Saturday, June 04, 2005

Wolfowitz and the Gospel of American Hegemony

In a previous post, I discussed an essay published in First Things that attempted to describe the alliance between evangelicals and neoconservatives. Joseph Bottum argued, in effect, that these two seemingly disparate factions of American life were drawn together by a mutual desire to remoralize public life.

In the June 6th edition of The American Conservative, the always insightful Andrew Bacevich writes about the messianic statecraft of Paul Wolfowitz and his bid to "remoralize" American foreign policy.

Wolfie is one of those shady pen pushers slithering from one administration to to the next, skilled in the arcane arts of bureaucratic infighting. Wolfowitz has been an insider of sorts since the late 1960's and has served six different presidents.

According to Bacevich, Wolfie was one of the first defense intellectuals to recognize the potential of information technology to change the nature of warfare itself. Computers and new weapons systems would allegedly provide new opportunities for offensive military action by virtue of their precision. For policymakers, precision would also ease moral inhibitions against unsheathing the sword because collateral damage could be limited. "Simply put," Bacevich writes, "precision could undo Hiroshima and unshackle military power. Best of all was the fact that the United States led the way in every aspect of the information revolution. In an information age, military supremacy was America’s for the taking."

The collapse of the Soviet empire provided Wolfowitz and his cohorts the opportunity to push for implemetation of their ideas. During the early 1990's, a period of exile for many neocons, Wolfowitz berated the Clintonians for their unwillingness to engage in military force. From the safety of offices at the American Enterprise Institute and as a mover-and-shaker at the Project for a New American Century, Wolfie brayed for unleashing the dogs of war in the Balkans, expanding NATO to the borders of Russia, and generally providing a framework for America's benevolent global hegemony.

While Wolfie was concerned about American security in a dangerous world, Bacevich argues persuasively that he is also driven by a missionary zeal, and a dangerous moralism. Describing Wolfie's underlying ideology, Bacevich writes, "In the bold and skillful use of military power, he believed, lay the prospect of resolving the contradictions that had long made statecraft the realm of moral ambiguity and compromise." In short, not only could America become the New Rome, she could also become the New Jerusalem. Hence, contra Reinhold Niebuhr's suggestion that “power cannot be wielded without guilt,” Wolfowitz sought to baptize American power and provide its use with a moral dimension.

The tragedy of 9/11 provided Wolfie and his neocon cronies an opportunity to seize the agenda, which they seized with great relish. In recasting the war against Bin-Laden into a battle against "evil" on behalf of "freedom" the neocons have sought to add a moral dimension to their warmongering grounded in the alleged univeralism of American "values."

"A war to liberate Iraq promised to change the face of American grand strategy," says Bacevich. "By irrevocably committing the United States to a broader and heavily militarized campaign aimed at liberating the entire Islamic world, it would signify the triumph of principles that Wolfowitz had long espoused."

Just this week, Wolfowitz began his new post as head of The World Bank. When questioned about the Gulf War, Wolfowitz responded, "Would you really prefer to have Saddam Hussein in power?"

Wolfowitz should cease with the propaganda technique and address the facts. After spending $300 billion, sacrificing 1,700 American soldiers, not to mention countless thousands who have left blood and limbs on the battlefield, are Iraqis better off?

The Iraqi government said this week that the insurgency, a direct consequence of the war, has claimed 12,000 civilian lives in the last 18 months. According to the conservative estimates compiled by Iraq body count, somewhere between 21-25,000 civilians have been killed since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Some estimates put the number of civilian deaths over 100,000. The Post also neglected earlier findings by Knight Ridder that "Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents." Hmm, maybe this business about precision in warfare was a bit utopian after all.


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