Radio Lora, 10. Januar 2011 und Alternative Radio
Santa Fee, Neu Mexiko, 21. April 2010
Der Absolvent der Militärakademie West Point und Vietnamveteran, Andrew Bacevich, lehrt an der Boston University Geschichte und Internationale Beziehungen. Er ist der Autor von „Die Grenzen der Macht“, „The New American Militarism“ und „Washington Rules“.
Es geht mir heute nicht darum, zu erklären, worin sich die Politik des Demokraten Barack Obama von der seines republikanischen Vorgängers, George W. Bush, unterscheidet, sondern zu zeigen, dass sie nichts anderes ist als die Fortsetzung der seit dem 2. Weltkrieg wohlbekannten nationalen US Sicherheitsstrategie. Ich nenne diese Tradition „The Washington Rules“ oder die Washingtoner Regeln. Sie gehören zu uns wie Memorial Day und Labor Day. Sie beruhen auf dem Credo, dass jede Weltordnung die Führungsrolle der USA akzeptieren muss. Bereits in seiner Siegesrede versprach Barack Obama, den Bogen der Geschichte hin zu einer besseren Zukunft zu biegen, und kaum im Amt, zitierte seine Außenministerin Hillary Clinton den Revolutionär Tom Paine: Zitat:“Es liegt in unserer Macht, die Welt noch einmal von vorne zu beginnen.“ Schon Ronald Reagan liebte diesen Ausspruch! Auch Obamas neue UN Botschafterin, Susan Rice, versäumte es nicht zu erwähnen, dass der Regierungswechsel in Washington, die gesamte Welt verändern könne. Und wie schon George W. Bush, erklärte sie, dass die Interessen der USA mit den Werten der Vereinten Nationen identisch seien. Dass also die Freiheit, die Sicherheit und das Wohlergehen Amerikas auf der Freiheit und Sicherheit anderer Völker beruht. Auch die Versprechungen der Obama-Regierung sind kaum weniger vollmundig als die ihrer Vorgängerin. Bush hatte geschworen, die Welt von allem Bösen zu befreien und ihr die Freiheit zu bringen. Heute, unter Obama, werde es immer mehr funktionierende Demokratien geben und Armut, Krankheit, Hunger, sowie Mütter- und Kindersterblichkeit sollen durch Verbesserungen in der Landwirtschaft, im Gesundheits- und Bildungswesen erfolgreich bekämpft werden. Mit solch großsprecherischen Visionen pocht Amerika gerne auf seinen Anspruch auf Weltführerschaft. Doch bisher ist Präsident Obama – trotz allen Taktierens – diesem Anspruch nicht gerecht geworden.
Der Glaube an den amerikanischen Führungsanspruch, das politische Credo der USA, beruht auf vier Überzeugungen:
1. Ohne eine ordnende Hand herrscht Chaos auf der Welt.
2. Nur die USA sind in der Lage, diese Ordnung herzustellen, weil keine andere Nation und erst recht keine supranationale Organisation wie etwa die Vereinten Nation, über die dazu nötige Weitsicht, Entschlossenheit und Klugheit verfügen.
3. Nur unbelehrbare Schurken widersetzen sich der weltweiten Sehnsucht nach Amerikas Führungsrolle.
4. Deshalb ist es die Aufgabe der USA, die internationalen Ordnungsrichtlinien zu definieren und durchzusetzen. So werden amerikanische Prinzipien automatisch zu weltweit geltenden Regeln.
Die Tatsache, dass sich amerikanische Prinzipien ständig ändern, rüttelt nicht an ihrer globalen Gültigkeit. Bei Atombewaffnung, zivilen Kriegsopfern, Rassen- und Frauenfragen gilt demnach jeweils das Zuletzt gesagte. Beim Dogma von der amerikanischen Weltführerschaft gibt es zwischen der Mehrheit der Republikaner und der der Demokraten keine Unterschiede. Für sie bedarf es keiner empirischen Beweise, allein der Glaube zählt. In anderen Worten: Nur die USA können die Welt führen, retten, befreien und gestalten und sie somit im Triumphzug ihrer historischen Bestimmung, einer weltumspannenden Freiheit, zuführen.
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Bis heute klingt in Washington das 1941 vom „Life“ Magazin Verleger, Henry R. Luce, ausgerufene „Amerikanische Jahrhundert“ der amerikanischen Weltherrschaft nach. Nicht von ungefähr sprach die neokonservative Rüstungslobby 1990 von einem Neuen amerikanischen Jahrhundert. Nach Henry R. Luce haben die Amerikaner nicht nur die Wahl, für welche Sache sie ihren Einfluss geltend machen, sondern auch mit welchen Mitteln. Und das bringt uns wieder zu den Washingtoner Regeln. Danach gilt: Aktionismus statt Diplomatie, Härte statt Nachgiebigkeit, Zwingen statt Überzeugen. Es sind diese Regeln, die die USA zu einer Bewaffnung verpflichten, die weit über das hinausgeht, was zu ihrer eigenen Verteidigung nötig wäre. Jedoch erst seit dem 2. Weltkrieg dient die beanspruchte Führungsrolle der USA auch als Legitimation für Gewaltanwendung. Ähnlich wie im 19. Jahrhundert die Wall Street, wurde Mitte des 20. Jahrhundert das Pentagon zu einem geheimnisvollen, mächtigen Ungeheuer. Doch während die Machtkonzentration der Wall Street noch immer Angst und Misstrauen hervorruft, betrachtet man die des Pentagon als harmlose, gelegentlich sogar beruhigende Notwendigkeit. So ist es dazu gekommen, dass ein Volk, für das lange Zeit ein stehendes Herr eine Bedrohung seiner Freiheit bedeutete, nun plötzlich glaubt, dass diese Freiheit nur durch großzügiges Alimentieren seines Militärs geschützt werden kann!
Während des Kalten Krieges fürchteten die Amerikaner – völlig zu Unrecht – den Russen unterlegen zu sein. Seit dem Ende der Sowjetunion – also lange vor dem 11. September – begründet Washington seine militärische Aufrüstung mit einer angeblich ständig wachsenden Bedrohung, nur um Amerikas Führungsanspruch als alleinige Weltmacht zu untermauern. Anders als Napoleon, das britischen Empire, Deutschland und das Israel von 1948 bis 1973 hat die amerikanische Militärmacht kein gültiges Konzept, auf das sie sich dauerhaft stützt. Mal setzt man auf Wehrpflichtige, mal auf Berufssoldaten, mal bevorzugt man die eine Waffenart, mal die andere. Andererseits gibt es seit 60 Jahren eine unumstößliche Konstante, eine Heilige Dreiheit, die besagt, dass die USA und nur die USA, Frieden und Sicherheit garantieren können, wenn sie
1. .weltweit militärisch präsent sind,
2. ihre Truppen weltweit einsetzen und
3. intervenieren, bevor ein Konflikt wirklich ausgebrochen ist.
Diese Trias funktioniert folgendermaßen: Die weltweite militärische Dauerpräsenz erstreckt sich über das Vereinigte Königreich, Deutschland, Spanien, Italien, Japan, Südkorea, den Persischen Golf, das Horn von Afrika, Zentralasien und den Westpazifik. Dieses Netz unterschiedlich großer, fester und mobiler Stützpunkte dient dazu, ohne Verzögerung jederzeit einsatzfähig zu sein. Je nach politischer Wetterlage liegt der Schwerpunkt einmal in Westeuropa und Nordostasien, oder wie jetzt gerade am Persischen Golf und in Zentralasien. Neben diesen Militärbasen verfügt man darüber hinaus auch über Nutzungsrechte an Häfen und Flughäfen und Überflugrechte über sonst unzugängliche Gebiete.
Das Kronjuwel unter den Militärbasen in strategisch günstiger Lange zwischen Afrika, Australien, Indien und der Arabischen Halbinsel, ist die von Großbritannien gepachtete Insel Diego Garcia Während der Operationen „Desert Storm“, „Enduring Freedom“ und „Iraqi Freedom“ starteten amerikanische Langstrecken Bomber von hier aus in den Irak und nach Afghanistan.
An dem Konzept der weltweiten Auslandseinsätze mit dem ausschließlichen Ziel der Machtausdehnung, änderte auch der 11. September nichts. Weil das Verteidigungsministerium schon immer nur der Verteidigung des Führungsanspruchs der USA gedient hatte und nicht dem Schutz der Bürger, musste Präsident Bush erst eilig ein Heimatschutz-Ministerium einrichten, um die Amerikaner vor möglichen weiteren Anschlägen zu bewahren.
Fort Hood in Texas ist der größte Panzerfahrzeugparkplatz der Welt. Auch hier wird nichts und niemand verteidigt, sondern es werden ausschließlich Auslandseinsätze wie im Irak und in Afghanistan geplant und vorbereitet.
Auch im neunten Jahr des Afghanistankrieges fällt es uns immer noch schwer, zu begreifen, dass unsere Soldaten in den zentralasiatischen Steppen scheitern könnten. Immer und immer wieder habe ich vergeblich versucht, meinen Studenten klarzumachen, dass der Krieg in Afghanistan etwas anderes ist als eine der üblichen Baseball Weltmeisterschaften. Sie, die am 11. September noch Teenager waren, kennen nichts anderes als amerikanische Kriege irgendwo auf der anderen Seite des Globus und halten das für völlig normal.
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Ein weiterer Hinweis darauf, wie wichtig dem Pentagon die Machterweiterung ist, zeigt sein immenses Interesse am Weltraum. Schon Bill Clinton – und nicht etwa irgendwelche verrückten Neokonservative wie Dick Cheney oder Donald Rumsfeld – forderte den uneingeschränkten Zugang zum Weltraum als Voraussetzung für unsere Sicherheit und unseren Wohlstand. Würden ähnliche Forderungen von Peking oder Moskau erhoben, hielte man dies in Washington für ein Anzeichen eines hoch gefährlichen Größenwahns.
Kommen wir nun zum Interventionismus als drittes Instrument für das Erreichen einer amerikanischen Weltherrschaft. Als Vietnamveteran neige ich dazu, die Welt hauptsächlich aus der Perspektive des Vietnamkrieges zu betrachten. Und ich mache dabei die Erfahrung, dass nach einem relativ kurzen Schockzustand, der der militärischen Niederlage folgte, der Glauben an die Doktrin der amerikanischen Dreiheit sehr schnell wieder die Oberhand gewann. Und das gelang auf folgende Weise:
Ähnlich wie die deutschen nach dem verlorenen 1. Weltkrieg, suchten nach dem Vietnamkrieg auch die amerikanischen militärischen und zivilen Eliten nach Sündenböcken. In Deutschland waren es die Juden und Linken, in den USA die Liberalen, die Akademiker und die angeblich einseitigen Medien. Hier wie dort blühten Dolchstoßlegenden. Doch nach nur knapp 15 Jahren waren beide Niederlagen vergessen und das Vertrauen in das Militär wieder hergestellt. Washington ließ wieder seine Muskeln spielen und trachtete erneut nach der Weltherrschaft.
Der Vietnamkrieg – für den nun allein Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert McNamara und General Westmoreland verantwortlich gemacht wurden – hatte also keine tieferen Schrammen an den amerikanischen Werten und den Washingtoner Regeln hinterlassen.
Ein Jahr nach dem Ende des Vietnamkrieges hatte Anthony Larke, der Sicherheitsbeauftragte von Bill Clinton und ein überzeugter Kriegsgegner, noch gefordert, dass die USA in Zukunft erst gar nicht versuchen sollten, Kriege im Keim zu ersticken, sondern sich einfach aus allen Konflikten heraushalten müssten. Doch mit der Wahl Ronald Reagans kam die alte Interventionspolitik wieder zurück, nahm im 1. Golfkrieg von Bush dem Älteren an Bedeutung zu und erreichte unter George W. Bush nach dem 11. September mit der so genannten Bush Doktrin ihren Höhepunkt. (Die Bush Doktrin sieht neben der Stationierung von US Streitkräften auf allen Kontinenten Präventivschläge gegen Nationen vor, die eine potentielle Gefährdung der USA aufweisen können).
Bisher sind der Anspruch auf Weltherrschaft und weltweite Präsenz der Kompass aller amerikanischen Politik gewesen, unabhängig davon, welche Partei an der Regierung war oder wer gerade im Weißen Haus wohnte. Heute jedoch sind die Washingtoner Regeln, das Credo und die Heilige Dreiheit überholt, wirkungslos und selbstzerstörerisch. Sie funktionierten, als Amerikas Macht und Einfluss ihren Höhepunkt erreicht hatten, doch diese Zeit ist vorbei. Die USA haben das Ansehen und das Wohlwollen, die sie sich 1945 erworben hatten, verloren. Ihr Wort gilt nichts mehr, der Traum von der Rettung der Welt und der Welt als Amerikas Spiegelbild ist ausgeträumt. Was wir heute brauchen, ist eine neue nationale Sicherheitspolitik, eine Politik für amerikanische Bürger. Statt um Afghanistan und Irak müssen wir uns um Cleveland und Detroit und seine Bürger kümmern. Was uns nach wie vor fehlt, sind Regeln für Amerikaner und keine Washingtoner Regeln.
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Würden Sie uns bitte noch die Parallelen zwischen dem Saigon von 1963 und dem Kabul von 2010 erklären, mit ihren problematischen Verbündeten, mit Korruption und einer unbeliebten Führung deren Brüder die mit Drogen handeln?
Beiden ist gemeinsam, dass wir, die einzig verbliebene Supermacht, diese Länder als Schutzbefohlene betrachten, auf die wir allerdings herzlich wenig Einfluss haben und von denen wir sogar immer öfter im Stich gelassen werden. Präsident Kennedy, und sein Vize, Lyndon B. Johnson, hofierten den südvietnamesischen Präsidenten Diem. Doch Diem war ein Versager und widersetzte sich der wachsenden amerikanischen Präsenz, und zwar so vehement, dass Kennedy fürchtete, er könne sich sogar mit der nordvietnamesischen kommunistischen Nationalen Befreiungsfront gegen die USA verbünden. Diem wurde mit Hilfe Washingtons gestürzt und später von seinen Gegnern ermordet.
Heute haben wir in Afghanistan mit Präsident Karzei eine ähnliche Situation. Je mehr Druck wir ausüben, umso weniger kooperativ und umso nationalistischer reagiert er. Erst kürzlich hat er ausgerufen: Zitat: „Vielleicht werde ich mich mit den Taliban versöhnen.“ Ich behaupte nicht, dass die Regierung Obama den Sturz von Karzai vorbereitet, aber angesichts unseres großen Engagements und des gewaltigen Einsatzes von Ressourcen könnte dies eine mögliche Option sein.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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The Washington Rules by Andrew Bacevich
Lecture, Interviewed by David Barsamian
Santa Fe, NM 21 April 2010
Andrew Bacevich is a graduate of West Point and a Vietnam War veteran. He is Professor of History and International Relations at Boston University. He is the author of “The New American Militarism,” “The Limits of Power,” and “Washington Rules.”
For those who seek to capture the essential truths of contemporary American politics, differences are interesting, but it’s the continuities that are really instructive. What really matters is not what changes when Republicans give way to Democrats or when President Obama succeeds President Bush. No, what really matters are the things that stay the same. This evening I want to talk to you about the continuities that have defined and today still continue to define the postwar tradition of U. S. national security strategy. Let’s call this tradition the Washington Rules.
The Washington Rules combine two elements, each one deeply embedded in the American collective consciousness. We take them as given. They’ve long since become part of our national wallpaper. Like Memorial Day marking the unofficial start of summer or Labor Day signifying its end, the Washington Rules number among the things we choose to believe not because they are true but because they are expedient – or least we think they are.
The first element consists of a series of assertions about how the international order ought to work along with the role assigned to the United States to ensure that the order functions as intended. Call this the Credo. Speaking to the throngs gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park on the night of his election to the presidency, Barak Obama signaled his allegiance to the Credo when summoned his fellow citizens “to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”1
That history follows a discernible direction and that Americans are called upon to determine its trajectory are propositions that his listeners likely took for granted. Americans have long since become accustomed to their leaders asserting such claims. Such rhetoric serves multiple purposes, one of which is to validate a set of assumptions regarding international politics and the place occupied by the United States in the global order.
Bending the arc of history necessarily entails vast exertions on a sustained basis. It implies a capacity to discern the arc’s proper shape. It implies not only the possession of great power, but also a willingness to expend that power to ensure the accomplishment of history’s purposes. In what was billed as her first major foreign policy address, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, made the point explicitly. Citing with approval the famous words of the Revolutionary era radical Tom Paine – “We have it within our power to begin the world over again” (This had been one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite quotations, by the way) – Clinton went on to declare that “Today … we are called upon to use that power.”
Susan Rice, appointed by President Obama to head the U. S. mission at the United Nations, was quick to chime in, announcing “the change that has come to America can also change the world.” In a speech intended to highlight how much American statecraft has changed now that the White House was under fresh occupancy, Rice managed instead to highlight the essentials that remained the same. “In today’s world, more than ever,” Rice announced, “America’s interests and our values converge.” Four years earlier, George W. Bush had let it be known that “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”
According to Rice, “America’s security and wellbeing are inextricably linked to those of people everywhere.” As Bush put it back in 2005, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other.
The emphasis may have shifted from liberation to uplift, but the Obama team’s ambitions and expectations were hardly less grandiose than those of the previous administration. President Bush had vowed to eliminate evil and spread freedom; Rice promised that President Obama would “grow the ranks of capable, democratic states.” America was going “to reduce poverty, disease, and hunger, to end preventable deaths of mothers and children, and to build self-sufficiency in agriculture, health, and education.” This self-adulatory vision constitutes the essence of what Americans commonly understand by the phrase “global leadership.” In his speech at Grant Park, Barak Obama was implicitly affirming his commitment to all that is signified by that phrase. Clinton and Rice reinforced that commitment. Change was coming to America but change did not mean that the United States was about to shirk its responsibilities. On the contrary: It would continue to lead. As Rice put it, “the United States is back.”
Since taking office, President Obama and his administration have acted on many fronts to adjust the way that the United States exercises that leadership. Yet these adjustments have seldom risen above the tactical. When it comes to fundamentals, the administration has stood firm: The credo to which every president since 1945 has subscribed persists. On this score change has not come to America.
This credo derives from four convictions, as firmly lodged in present-day Washington as they were sixty years ago.
According to the first of those convictions, the world must be organized or shaped – the alternative being chaos.
Second, only the United States possesses the capacity to perform that function. No other nation possesses the vision, will, and wisdom required to lead. Apart from America, no other nation (and certainly no supra-national institution – forget the UN) ought to be entrusted with that role.
Third, rogues and recalcitrants apart, everyone understands and accepts this reality. Despite pro forma grumbling, therefore, the world wants the United States to serve as global leader.
Fourth, America’s writ therefore includes the charge of specifying and enforcing the principles that should define the international order. Those principles are necessarily American principles, which possess universal validity.
The fact that specific American principles are in a constant state of flux in no way compromises their universality. However much American attitudes regarding nuclear weapons or noncombatant casualties or race or women’s rights may change, the most recent articulation of principle is the one that counts and to which others must conform. Mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats are equally devoted to this catechism. Within Washington this concept of American global leadership qualifies as dogma. Little empirical evidence is available to demonstrate its validity. Yet when it comes to matters of faith, proof is unnecessary. Adherence to the credo by definition has become a matter of faith.
In simplest terms, the credo summons the United States – and the United States alone – to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world, bringing history to its intended destination, namely, the universal triumph of freedom. In a celebrated manifesto, Life magazine, February 1941, issued at the dawn of what he termed the “American Century,” the publisher Henry R. Luce made the case for this spacious conception of global leadership. In exhorting his fellow citizens to “accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit,” Luce captured what remains even today the credo’s essence.
Luce’s concept of an American Century – an age of unquestioned American global dominion – resonated, especially in Washington. His evocative phrase stuck and embedded itself into the lexicon of national politics. Not for nothing did the neoconservatives who in the 1990s lobbied for more militant U. S. policies dub their enterprise the Project for a New American Century. So too did Luce’s expansive claim of prerogatives to be exercised by the United States. Even today, whenever public figures allude to America’s responsibility to lead, they are signaling their fidelity to the credo, which along with respectful allusions to God and “the troops” has become a prerequisite for high office.
Recall that Luce’s articulation of America’s duty has two components. It is not only up to Americans, he wrote, to choose the purposes for which they would bring their influence to bear, but to choose the means as well. Here we confront the second element of the postwar tradition of American statecraft – part two of the Washington Rules.
With regard to means, the Washington Rules have emphasized activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion (often styled as “negotiating from a position of strength”) over suasion. The exercise of global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities far in excess of those required for self-defense. Indeed, self-defense per se barely qualifies as even an afterthought.
Again, mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats are committed to the proposition that fulfilling America’s responsibility to lead implies the availability of coercive power and a willingness to use that power. Americans take for granted the existence this approach to global leadership and are therefore blind to its significance. They also take for granted the triad of military principles to which Washington adheres in translating intent into action. Prior to World War II, Americans by and large had viewed military power and institutions with skepticism, if not outright hostility. In the wake of World War II, all that changed. An affinity for military might emerged as central to the American identity. By the midpoint of the twentieth century, “the Pentagon” had ceased to be a mere building. Like “Wall Street” at the end of the nineteenth century, it had become Leviathan, its actions veiled in secrecy, its reach extending around the world.
Yet whereas the concentration of power in Wall Street had evoked and still evokes fear and suspicion, Americans by and large accepted the concentration of power in the Pentagon as benign. Most, not all judged this new military ascendancy to be both necessary and reassuring. A people who had long viewed standing armies as a threat to liberty now came to believe that the preservation of liberty required them to lavish resources on their armed forces.
During the Cold War, Americans worried ceaselessly about falling behind the Russians even though the Pentagon consistently maintained a position of overall primacy. Once the Soviet threat disappeared, mere primacy no longer sufficed. Amidst claims emanating from Washington that the world was becoming more dangerous than ever – this was years before 9/11 — unquestioned military supremacy now emerged as an essential predicate to global leadership. The United States now laid claim to the status of sole superpower, the Pentagon committing itself to what it called Full Spectrum Dominance.
Every great military power has its distinctive signature. For Napoleonic France, it was the levee en masse – the people in arms animated by the ideals of the Revolution. For Great Britain in the heyday of empire, it was command of the seas, sustained by a dominant fleet and a network of far-flung outposts from Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope to Singapore and Hong Kong. For Germany from the 1860s to the 1940s (and for Israel from the 1948 to 1973), it was superiority in the conduct of combined arms warfare – a potent blend of toughness, tactical flexibility, and operational audacity.
The abiding signature of American military power since World War II has been of a different order altogether. The United States has not specialized in any one particular type of war. Its armed forces have not adhered to a fixed style. No single service or weapon has enjoyed consistent favor. At times, the military has relied on citizen-soldiers to fill its ranks. At other times, like today, it has shown a preference for long-service professionals.
Yet an examination of the past sixty years of U. S. military policy and practice does reveal important elements of continuity. Call them the Sacred Trinity: an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and security require the United States – and the United States alone – first, to maintain a global military presence, second, to configure its forces for global power projection, and third, to counter threats before they fully form, manifested in a penchant for global interventionism.
I want to take a couple of minutes to map this trinity and to explain how it functions. Let’s start with global military presence. Simply put, U. S. forces occupy bases around the world. They do so on what can only be termed a permanent basis – in the United Kingdom and Germany, in Spain and Italy, Japan and South Korea, in the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa, in Central Asia and the Western Pacific. There are literally hundreds of U. S. military facilities scattered around the globe, many of them small, several dozen of them very large indeed, none of them unimportant. Not long ago, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, an influential military thinker, described these facilities as “nodes or hubs in a worldwide system of moving U. S. military forces anywhere we need them to go.”
Note that the system’s purpose is not to defend any one place, but to provide decision-makers with the flexibility to deploy U. S. military power virtually anywhere. This worldwide system of nodes and hubs – an empire of bases, in Chalmers Johnson’s apt phrase — is not fixed. It is instead in continuous flux, adapting to reigning or emerging strategic priorities. When I was a serving officer back during the Cold War, Western Europe and Northeast Asia constituted the twin poles of this empire. Today, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia occupy center stage.
The empire also includes mobile nodes, endowing the United States with a capability to position assets wherever they might be needed. I refer here to the navy’s carrier battle groups and the Marine expeditionary units that are always afloat, positioned to demonstrate U. S. concern or in anticipation of actual employment.
As important as bases, whether fixed or mobile, are the agreements that the United States negotiates with various countries to permit access to ports or airfields in the event of various contingencies or to allow U. S. military aircraft to overfly their territory – all of these agreements facilitating the employment of U. S. military power in places that might otherwise seem inaccessible.
The crown jewel in this empire of bases may well be Diego Garcia, a British-owned, U. S.-leased property in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Diego Garcia possesses essentially no economic value. Unlike, say, Gibraltar, it does not sit astride a significant maritime choke point. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Yet its strategic value is incalculable. To convert Diego Garcia into a military base back in the 1970s, the United States and Great Britain collaborated in expelling its inhabitants. Since then the island has acquired an importance akin to that of Singapore back in the heyday of British power.
Although there are no combat forces stationed on Diego Garcia, the United States maintains a small fleet of ships there, uploaded with equipment needed to facilitate intervention by air and ground forces anywhere in the region. The island provides an important link in the Pentagon’s network of strategic communications. There is a large airfield, its runway long enough to accommodate the space shuttle if need be. The airfield serves as a transit point — at least two post-9/11 rendition flights stopped in Diego Garcia to refuel — and as a staging area for air strikes. During Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom, long-range bombers operated out of Diego Garcia to attack targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you wanted to visit one place that might best capture the essence of the U. S. global military presence, Diego Garcia would be that place. Except you can’t go there – apart from the third-world contract labor force that maintains the place, Diego Garcia is off-limits to civilians.
Let’s turn to the second element in the sacred trinity, namely, the practice of configuring U. S. forces not to defend the United States but for purposes of power projection. Recall he Bush administration responded to 9/11 by creating a new cabinet agency – the Department of Homeland Security – to assume responsibility for protecting the United States proper from any further attack. The focus of the inappropriately named Department of Defense remained elsewhere. Indeed, near the top of the long list of things that 9/11 did not change is the de facto mission of the Department of Defense. The Pentagon has never wavered from the conviction that its fundamental purpose is to fight “out there” rather than giving serious attention to protecting us “back here.”
Perhaps the best-known U. S. Army post in the continental United States is Fort Hood, located in central Texas midway between Dallas and San Antonio. Fort Hood is home to probably the largest concentration of armored vehicles on the face of the earth – two full divisions, a corps headquarters, and a host of support units. Look up “fort” in your dictionary and you’ll find a definition that goes something like this: “a building or place fortified for defensive or protective purposes.” Yet Fort Hood does not exist not to defend Texas from invasion. It doesn’t protect anything – not even nearby Killeen. It is instead a reservoir of combat capability on which policymakers in Washington draw to dispatch soldiers to fight in distant places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything that happens at Fort Hood – the way units train and equip, the contingency plans that they study and hone – derives from the expectation that the central rationale of the United States military exists to fight “out there,” wherever “out there” may happen to be.
Almost nine years into the Afghanistan War it has become almost impossible for us to appreciate how extraordinary it is that U. S. forces should find themselves bogged down in a war on the steppes of Central Asia. I’ve made repeated efforts to get my students at BU to see the Afghanistan War as something other than a routine event. It’s not a ho-hum occasion like the Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics snagging another world championship. I have failed time and again. Perhaps it’s understandable: after all, today’s undergraduates were preteens when 9/11 occurred. All they have known since becoming conscious of politics is that U. S. forces are actively engaged in combat operations somewhere on the other side of the world. They have been conditioned to take war for granted.
To illustrate the extent to which power projection has become the design parameter that determines the character and configuration of U. S. forces, let us consider the way that outer space is emerging as a Pentagon priority. Contemplate this brief quotation: “Unimpeded access to and use of space is essential for protecting U.S. national security and promoting our prosperity….. U.S. space policy is to promote development of the full range of space-based capabilities in a manner that protects our vital security interests. We will deter threats to our interests, and if deterrence fails, defeat hostile efforts against U.S. access to and use of space.”
Who wrote that? Crazed neoconservatives? Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld perhaps? No, it comes from a document called “A National Security Strategy for a New Century,” published in October 1998 under the signature of President Bill Clinton – although expressing sentiments that Cheney and Rumsfeld would certainly endorse. Put simply, the Pentagon views unimpeded access to outer space as an essential predicate to projecting U. S. power on land, in the atmosphere, and on and under the seas. Therefore, the United States must develop the ability to project its power in space itself, in order to gain control of this “ultimate high ground.” Now please ask yourself how Washington would react if officials in Beijing or Moscow made similar statements describing the minimum essential requirements of Chinese or Russian national security. Coming from others, U. S. officials would see such claims as prima facie evidence of megalomania or worse.
Finally, let us turn to the sacred trinity’s third element, which manifests itself in a penchant for intervention – marrying global presence to global power projection capabilities thereby fulfilling the expectations of the American Credo of global leadership. I happen to be a Vietnam veteran. I mention that only by way of admitting that like many others of my generation I tend to attribute to the Vietnam War enormous significance – more significance than it probably deserves. Vietnam colors the lens through which I view the world. That said, the further Vietnam recedes into the past the more it becomes apparent even to me that an event once thought to be a watershed turned out to be anything but that. Considered in retrospect, what distinguishes the legacy of Vietnam is not how much things changed but how little. Seldom has a war been so fervently memorialized even as it was being so thoroughly drained of meaning.
Defeat in Vietnam seemingly left the sacred trinity in tatters. Americans had had a bellyful of war. That within five years of Saigon’s fall the trinity was well on its way to recovery therefore qualifies as remarkable. That within another decade the so-called Vietnam Syndrome, a reluctance to use force except in extremis, had all but vanished and had given way to a new era of unprecedented interventionism deserves to be seen as astonishing. How did this happen?
American elites, both civilian and military, reacted to defeat in Vietnam much as German elites, both civilian and military, had reacted to defeat in the Great War of 1914-1918. Priority number one was to identify scapegoats. In both countries, stab-in-the-back theories flourished, Jews and leftists being blamed in Germany, liberals, academics, and a putatively biased media being singled out for abuse in the United States.
Priority number two was to begin the hard work of reversing the war’s apparent verdict. In both countries, this effort met with considerable success, at least in the near term. In the case of both Germany and the United States, a bitter defeat thought to mark a historical turning point turned out to be nothing of the sort. Fifteen years after the armistice of 1918, Germany was back, its ambitions bigger than ever and its confidence in the German soldier restored. Fifteen years after the fall of Saigon, the same could be said of the United States.
By 1990, Washington had reasserted its claims to global leadership. Indeed, as the Cold War wound down, those claims became all the more expansive. Having seemingly vanquished all challengers, Washington saw no reason not to flex its muscles. Americans were well on the way to rediscovering the allure of global presence, forces configured for global power projection, and for policies emphasizing global interventionism. In this sense Vietnam had been rendered irrelevant.
How to explain this turn-around? A large measure of credit belongs to those who bent themselves to the task of discerning and then interpreting the lessons of failure. In post-1918 Germany, that work fell primarily to the officer corps, which reached conclusions that meshed, for a time, with the ambitions of the ascendant Nazi Party. In the United States after Vietnam, the search for lessons also preoccupied the officer corps, which reached conclusions that proved compatible, for a time, with the views of the permanent foreign policy establishment.
In the end though, the views of the officer corps – both German and American soldiers were intent on restoring the prestige and autonomy of the military profession – mattered less than those of the civilian elites. Elite concern elevated one issue above all others: damage limitation to facilitate restoration of the status quo ante bellum, repealing the outcome decided on the field of battle. True in Germany during the 1920s, this was true as well in the United States during the 1970s.
Rejecting the claims made by the most ardent critics of the war back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the defenders of Washington Rules insisted that Vietnam signified nothing essential about the United States as such. The policies that landed the country in that war and the way that the war was conducted had not revealed any large truths about American values or the American system. Mistakes were made – with Lyndon Johnson, Robert S. McNamara, and General William C. Westmoreland singled out as favorite villains – and it was important to identify those mistakes lest they be repeated, but that was about it. Washington asked itself if the war had called into question the Washington Rules and Washington replied with a resounding “No.”
Let me illustrate the point by citing views expressed by Anthony Lake in a post-Vietnam “lesson learned” project sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Lake, as many of you know, served as national security adviser during President Clinton’s first term. Two decades earlier he had resigned in a huff from a position in the Nixon White House, in protest against Vietnam. That had given him what passes in Washington as a reputation for integrity.
Yet as early as 1976 – one year after the fall of Saigon — Lake was warning a new danger: a result of Vietnam the United States might succumb to what Lake called a “mean-spirited foreign policy,” reminiscent of the period between the world wars. He worried that “a Vietnam analogy” could “amend or replace the Munich analogy,” with Americans concluding “that the United States should avoid foreign wars not by nipping them in the bud, but simply by staying out of them.” Events soon demonstrated that Lake need not have stayed up nights worrying about the United States avoiding wars.
With the election of Ronald Reagan, interventionism began its return to fashion, reinforced during the administration of the elder Bush by the first Persian Gulf War, endowed with the seal of bipartisanship during the Clinton era, before finally reaching its apotheosis after 9/11 when a determination to nip wars in the bud found expression in the infamous Bush Doctrine.
To sum up then, credo and trinity – the one defining purpose, the other practice – constitute the essence of the way that Washington has attempted to govern and to police the American Century. The relationship between the two is symbiotic. The trinity lends plausibility to the credo’s vast claims. The credo in turn justifies the trinity’s vast requirements and exertions.
Together they describe an enduring consensus that assigns a consistent azimuth to U. S. policy regardless of which political party may hold the upper hand or who may be occupying the White House. From the Era of Harry Truman to the Age of Barak Obama, that consensus has remained intact. It defines the rules to which Washington adheres; it determines the precepts by which Washington has sought to rule.
Well, so what? Why not celebrate or at least accept the Credo and the Trinity and promote them as a way to extend the life of the American Century for at least another century, if not two or three? The answer is simply this: the Washington Rules have become obsolete. They no longer work as intended. To persist in our allegiance to the Credo and the Trinity is to pursue a path of willful self-destruction. The Washington Rules were forged at a moment when American influence and power had reached their acme. That moment has now passed.
The United States has depleted the stores of authority and good will it had acquired by 1945. Words uttered in Washington no longer command automatic deference or even respect. Americans can ill-afford to indulge any longer in dreams of saving the world or remaking it in America’s image. The curtain has rung down on the American Century.
Similarly, bluntly speaking, the United States no longer possesses sufficient wherewithal to sustain a national security strategy that relies on a global military presence and global power projection to underwrite a policy of global interventionism. Touted as essential to peace, adherence to that strategy has propelled the United States into a condition approximating perpetual war, as the military misadventures of the past decade have demonstrated. As a consequence we are well on our way to breaking the bank and we may yet break the force as well.
To anyone with eyes to see, the shortcomings inherent in the Washington Rules have become self-evident. Although those most deeply invested in perpetuating those rules will insist otherwise, the fact is that the tradition to which Washington remains devoted has begun to unravel. Attempting to prolong its existence might serve Washington’s interests, but it will not serve the interests of the American people. Devising an alternative to the reigning national security paradigm will pose a daunting challenge – especially if Americans look to “Washington” for fresh thinking. Yet the imperative of replacing that paradigm may yet offer the key to our salvation.
In one sense, the national security policies to which Washington continues to adhere express what has long been the preferred American approach to engaging the world beyond our borders, that approach playing to America’s presumed strong suit, commonly thought to be military might. In another sense, however, those policies have enabled the United States to avoid serious engagement: confidence in American arms makes it unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own. In this way, the Washington Rules reinforce American provincialism – a tendency for which the United States continues to pay dearly.
Worse still, the persistence of these rules has also provided Americans an excuse to avoid serious self-engagement. From this perspective, confidence that the credo and the trinity will oblige others to accommodate themselves to America’s needs or desires – whether for cheap oil, cheap credit, or cheap consumer goods – has allowed the United States to ignore or defer problems demanding attention here at home.
Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit. Purporting to support the troops in their crusade to free the world obviates any obligation to assess the actually existing exercise of freedom here at home. When Americans demonstrate a willingness to engage seriously with others combined with the courage to engage seriously with themselves, the possibility of devising new rules, American rules rather than Washington rules – may present itself. Thank you for your attention.
Gore Vidal said a few years ago that we live in the U.S.A., the United States of Amnesia. History is largely forgotten or not even taught. You are a historian. I want to hear your thoughts on the parallels between Saigon in 1963 and Kabul in 2010-with problematic allies, with corruption rife, with leaders who are deeply unpopular among their own population, and, in fact, brothers who are directly implicated in drug trafficking, with Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, and Hamid Karzai and his brother, Wali.
I think the most important thing that comparing those circumstances reminds me of is how we deceive ourselves in thinking that as the sole superpower forging relations with a country that we frankly view as a client, how limited our leverage actually proves to be, and how, in a perverse way, we almost become the client of the smaller state and find ourselves boxed in, and once boxed in, tending to do stupid things. In 1963, President Kennedy and his administration had very much upped the ante with regard to the American commitment to South Vietnam well beyond what had been begun by President Eisenhower. Vice President Lyndon Johnson had famously traveled to Saigon and publicly proclaimed that President Diem was the Churchill of Asia.
The problem was that Diem was both ineffective and uncooperative. And as the U.S. military presence grew in size and in demands, Diem became increasingly resentful and resistant to following American orders. So much so that U.S. intelligence agencies, at least, believed that Diem and his brother would be willing to cut a deal with the National Liberation Front and potentially with North Vietnam to get the Americans out and have Vietnam’s problems be solved by Vietnamese. That prospect was viewed with such alarm by the people in the Kennedy administration that what follows was U.S. complicity in a coup that overthrew Diem, led to his murder, and then produced chaos in South Vietnam. It made it that much for difficult to get out.
What we have today is somewhat a comparable situation with President Karzai. The more we impose demands, the larger our presence becomes, seemingly the less cooperative he is becoming, the more nationalistic. To the point where I think a week ago he sort of threw out the comment, “Maybe I’ll reconcile with the Taliban.” I’m not trying to suggest to you that therefore the Obama administration is plotting Karzai’s overthrow, although it’s possible. I am saying that that’s suggestive of the extent to which, when we make these commitments and invest such enormous resources, we find ourselves in this perverse situation where our options become every narrower and every less desirable.
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Pakistan over the last few years, and I’ve been to Afghanistan as well. I can report that the great expansion of these bombing attacks, the drones, on Pakistan, has generated an enormous amount of hostility, animosity, loathing for the U.S. Obama has greatly expanded the war in Pakistan, a country with acute internal problems that is in danger of unraveling. What might you think is motivating Obama? And, again to go back into history, you will remember that Nixon used the sanctuary argument in the late 1960s and early 1970s to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia and Laos.
It’s very perplexing. I was in the camp that interpreted his hawkish rhetoric during the campaign, specifically with regard to Afghanistan, as designed to protect himself from the typical charge directed at liberal Democrats that they’re national security wimps. He was the anti-Iraq War candidate, and he needed to nonetheless project an image of toughness. Posturing toward Afghanistan allowed him to do that. And yet all of his actions since becoming president suggest that that wasn’t simply about politics. And I find it perplexing.
I find his decision to escalate in Afghanistan perplexing. I find the ever-increasing U.S. military involvement in Pakistan perplexing. Both because the Afghanistan war makes no strategic sense, in my judgment, and because U.S. activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan are serving to destabilize Pakistan, not make the place more stable. So why is the president doing these things?
My two speculative answers would be, number one, he has surrounded himself with very orthodox and conventional thinkers with regard to national security. And I think he’s probably getting advice that very much is consistent with the kind of notions that I was talking about. When you name a retired four-star Marine as a national security adviser and a retired four-star officer as director of national intelligence, you carry over your Secretary of Defense from the previous administration, and when you appoint Hillary Clinton, who is no dove, as Secretary of State, you’re not likely to get a wide range of views on issues. That’s answer number one.
Answer number two is even more speculative, and that is that presidents can’t do all things. If this president in essence decided that domestic reform was going to be his first-term priority, he might have chosen to kick national-security issues down the road to a second term, in essence to reinforce the status quo with regard to national security. The decisions he’s made with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan are exactly the same decisions that John McCain would have made had we elected him president. There is no difference at all.
In fact, you wrote in your August 24, 2008 L.A. Times op-ed piece, don’t expect much, it’s going to be pretty much business as usual because of these deeply entrenched patterns.
There is another specific issue here, I think, that has to do with the relative balance between senior officers and senior civilian officials. When President Bush in 2006 announced his so-called surge and appointed General Petraeus to implement that policy, and when the surge produced results which in my judgment fall well short of anything constituting a victory but which nonetheless prevented outright defeat in Iraq, the result of that was to, I think, greatly enhance the political clout of the officer corps, or at least certain members, specifically Petraeus, and by extension the guy who has become Petraeus’s deputy, not in an official sense, General McChrystal. So that they are the principal uniformed advocates of this notion that counterinsurgency should constitute the new American way of war, and that the “success” achieved in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan and presumably elsewhere. And I think that given the amount of influence that somebody like General Petraeus has acquired, that also makes it that much more difficult for any president to say, “We’re not going to go that way.”
When generals like Petraeus and McChrystal testify in front of Congress, they get very deferential treatment, they’re almost treated like rock stars. I remember a few years ago when Cokie Roberts, of National Public Radio, said whenever she sees someone in uniform with a lot of medals, she just starts to melt. That’s the liberal National Public Radio. You in a conversation with Bill Moyers a couple of Fridays ago were very critical of McChrystal and what he is doing in Afghanistan. I was wondering if these were just tactical differences you have with U.S. policy and U.S. commanders, or is it something deeper, about overall strategies and what the country is doing in South Asia, in West Asia?
If I could give you a short lesson on global military history since 1945-Hiroshima seemed to prove that war was senseless, that force could no longer be used purposefully to advance a political agenda. By extension, that meant that the military profession no longer had any claim to status and stature. So the officer corps after 1945 set out to reinvent war and to prove that war still worked, to prove that force could be employed without destroying civilization to achieve political purposes at a reasonable cost. In particular, the post-Vietnam officer corps of this country was devoted to that proposition: It was devoted to the notion that battle works, that in a collision between opposing armies, the outcome of that collision would quickly determine a political outcome. Indeed, the American officer corps and many Americans misinterpreted Operation Desert Storm back in 1991 as validating this notion. We sent our solders to Saudi Arabia, they beat up Saddam Hussein’s army, they liberated Kuwait, they quickly came home, we had parades.
That conception of warfare informed the planning of both the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. And initially in the both places events seemed to once again affirm that model. But in Iraq, and then in Afghanistan, the model collapsed. We didn’t get decision in Iraq. What we got was long, drawn-out, protracted, inconclusive, incredibly costly and incredibly ugly struggle.
So what the American officer corps then did-and this is where Petraeus’s influence is so significant-they abandoned the idea that battle works. You don’t hear McChrystal or Petraeus talking about gaining a military victory. What you hear them talking now, they sound more like the social reformer Jane Addams than they sound like George Patton. They talk about how eliminating corruption and creating good governance and encouraging economic development and protecting the rights of women is going to be the way by which the U.S. is going to achieve its political purposes. It doesn’t happen through battle. It doesn’t happen quickly, it doesn’t happen easily. It happens through these incredibly long, drawn-out, complicated imperial adventures. That to me is one of the most striking things that’s happened. This abandonment of traditional thinking about warfare by the officer corps is one of the most striking things I think that’s happened in recent memory.
I note you used the adjective “imperial,” something that the media refrain from using when talking about U.S. policy. Starting with John Winthrop’s City on the Hill to Reagan’s rhetoric of the 1980s, and Madeleine Albright’s “America is the indispensable nation,” this notion of American exceptionalism seems also to be deep-rooted in Washington Rules, that somehow through this magic of divine providence or something called history, history has caused the U.S. to be put in this position. What about reversing some of these notions with a different kind of way of thinking that’s more imaginative and creative in terms of the realities the U.S. is facing today?
That’s where I think it’s where we teachers have to be conscious of how difficult the challenge we face and perhaps how poorly we have faced up to this challenge. It is not as if there are no critical treatments of American history. Earlier this afternoon we were talking about Howard Zinn’s recent passing. His People’s History of United States has sold some 2 million copies. What’s striking is the extent to which none of that really sticks. That there seems to be a hard-wired preference for a different version of American history that is one in which we don’t want to think seriously about the past. When you were sort of jabbing me about using religiously loaded language in the talk-and I do that consciously-that’s my little evangelical thing. I’m trying to promote Catholicism in my own little way.
It’s a tough sell these days.
It’s a very tough sell these days. But I think that the religious language in a sense is appropriate because this notion of American exceptionalism does have a religious aspect to it. And therefore it is immune to empirical evidence. The politicians reinforce it. That’s why I began with that quote from President Obama. They constantly reinforce this notion of American chosenness, of American specialness, of American mission, of America’s ability to discern history’s purposes. But it’s not fair to put all the blame on them, because they say those things because they’re saying things that they are confident we want to hear. So you get this endless self-perpetuating process. It’s an insidious thing.
As a member of the media, I have to solicit your views on what role the media play in constructing popular opinion.
I think until recently I myself have not been a very critical observer of the mainstream media. But increasingly I now begin to grasp the extent to which the Times, the Post, the network news organizations do tend in a way to amplify whatever the conventional wisdom is in Washington. They do it in ways that are not obvious. They make sort of a pretense of asking questions. But if Washington says that the three most important issues of the day are A, B, C, then ABC is going to report that the three most important issues of the day are A, B, and C.
Your reference to the unwillingness to use terms like “imperial,” to view U.S. policy through the lens of empire, which The New York Times would never touch-maybe an occasional op-ed, but in terms of a framework for reporting-I think is indicative of the way that they fail us. They are themselves part of the establishment. The people who run the networks, who run the papers frankly want to be part of the establishment. They want to go to the cocktail parties. They want to imagine that Rahm Emmanuel actually cares what they think. And he will try to make sure that they think that he cares what they think.
We have embedded journalism, literally, today.
Journalists in bed with political elites. That must be uncomfortable. Chalmers Johnson has compared the U.S. today-of course, all historical situations are not identical or analogous-with Rome in terms of wars that are being fought in far-off places that are draining the national treasury, increasing immiseration and pauperization of the population at home. What kind of credence do you give to that kind of analysis?
I think we all sort of push back a little bit, but I don’t want to carry those kinds of analogies too far. I think you can make the case for American decline without making a comparison with Rome. Just the absolute refusal to live within our means is something that, to my way of thinking, cannot persist indefinitely. I think most of us know that. But most of us are unwilling to make the sacrifices in the way we live that will be required to restore some sense of equilibrium. Again, you can blame Madison Avenue for bombarding us with messages about all the stupid trinkets that we supposedly have to have to be happy, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we can absolve ourselves of responsibility. We collectively, as citizens of a republic.
And what can’t last doesn’t last. It’s interesting that Obama in his State of the Union Address lectured the country on living within its means, like a family would live within a budget, at the same time announcing a fairly significant increase in military spending. The Pentagon seems to be immune from the austerity that is being demanded from other government departments, like education,
It’s politically difficult to do that. It would take political courage to-
Cut the Pentagon budget.
To my mind, you wouldn’t begin by saying, “I’m the president. I’ve decided the budget is too big.” I think you begin by saying, “I’m the president, and I’ve contemplated the trajectory of U.S. security policy over the last 60 years, and we’re going in the wrong direction. We are adhering to principles that are false. And I’m going to articulate a new set of principles. Based on that new set of principles, it would be quite likely that you would not require the level of military spending that we now take for granted.” So you begin with the policy and the principles, and then you get to the budget.
It seems that Washington is now projecting China as the looming threat to its hegemony. China, which recently became the number one exporter in the world. It just passed Japan as the number two economy in the world and will pass the U.S. within several decades. Clearly, China is on the ascendancy while U.S. power and influence is waning. What do you hear from your contacts in the military about a potential confrontation with China?
I really don’t have very many contacts. But clearly there are those who believe that there is a confrontation looming just beyond the horizon with this rising power. I must say I’m very skeptical that it may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we’re stupid. I’m not a China expert, I’ve only been a China once, but the rate of change has to be seen to be believed and the problems they have domestically are mammoth-demographic problems, environmental problems, problems of maldistribution of development.
So it’s not as if everything is hunky-dory. More importantly, I think, is, what has China historically aspired to be as a power? I think I’m safe in saying, they have never aspired to be the global hegemon. They have never expressed a determination to have Chinese values prevail around the world. We do that. So I’m sure that the Chinese will be a great power, that they will demand to be treated with respect, as the respect deserving a great power. I am sure that there will be times and places where our interests and their interests are going to not coincide. But the notion that somehow we should gear ourselves up for some great competition with the Chinese to see who’s going to control the world strikes me as really stupid.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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