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The National Insecurity State | The Nation

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The National Insecurity State

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No one imagines that Rumsfeld or Cheney loses any sleep over the misery of ordinary people in distant countries. That neither had any trouble doing business with cruel tyrants is also well-known. The principal cheerleader for democracy promotion in the Middle East has been Wolfowitz, a man whom Mann calls "the most influential underling in Washington." His influence is presumably augmented by the coincidence that both Cheney's deputy, "Scooter" Libby, and Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, are Wolfowitz protégés.

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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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What Mann shows, however, is that Wolfowitz himself was obsessed with Gulf oil and WMDs in the Middle East long before he revealed any humanitarian concern for the victims of tyranny in the region, much less any ambitions to implant American-style democracy in Mesopotamia. His dissertation, completed in 1970 at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Albert Wohlstetter, argued that the Israelis should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons because, if they did so, their Arab neighbors would be compelled to pursue WMDs for themselves. Commenting on the flagrant paradox here, Mann delivers a syntactically convoluted but politically pungent aside: "In public, at least, Wolfowitz in later years rarely, if ever, acknowledged his opposition to the Israeli nuclear program or the role that it had played in spurring on other countries in the Middle East to match it."

Working in the Pentagon under Jimmy Carter as a holdover from the Nixon/Ford Administration, Wolfowitz soon turned his attention to the danger of the Soviet Union's moving militarily to block US access to Persian Gulf oil. If the Soviets successfully did so, he and others argued, they could destroy America's alliances with Japan and Europe, both utterly dependent on imported energy. His interest in the gulf, at this point, was exclusively geopolitical and not at all humanitarian. When the USSR began to buckle and eventually collapsed, it is true, Wolfowitz gave increasing attention to the hostile dictatorship in Iraq. But here again, what alarmed him was less Saddam's tyranny over Iraqis than his hostility to the United States and Israel.

Why Wolfowitz today has become such an ardent advocate of democratizing a country very likely to have an anti-Zionist majority therefore remains something of a mystery. The mystery is deepened if we reexamine, as Mann invites us to do, one of the founding documents of neoconservatism, namely Jeane Kirkpatrick's 1979 Commentary essay "Dictatorships and Double Standards." (After reading this article, Reagan began wooing Kirkpatrick and thereby started the migration of neoconservatives from Democratic to Republican ranks.) Kirkpatrick chastised President Carter for his shortsighted criticism of the Shah of Iran for human rights abuses. All Carter managed to do, she argued, was to help replace a friendly dictator with a hostile one. She attributed this self-defeating policy to a naïve strand in American culture: "No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize government, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances." This is an outlandish belief, she continued, because "decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary discipline and habits [of democracy]."

Mann draws attention to these passages for a purpose. He is urging us to look deeper into the Administration's current rationale for occupying Iraq. Kirkpatrick composed her essay in the spirit of Edmund Burke and other paleoconservatives, who rid-iculed the faith of French revolutionaries that they could impose their progressive ideas on other peoples by force of arms. We can overhear the same doubts about social engineering and the same decent respect for the cake of custom in Brent Scowcroft's recent remark, also cited by Mann: "I'm a skeptic about the ability to transform Iraq into a democracy in any realistic period of time."

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