Europe that there has grown a more serious dissatisfaction with the American approach and a search for alternative approaches based on the principles of harm reduction and decriminalization of the end-user. The authors endorse this change in discourse. The HIV/AIDS crisis has played an important role in promoting this approach. Among the great advantages of such an alternative approach is that it is altogether more humane, much more practical, morally more sensitive, and politically more sensible since it demilitarizes the drug issue, thereby moving in the direction of depriving the US of one disguise for empire.

More Information on Empire?
More General Analysis on US Military Expansion and Intervention
More Information on US Military Expansion and Intervention
More General Analysis on US, UN and International Law
More General Analysis of the "War on Terrorism"
More Information on Humanitarian Intervention?


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.