The National Insecurity State | The Nation


The National Insecurity State

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When the Soviet Union collapsed, the principal concern of Cheney and Wolfowitz, this time with the full support of Powell and Armitage, was to avoid a serious cutback in military spending. (According to Mann, Powell signed off on the disastrous Somalia mission, from which he subsequently tried to distance himself, because he did not want to give the newly elected Democratic President and Congress an excuse for cutting the military budget after the end of the cold war.) This rallying around the military budget could be explained by the biographies of all four men, who spent important stretches of their public lives at the Pentagon. But their support for military spending has roots deeper than agency loyalty. It is the fruit of a mindset and a worldview. By background and training, these security hawks could see only certain kinds of threats, namely threats that could be countered effectively only by military force. They could see rogue states in bright colors, but nonstate conspirators remained shadowy and beneath their radar. There is no other way to explain their inattention to terrorism in general and to Osama bin Laden in particular, not only before but even after 9/11.

About the Author

Stephen Holmes
Stephen Holmes teaches at the New York University School of Law. His most recent book is The Matador's Cape: America's...

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How much relative weight should we assign to each of the various motivations behind the decision to invade Iraq: the desire to display America's intimidating military power by crushing a weak enemy; the desire to destroy a threat to Israel; the desire to prevent Saudi oil from falling into the hands of radical jihadists in the event of a coup against the royal family; the desire to prevent Saddam from reinitiating his suspended weapons programs once the sanctions regime unraveled; the desire to complete the unfinished business of the Gulf War; and so forth?

Mann does not answer this question. But he does help us explore an important aspect of the same puzzle, namely: Did the desire to democratize Iraq have any influence at all on the decision to go to war? There are many reasons for doubting it, above all the fact that Bush spokespersons began to highlight the benefit to Iraqis of Saddam's removal from power only after their original justifications for the war, stressing benefits to Americans, collapsed under scrutiny. It is also noteworthy that Bush campaigned in 2000 against the very idea of humanitarian intervention, associating the toppling of odious dictators with the arrogant and futile desire to impose the American system of government on faraway peoples, who are perhaps unprepared for democracy but whom, in any case, we understand only poorly. During his debates with Gore, Bush stated, apparently without coaching: "I just don't think it's the role of the United States to walk into a country [and] say, 'We do it this way; so should you.'" That 9/11, which so obviously awoke Bush's longing to strike back in anger, also converted Bush to a Mother Teresa foreign policy is hard to believe. The self-styled Warrior President cannot possibly subscribe to the Clintonian idea that foreigners will love us if we are nice to them, even though that seems to be the only way to make sense of his Administration's claim that Arabs in particular will come to admire America (and accept Israel) if only we lend them a hand as they make themselves demo-cratic and prosperous.

Can the democratization of the Middle East possibly have been among the decisive reasons for launching the Iraq war? Or should we simply view talk of building democracy in Iraq as agitprop concocted to stave off criticism of a ruinous policy? We should approach this topic methodically, if only because the pretense is being desperately maintained. Much of the public and the press has yet to abandon the thought or hope that, while filling the improvised cemeteries of Falluja and Kufa with Iraqis, US forces are nevertheless helping to create a friendly democracy in Iraq.

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