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The New American Imperium | The Nation

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The New American Imperium

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The New York Times recently reported that President George W. Bush has told his visitors "that he needs to get to the Korea model," meaning a politically sustainable US presence to stabilize the Middle East. Obviously, this is part of his design to lock his successors (not just the next President) into defending the Middle East as a cardinal precept of American foreign policy.

About the Author

Stanley I. Kutler
Stanley I. Kutler is the author of The Wars of Watergate (Norton).

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Bush intends for his successors to defend and continue his Iraq War, and expand his notions of democracy to the area--provided they not disturb the status quo for our friends who supply us with oil. He will embed us deeper in Iraq and meanwhile prepare a Second Front for Iran.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter tentatively moved toward drawing down troops garrisoned in South Korea. Political figures in South Korea and Japan reacted with a mixture of dismay and indignation, all but accusing the United States of abandoning them to aggression and a takeover by "Red China" and North Korea. The outcry was hysterical--and cynical.

The fine hand of vested military interests was all too apparent. The military-industrial complex, bequeathed to us long before Eisenhower's famous warning, was not about to surrender its lucrative Korean "business," which long had eclipsed the original containment mission. They filled the campaign coffers of Congressmen, scattered around the country, who were only too anxious to maintain full "defense" employment in their districts. And we are still in Korea.

The Bush Administration has made clear its opposition to any peace treaty between the two Koreas without the North's submission to our nuclear weaponry demands. Bush's Korea model serves his Middle East aims. We are now captive to Saudi Arabia's and the United Arab Emirates' rich supplies of oil; to maintain that pipeline, we presumably must be prepared to defend our suppliers against any hostile aggression by Iran. The Saudis will not have it any other way--whatever Osama bin Laden may think about our being on Sunni holy soil.

Just as with South Korea, the military and its suppliers retain an enormous stake in such a policy. Reportedly, half the US Navy's warships are now within striking distance of Iran. They must be supplied with missiles, food and other stores. Again, defense and war measures serve the local needs of a Congressional district--whatever the national interests or needs.

Now comes the Kyl-Lieberman resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. This is no typical "sense of the Senate" measure, harmless and equivalent to the annual Mothers' Day or Little League resolutions. True, the authors modified their original saber-rattling words, but the consensus is that Bush has been given his blank check. When it suits his purposes, he conveniently remembers Vietnam: think of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution--a warning against attacking US Forces that Lyndon Johnson later cleverly exploited to Americanize the existing conflict and safeguard us against imagined falling dominoes.

Senator James Webb (D-VA) has no illusions about the Bush Administration's present course. He, too, is a good student of history. Webb assailed Kyl-Lieberman as "a backdoor method of gaining Congressional validation for military action, without one hearing and without serious debate." Shades of Tonkin Gulf.

The Senate overwhelmingly voted to support the resolution, 76-22, and the lesser political stars of the House earlier voted 397-16 to endorse it. Perhaps the Democratic majorities believed that once Senator Joseph Lieberman agreed to remove his more bellicose language, they could support the "simple" condemnation of the Revolutionary Guards. Congressional memories are notoriously short.

The resolution received media attention largely for its links to presidential politics, with little consideration of it implications. Much was made of Hillary Clinton's vote for it. Barack Obama was a no-show. Clinton was joined by numerous Democrats (her supporters?) in a show of solidarity with their old friend Lieberman. (Most strikingly, Charles Schumer (D-NY) supported it, but he and his ready microphone were nowhere to be found.)

Interestingly, the 2006 class of newly elected Senators, with clear memories of their constituents' antiwar sentiments, voted against Kyl-Lieberman: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Clair McCaskill (D-MO), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Webb. The Republicans continue to march in directed lockstep--only Chuck Hagel (R-NB) and surprisingly, Richard Lugar (R-IN) opposed the resolution. But the silence of such "moderates" and critics" as John Warner (R-VA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) tells us about the strength of White House discipline.

The Democrats, more diverse and more splintered, are always ripe for analysis. David Bromwich has suggested that Hillary Clinton is psychologically akin to the Fabian Socialists--without, of course, their Socialist component. Such Fabians as Sidney and Beatrice Webb ardently believed in imposing top-down bureaucratic organizations for a benign reform of the world. And they were, it should be remembered, primary advocates of liberal imperialism. George Bush and Hillary Clinton do not differ in goals; she undoubtedly believes she can do it all more efficiently.

The Democrats appear to be anti-Iraq War. Maybe. But they surely are not opponents of imperial overreach.

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