And The War Came

Planet America: Our world and welcome to it

Granted, the events of September 11, 2001 afforded Bush's administration a previously imponderable opening, but that doesn't account for the size and speed of the train he has driven through it. In assessing what makes Bush tick, one errs by looking to the father. As Gore Vidal told Talk magazine shortly before the election, "The Bush family, starting with Senator Prescott Bush, father to George I, has always been a middling sort of family, undistinguished intellectually and largely ineffective politically. Nixon the Wise told Murray Kempton after Bush became president, 'There's really nothing there. He's the sort of person you appoint to things.'" Then the dark, wise old face gleamed satanically, "Now that Barbara, she's something else. Really vindictive." In this W is his mother's son. Among other things he is out to redeem his father's legacy and prove himself the better man in the process. He is also a lot like Ronald Reagan in one respect: He does an exceptional job of selling a homespun Manichean worldview (has any other president ever invoked "evil" as promiscuously as these two?) precisely because he believes in it so fervently himself. He loves lighting out after bad guys, and it shows.

But all that is merely a question of how George Bush does his job. None of it means you can understand the war in Iraq or the belligerent new course of American empire by attending to George W. Bush's personal psychodrama. Most especially it does not mean that Bush is out to wage Holy War in a literal Christian sense, as many people now fear. That shtick is just more of his underrated salesmanship, and this is serious business: a last turn at the roulette wheel of the 20th century, a bet that the post-Cold War United States can now extend its empire wherever it wishes with complete impunity, with the assurance that no nation on Earth can challenge it. This is a radical and sectarian doctrine, and Bush subscribes to it wholeheartedly without bothering himself about the particulars. But the blueprint is not his own; it has been around since the waning days of Bush I.

In 1992 the New York Times and Washington Post obtained a classified report on the future of the Pentagon and American foreign policy. Initiated shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "Defense Planning Guidance" report--written by Paul Wolfowitz and endorsed by such future eminences as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld--pointed approvingly to a world "dominated by the United States, which would maintain its superpower status through a combination of positive guidance and overwhelming military might," as David Armstrong wrote in last October's issue of Harper's. "The image was one of a heavily armed City on a Hill."

The plan foresaw a world in which America would go it alone. It asserted that the main priority of U.S. foreign--that is to say, military--policy was to prevent the emergence of a rival global power at any cost. Every audacious step we are taking now has its portent there. The only limits on the reach of empire, per the DPG, would be measured by two things: a determination to keep on building taller and taller stockpiles of the world's most advanced and formidable weapons, and the will to use them--preemptively if necessary.

Got that, M. Chirac? And so the word is made flesh. As Armstrong notes in his excellent article, this DPG-spawned imperative to proceed boldly and walk alone makes sense of a number of seemingly disparate foreign policy moves by Bush even before 9/11: the missile defense push, the break with Russia on the venerated Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the pointed refusal to be party to a new International Criminal Court. It is all proceeding to plan in Iraq. So far.

As for those of you who still want to claim this war is somehow not about oil, because after all Americans do not even rely that much on Gulf oil, please consider the following note on U.S. policy, from a recent essay by Nick Cohen in the London Observer: "The [DPG] leak explained the thinking of a part of the Washington establishment with brutal clarity. If America didn't 'stabilize'--to use a verb which seems particularly inapt at the moment--the Middle East, [then] Europe, Japan, and China, which have a far greater dependence on Gulf oil, would move in and protect their interests. Although their interventions wouldn't necessarily bother America, in the long run they would grow into powers which would challenge its authority." [Emphasis added.] As the DPG authors foresaw, there can be only one sheriff in a post-commie world.

Among a number of none-too-hardy souls still tremulously backing the war, the wail heard regularly is that Saddam is a bad guy and therefore it can't be so wrong to take him out. Iraq deserves a little U.S.-style democracy after all this time. This is the always pernicious nation-building argument. Thankfully in this case we do not have to speculate over what the U.S. might do at some later date in the name of Iraqi liberty and self-determination. The plan is already put to paper in a secret administration report discussed by the Wall Street Journal on March 17.

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