The Bush Administration and Force

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or Survival
, Noam Chomsky suggested that our leaders, facing
the choice in the book’s title, might well opt for hegemony over
survival. “There is ample historical precedent,” he wrote, “for
the willingness of leaders to threaten or resort to violence in
the face of significant risk of catastrophe. But the stakes are
far higher today. The choice between hegemony and survival has rarely,
if ever, been so starkly posed.”

Thanks to the declassification
and release
(by The National Security Archive) of documents
related to America’s first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP),
developed in 1960, we now know just how true this was over four
decades ago. What we know, in fact, is that our military high command
had laid out, and our top civilian leadership approved, a
plan for the possible launching
of a first strike meant to deliver
over 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the then-Communist
world. Had all gone well, at least 130 cities would have simply
ceased to exist. Official (classified) estimates of casualties from
such an attack ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured –
and some military men feared that the lethal effects of fallout
on the United States itself from such an apocalyptic attack might
be devastating. Given the underestimation of those fallout effects
at the time, such an attack might indeed have meant, in a world
of bizarre imperial conundrums, hegemony rather than survival. As
it happens, we’ve had a SIOP ever since and still have one today.
But what kind of an instrument of overkill it may be remains highly

The paperback version of Hegemony
or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance
(part of The
American Empire Project series
) has just been released with
a new afterword by Chomsky in which he returns to the subject of
dominion and our fate. He considers ways in which the Bush administration’s
elevation of force as a principle above all else has driven up the
levels of terrorism, of violence, and of danger to our long-term
survival. It should not be missed – and neither should the
book. Shortened and slightly adapted, the afterword appears below.
(If by the way, you want to re-experience “the most dangerous moment
in human history,” the Cuban Missile Crisis, through Chomsky’s eyes,
and sample a chapter of the book, visit a previous Tomdispatch,
Cuba in
the Crosshairs
.) ~ Tom

Resort to Force

Noam Chomsky

As Colin Powell explained the National Security Strategy (NSS)
of September 2002 to a hostile audience at the World Economic
Forum, Washington has a "sovereign right to use force to defend
ourselves" from nations that possess WMD and cooperate with terrorists,
the official pretexts for invading Iraq. The collapse of the pretexts
is well known, but there has been insufficient attention to its
most important consequence: the NSS was effectively revised to
lower the bars to aggression. The need to establish ties to terror
was quietly dropped. More significant, Bush and colleagues declared
the right to resort to force even if a country does not have WMD
or even programs to develop them. It is sufficient that it have
the "intent and ability" to do so. Just about every country
has the ability, and intent is in the eye of the beholder. The
official doctrine, then, is that anyone is subject to overwhelming
attack. Colin Powell carried the revision even a step further.
The president was right to attack Iraq because Saddam not only
had "intent and capability" but had "actually used such horrible
weapons against his enemies in Iran and against his own people" –
with continuing support from Powell and his associates, he failed
to add, following the usual convention. Condoleezza Rice gave
a similar version. With such reasoning as this, who is exempt
from attack? Small wonder that, as one Reuters report put it,
"if Iraqis ever see Saddam Hussein in the dock, they want his
former American allies shackled beside him."

In the desperate flailing to contrive justifications as one pretext
after another collapsed, the obvious reason for the invasion was
conspicuously evaded by the administration and commentators: to
establish the first secure military bases in a client state right
at the heart of the world’s major energy resources, understood
since World War II to be a "stupendous source of strategic power"
and expected to become even more important in the future. There
should have been little surprise at revelations that the administration
intended to attack Iraq before 9-11, and downgraded the "war
on terror" in favor of this objective. In internal discussion,
evasion is unnecessary. Long before they took office, the private
club of reactionary statists had recognized that "the need for
a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the
issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." With all the vacillations
of policy since the current incumbents first took office in 1981,
one guiding principle remains stable: the Iraqi people must not
rule Iraq.

The 2002 National Security Strategy, and its implementation in
Iraq, are widely regarded as a watershed in international affairs.
"The new approach is revolutionary," Henry Kissinger wrote,
approving of the doctrine but with tactical reservations and a
crucial qualification: it cannot be "a universal principle available
to every nation." The right of aggression is to be reserved for
the US and perhaps its chosen clients. We must reject the most
elementary of moral truisms, the principle of universality –
a stand usually concealed in professions of virtuous intent and
tortured legalisms.

Arthur Schlesinger agreed that the doctrine and implementation
were "revolutionary," but from a quite different standpoint.
As the first bombs fell on Baghdad, he recalled FDR’s words following
the bombing of Pearl Harbor, "a date which will live in infamy."
Now it is Americans who live in infamy, he wrote, as their government
adopts the policies of imperial Japan. He added that George Bush
had converted a "global wave of sympathy" for the US into a
"global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism."
A year later, "discontent with America and its policies had intensified
rather than diminished." Even in Britain support for the war
had declined by a third.

As predicted, the war increased the threat of terror. Middle East
expert Fawaz Gerges found it "simply unbelievable how the war
has revived the appeal of a global jihadi Islam that was in real
decline after 9-11." Recruitment for the Al Qaeda networks increased,
while Iraq itself became a "terrorist haven" for the first time.
Suicide attacks for the year 2003 reached the highest level in
modern times; Iraq suffered its first since the thirteenth century.
Substantial specialist opinion concluded that the war also led
to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As the anniversary of the invasion approached, New York’s Grand
Central Station was patrolled by police with submachine guns,
a reaction to the March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed 200
people in Europe’s worst terrorist crime. A few days later, the
Spanish electorate voted out the government that had gone to war
despite overwhelming popular opposition. Spaniards were condemned
for appeasing terrorism by voting for withdrawing troops from
Iraq in the absence of UN authorization – that is, for taking
a stand rather like that of 70 percent of Americans, who called
for the UN to take the leading role in Iraq.

Bush assured Americans that "The world is safer today because,
in Iraq, our coalition ended a regime that cultivated ties to
terror while it built weapons of mass destruction." The president’s
handlers know that every word is false, but they also know that
lies can become Truth, if repeated insistently enough.

There is broad agreement among specialists on how to reduce the
threat of terror – keeping here to the subcategory that is doctrinally
acceptable, their terror against us – and also on how to incite
terrorist atrocities, which may become truly horrendous. The consensus
is well articulated by Jason Burke in his study of the Al Qaeda
phenomenon, the most detailed and informed investigation of this
loose array of radical Islamists for whom bin Laden is hardly
more than a symbol (a more dangerous one after he is killed, perhaps,
becoming a martyr who inspires others to join his cause). The
role of Washington’s current incumbents, in their Reaganite phase,
in creating the radical Islamist networks is well known. Less
familiar is their tolerance of Pakistan’s slide toward radical
Islamist extremism and its development of nuclear weapons.

As Burke reviews, Clinton’s 1998 bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan
created bin Laden as a symbol, forged close relations between
him and the Taliban, and led to a sharp increase in support, recruitment,
and financing for Al Qaeda, which until then was virtually unknown.
The next major contribution to the growth of Al Qaeda and the
prominence of bin Laden was Bush’s bombing of Afghanistan following
September 11, undertaken without credible pretext as later quietly
conceded. As a result, bin Laden’s message "spread among tens
of millions of people, particularly the young and angry, around
the world," Burke writes, reviewing the increase in global terror
and the creation of "a whole new cadre of terrorists" enlisted
in what they see as a "cosmic struggle between good and evil,"
a vision shared by bin Laden and Bush. As noted, the invasion
of Iraq had the same effect.

Citing many examples, Burke concludes that "Every use of force
is another small victory for bin Laden," who "is winning,"
whether he lives or dies. Burke’s assessment is widely shared
by many analysts, including former heads of Israeli military intelligence
and the General Security Services.

There is also a broad consensus on what the proper reaction to
terrorism should be. It is two-pronged: directed at the terrorists
themselves and at the reservoir of potential support. The appropriate
response to terrorist crimes is police work, which has been successful
worldwide. More important is the broad constituency the terrorists
– who see themselves as a vanguard – seek to mobilize, including
many who hate and fear them but nevertheless see them as fighting
for a just cause. We can help the vanguard mobilize this reservoir
of support by violence, or can address the "myriad grievances,"
many legitimate, that are "the root causes of modern Islamic
militancy." That can significantly reduce the threat of terror,
and should be undertaken independently of this goal.

Violence can succeed, as Americans know well from the conquest
of the national territory. But at terrible cost. It can also provoke
violence in response, and often does. Inciting terror is not the
only illustration. Others are even more hazardous.

In February 2004, Russia carried out its largest military exercises
in two decades, prominently exhibiting advanced WMD. Russian generals
and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that they were responding
to Washington’s plans "to make nuclear weapons an instrument
of solving military tasks," including its development of new
low-yield nuclear weapons, "an extremely dangerous tendency that
is undermining global and regional stability,… lowering the
threshold for actual use." Strategic analyst Bruce Blair writes
that Russia is well aware that the new "bunker busters" are
designed to target the "high-level nuclear command bunkers"
that control its nuclear arsenal. Ivanov and Russian generals
report that in response to US escalation they are deploying "the
most advanced state-of-the-art missile in the world," perhaps
next to impossible to destroy, something that "would be very
alarming to the Pentagon," says former Assistant Defense Secretary
Phil Coyle. US analysts suspect that Russia may also be duplicating
US development of a hypersonic cruise vehicle that can re-enter
the atmosphere from space and launch devastating attacks without
warning, part of US plans to reduce reliance on overseas bases
or negotiated access to air routes.

US analysts estimate that Russian military expenditures have tripled
during the Bush-Putin years, in large measure a predicted reaction
to the Bush administration’s militancy and aggressiveness. Putin
and Ivanov cited the Bush doctrine of "preemptive strike" –
the "revolutionary" new doctrine of the National Security Strategy
– but also "added a key detail, saying that military force can
be used if there is an attempt to limit Russia’s access to regions
that are essential to its survival," thus adapting for Russia
the Clinton doctrine that the US is entitled to resort to "unilateral
use of military power" to ensure "uninhibited access to key
markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources." The world
"is a much more insecure place" now that Russia has decided
to follow the US lead, said Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution,
adding that other countries presumably "will follow suit."

In the past, Russian automated response systems have come within
a few minutes of launching a nuclear strike, barely aborted by
human intervention. By now the systems have deteriorated. US systems,
which are much more reliable, are nevertheless extremely hazardous.
They allow three minutes for human judgment after computers warn
of a missile attack, as they frequently do. The Pentagon has also
found serious flaws in its computer security systems that might
allow terrorist hackers to seize control and simulate a launch – "an
accident waiting to happen," Bruce Blair writes. The dangers
are being consciously escalated by the threat and use of violence.

Concern is not eased by the recent discovery that US presidents
have been "systematically misinformed" about the effects of
nuclear war. The level of destruction has been "severely underestimated"
because of lack of systematic oversight of the "insulated bureaucracies"
that provide analyses of "limited and `winnable’ nuclear war";
the resulting "institutional myopia can be catastrophic," far
more so than the manipulation of intelligence on Iraq.

The Bush administration slated the initial deployment of a missile
defense system for summer 2004, a move criticized as "completely
political," employing untested technology at great expense. A
more appropriate criticism is that the system might seem workable;
in the logic of nuclear war, what counts is perception. Both US
planners and potential targets regard missile defense as a first-strike
weapon, intended to provide more freedom for aggression, including
nuclear attack. And they know how the US responded to Russia’s
deployment of a very limited ABM system in 1968: by targeting
the system with nuclear weapons to ensure that it would be instantly
overwhelmed. Analysts warn that current US plans will also provoke
a Chinese reaction. History and the logic of deterrence "remind
us that missile defense systems are potent drivers of offensive
nuclear planning," and the Bush initiative will again raise the
threat to Americans and to the world.

China’s reaction may set off a ripple effect through India, Pakistan,
and beyond. In West Asia, Washington is increasing the threat
posed by Israel’s nuclear weapons and other WMD by providing Israel
with more than one hundred of its most advanced jet bombers, accompanied
by prominent announcements that the bombers can reach Iran and
return and are an advanced version of the US planes Israel used
to destroy an Iraqi reactor in 1981. The Israeli press adds that
the US is providing the Israeli air force with "`special’ weaponry."
There can be little doubt that Iranian and other intelligence
services are watching closely and perhaps giving a worst-case
analysis: that these may be nuclear weapons. The leaks and dispatch
of the aircraft may be intended to rattle the Iranian leadership,
perhaps to provoke some action that can be used as a pretext for
an attack.

Immediately after the National Security Strategy was announced
in September 2002, the US moved to terminate negotiations on an
enforceable bioweapons treaty and to block international efforts
to ban biowarfare and the militarization of space. A year later,
at the UN General Assembly, the US voted alone against implementation
of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and alone with its new ally
India against steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The US voted alone against "observance of environmental norms"
in disarmament and arms control agreements and alone with Israel
and Micronesia against steps to prevent nuclear proliferation
in the Middle East – the pretext for invading Iraq. A resolution
to prevent militarization of space passed 174 to 0, with four
abstentions: US, Israel, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.
As discussed earlier, a negative US vote or abstention amounts
to a double veto: the resolution is blocked and is eliminated
from reporting and history.

Bush planners know as well as others that the resort to force increases
the threat of terror, and that their militaristic and aggressive
posture and actions provoke reactions that increase the risk of
catastrophe. They do not desire these outcomes, but assign them
low priority in comparison to the international and domestic agendas
they make little attempt to conceal.

[Reader’s Note: The footnotes to the well-sourced “Afterword”
to the paperback edition of Hegemony or Survival have been
removed from this version. An expanded version of the afterword
is also available as part of an
expanded e-book version of Hegemony or Survival

by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt
and Company, LLC. He is the author of several books, including The
Last Days of Publishing: A Novel
and The
End of Victory Culture

18, 2004

Tom Engelhardt [send him
] is editor of,
a project of the Nation
. Noam Chomsky is a Professor of Linguistics and
Philosophy at MIT. In addition to Hegemony
or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance

(The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), he is the author
of numerous books on linguistics and on U.S. foreign policy.

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