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Lieven on Bush strategy (fwd)
by Boris Stremlin
11 November 2002 06:13 UTC
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Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Institute explains the why and the how of
the Bush strategy to retain power for the hard right in conditions which
favor the liberal-left.

The Push for War
By Anatol Lieven
Originally published in the London Review of Books
(Vol. 24 No. 19) on 3 October 2002

Anatol Lieven considers what the US Administration
hopes to gain

The most surprising thing about the Bush
Administration's plan to invade Iraq is not that it is
destructive of international order; or wicked, when we
consider the role the US (and Britain) have played,
and continue to play, in the Middle East; or opposed
by the great majority of the international community;
or seemingly contrary to some of the basic needs of
the war against terrorism. It is all of these things,
but they are of no great concern to the hardline
nationalists in the Administration. This group has
suffered at least a temporary check as a result of the
British insistence on UN involvement, and Saddam
Hussein's agreement to weapons inspections. They are,
however, still determined on war - and their power
within the Administration and in the US security
policy world means that they are very likely to get
their way. Even the Washington Post has joined the
radical rightist media in supporting war.
The most surprising thing about the push for war is
that it is so profoundly reckless. If I had to put
money on it, I'd say that the odds on quick success in
destroying the Iraqi regime may be as high as 5/1 or
more, given US military superiority, the vile nature
of Saddam Hussein's rule, the unreliability of
Baghdad's missiles, and the deep divisions in the Arab
world. But at first sight, the longer-term gains for
the US look pretty limited, whereas the consequences
of failure would be catastrophic. A general Middle
Eastern conflagration and the collapse of more
pro-Western Arab states would lose us the war against
terrorism, doom untold thousands of Western civilians
to death in coming decades, and plunge the world
economy into depression.
These risks are not only to American (and British)
lives and interests, but to the political future of
the Administration. If the war goes badly wrong, it
will be more generally excoriated than any within
living memory, and its members will be finished
politically - finished for good. If no other fear
moved these people, you'd have thought this one would.
This war plan is not like the intervention in Vietnam,
which at the start was supported by a consensus of
both political parties, the Pentagon, the security
establishment and the media. It is true that today -
for reasons to which I shall return - the Democrats
are mostly sitting on the fence; but a large part of
the old Republican security establishment has
denounced the idea and the Pentagon has made its deep
unhappiness very clear.
The Administration has therefore been warned of the
dangers. And while a new attack by al-Qaida during the
war would help consolidate anti-Muslim American
nationalism, the Administration would also be widely
accused of having neglected the hunt for the
perpetrators of 11 September in order to pursue an
irrelevant vendetta. As far as the Israeli lobby is
concerned, a disaster in the Middle East might be the
one thing that would at last bring a discussion of its
calamitous role into the open in the US.
With the exception of Donald Rumsfeld, who
conveniently did his military service in the gap
between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, neither Bush nor
any of the other prime movers of this war served in
the military. Of course, General Colin Powell served
in Vietnam, but he is well known to be extremely
dubious about attacking Iraq. All the others did
everything possible to avoid service. If the war goes
wrong, the 'chicken hawk' charge will be used against
them with devastating political effect.
Vietnam veterans, both Democrat and Republican, have
already started to raise this issue, stirred up in
part by the insulting language used by Richard Perle
and his school about the caution of the professional
military. As a recent letter to the Washington Post
put it, 'the men described as chicken hawks avoided
military service during the Vietnam War while
supporting that war politically. They are not accused
of lacking experience and judgment compared to
military men. They are accused of hypocrisy and
cowardice.' Given the political risks of failure - to
themselves, above all - why are they doing this? And,
more broadly, what has bred this reckless spirit?
To understand the Administration's motivation, it is
necessary to appreciate the breathtaking scope of the
domestic and global ambitions which the dominant
neo-conservative nationalists hope to further by means
of war, and which go way beyond their publicly stated
goals. There are of course different groups within
this camp: some are more favourable to Israel, others
less hostile to China; not all would support the most
radical aspects of the programme. However, the basic
and generally agreed plan is unilateral world
domination through absolute military superiority, and
this has been consistently advocated and worked on by
the group of intellectuals close to Dick Cheney and
Richard Perle since the collapse of the Soviet Union
in the early 1990s.
This basic goal is shared by Colin Powell and the rest
of the security establishment. It was, after all,
Powell who, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
declared in 1992 that the US requires sufficient power
'to deter any challenger from ever dreaming of
challenging us on the world stage'. However, the idea
of pre-emptive defence, now official doctrine, takes
this a leap further, much further than Powell would
wish to go. In principle, it can be used to justify
the destruction of any other state if it even seems
that that state might in future be able to challenge
the US. When these ideas were first aired by Paul
Wolfowitz and others after the end of the Cold War,
they met with general criticism, even from
conservatives. Today, thanks to the ascendancy of the
radical nationalists in the Administration and the
effect of the 11 September attacks on the American
psyche, they have a major influence on US policy.
To understand the genesis of this extraordinary
ambition, it is also necessary to grasp the moral,
cultural and intellectual world of American
nationalism in which it has taken shape. This
nationalism existed long before last September, but it
has been inflamed by those attacks and, equally
dangerously, it has become even more entwined with the
nationalism of the Israeli Right.
To take the geopolitical goals first. As with National
Missile Defense, the publicly expressed motive for war
with Iraq functions mainly as a tool to gain the
necessary public support for an operation the real
goals of which are far wider. The indifference of the
US public to serious discussion of foreign or security
affairs, and the negligence and ideological rigidity
of the US media and policy community make searching
debate on such issues extremely difficult, and allow
such manipulation to succeed.
The immediate goal is indeed to eliminate Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction. There is little real
fear, however, that Saddam Hussein will give those
weapons to terrorists to use against the United States
- though a more genuine fear that he might conceivably
do so in the case of Israel. Nor is there any serious
prospect that he would use them himself in an
unprovoked attack on the US or Israel, because
immediate annihilation would follow. The banal
propaganda portrayal of Saddam as a crazed and
suicidal dictator plays well on the American street,
but I don't believe that it is a view shared by the
Administration. Rather, their intention is partly to
retain an absolute certainty of being able to defend
the Gulf against an Iraqi attack, but, more important,
to retain for the US and Israel a free hand for
intervention in the Middle East as a whole.
From the point of view of Israel, the Israeli lobby
and their representatives in the Administration, the
apparent benefits of such a free hand are clear
enough. For the group around Cheney, the single most
important consideration is guaranteed and unrestricted
access to cheap oil, controlled as far as possible at
its source. To destroy and occupy the existing Iraqi
state and dominate the region militarily would remove
even the present limited threat from Opec, greatly
reduce the chance of a new oil shock, and eliminate
the need to woo and invest in Russia as an alternative
source of energy.
It would also critically undermine the steps already
taken towards the development of alternative sources
of energy. So far, these have been pitifully few. All
the same, 11 September brought new strength to the
security arguments for reducing dependence on imported
oil, and as alternative technologies develop, they
could become a real threat to the oil lobby - which,
like the Israeli lobby, is deeply intertwined with the
Bush Administration. War with Iraq can therefore be
seen as a satisfactory outcome for both lobbies. Much
more important for the future of mankind, it is also
part of what is in essence a strategy to use American
military force to permit the continued offloading onto
the rest of the world of the ecological costs of the
existing US economy - without the need for any
short-term sacrifices on the part of US capitalism,
the US political elite or US voters.
The same goes for the war against al-Qaida and its
allies: the plan for the destruction of the existing
Iraqi regime is related to this struggle, but not as
it has been presented publicly. Links between Baghdad
and al-Qaida are unproven and inherently improbable:
what the Administration hopes is that by crushing
another middle-sized state at minimal military cost,
all the other states in the Muslim world will be
terrified into full co-operation in tracking down and
handing over suspected terrorists, and into forsaking
the Palestinian cause. Iran for its part can either be
frightened into abandoning both its nuclear programme
and its support for the Palestinians, or see its
nuclear facilities destroyed by bombardment.
The idea, in other words, is to scare these states not
only into helping with the hunt for al-Qaida, but into
capitulating to the US and, more important, Israeli
agendas in the Middle East. This was brought out in
the notorious paper on Saudi Arabia presented by
Laurent Murawiec of the Rand Corporation to Richard
Perle's Defense Policy Board. Murawiec advocated
sending the Saudis an ultimatum demanding not only
that their police force co-operate fully with US
authorities, but also the suppression of public
criticism of the US and Israel within Saudi Arabia -
something that would be impossible for any Arab state.
Despite this, the demand for the suppression of
anti-Israeli publications, broadcasts and activities
has been widely echoed in the US media.
'The road to Middle East peace lies through Baghdad'
is a line that's peddled by the Bush Administration
and the Israeli lobby. It is just possible that some
members of the Administration really believe that by
destroying Israel's most powerful remaining enemy they
will gain such credit with Israelis and the Israeli
lobby that they will be able to press compromises on
But this is certainly not what public statements by
members of the Administration - let alone those of its
Likud allies in Israel - suggest. Rumsfeld recently
described the Jewish settlements as legitimate
products of Israeli military victory; the Republican
Majority Leader in the House, Dick Armey (a sceptic as
regards war with Iraq), has advocated the ethnic
cleansing ('transfer') of the Palestinians across the
Jordan; and in 1996 Richard Perle and Douglas Feith
(now a senior official at the Pentagon) advised
Binyamin Netanyahu to abandon the Oslo Peace Process
and return to military repression of the Palestinians.
It's far more probable, therefore, that most members
of the Bush and Sharon Administrations hope that the
crushing of Iraq will so demoralise the Palestinians,
and so reduce wider Arab support for them, that it
will be possible to force them to accept a Bantustan
settlement bearing no resemblance to independent
statehood and bringing with it no possibility of
economic growth and prosperity.
How intelligent men can believe that this will work,
given the history of the past fifty years, is
astonishing. After all, the Israelis have defeated
Arab states five times with no diminution of
Palestinian nationalism or Arab sympathy for it. But
the dominant groups in the present Administrations in
both Washington and Jerusalem are 'realists' to the
core, which, as so often, means that they take an
extremely unreal view of the rest of the world, and
are insensitive to the point of autism when it comes
to the character and motivations of others. They are
obsessed by power, by the division of the world into
friends and enemies (and often, into their own country
and the rest of the world) and by the belief that any
demonstration of 'weakness' immediately leads to more
radical approaches by the 'enemy'.
Sharon and his supporters don't doubt that it was the
Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon - rather than the
Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories -
which led to the latest Intifada. The 'offensive
realists' in Washington are convinced that it was
Reagan's harsh stance and acceleration of the arms
race against the Soviet Union which brought about that
state's collapse. And both are convinced that the
continued existence of Saddam Hussein's regime of
itself suggests dangerous US weakness and cowardice,
thus emboldening enemies of the US and Israel across
the Middle East and beyond.

From the point of view of the Arab-Israeli conflict,
war with Iraq also has some of the character of a
Flucht nach vorn - an 'escape forwards' - on the part
of the US Administration. On the one hand, it has
become clear that the conflict is integrally linked to
everything else that happens in the Middle East, and
therefore cannot simply be ignored, as the Bush
Administration tried to do during its first year in
office. On the other hand, even those members of the
American political elite who have some understanding
of the situation and a concern for justice are
terrified of confronting Israel and the Israeli lobby
in the ways which would be necessary to bring any
chance of peace.
When the US demands 'democracy' in the Palestinian
territories before it will re-engage in the peace
process it is in part, and fairly cynically, trying to
get out of this trap. However, when it comes to the
new rhetoric of 'democratising' the Arab world as a
whole, the agenda is much broader and more worrying;
and because the rhetoric is attractive to many
liberals we must examine this agenda very carefully.
Belief in the spread of democracy through American
power isn't usually consciously insincere. On the
contrary, it is inseparable from American national
messianism and the wider 'American creed'. However,
this same messianism has also proved immensely useful
in destroying or crippling rivals of the United
States, the Soviet Union being the outstanding
The planned war against Iraq is not after all intended
only to remove Saddam Hussein, but to destroy the
structure of the Sunni-dominated Arab nationalist
Iraqi state as it has existed since that country's
inception. The 'democracy' which replaces it will
presumably resemble that of Afghanistan - a ramshackle
coalition of ethnic groups and warlords, utterly
dependent on US military power and utterly subservient
to US (and Israeli) wishes.
Similarly, if after Saddam's regime is destroyed,
Saudi Arabia fails to bow to US wishes and is attacked
in its turn, then - to judge by the thoughts
circulating in Washington think-tanks - the goal would
be not just to remove the Saudi regime and eliminate
Wahabism as a state ideology: it would be to destroy
and partition the Saudi state. The Gulf oilfields
would be put under US military occupation, and the
region run by some client emir; Mecca and the Hejaz
might well be returned to the Hashemite dynasty of
Jordan, its rulers before the conquest by Ibn Saud in
1924; or, to put it differently, the British imperial
programme of 1919 would be resurrected (though, if the
Hashemites have any sense, they would reject what
would without question be a long-term death sentence).
Beyond lies China. When the Bush Administration came
to power, its major security focus was not the Middle
East. There, its initial policy was benign neglect
('benign' at any rate in the case of Israel). The
greatest fears of right-wing nationalist gurus such as
Robert Kagan concerned the future emergence of China
as a superpower rival - fears lent a certain
credibility by China's sheer size and the growth of
its economy. As declared in the famous strategy
document drawn up by Paul Wolfowitz in the last year
of the first Bush Administration - and effectively
proclaimed official policy by Bush Jr in his West
Point speech in June - the guiding purpose of US
strategy after the end of the Cold War should be to
prevent the emergence of any 'peer competitor'anywhere
in the world.
What radical US nationalists have in mind is either to
'contain' China by overwhelming military force and the
creation of a ring of American allies; or, in the case
of the real radicals, to destroy the Chinese Communist
state as the Soviet Union was destroyed. As with the
Soviet Union, this would presumably involve breaking
up China by 'liberating' Tibet and other areas, and
under the guise of 'democracy', crippling the central
Chinese Administration and its capacity to develop
either its economy or its Army.
To judge by the right-wing nationalist media in the
US, this hostility to China has survived 11 September,
although in a mitigated form. If the US can
demonstrate overwhelming military superiority in the
Middle East, there will certainly be groups in the
Republican Party who will be emboldened to push for a
much tougher line on China. Above all, of course, they
support formal independence for Taiwan.
Another US military victory will certainly help to
persuade these groups that for the moment the US has
nothing to fear from the Chinese Navy or Air Force,
and that in the event of a Taiwanese declaration of
independence, the island can be defended with relative
impunity. Meanwhile, a drastic humiliation of China
over Taiwan might well be seen as a key stepping-stone
to the overthrow of Communism and the crippling of the
Chinese state system.
At present these are only long-term ambitions - or
dreams. They are certainly not shared even by a
majority of the Administration, and are unlikely to be
implemented in any systematic way. On the other hand,
it's worth bearing in mind that the dominant groups in
this Administration have now openly abandoned the
underlying strategy and philosophy of the Clinton
Administration, which was to integrate the other major
states of the world in a rule-based liberal capitalist
order, thereby reducing the threat of rivalry between
This tendency is not dead. In fact, it is strongly
represented by Colin Powell, and by lesser figures
such as Richard Haass. But their more powerful
nationalist rivals are in the meantime publicly
committed to preventing by every possible means the
emergence of any serious rival or combination of
rivals to the US, anywhere in the world, and to
opposing not just any rival would-be world hegemon,
but even the ability of other states to play the role
of great power within their own regions.
Under the guise of National Missile Defense, the
Administration - or elements within it - even dreams
of extending US military hegemony beyond the bounds of
the Earth itself (an ambition clearly indicated in the
official paper on Defense Planning Guidance for the
2004-09 Fiscal Years, issued this year by Rumsfeld's
office). And while this web of ambition is
megalomaniac, it is not simply fantasy. Given
America's overwhelming superiority, it might well work
for decades until a mixture of terrorism and the
unbearable social, political and environmental costs
of US economic domination put paid to the present
order of the world.
As things stand, the American people would never
knowingly support such a programme - nor for that
matter would the US military. Even after 11 September,
this is not by historical standards a militarist
country; and whatever the increasingly open
imperialism of the nationalist think-tank class,
neither the military nor the mass of the population
wishes to see itself as imperialist. The fear of
casualties and of long-term overseas military
entanglements remains intense. And all opinion polls
suggest that the majority of the American public,
insofar as it considers these issues at all, is far
more interested than this Administration in
co-operation with allies.
Besides, if the US economy continues to stagnate or
falls sharply, the Republicans will most probably not
even be in power after 2004. As more companies
collapse, the Administration's links to corrupt
business oligarchies will become more and more
controversial. Further economic decline combined with
bloated military spending would sooner or later bring
on the full consequences of the stripping of the
public finances caused by this Administration's
military spending and its tax cuts for the rich. At
that point, the financial basis of Social Security
would come into question, and the Republican vote
among the 'middle classes' could shatter.
It is only to a minimal degree within the power of any
US administration to stimulate economic growth. And
even if growth resumes, the transformation of the
economy is almost certain to continue. This will mean
the incomes of the 'middle classes' (which in American
terminology includes the working proletariat) will
continue to decline and the gap between them and the
plutocracy will continue to increase. High military
spending can correct this trend to some extent, but
because of the changed nature of weaponry, to a much
lesser extent than was the case in the 19th and most
of the 20th centuries. All other things being equal,
this should result in a considerable shift of the
electorate to the left.
But all other things are not equal. Two strategies in
particular would give the Republicans the chance not
only of winning in 2004, but of repeating Roosevelt's
success for the Democrats in the 1930s and becoming
the natural party of government for the foreseeable
future. The first is the classic modern strategy of an
endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert
mass discontent into nationalism. The second, which is
specifically American, is to take the Jewish vote away
from its traditional home in the Democratic Party, by
demonstrating categorical Republican commitment not
just to Israel's defence but to its regional
This is connected both to the rightward shift in
Israel, and to the increasingly close links between
the Republicans and Likud, through figures like Perle
and Feith. It marks a radical change from the old
Republican Party of Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush p?re,
which was far more independent of Israel than the
Democrats. Of key importance here has been the growing
alliance between the Christian Right - closely linked
to the old White South - and the Israeli lobby, or at
least its hardline Likud elements.
When this alliance began to take shape some years
back, it seemed a most improbable combination. After
all, the Christian Right and the White South were once
havens of anti-semitic conspiracy theories. On the
other hand, the Old Testament aspects of
fundamentalist Christianity had created certain
sympathies for Judaism and Israel from as far back as
the US's 17th-century origins.
For Christian fundamentalists today the influence of
millenarian thought is equally important in shaping
support for Israel: the existence of the Israeli state
is seen as a necessary prelude to the arrival of the
Antichrist, the Apocalypse and the rule of Christ and
His Saints. But above all, perhaps, this coming
together of the fundamentalist Right and hardline
Zionism is natural, because they share many hatreds.
The Christian Right has always hated the United
Nations, partly on straight nationalist grounds, but
also because of bizarre fears of world government by
the Antichrist. They have hated Europeans on religious
grounds as decadent atheists, on class grounds as
associates of the hated 'East Coast elites', and on
nationalist grounds as critics of unconstrained
American power. Both sides share an instinctive love
of military force. Both see themselves as historical
victims. This may seem strange in the case of the
American Rightists, but it isn't if one considers both
the White South's history of defeat, and the Christian
Right's sense since the 1960s of defeat and
embattlement by the forces of irreligion and cultural
Finally, and most dangerously, both are conditioned to
see themselves as defenders of 'civilisation' against
'savages' - a distinction always perceived on the
Christian Right as in the main racially defined. It is
no longer possible in America to speak openly in these
terms of American blacks, Asians and Latinos - but
since 11 September at least, it has been entirely
possible to do so about Arabs and Muslims.
Even in the 2000 elections, the Republicans were able
to take a large part of the white working-class vote
away from Gore by appealing to cultural populism - and
especially to those opposed to gun control and
environmental protection. Despite the real class
identity and cultural interests of the Republican
elite, they seem able to convince many workers that
they are natural allies against the culturally alien
and supercilious 'East Coast elites' represented as
supporting Gore.
These populist values are closely linked to the
traditional values of hardline nationalism. They are
what the historian Walter Russell Mead and others have
called 'Jacksonian' values, after President Andrew
Jackson's populist nationalism of the 1830s. As Mead
has indicated, 11 September has immensely increased
the value of this line to Republicans.
If on top of this the Republicans can permanently woo
the Jewish vote away from the Democrats - a process
which purely class interests would suggest and which
has been progressing slowly but steadily since
Reagan's day - there is a good chance of their
crippling the Democrats for a generation or more.
Deprived of much of their financial support and their
intellectual backbone, the Democrats could be reduced
to a coalition of the declining unionised white
working class, blacks and Latinos. And not only do
these groups on the whole dislike and distrust each
other, but the more the Democrats are seen as minority
dominated, the more whites will tend to flee to the
Already, the anti-semitism of some black leaders in
the Democratic Party has contributed to driving many
Jews towards the Republicans; and thanks to their
allegiance to Israel, the liberal Jewish
intelligentsia has moved a long way from their
previous internationalism. This shift is highly
visible in previously liberal and relatively
internationalist journals such as the New Republic and
Atlantic Monthly, and maybe even in the New Yorker.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that as a result
the internationalist position in the Democratic Party
and the US as a whole has been eviscerated.
The Democrats are well aware of this threat to their
electorate. The Party as a whole has always been
strongly committed to Israel. On Iraq and the war
against terrorism, its approach seems to be to avoid
at all costs seeming 'unpatriotic'. If they can avoid
being hammered by the Republicans on the charge of
'weakness' and lack of patriotism, then they can still
hope to win the 2004 elections on the basis of
economic discontent. The consequence, however, is that
the Party has become largely invisible in the debate
about Iraq; the Democrats are merely increasing their
reputation for passionless feebleness; whereas the
Republican nationalists are full of passionate
intensity - the passion which in November 2000 helped
them pressure the courts over the Florida vote and in
effect steal the election.
It is this passion which gives the nationalist Right
so much of its strength; and in setting out the hopes
and plans of the groupings which dominate the Bush
Administration, I don't want to give the impression
that everything is simply a matter of conscious and
cynical manipulation in their own narrow interests.
Schematic approaches of this kind have bedevilled all
too much of the reporting of nationalism and national
conflict. This is odd and depressing, because in
recent decades the historiography of pre-1914 German
nationalism - to take only one example - has seen an
approach based on ideas of class manipulation give way
to an infinitely more subtle analysis which emphasises
the role of socio-economic and cultural change,
unconscious identifications, and interpenetrating
political influences from above and below.
To understand the radical nationalist Right in the US,
and the dominant forces in the Bush Administration, it
is necessary first of all to understand their absolute
and absolutely sincere identification of themselves
with the United States, to the point where the
presence of any other group in government is seen as a
usurpation, as profoundly and inherently illegitimate
and 'un-American'. As far as the hardline elements of
the US security establishment and military industrial
complex are concerned, they are the product of the
Cold War, and were shaped by that struggle and the
paranoia and fanaticism it bred. In typical fashion
for security elites, they also became conditioned over
the decades to see themselves not just as tougher,
braver, wiser and more knowledgeable than their
ignorant, innocent compatriots, but as the only force
standing between their country and destruction.
The Cold War led to the creation of governmental,
economic and intellectual structures in the US which
require for their survival a belief in the existence
of powerful national enemies - not just terrorists,
but enemy states. As a result, in their analyses and
propaganda they instinctively generate the necessary
image of an enemy. Once again, however, it would be
unwise to see this as a conscious process. For the
Cold War also continued, fostered and legitimised a
very old discourse of nationalist hatred in the US,
ostensibly directed against the Communists and their
allies but usually with a very strong colouring of
ethnic chauvinism.
On the other hand, the roots of the hysteria of the
Right go far beyond nationalism and national security.
Their pathological hatred for the Clinton
Administration cannot adequately be explained in terms
of national security or even in rational political or
economic terms, for after a very brief period of
semi-radicalism (almost entirely limited to the failed
attempt at health reform), Clinton devoted himself in
a Blairite way to adopting large parts of the
Republican socio-economic agenda. Rather, Clinton, his
wife, his personal style, his personal background and
some of his closest followers were all seen as
culturally and therefore nationally alien, mainly
because associated with the counter-culture of the
1960s and 1970s.
The modern incarnation of this spirit can indeed be
seen above all as a reaction to the double defeat of
the Right in the Vietnam War - a defeat which, they
may hope, victory in Iraq and a new wave of
conservative nationalism at home could cancel out once
and for all. In Vietnam, unprecedented military defeat
coincided with the appearance of a modern culture
which traditionalist Americans found alien, immoral
and hateful beyond description. As was widely remarked
at the time of Newt Gingrich's attempted 'Republican
Revolution' of the mid-1990s, one way of looking at
the hardline Republicans - especially from the
Religious Right - is to see them as motivated by a
classical nationalist desire for a return to a Golden
Age, in their case the pre-Vietnam days of the 1950s.
None of these fantasies is characteristic of the
American people as a whole. But the intense solipsism
of that people, its general ignorance of the world
beyond America's shores, coupled with the effects of
11 September, have left tremendous political spaces in
which groups possessed by the fantasies and ambitions
sketched out here can seek their objectives. Or to put
it another way: the great majority of the American
people are not nearly as militarist, imperialist or
aggressive as their German equivalents in 1914; but
most German people in 1914 would at least have been
able to find France on a map.
The younger intelligentsia meanwhile has also been
stripped of any real knowledge of the outside world by
academic neglect of history and regional studies in
favour of disciplines which are often no more than a
crass projection of American assumptions and
prejudices (Rational Choice Theory is the worst
example). This has reduced still further their
capacity for serious analysis of their own country and
its actions. Together with the defection of its
strongest internationalist elements, this leaves the
intelligentsia vulnerable to the appeal of nationalist
messianism dressed up in the supposedly benevolent
clothing of 'democratisation'.
Twice now in the past decade, the overwhelming
military and economic dominance of the US has given it
the chance to lead the rest of the world by example
and consensus. It could have adopted (and to a very
limited degree under Clinton did adopt) a strategy in
which this dominance would be softened and legitimised
by economic and ecological generosity and
responsibility, by geopolitical restraint, and by 'a
decent respect to the opinion of mankind', as the US
Declaration of Independence has it. The first occasion
was the collapse of the Soviet superpower enemy and of
Communism as an ideology. The second was the threat
displayed by al-Qaida. Both chances have been lost -
the first in part, the second it seems conclusively.
What we see now is the tragedy of a great country,
with noble impulses, successful institutions,
magnificent historical achievements and immense
energies, which has become a menace to itself and to

Anatol Lieven, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, is
the author of Chechnya and Ukraine and Russia: A
Fraternal Rivalry.rget=_to??@

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