Neocon Imperialism, 9/11, & After-Attacks
Here’s to introducing a perspective, relevant to the debates about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, that thus far has not been part of the public discussion.
- Neoconservatives and Global Empire
The “neo” in the term “neo-conservative” is a remnant of the fact that the first generation neoconservatives, such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, had moved to the right after having been members of the left. Kristol, often called “the godfather of neoconservatism,” famously defined neoconservatives as liberals who had been “mugged by reality.” No such move, however, has characterized most of the second-generation neocons, who came to dominate the movement in the 1990s.
The 1990s and PNAC
America and the World after the Cold War, which expresses quite forthrightly the idea of preventing, by military force if necessary, the rise of any rival power. In 1996, Robert Kagan, “who emerged in the 1990s as perhaps the most influential neocon foreign policy analyst,” argued that the United States should use its military strength “actively to maintain a world order which both supports and rests upon American hegemony.” In 1998, Kagan and William Kristol, who in 1995 had founded the Weekly Standard (which quickly became the main organ of neocon thinking), wrote that unless America takes charge, we will have “world chaos, and a dangerous twenty-first century.” In January of 2001, as the Bush-Cheney administration was ready to come to power, Kagan criticized “Clinton and his advisers” for “having the stomach only to be halfway imperialists.”
It is important to understand the development of this neoconservative ideology, given the fact that after 9/11, the neocon agenda became the agenda of the United States.
In September of 2000, just three months before the Bush-Cheney administration took office, PNAC published a 76-page document entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses (RAD). Saying that “[a]t present the United States faces no global rival,” RAD declared that “America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position” and thereby “to preserve and enhance [the] ‘American peace.’” To “enhance” the “American peace” means, of course, to increase the size of the American empire. Explicitly referring back to the Cheney-Wolfowitz Defense Planning Guidance draft of 1992, RAD said that “the basic tenets of the DPG, in our judgment, remain sound.” The continuity between the two documents is no surprise, partly because Libby and Wolfowitz are listed as participants in the production of this 2000 document.
What is said in the PNAC’s documents is highly important because many of PNAC’s early members, including Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Eliot Cohen, Paula Dobriansky, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Peter W. Rodman, James Woolsey, and—most significantly—Cheney, Libby, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, became central members of the new Bush administration. PNAC neocons thereby took key positions in the Vice President’s Office, the Pentagon, and the (only semi-independent) Defense Policy Board. They did so well primarily because of Cheney, who was put in charge of the transition team, and secondarily because of Rumsfeld, after Cheney chose him to head the Pentagon.
However, it was not until after 9/11, and especially after the devastating assault on Afghanistan, that the neocon effort to get Americans to accept an imperial self-definition started showing widespread success.
2. Military Omnipotence
The tool for fulfilling this drive for empire, neocons have always held, is military power. To a great extent, in fact, the neoconservative movement began in reaction to the widespread view after the Vietnam war that American military power should never again be used for imperialistic purposes. In the early 1980s, rejecting the left’s conclusion that force had become “obsolete as an instrument of American political purposes,” Norman Podhoretz argued that military power constitutes “the indispensable foundation of U.S. foreign policy,” adding that “without it, nothing else we do will be effective.”
9/11 as the New Pearl Harbor
The attacks of 9/11 were widely referred to as a new Pearl Harbor. President Bush reportedly wrote in his diary on the night of 9/11: “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.” Immediately after the attacks, many people, from Robert Kagan to Henry Kissinger to a writer for Time magazine, said that America should respond to the attacks of 9/11 in the same way it had responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
3. Preemptive-Preventive War
This hyphenated term is used here for clarity. The doctrine in question, which involves attacking another country even though it poses no immediate threat, is technically called “preventive war.” This doctrine, which violates international law as reflected in the charter of the United Nations, is to be distinguished from what is technically called “preemptive war,” which occurs when Country A attacks Country B after learning that an attack from Country B is imminent—too imminent to allow time for the U.N. to intervene.
The Doctrine of Preemptive-Preventive War after 9/11
Although these neocons were anxious to have their doctrine of preemptive-preventive war accepted as national policy, this did not occur during the Clinton presidency or even during the first eight months of the Bush-Cheney administration. After 9/11, however, it did. “The events of 9/11,” observes Bacevich, “provided the tailor-made opportunity to break free of the fetters restricting the exercise of American power.”
4. The Attack on Afghanistan
Many times since the formal enunciation of the doctrine of preemptive-preventive warfare, the Bush-Cheney administration has defended it as necessitated by 9/11. In an address to the nation in 2004, for example, Bush said that the two lessons of 9/11 are that this country “must deal with gathering threats” and that it “must go on the offense and stay on the offense.” The first victim of this claimed right to “go on the offense” was Afghanistan.
Although the attacks of 9/11 were, according to the official story, planned and carried out by a non-state organization, al-Qaeda, rather than by some state, the Bush-Cheney administration used the attacks as a pretext to launch attacks on states—attacks that had been planned before 9/11. The justification for this switch was provided by Bush’s address to the nation on the evening of 9/11, in which he declared: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” The attack on Afghanistan was then justified on the grounds that the Taliban was “harboring” Osama bin Laden, the evil genius behind the 9/11 attacks, whom Bush on September 17 said he wanted “dead or alive” (after Cheney had said that he would willingly accept bin Laden’s “head on a platter”).
5. The Attack on Iraq
Several neocons, including some who became central members of the Bush-Cheney administration, had been wanting to bring about regime change in Iraq ever since Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Leading voices for this policy included Cheney and Wolfowitz, who were then secretary and under-secretary of defense, respectively, and also Richard Perle, who chaired a committee set up by neocons called Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf. But this idea was opposed by President Bush along with General Colin Powell, then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, the field commander, so it was not carried out.
The attacks of 9/11 allowed the imperialist agenda of leading neoconservatives to be implemented. Can we infer from this effect that the hope to have this agenda fulfilled was one of the motives for the 9/11 attacks? Of course not. One of the basic principles of criminal investigations, however, is the question: Who benefits? Those who most benefit from the crime are usually the most likely suspects. But an answer to that question cannot by itself be used as proof of the suspects’ guilt. The prosecution must also show that the suspects had the means and the opportunity to commit the crime. It must also present evidence that the suspects actually committed the crime—at least indirect evidence, perhaps by showing that they were the only ones who could have done it.
So shouldn’t all Americans demand a factual 9/11 investigation?
“Our government has been hijacked by means of a “new Pearl Harbor” and a lot of otherwise good and decent people who are gullible enough to think that the first three steel-framed buildings in history fell down because they had some fires that the fire fighter on the scene said could be knocked down with a couple of hoses, and through which people walked before they were photographed looking out the holes where the plane hit . One of these - bldg 7, [570 feet tall, 47 stories] was never hit by a plane and even NIST is ashamed to advance a reason for its collapse. And, miracle of miracles, these three buildings just happened to be leased and insured by the same guy who is on tape saying they decided to “PULL” the last one to fall.”
– Lt. Col. Shelton F. Lankford, U.S. Marine Corps (ret), Retired U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot with over 300 combat missions flown. 21-year Marine Corps career.
“Military men are just dumb, stupid, animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”
– Henry Kissinger, quoted in Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam.
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
– President Bush, May 24, 2005 in Rochester, NY.