Sunday, February 12, 2006

More on Iran

Barbara at Mahablog writes:

You all remember the "axis of evil" line from the 2002 SOTU speech, I'm sure. The "axis" of dangerous nations was North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Of the three, Iraq was the weakest and least dangerous; naturally, we squandered our military and spoiled diplomatic resources by invading Iraq, leaving the problems in Iran and North Korea to fester.

Yes, exactly. This was part of the plan, much touted by the Bush administration before the Iraq invasion, that regime change in Iraq would be greeted by the Iraqi people as a liberation; that it would bring democracy to Iraq; and that democracy in Iraq would in turn trigger a surge of democratic reform throughout the region. It's sort of the flip side of the "domino theory" that informed the Cold War: If one country "fell" to Communism, all the others around it would succumb as well.

The key proponent of this theory, of course, was Paul Wolfowitz, former darling of Bush defense strategy. He ended up taking much of the blame for the disastrous lack of postwar planning, which is why Bush kicked him upstairs to the World Bank after the 2004 elections. But that doesn't mean the Wolfowitz/Bush doctrine is dead. And I think, given the fact that we now are about to go to war with Iran because Bush ignored the biggest threats in favor of confronting the weakest threat, it might be instructive to look at the history behind that doctrine.

It all goes back to a defense planning document that Wolfowitz drafted in February 1992, when he was in the Defense Department, reporting to Dick Cheney. Excerpts of this draft document were leaked to the New York Times, and on March 8, 1992, Patrick Tyler broke the story:

In a broad new policy statement that is in its final drafting stage, the Defense Department asserts that America's political and military mission in the post-cold-war era will be to insure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union.

A 46-page document that has been circulating at the highest levels of the Pentagon for weeks, and which Defense Secretary Dick Cheney expects to release later this month, states that part of the American mission will be "convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests."

The classified document makes the case for a world dominated by one superpower whose position can be perpetuated by constructive behavior and sufficient military might to deter any nation or group of nations from challenging American primacy. Rejecting Collective Approach

To perpetuate this role, the United States "must sufficiently account for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order," the document states.

With its focus on this concept of benevolent domination by one power, the Pentagon document articulates the clearest rejection to date of collective internationalism, the strategy that emerged from World War II when the five victorious powers sought to form a United Nations that could mediate disputes and police outbreaks of violence.

The draft document created such a storm of controversy that it was reworked; and a new unclassified version, titled "Defense Strategy for the 1990s," was released in 1993 -- but it was still, as David Armstrong wrote in the October 2002 issue of Harper's, a plan to "rule the world."

The defense planning document was the blueprint for the Project for a New American Century, a think tank founded in June 1997 by "a who's who of former Reagan administration and conservative think tank intellectuals," all of whom had been chomping at the bit to reverse the policy of containment and multilateralism that the first Pres. Bush and Bill Clinton had both adhered to.

And now we come to the roots of the current Bush administration's obsession with Iraq. The PNAC necons were going nuts because they felt that multilateralism and containment were so incredibly wrong and terrible policies when the United States, as the world's sole superpower, was truly in a position to assert its dominance on a global scale. What was the point of having such unprecedented power over an entire planet if American leaders still felt they had to compromise and cooperate and put up with annoying regimes -- when with one swipe of our paw, we could smash our enemies to bits?

"American foreign and defense policy is adrift," the statement said. " ...As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. ... Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?" The statement ended by calling for "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity."

From the beginning, the Project was obsessed with Iraq. In a January 1998 letter to President Clinton, PNAC wrote, "We urge turn your administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power." The letter was signed by, among others, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, and Richard Armitage.

In September 2000, the Project released its grand plan for the future in a report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century." The report begins with the premise that "The United States is the world's only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world's largest economy. ... America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible. ... Yet no moment in international politics can be frozen in time; even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself."

The report recommends new missions for the U.S. armed forces, including a dominant nuclear capability with a new generation of nuclear weapons, sufficient combat forces to fight and win multiple major wars, and forces for "constabulary duties" around the world with American rather than U.N. leadership. It asserts that "The presence of American forces in critical regions around the world is the visible expression of the extent of America's status as a superpower" and proposes "a network of 'deployment bases' or 'forward operating bases' to increase the reach of current and future forces."

Specifically citing the Persian Gulf, the report notes that "the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. ... Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has."

Concluding with the importance of transforming the U.S. military for new challenges, it provocatively notes that "the failure to prepare for tomorrow's challenges will ensure that the current Pax Americana comes to an early end."

So when Bush took office in January, 2001, and even more so after the attacks of 9/11, the neocons finally had their opportunity to put their philosophy into practice. And, again, they saw Iraq as the very heart of that new policy -- the launching pad for a new approach to American power. They weren't thinking about Iran or North Korea. They didn't care that Iraq was the least of the threats in that region. To them, Iraq was the key to the successful assertion of U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East and to the establishment of U.S. dominance on a global level.

And thus it is that we find ourselves on the brink of World War III.

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