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Saturday, 6 February 2010

9-11 - America's 21st Century Pearl Harbor?

Last week, I posted an article about the continuities between President Barack Obama's foreign and national security policies and those of George W. Bush. Below is an article - published in Arab News - from October 2003 in which I suggested that 9-11 had had an impact on US foreign policy similar to that of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor of December 1941, and that the United States was likely aggressively to renew its long-term commitment to global preponderance, and that even a Democrat in the White House would be unlikely to alter course. I think the conclusions still hold good although I may have given a little too much credit for the changes wrought in US foreign policy after 9-11 to 'neo-conservatives'. The political bloc assembled behind the war on terror is far larger and stronger than the neoconservatives: it is composed of the core elements of the American foreign policy establishment - conservative nationalists and liberal internationalists, across both main political parties.

Anyone wishing to read the full version of the argument should go to: "Catalysing Events, Think Tanks and American Foreign Policy Shifts: A comparative analysis of the Impacts of Pearl Harbor 1941 and 11 September 2001," Government and Opposition volume 40 (1) Winter 2005, pp.1-25.

MANCHESTER. 3 October 2003 — Sept. 11 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, have frequently been compared by political leaders and press commentators alike. Indeed, both are acknowledged as attacks from “out of the blue”, unprovoked, and as “wake-up calls” to the American people about the nature of the world in which they reside.
Two issues have been neglected in comparing the two cases, however: First, few have noted the degree of influence wielded by a dense network of think tanks and lobbying organizations that predated both Sept. 11and Pearl Harbor; and secondly, even fewer have asked whether the most profound long-term consequence of Pearl Harbor — the rise of a coherent, bipartisan, and globalist, east coast foreign policy establishment that reigned at least until the end of the Vietnam War — is likely to follow Sept. 11. In short, is there a new cross-party foreign policy consensus on the “neoconservative” agenda being followed by the Bush administration, focusing on pre-emption, military preparedness, and unilateralism?
That Sept. 11 has had a profound independent impact on US foreign policy should not be discounted. The public popularity of Bush in its wake, increased military budgets, development of a federal Homeland Security bureaucracy, perceived burying of the “Vietnam syndrome”, and the strengthening of unilateralism, are all key changes. Yet, it is also clear that there were well-prepared political and ideological forces — specifically a neoconservative network of lobbyists and policy advisers — waiting in the wings with a new agenda for US foreign policy, waiting to press home their own radical plans for policy shift. Their agenda refers to exporting American democracy but not nation-building, to policing but not “international social work”, and even speaks of the advantages of empire, the “E” word.
A neoconservative movement has been getting stronger since the 1970s, when Irving Kristol resurrected the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), from which Bush has borrowed at least twenty members for his administration, including John Bolton, Michael Rubin, and Richard Perle. In the early 1990s, Edwin J. Fuelner, Jr., head of the conservative Heritage Foundation, vowed to “build a new governing establishment by the end of the decade.” Currently, that establishment is headed by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which, since its founding in 1997, has lobbied for a war for regime change and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy, Vice President Richard Cheney, and ex-CIA Director James Woolsey are leading founder members. Kristol’s son, William, heads up the PNAC. PNAC is thoroughly interconnected with a number of right-wing pro-war organizations, including Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, an exposure committee for fighting the “enemy within”, to which, among others, the current American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, belongs.
One year before Sept. 11, PNAC published a radical plan (Rebuilding American Defenses) outlining most of what became US foreign policy after Sept. 11: The Bush doctrine. But they were not, in September 2000, optimistic about their plans’ practicability. Indeed, they thought the only way their ideas would stand a chance of adoption was if something dramatic happened, “some cataclysmic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor,” they argued.
Back in 1941, before the real Pearl Harbor, there was an interesting parallel: A dense political-intellectual network, headed by the globalist New York Council on Foreign Relations, of anti-isolationist, liberal internationalists, who had been preparing since 1919 for US global leadership, a pax-Americana. But as war raged in Europe and the Far East, American opinion was solidly isolationist and anti-war. CFR men, in May 1941, over six months before Pearl Harbor, felt that the only way Americans would be awakened from their well-fed, rationing-free long-vacation torpor was from “a shock (preferably a military one)”. On Dec. 7, the shock came, and the United States entered the war, promoted the “four freedoms”, an Anglo-American alliance, built new international institutions (such as the United Nations and the World Bank), and offered a New Deal for the world. The US foreign policy establishment and the Vietnam generation were born, as noted many years ago by Richard J. Barnett.
But has Sept. 11 also created a new establishment, behind the Bush doctrine, that is set to outlast the man himself? It’s too early to tell — history is still in the making, although there are some useful pointers. First, where do leading Democrats stand on Bush’s foreign policy? The current leading fund-raiser for the party’s nomination — Howard Dean — opposed the Iraq war and is tapping a reservoir of anti-war and anti-Democratic Party establishment sentiment. Karl Rove, Bush’s chief of staff, however, hopes Dean wins the Democratic nomination, as patriotic sentiment remains high, especially in the South.
Among other Democratic contenders — Joseph Lieberman, John Kerry, Richard Gephardt — there is greater pragmatism. They dare not speak up for fear of being labeled anti-American and weak in the war on terror, much as they were during the Cold War in regard to the “Soviet threat”. Lieberman is a neoconservative, in fact, and looks forward to reversing Bush’s tax cuts in order better to finance “a lighter, more lethal,” American military. Along with Kerry and Gephardt, Lieberman speaks of “swords and plowshares,” including some nation-building and pragmatic multilateralism for good measure.
The liberal internationalism of the Council on Foreign Relations also seems to be yielding to the Bush doctrine. Indeed, its next president, Richard Haass, as head of policy planning at the State Department, has helped define the doctrine, while Wolfowitz sits on the editorial board of Foreign Affairs, the CFR’s influential review, and other neoconservatives are employed as research fellows.
Even more surprisingly, leading liberal doves such as Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman have come out in support of Iraqi regime change and for confronting “rogue states” such as Syria, Libya, and North Korea. For too long, comments Hitchens, has the US supported “political slums” in the Middle East; time for a “slum clearance” program, he argues.
To be sure, mounting casualties in Iraq may yet undermine the Bush administration, and provide ballast for opposition party criticism over the elusive weapons of mass destruction. But no serious Democrat is for total withdrawal from either Iraq or Afghanistan, or for throwing in the towel over the war on terror. Their uncosted proposals for nation-building may be mere “product differentiation”. If so, we may be in for a prolonged period of American neoimperialism in world affairs.


  1. This article has stood the test of time and offered key insights back in 2003. Hopefully many peopel will read it. Can you imagine the words 'Hitchens' 'leading' 'liberal' and 'dove' all in hthe same sentence in 2010?

  2. I recently came across your post and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that it caught my interest and you've provided informative points. I will visit this blog often.

    Thank you,

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