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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Imperial mindsets dominate US foreign policy elites

Last week, USBlog engaged in a debate on the rights and wrongs of US democracy promotion. In an interesting and welcome response to USBlog's post, it was suggested that the United States is a different kind of global power to any others and has no genuine 'imperial' intent.

Below I present my own analysis of a report written by an elite group of liberal US academics and their allies and collaborators in the US state, and elsewhere. It is an analysis of the Final Report of the Princeton Project on National Security led by Princeton professors G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter (currently serving as head of policy planning in the State Department). The article below and the Final Report give a flavour of the kinds of thinking or mindsets that animate the post-Bush era. I believe it brings out the imperial character of US elite mindsets inside and outside the Obama administration. While the US may not be an empire in the strictest sense - it is certainly an imperial power. The difference, to life as it is actually lived - especially in the Third World, may be marginal.

For the full version of the article posted below, readers should take a look at: Inderjeet Parmar, "Foreign policy fusion: liberal interventionists, conservative nationalists, and neoconservatives - the new alliance dominating the US foreign policy establishment," in International Politics vol 46, no.2/3, March 2009, pp.177-209.

Final Report: Forging A World of Liberty Under Law. U.S. National Security in the 21st Century

Three specific aims -- securing the homeland against hostile attacks or fatal epidemics; building a healthy global economy, ‘which is essential for our own prosperity and security’; and constructing ‘a benign international environment’, grounded in security cooperation among nations and the spread of liberal democracy -- should constitute Washington's basic objectives, according to the Report. The Report was published in July 2006, in the very middle of Bush’s second term (2004-2008), at a time when criticism of the US war on Iraq was commonplace – from broad swathes of public opinion to neo-conservatives such as Francis Fukuyama and Richard Perle, Republicans such as Senator Charles Hagel, let alone leading Democrats such as Hilary Clinton and, later, Barack Obama. Disenchantment with the Bush strategy was reflected in emphatic victory for the Democrats at the mid-term elections of November 2006 – gaining control of both Senate and House of Representatives - which many predicted signalled the death of the ‘Bush doctrine’ of unilateralism, pre-emption, preventive war, and militarism as outlined in the National Security Strategy of 2002.

The following sections of the article consider the Report’s uses of history, its attachment to democratic peace theory, attitude to the United Nations, and the role of global networks in American power.

The Report’s view of ‘history’ is instructive: Pearl Harbor taught Americans ‘that the security of their homeland and the viability of the American way of life as a free society depended upon developments in the rest of the world… Simply put, we learned that aggressors in far away lands, if left unchecked, would some day threaten the United States. The implications of this lesson were profound. Rather than recoiling in isolation from great power politics, we decided as a nation that it was imperative to play an active and leading role in the world’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). That is, an innocent America was rudely awakened by an unprovoked military attack on its territory by a power to which it had done nothing, a version of US-Japanese relations in the period that may be comforting though not entirely accurate (Thompson, 1992).

The postwar ‘transformation of the Soviet Union from ally to adversary’ – how this happened or was engineered is not discussed - as well as the threat of economic depression further strengthened American resolve behind ‘global involvement in the early years of the Cold War’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). The uncritical assertion of the ‘Soviet threat’ as a key cause of America’s very neutral-sounding ‘global involvement’ is also worrying, given the weight of historical scholarship on the question (Leffler, 1992; Kolko, 1969; Shoup and Minter, 1977; Campbell, 1992). According to the Report, it was NSC-68 that brought together all the strands of an enduring national security strategy – ‘the seminal 1950 memo that reorganized and reoriented our national security policy for the Cold War. It laid out the doctrine of containment..’ as well as stressing the necessity of building a ‘healthy international community’ as the US ‘needed then, as we need now, a “world environment within which the American system can survive and flourish”’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). That the drive to develop and sell to the American public the aggressive and expansionist message of NSC-68 was led by the militaristic Committee on the Present Danger, receives no acknowledgement in the Final Report (Sanders, 1983).

Combined with such realizations – that the United States had global enemies and faced serious threats – and a response in terms of the containment doctrine, the Truman administration inaugurated an era of international institution-building to generate a ‘benign’ international environment (PPNS, 2006, 15). The IMF, World Bank, United Nations, NATO, as well as the Marshall Plan that catalysed European recovery and integration, helped to create and maintain a state of affairs that ‘served the interests of many other countries, making it easier to pursue our interests as well.’ In those days, the ‘United States led but listened, gained by giving, and emerged stronger because its global role was accepted as legitimate’ (PPNS, 2006, 16, 22).

This is a version of history that is presented as uncontested: it is, by definition, true for the PPNS. It conforms to the overall view that American power is benign, largely reactive and defensive, and relatively enlightened, rather than narrowly-construed and self-serving. It is to try and take from the past what is best for adaptation to the present that appears to animate the Report. The Truman era is then a ‘golden era’ of relative prosperity, security and order, which we need, in today’s conditions, to re-invent as ‘the world seems a more menacing place than ever’ (PPNS, 2006, 11): ‘it means safeguarding our alliances and promoting security cooperation among liberal democracies, ensuring the safety of Americans abroad as well as at home, avoiding the emergence of hostile great powers or balancing coalitions against the United States, and encouraging liberal democracy and responsible government worldwide’ (PPNS, 2006, 16).

The Princeton Project is persuaded of the efficacy of ‘democratic peace’ theory: democracies do not fight each other and the best hope for the world is democratization (PPNS, 2006, 25). Therefore, build alliances of liberal democracies, prevent other great powers or coalitions threatening the US, and promote democracy. Critiques of this view are left unaddressed (Rosato, 2003).

This sounds, of course, not dissimilar to the ‘neo-conservative’ orientations of the Bush administration and, of course, thinking within the Truman administration (O’Neil, 2006). This is understandable, according to Stephen Walt, as liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives share a belief in the essential goodness of American power and the necessity of its use for global improvement. That is why many liberal internationalists – some of them involved in the Princeton Project (Joseph Nye, for example) - supported the Iraq War (Der Derian, 2003). Both groups also want only America and its allies to own and control weapons of mass destruction (Walt, 2006, 2). They differ, however, on the role of international institutions with neo-cons skeptical due to liberals’ stubborn desire for observing international law and, thereby, hindering the realization of American interests. It is clear though that the Princeton Project recognizes the limitations of the UN, for example, and calls, first, for ‘radical surgery’ – abolition of the Security Council veto - to permit military interventions in sovereign states, and secondly, for a new organization of liberal democracies that would, in the failure of the UN to act, militarily enforce the UN’s ‘values’ (Walt, 2006, 7).

The overlaps between the Princeton Project’s Final Report and Bush’s 2002 NSS (and the core beliefs of Bush’s neo-con allies) are many and interesting. Where the NSS and neo-cons argued for spreading democracy, the Project argues for spreading ‘Liberty under Law’ (Walt, 2006, 2). Where NSS wanted ‘a balance of power that favors human freedom’, PPNS promotes ‘maintaining a balance of power in favor of liberal democracies’. Both agree that defending and promoting freedom/liberal democracy requires ‘continued high level of U.S. defense spending…’ (PPNS, 2006, 30). NSS emphasized preventive war and action which PPNS endorses against ‘extreme states’ after approval from the UN or ‘some broadly representative multilateral body…’ (Walt, 2006, 4).

To the PPNS, the United Nations system is broken and needs reform. Barring reform, the United States should build a new ‘Concert of Democracies’ to enforce international law and deter and intervene against aggressors, brutal states, terrorist havens and so on. The concert of democracies would be an American-centred alliance that would feature military burden-sharing. In practice, the concert of democracies is likely to be an alliance of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and, possibly, India. It is not too far removed from what some have argued for over a decade now: a sort of alliance of the English-speaking countries – an Anglosphere (Lloyd, 2000; Hichens, 2007), the evolution of a hangover from late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Anglo-Saxonism: a racist belief in the innate biologically-determined superiority in economy, industry, government and culture of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (Anderson, 1981). This reappeared as Federal Unionism in the late 1930s and early 1940s, specifically between the US and Britain but including its white dominions as well as Scandinavia (Parmar, 2004, 71-2, 195-6). Its racism was underlined by the machinations among its sponsors to gerrymander power away from populous India in a future federal assembly – including techniques borrowed from the US deep south to disenfranchise African-Americans. The proposed concert of democracies may well follow in an updated version of this tradition. That is, it appears to be part of an imperial project.

Empire has become in many neo-cons’ and others’ eyes perfectly acceptable today. An empire of liberty is not really an empire at all. An empire that promotes and extends democracy is the very antithesis of the old colonial system. And democracies do not fight wars against other democracies. In many ways, these ideas are endorsed by the PPNS’ Final Report (Ikenberry, 2004). There is an expansive sense of ‘America’ in the Final Report when it argues that ‘U.S. borders [should] be defined for some purposes as extending to the port of shipment rather than the port of entry….[American officials should also]… strengthen the quality and capacity of a foreign government to control its territory and enforce its laws,’ a necessary corollary to ‘defining our borders beyond those established by land and sea’ (PPNS, 2006, 57). As Henry Kissinger is quoted as arguing, US foreign policy must ‘ “protect the extraordinary opportunity that has come about to recast the international system.”’ The Princeton Project seeks to help America to grasp this opportunity to lay the foundations for advancing America’s interests on every front, rather than just vanquishing one enemy [global terrorism]…a long-term strategy should strive to shape the world as we want it to be’ (PPNS, 2006, 58). As Samuel Huntington argued several decades ago, what there is of American empire was gained through territorial penetration rather than territorial acquisition: precisely the Princeton Project’s preferred mode of exercising power (Huntington, 1973).

One of the means by which American interests are to be realized is through the power of global networks: ‘We should establish and institutionalize networks of national, regional, and local government officials and nongovernmental representatives to create numerous channels for [democratic] nations and others to work on common problems and to communicate and inculcate the values and practices that safeguard liberty under law’ (PPNS, 2006, 7). The aim is to intersect ‘international institutions and domestic governments… institutions providing incentives and pressure to help conquer dysfunctional levels of corruption and bolster the rule of law…’ (PPNS, 2006, 23).

Despite denials, therefore, of an imperial project, the levels of global leadership, global military engagement, and degree of penetration of overseas nations – through border, port and other security cooperation and supervision, interventions through public diplomacy and education – and political warfare – for nipping threats abroad in the bud – all suggest that the PPNS effectively endorses an imperial approach to safeguarding American security. Kennan would, surely, have approved.

An instructive quotation: ‘[A] military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.

‘Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.’

The above statement is not drawn from the PPNS’ Final Report, but it would not be out of place there. In fact, the quotation is extracted from the 1997 Statement of Principles of the Project for A New American Century. It is instructive as to the degree to which the ‘centre’ has shifted to the Right since 1997.

The Final Report of the Princeton Project has received wide attention: it was launched on Capitol Hill by Charles Hagel and now Vice-President-elect, Joseph Biden, and presented to conferences across the USA normally co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, at private meetings between Ikenberry, Slaughter and Senate staffers. There were plans to lobby congressmen to organise ‘Princeton Project events in their home districts’, a visit to the UN to discuss the Report, and events in China and Europe (Quinones, 2006).

PPNS is an ‘alternative’ within a new consensus on US engagement with the world and its re-making post-1989 and post-9/11; this is a re-ordering of the world more specifically under a US- led global system requiring the redefinition of roles of global institutions , alliances and so on. This process, triggered after 1989, and ongoing since the 1990s, and especially after 9/11 includes developments under Bush as well as Tony Blair’s thinking on ‘international community’: i.e., it stands rhetorically as ‘alternative’ to Bush in theory but in practice able to go along; it is liberal imperial at its core.

The PPNS Report’s recommendations are an integral part of the liberal imperial project, not its rejection. It had to be this way due to the objectives of the Project, its leadership and participants, and the scholar-activists’ desire to be taken seriously by policymakers, affecting its design, leadership, membership, funding and networks. It was oriented to the US state and therefore had to enter its intellectual frameworks and underpinnings if it was to sound ‘realistic’ as an ‘alternative’ to the state or an opposition party in waiting.

The PPNS is therefore an example of scholarship in the service of the state – state intellectuals, organic intellectuals, behind an imperial programme that is undemocratic as it is centred upon US preponderance; socially and economically unjust to the third world through its attachment to ‘the generally beneficial process of globalization’ (PPNS, 2006, 7), has disturbing racist undertones through its championing of a ‘concert of liberal democracies’, militaristic in terms of its attempt to internationalise the burdens of the American world project, and imperialistic due to its recommendations for global penetration via network-building, state-building and social engineering.

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