Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions (2003) (3 page)

BOOK: Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions (2003)
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Thus, on issue after issue, many of our friends and allies take a point of view almost completely contrary to our own. Are they idiots? Wimps? Corrupt? While it would be comforting to suppose so, the fact is that it is usually we who are the odd man out. As a nation, we are an outlier. We often don’t realize it because of our very size, which tends to blinker our view of others, and of our power, which allows us to assume that our standard or our view is the globally dominant one, or should be. (Thus, on a parochial level, we cling to miles, inches, and Fahrenheit degrees even though the rest of the world long ago moved to the far simpler metric system.) The really perverse aspect of this phenomenon is that because of our power, the rest of the world accommodates us, thereby enabling us to remain blinkered.

While the rest of the world watches America carefully and takes its views into account, Americans are often unaware that other views even exist – or if aware, they don’t care. The thing that most irritates foreigners about American unilateralism is not our conscious policy decisions but the obliviousness behind those policies.

Furthermore, as I shall discuss, our sense of mission and self-righteousness makes it hard for us to hear. On the one hand, we don’t listen very well because we don’t have to, and we tend, in any case, to believe that no one else has much worthwhile to tell us. On the other hand, the rest of the world avoids telling us unpleasant truths because it fears to annoy us. An indication of how blinkered we are is reflected in the results of a massive global public opinion poll done in 2002 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. These results confirmed what I had been hearing in my travels and interviews: namely, that while there is still a reservoir of good will toward the United States, its water level is falling. Two findings, in particular, were significant for my discussion in this book. When asked if America considers others in its policy making, 75 percent of Americans said yes; but in nearly every other country, large majorities said no. A second question asked respondents to give their opinion, first, of Americans as people and, then, of America as a country. The answers showed more positive views of individual Americans than of the country as a whole. For example, in Jordan only 25 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the United States, while 53 percent said they liked Americans. Similar figures were obtained throughout the Middle East. All of which seems to confirm that people abroad like us better than they like what we do.

Thus while our intentions are usually honorable, we are capable of making atrocious mistakes. The attacks of September 11 are a perfect example. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have taken a Sherlock Holmes to deduce impending danger from clues that were lying around, even on the desk of our National Security Adviser. But we couldn’t hear because we didn’t think we had to listen. Or think of Vietnam. The French had taken a terrible licking before us – but they were the French. Hadn’t they given up as soon as they got a whiff of German lead in World War II? Besides, we weren’t trying to re-establish some empire. Our motives were pure. We were fighting godless communism and trying to stop the dominoes from falling. There was just one problem: We didn’t have a clue that communism had nothing to do with it. It was all about nationalism and independence, something that we of all people should have understood, but didn’t because we didn’t pay attention.

It was like a personal experience I had as a graduate student in Japan in the early 1960
s
. I had been studying Japanese for two years, and while not perfect, I wasn’t bad either. One day at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, I asked the information booth attendant a question in Japanese. In English she replied that she spoke only a few words of English and thus couldn’t answer my question. I then turned to my Chinese wife, who did not speak Japanese, and told her what to say. When my wife repeated my question in Japanese, the attendant responded at once, also in Japanese with the desired information. My point is that the attendant
knew
foreigners can’t speak Japanese, and so couldn’t understand her own language when spoken by someone who did not look Japanese. In the same way we Americans often fail to understand because we project ourselves onto the situation.

It is not that we are always wrong while other countries are right. In the case of the Kyoto Treaty, for example, there are good arguments to be made for the Bush administration’s position, as I’ll discuss. But our tendency to pronounce rather than explain or even to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of others often undermines our case, even when we have the right argument. In the case of Kyoto, our unilateral approach may have the perverse effect of making it nearly impossible for us to sign onto a modified agreement that is now quite acceptable. More importantly, it has already greatly complicated our efforts to achieve support and cooperation on other more vital issues such as Iraq and the war on terror. In fact, it is because there will inevitably be times when we must act unilaterally that we should lean over backward to act multilaterally whenever we can in order to minimize resistance when we absolutely cannot.

Some may wonder, why we should care at all about what others think as long as they can’t hurt us. But that is just the point. They can hurt us, in thousands of ways: for instance, by not cooperating on intelligence about terrorist activities, by not providing staging facilities or overflight rights for American expeditions, or by boycotting American products or promoting alternatives to them. The fact is that the world has become too small and too dangerous for America to ignore the truth of its own role in global affairs or to misunderstand that of others. It’s time to wake up to the need to see ourselves as others see us and to decide whether we really want to be ‘no longer…belonging or accepted, not controllable or answerable.’ Or whether we want to be the people we imagine ourselves to be, John Winthrop’s ideal echoed by President Reagan.

As you read the following chapters keep in mind that choice and its significance – not only for America’s foreign relations, but for America itself, for what it was meant to be – the ideal that left our embassies abroad buried in flowers after September 11. Bear in mind also, the second, usually unmentioned part of Winthrop’s sermon: ‘If we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake: we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.’

2
The Unacknowledged Empire
We Americans are the Peculiar Chosen People

the Israel of our time. We bear the ark of the liberties of the world
.
—Herman Melville

L
ying on the banks of the Potomac, where, after a wild dash through the mountains of Virginia and Maryland, the river broadens and turns for a final leisurely glide to the Atlantic, Washington, D.C., is one of America’s loveliest cities. Its broad avenues, radiating from a central hub and punctuated by roundabouts and graceful monuments and plazas, give the city a slightly European air reflecting the taste of its original designer, the French urban planner Pierre L’Enfant. Its size and modesty set it apart from the capital cities of other great nations. With a population of less than 600,000, an area of just 68.25 square miles, and a legally mandated absence of skyscrapers, Washington is a relatively small city by world standards and lacks the powerful impact or awesome spread of a New York or Los Angeles, the grandeur of Paris, or the dense intricacy of Tokyo or London. The Greco-Roman style of the city’s monuments as well as of many of its public buildings establishes a linkage with the glories of the classical past, specifically with great republics and republican institutions, not with empires and imperial traditions.

The city’s statues and monuments commemorate those who have played key roles in U.S. history. Many are non-Americans. The Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington’s great friend and inspiration from France during the dark days of the American revolutionary cause at Valley Forge, has the best view of the White House from his own park across Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course, Jefferson, Washington, and Lincoln, the great founders and saviors of the country, have special marble temples whose walls are inscribed with their speeches. Homage in Washington is directed toward the principles and ideas of statesmen and philosophers who championed liberty and the inalienable rights of all men. Here are no monuments to conquests or conquerors. Washington has no Arc de Triomphe, no Brandenburg Gate, no Buckingham Palace or Forbidden City. The most visited monument commemorates the only war America ever lost. Every day a steady stream of people somberly descend the gentle slope of the Vietnam Memorial near the Reflecting Pool to find the name of a friend, son, daughter, husband, wife, or lover etched on the black granite walls listing the roll call of the fallen. No general or admiral attracts such an endless flow of visitors. In Peking or Vienna or Rome, you cannot avoid feeling the proud imperial tradition. Washington displays a humbler, simpler mien, for it was never designed as the hub of an empire.

If you stroll from the Vietnam Memorial a few blocks up Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol, you come to the Ellipse on your left; from there you can see the rear of the White House. Though surely the best-known residence-cum-office in the world, it is not impressive as these things go. It pales in comparison to the 66,000 square foot mansion Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates built himself on the shores of Lake Washington, in Seattle. The grounds and gardens are pretty and well maintained, but insignificant compared with the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills or the Emperor’s moated and forested fortress in the center of Tokyo. Even more strikingly understated are the White House offices. I was surprised on my first visit to the Oval Office…at how small it is. Most CEOs of major corporations have a bigger working space. Other offices in the White House are downright laughable. The National Security Adviser, for example, barely has room for a coffee table and a visitor’s chair, and his or her deputy has an office that barely holds a desk. The White House was clearly never intended to be a palace.

We Americans are schooled in an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist tradition.

We learn that our forefathers and foremothers came to this land to escape the oppression, corruption, and power politics of Europe’s monarchies and empires. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘embattled farmers,’
 1 
the Minute-men of Concord and Boston and the volunteers who took time off from planting and hunting to join George Washington at Monmouth and York-town, who won America’s independence from the British Empire. It was plain-speaking Ben Franklin who, eschewing the fancy dress and manners of the European courts, outsmarted both the French and British crowns to enlarge the boundaries of the new United States of America and ensure the advance of liberty. For these early Americans, it was an article of faith that standing European-style armies, along with the ‘entangling alliances’ (Jefferson) that they seemed to entail, were a danger to be avoided. The American tradition was long one of citizen armies raised to confront emergencies and disbanded once the crisis was over.
Empire
remains a word that for Americans means conquest and subjugation of foreign peoples against their will. It represents the antithesis of the ideals on which America was founded and the very essence of the old world wickedness Americans hoped would evaporate in the light of our own example.

As American power grew in the twentieth century, so also did the concept of the ‘reluctant superpower.’
 2 
The historian Ernest May best articulated this concept when he said, ‘Some nations achieve greatness. The United States had greatness thrust upon it.’
 3 
In this view, America doesn’t seek power or territory; it asserts its power only under duress and for the noble purposes of ensuring peace and defending democracy. This belief has been articulated by American leaders from both political parties. Clinton administration Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, said, ‘In a fashion and to an extent that is unique in the history of Great Powers, the United States defines its strength – indeed its very greatness – not in terms of its ability to achieve or maintain dominance over others, but in terms of its ability to work with others in the interests of the international community as a whole.’ Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers added that the United States is the ‘first non-imperialist superpower.’
 4 
Not to be outdone, then Governor of Texas George W. Bush told a California audience in the fall of 1999 that ‘America has never been an empire. In fact, we may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused – preferring greatness to power, and justice to glory.’
 5 
On this point, Bush was surely in tune with the vast majority of his countrymen.
 6 

Three years later, however, on June 1, 2002, the same George W. Bush spoke, now as president, to the graduating class of cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and signaled a change of view that would turn two hundred years of American strategic doctrine upside down. He began predictably enough by saying, ‘America has no empire to extend or Utopia to establish’. ‘We wish for others,’ he asserted, ‘only what we wish for ourselves – safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life.’ Then, however, Bush emphasized that while the long-standing American defense doctrine of deterrence and containment might still apply in some cases, ‘new threats also require new thinking.’ He continued that ‘we must take the battle to the enemy, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action.’
 7 

The first action came in less than two weeks, when the United States formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on June 13. Then on September 20, what was now billed as the new doctrine of ‘preemption’ was more fully fleshed out in the annual National Security Strategy of the United States, a document every president is required to submit to Congress. The report began by asserting that the United States would not use its unparalleled military strength to press for unilateral advantage but rather would seek to create a balance of power that favors human freedom. It stressed that only nations committed to ‘protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to assure their future prosperity.’ It went on to say that people everywhere want to say what they think, choose who will govern them, worship as they please, educate their children – both male and female – own property and enjoy the benefits of their labor… These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society – and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom loving people. The United States will use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. America must stand firmly for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech, freedom of worship, equal justice, respect for women, religious and ethnic tolerance, and respect for private property.
 8 


Nothing unusual there, but then the paper spelled out how these goals were to be pursued. The president said the United States ‘will not hesitate to act alone’ and, if necessary, will defend itself by ‘acting pre-emptively.’ Just in case there might be someone who had not gotten the message, the document closed by emphasizing that ‘our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.’ In other words, we’re on top, we deserve to be there, and we intend to stay there.

This dramatic new doctrine of supremacy and pre-emptive attack not only reversed years of American national security policy, it also struck at the heart of the Treaty of Westphalia, which has underpinned the modern international system of nation states for more than three hundred years. Signed in 1648 to end the Thirty Years War, this agreement acknowledged, as a fundamental principle of international relations, the sanctity of national sovereignty and non-interference by one state in the internal affairs of another. Bush’s doctrine also seemed both to contravene the Charter of the United Nations, which outlaws the ‘threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,’ and to contradict the conclusions of the Nuremberg trials that treated ‘preemptive war’ as a war crime.

Although it came as a surprise to the world, the new policy had actually been under discussion for some time. After the collapse of the Soviet Union toward the end of the first Bush administration, the U.S. defense establishment suddenly faced an existential question. Without the ‘Evil Empire,’ what exactly was the rationale for maintaining America’s large, far-flung forces and the budgets that supported them? Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, asked Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to work with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, to prepare guidelines for a new U.S. defense strategy. Powell hinted at the new strategy during testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in early 1992. The United States, he said, required ‘sufficient power’ to ‘deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage’. ‘I want to be the bully on the block,’ he added, so that ‘there is no future in trying to challenge the armed forces of the United States.’
 9  
The new Defense Planning Guidelines, as leaked to the
New York Times
in March 1992, said that the first objective of U.S. defense strategy was ‘to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival,’ and that to achieve this, the United States must convince allies and enemies alike ‘that they need not aspire to a greater role.’ Preemptive force was to be an option, and the U.S. would maintain a substantial nuclear arsenal while encouraging others to downgrade or abandon theirs. Finally, the new guidelines suggested that in the future alliances would be ‘ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.’

The leak of the draft created a firestorm of criticism, and a Pentagon spokesman attempted to distance Cheney from the document by calling it a ‘low level draft’ that the secretary had not yet seen. A watered-down version was eventually made public by the Pentagon in January 1993, but at that point it was little more than a farewell gesture as Bush
pere
made way for the new Clinton administration, which promptly put the new guidelines on the shelf. Now, nine years later, a second Bush administration had taken them down, dusted them off, and adopted them as America’s new national security strategy.

The move probably shouldn’t have been surprising because an impressive group of forerunners had been marking the course to a new American empire for the preceding decade. Thus, former
Wall Street Journal
editor Max Boot called for American occupation and imposition of liberal democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq and possibly in other places, just as had occurred in Tokyo and Bonn after World War II. Richard Haass, a scholar at the Brookings Institute who later was to become State Department Director of Policy Planning, wrote a book entitled
The Reluctant Sheriff in
1997. By the summer of 2002, he was saying that if he had to do it over again he would delete the adjective,
 10 
and conservative commentator Irving Kristol asserted, ‘One of these days, the American people are going to awaken to the fact that we have become an imperial nation, even though public opinion and all our political traditions are hostile to the idea.’
 11 

Perhaps the best picture of the new order was to be seen in Mexico in late October 2002 following publication of the new strategy document. The heads of the economic powers making up the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gathered in Los Cabos for their annual confab held in conjunction with the CEO Summit of key business leaders from around the Pacific. At the concluding dinner hosted by Mexican President Vicente Fox, the presidents and prime ministers were seated on a dais at one end of a large hall with entertainers singing and dancing on a stage at the other end and the businessmen at round tables in between. This being Mexico, the event didn’t get underway until 9 P.M. I glanced at the dais and knew many of the leaders were suffering. The Chinese President Jiang Zemin, seventy-six years old, had just arrived the previous day from Beijing. He was obviously jet-lagged, as was the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Others were in various stages of fatigue. President Bush, who had made the three-hour flight in Air Force One from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, earlier in the day, looked to be in good shape. He was seated at the end next to the Vietnamese prime minister. It didn’t look as if they were having a very exciting conversation. In fact, they didn’t seem to be talking at all. By 10 P.M., with no food having yet been served, we at the business tables were chewing the last of the pre-dinner crackers and polishing off our bottles of water. Just as I was wondering if Bush (famously early to bed) would make it through the entire dinner, he got up and walked out. He had to get in bed to be ready for the 6 A.M. jog on the beach the next morning. I am sure the Mexican officials had been alerted in advance to the president’s probable departure. But the businessmen certainly had not been, and they noticed that Jiang and Koizumi and the others were sticking it out even if the president wasn’t. One Mexican executive commented, ‘Who does Bush think he is, the emperor?’

BOOK: Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions (2003)
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