Making the World Safe From Evil | The Nation


Making the World Safe From Evil

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So this is the way the cold war finally ends: not with a whimper but a bang. Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev chose not to mobilize massive Soviet armies on the soil of East Germany and other Communist states to save them from their own people, thus sealing the fate of the Soviet empire and bestowing a virtually bloodless victory on the containment doctrine, analysts and pundits have been vying to define the post-cold war era, and incidentally to become the next George Kennan: an end to history, back to the future, a clash of civilizations, Jihad vs. McWorld, the Lexus and the Olive Tree.

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Bruce Cumings
Bruce Cumings, chair of the history department at the University of Chicago, is the author, most recently, of North...

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Pyongyang's bellicose posturing conforms to an old pattern, but the dangers may be greater now because tensions are rising throughout the region.

South Koreans won't be buffaloed by US beef or the Bush Administration's erratic policies.

But the cunning of history dashed their ambitions and gave us instead an unexpectedly muscle-bound and imperial "Mr. X": George W. Bush. No passive containment or pusillanimous deterrence for His Accidency: Now we will have pre-emptive attacks, "counterproliferation" for everyone (except ourselves and our allies), untold billions for the Pentagon to dissuade any and all comers from "a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States," and endless wars into the disappearing and newly darkening future to "rid the world of evil."

Where does this "National Security Strategy" document come from? In the first instance, from the shop of NSC Adviser Condoleezza Rice, which perhaps accounts for its breathless and quasi-academic quality, although some of its logic would flunk even a freshman class: as in, pre-emptive attacks are OK for us, but other nations "should [not] use pre-emption as a pretext for aggression." Pre-emption, Rice later opined to reporters, is "anticipatory self-defense," that is, the right of the United States to attack a country that it thinks could attack it first. (It is hard to believe the State Department actually signed off on this Bush League document, but Rice is right that it's not a new strategy: In the early months of 1964 Lyndon Johnson in "the utmost secrecy" agonized over whether to take out China's Lop Nor nuclear facilities in a pre-emptive strike before they produced a bomb.)

Of course, the driving forces behind the Bush doctrine include more than just one Bush adviser; George W., like Ronald Reagan in the first two years of his presidency, is surrounded by ideologues, hawks and extremists. They talk loudly and carry a big stick, but it isn't clear that they will ultimately prevail.

Bush's pet doctrine is not just about foreign policy, however; it's also about domestic politics, and a Republican administration that is both motivated and flummoxed by deeper conflicts that go to the heart of the party and its historic foreign policy stance. In the short run, "anticipatory self-defense" aroused a perfect storm for Karl Rove, who wants Bush to talk about the evildoers until the November elections so no one will remember that the economy is tanking and Bush's CEO buddies are in handcuffs. More important, however, is that this has been the first Republican administration to so fully embody the Republican right's foreign policy views on a host of issues: arms control, the environment, the United Nations, post-Soviet Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq and the presumed failings of our traditional allies. The massive outflow of commentary and punditry on Bush's new doctrine somehow never got around to this fundamental point, until Al Gore (the name Bush dares not speak) stood before the Commonwealth Club on September 23 and said that Bush has been trying "to please the portion of [his] base that occupies the far right." Everyone knows this is Rove's daily bread for domestic policy, but Gore linked the new doctrine to a "go-it-alone, cowboy-type" foreign policy--and not since Saddam moved into Bush's gun sights, but since the day after he won the 2000 election, five to four.

The new doctrine embodies phrases and nuances that are the stock in trade of right-wing pundits like Charles Krauthammer, who have long called for a new American imperialism. But there is also a back-to-the-future quality; it recalls the onset of the cold war and the formidable critique of containment by Republicans like James Burnham, co-founder with William Buckley of National Review. Like Bush, Burnham assumed that "the unparalleled supremacy" of the American military would continue into the indefinite future. In 1947 he denounced internationalism as appeasement and error, containment as too passive (Bush says the United States "can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture") and isolationism as a political-economic impossibility. Instead, the United States should pursue a "World Empire," based on its monopoly of atomic weapons. Why not wield the bomb to "make politically possible...the domination of the world by a single sufficiently large state"? (That monopoly lasted exactly two more years.) In 1950, in The Coming Defeat of Communism (which like the Bush doctrine was applauded at the time by many centrists of both parties), he urged Washington to "join the offensive": American policy should aim "not at the defeat of Russia, but at its liberation." Like Burnham, the Bush document prefers "liberation" to containment, but treats September 11 as if that watershed event founded the new strategy.

Those attacks did indeed come from an implacable and diabolical enemy: Nothing will deter it, and it passionately loves suicide. Containment wouldn't scare Osama bin Laden, to say the least, even if we could find him. But little can be done about that threat, the past year of the "war on terrorism" notwithstanding; it is still child's play to conjure up variations on what calamity Al Qaeda might think of next. Bush's doctrine is about a lover of homicide, Saddam Hussein, the other charter members of the "axis of evil" and anyone else who might dare to threaten American might and power--anywhere, anytime, for eternity. And it is about fissures that go to the heart of the Republican Party.

That party has long embraced two tendencies, the free-trade multilateralism and Atlanticism of the Eastern wing, and the expansionist, unilateralist Western Republicans, symbolized by the "Asia firsters" of the 1950s. The former was hegemonic on the British model, taking the world economy as its main arena of action; the latter was imperialist, beholden to the myths and realities of the frontier, the cowboy and the cavalry, unilateral expansion to the West, the subjugation of the Philippines and eventually of China (always, to these foreign affairs naïfs, the "China" of their imagination). The reigning hero of this tendency was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a classic man on horseback, brutalizing the Bonus Marchers, ruling the Philippines, defeating Japan thus to become its benign emperor for six years, only to have his measure taken by a Sino-Korean peasant army in 1950.

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