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Storm Warnings for a Supply-Side War | The Nation

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Storm Warnings for a Supply-Side War

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Let us consider this point more closely. History and international relations theory both teach us that unchecked power leads to hegemonic ambitions and violent efforts to achieve them. In any country there will be small groups with powerful fantasies that can have access to power. Those fantasies are usually irrelevant because of countervailing power and the all-too-apparent risks of miscalculation. But when the margin of military power is as great as it is now, it takes less to render decisive the access to power enjoyed by small groups holding extravagant, hegemonic ambitions.

About the Author

Ian S. Lustick
Ian S. Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and associate director of its Solomon...

Since the 1980s there has been a small but powerful group of neoconservative hawks who see in the "'remoralization' of American foreign policy" the restoration of "a sense of the heroic" and the establishment of an American position of "benevolent global hegemony" as not only good in themselves but as necessary to insure the repeated election of conservative Presidents (William Kristol and Robert Kagan, "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996).The idea is to use the glories and dangers of overseas adventures to redefine the agenda of political contestation away from the bread-and-butter issues used by liberals to win elections.

With these factors in mind one can understand that the proximate cause of the Bush Administration's campaign for war in Iraq was the terrorist attack on September 11. Before that, the cabal of neocon warriors driving this juggernaut--including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and the tom-tom beaters of the Weekly Standard--could not prevail in the battle for the President's foreign policy agenda against the prudent realism of the old Republican guard, represented (at that time) by Colin Powell and now-silenced veterans of earlier Republican administrations: Brent Scowcroft, James Baker and Henry Kissinger. After 9/11 the amount of political capital available to the President for doing anything at all that could be massaged to look relevant to 9/11 increased beyond measure. This campaign for an invasion of Iraq is thus aptly understood as a supply-side war because it is not driven by a particular threat, a particularly accentuated threat or a "demand" for war associated with the struggle against Al Qaeda, but because of the combination of an enormous supply of military power and political capital and the proximity to the highest echelons of the American government of a small cabal long ago committed to just this sort of war.

The agenda of this cabal includes not so much oil (though cheap, American-controlled oil is a part of the plan) but a desire to repeat in the Middle East the "miracle" of the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the spread of democracy throughout Eastern Europe. Demonstrating the usefulness and usability of American arms is taken, by this group, to be necessary to allow the United States to get its way in other regions, and to accomplish a wide array of goals in pursuit of its hegemonic position, without always having to use force. There is also an unstated but powerful objective to transform the Arab countries in the Middle East from states putatively obsessed with irrational hatreds of a wholly innocent Israel into rational, accommodating democracies that will give up on the Palestinian problem and let right-wing Israeli governments determine the future of the occupied territories without external pressures.

Just as Pollack's book is useful for identifying the long list of reasons the fantasies of this group are likely to lead to disaster for the Middle East and for us, so too does it document this supply-side interpretation. Pollack was close to the circles that wanted a war on Iraq during the Clinton years. He and others were frustrated by the inability to move the US government toward that objective. What changed? Pollack is very clear:

We need to keep in mind that what makes any of this discussion possible is the shock to the American populace as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the public's willingness to make sacrifices and take forceful action to eliminate other such threats. This willingness may not last forever.

"This willingness may not last forever." Exactly. As the American people gain perspective on the character of the threats they do and do not face, as they learn to distinguish Al Qaeda from Iraq, and Iraq from anthrax attacks in New Jersey and Washington, and as they gain the capacity to think rationally about the costs and risks associated with various options for combating national security threats, support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq will virtually disappear. This appreciation of the closing window of political opportunity for the war is another reason for the insistence on it now and the determination to ignore all evidence to the contrary when it comes to discussion of the wisdom of that course of action.

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