November 5, 2005
Harper's Magazine, Oct 2002, Vol. 305, Issue 1829 - 2002-10-01
Plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is
unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for
the United States to maintain its overwhelming military superiority and
prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage.
It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that
the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it
must be absolutely powerful.
Few writers are more ambitious than the
writers of government policy papers, and few policy papers are more
ambitious than Dick Cheney’s masterwork. It has taken several forms
over the last decade and is in fact the product of several ghostwriters
(notably Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell), but Cheney has been
consistent in his dedication to the ideas in the documents that bear
his name, and he has maintained a close association with the ideologues
behind them. Let us, therefore, call Cheney the author, and this series
of documents the Plan.
The Plan was published in unclassified form most recently under the title of Defense Strategy for the 1990s,
(pdf) as Cheney ended his term as secretary of defense under the elder
George Bush in early 1993, but it is, like "Leaves of Grass," a
perpetually evolving work. It was the controversial Defense Planning
Guidance draft of 1992 – from which Cheney, unconvincingly, tried to
distance himself – and it was the somewhat less aggressive revised
draft of that same year. This June it was a presidential lecture in the
form of a commencement address at West Point, and in July it was leaked
to the press as yet another Defense Planning Guidance (this time under
the pen name of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld). It will take its
ultimate form, though, as America’s new national security strategy –
and Cheney et al. will experience what few writers have even dared
dream: their words will become our reality.
The Plan is for the United States to rule the world.
The overt theme is unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of
domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming
military superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge
it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies
alike. It says not that the United States must be more powerful, or
most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.
The Plan is disturbing in many ways, and ultimately
unworkable. Yet it is being sold now as an answer to the "new
realities" of the post-September 11 world, even as it was sold
previously as the answer to the new realities of the post-Cold War
world. For Cheney, the Plan has always been the right answer, no matter
how different the questions.
Cheney’s unwavering adherence to the Plan would be
amusing, and maybe a little sad, except that it is now our plan. In its
pages are the ideas that we now act upon every day with the full might
of the United States military. Strangely, few critics have noted that
Cheney’s work has a long history, or that it was once quite unpopular,
or that it was created in reaction to circumstances that are far
removed from the ones we now face. But Cheney is a well-known action
man. One has to admire, in a way, the Babe Ruth-like sureness of his
political work. He pointed to center field ten years ago, and now the
ball is sailing over the fence.
Before the Plan was about domination it was about
money. It took shape in late 1989, when the Soviet threat was clearly
on the decline, and, with it, public support for a large military
establishment. Cheney seemed unable to come to terms with either new
reality. He remained deeply suspicious of the Soviets and strongly
resisted all efforts to reduce military spending. Democrats in Congress
jeered his lack of strategic vision, and a few within the Bush
Administration were whispering that Cheney had become an irrelevant
factor in structuring a response to the revolutionary changes taking
place in the world.
More adaptable was the up-and-coming General Colin
Powell, the newly appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As
Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, Powell had seen the changes
taking place in the Soviet Union firsthand and was convinced that the
ongoing transformation was irreversible. Like Cheney, he wanted to
avoid military cuts, but he knew they were inevitable. The best he
could do was minimize them, and the best way to do that would be to
offer a new security structure that would preserve American military
capabilities despite reduced resources.
Powell and his staff believed that a weakened Soviet
Union would result in shifting alliances and regional conflict. The
United States was the only nation capable of managing the forces at
play in the world; it would have to remain the preeminent military
power in order to ensure the peace and shape the emerging order in
accordance with American interests. U.S. military strategy, therefore,
would have to shift from global containment to managing
less-well-defined regional struggles and unforeseen contingencies. To
do this, the United States would have to project a military "forward
presence" around the world; there would be fewer troops but in more
places. This plan still would not be cheap, but through careful
restructuring and superior technology, the job could be done with 25
percent fewer troops. Powell insisted that maintaining superpower
status must be the first priority of the U.S. military. "We have to put
a shingle outside our door saying, 'Superpower Lives Here,’ no matter
what the Soviets do," he said at the time. He also insisted that the
troop levels be proposed were the bare minimum necessary to do so. This
concept would come to be known as the "Base Force."
Powell’s work on the subject proved timely. The
Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, and five days later Powell had
his new strategy ready to present to Cheney. Even as decades of
repression were ending in Eastern Europe, however, Cheney still could
not abide even the force and budget reductions Powell proposed. Yet he
knew that cuts were unavoidable. Having no alternative of his own to
offer, therefore, he reluctantly encouraged Powell to present his ideas
to the president. Powell did so the next day; Bush made no promises but
encouraged him to keep at it.
Less encouraging was the reaction of Paul Wolfowitz,
the undersecretary of defense for policy. A lifelong proponent of the
unilateralist, maximum-force approach, he shared Cheney’s skepticism
about the Eastern Bloc and so put his own staff to work on a competing
plan that would somehow accommodate the possibility of Soviet
As Powell and Wolfowitz worked out their strategies,
Congress was losing patience. New calls went up for large cuts in
defense spending in light of the new global environment. The harshest
critique of Pentagon planning came from a usually dependable ally of
the military establishment, Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, chairman of the
Senate Armed Services committee. Nunn told fellow senators in March
1990 that there was a "threat blank" in the administration’s proposed
$295 billion defense budget and that the Pentagon’s "basic assessment
of the overall threat to our national security" was "rooted in the
past." The world had changed and yet the "development of a new military
strategy that responds to the changes in the threat has not yet
occurred." Without that response, no dollars would be forthcoming.
Nunn’s message was clear. Powell and Wolfowitz began
filling in the blanks. Powell started promoting a Zen-like new
rationale for his Base Force approach. With the Soviets rapidly
becoming irrelevant, Powell argued, the United States could no longer
assess its military needs on the basis of known threats. Instead, the
Pentagon should focus on maintaining the ability to address a wide
variety of new and unknown challenges. This shift from a "threat based"
assessment of military requirements to a "capability based" assessment
would become a key theme of the Plan. The United States would move from
countering Soviet attempts at dominance to ensuring its own dominance.
Again, this project would not be cheap.
Powell’s argument, circular though it may have been,
proved sufficient to hold off Congress. Winning support among his own
colleagues, however, proved more difficult. Cheney remained deeply
skeptical about the Soviets, and Wolfowitz was only slowly coming
around. To account for future uncertainties, Wolfowitz recommended
drawing down U.S. forces to roughly the levels proposed by Powell, but
doing so at a much slower pace; seven years as opposed to the four
Powell suggested. He also built in a "crisis response/reconstitution"
clause that would allow for reversing the process if events in the
Soviet Union, or elsewhere, turned ugly.
With these now elements in place, Cheney saw
something that might work. By combining Powell’s concepts with those of
Wolfowitz, he could counter congressional criticism that his proposed
defense budget was out of line with the new strategic reality, while
leaving the door open for future force increases. In late June,
Wolfowitz, Powell, and Cheney presented their plan to the president,
and within as few weeks Bush was unveiling the new strategy.
Bush laid out the rationale for the Plan in a speech
in Aspen, Colorado, on August 2, 1990. He explained that since the
danger of global war had substantially receded, the principal threats
to American security would emerge in unexpected quarters. To counter
those threats, he said, the United States would increasingly base the
size and structure of its forces on the need to respond to "regional
contingencies" and maintain a peacetime military presence overseas.
Meeting that need would require maintaining the capability to quickly
deliver American forces to any "corner of the globe," and that would
mean retaining many major weapons systems then under attack in Congress
as overly costly and unnecessary, including the "Star Wars"
missile-defense program. Despite those massive outlays, Bush insisted
that the proposed restructuring would allow the United States to draw
down its active forces by 25 percent in the years ahead, the same
figure Powell had projected ten months earlier.
The Plan’s debut was well timed. By a remarkable
coincidence, Bush revealed it the very day Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi
forces invaded Kuwait.
The Gulf War temporarily reduced the pressure to cut
military spending. It also diverted attention from some of the Plan’s
less appealing aspects. In addition, it inspired what would become one
of the Plan’s key features: the use of "overwhelming force" to quickly
defeat enemies, a concept since dubbed the Powell Doctrine.
Once the Iraqi threat was "contained," Wolfowitz
returned to his obsession with the Soviets, planning various scenarios
involved possible Soviet intervention in regional conflicts. The
failure of the hard-liner coup against Gorbachev in August 1991,
however, made it apparent that such planning might be unnecessary.
Then, in late December, just as the Pentagon was preparing to put the
Plan in place, the Soviet Union collapsed.
With the Soviet Union gone, the United States had a
choice. It could capitalize on the euphoria of the moment by nurturing
cooperative relations and developing multilateral structures to help
guide the global realignment then taking place; or it could consolidate
its power and pursue a strategy of unilateralism and global dominance.
It chose the latter course.
In early 1992, as Powell and Cheney campaigned to
win congressional support for their augmented Base Force plan, a new
logic entered into their appeals. The United States, Powell told
members of the House Armed Services Committee, required "sufficient
power" to "deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on
the world stage." To emphasize the point, he cast the United States in
the role of street thug. "I want to be the bully on the block," he
said, implanting in the mind of potential opponents that "there is no
future in trying to challenge the armed forces of the United States."
As Powell and Cheney were making this new argument
in their congressional rounds, Wolfowitz was busy expanding the concept
and working to have it incorporated into U.S. policy. During the early
months of 1992, Wolfowitz supervised the preparation of an internal
Pentagon policy statement used to guide military officials in the
preparation of their forces, budgets, and strategies. The classified
document, known as the Defense Planning Guidance, depicted a world
dominated by the United States, which would maintain its superpower
status through a combination of positive guidance and overwhelming
military might. the image was one of a heavily armed City on a Hill.
The DPG stated that the "first objective" of U.S.
defense strategy was "to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival."
Achieving this objective required that the United States "prevent any
hostile power from dominating a region" of strategic significance.
America’s new mission would be to convince allies and enemies alike
"that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more
aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests."
Another new theme was the use of preemptive military
force. The options, the DPG noted, ranged from taking preemptive
military action to head off a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack
to "punishing" or "threatening punishment of" aggressors "through a
variety of means," including strikes against weapons-manufacturing
The DPG also envisioned maintaining a substantial
U.S. nuclear arsenal while discouraging the development of nuclear
programs in other countries. It depicted a "U.S.-led system of
collective security" that implicitly precluded the need for rearmament
of any king by countries such as Germany and Japan. And it called for
the "early introduction" of a global missile-defense system that would
presumably render all missile-launched weapons, including those of the
United States, obsolete. (The United States would, of course, remain
the world’s dominant military power on the strength of its other
The story, in short, was dominance by way of
unilateral action and military superiority. While coalitions – such as
the one formed during the Gulf War – held "considerable promise for
promoting collective action," the draft DPG stated, the United States
should expect future alliances to be "ad hoc assemblies, often not
lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying
only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished." It was
essential to create "the sense that the world order is ultimately
backed by the U.S." and essential that America position itself "to act
independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated" or in
crisis situation requiring immediate action. "While the U.S. cannot
become the world’s policeman," the document said, "we will retain the
preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which
threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends."
Among the interests the draft indicated the United States would defend
in this manner were "access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian
Gulf oil, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic
missiles, [and] threats to U.S. citizens from terrorism."
The DPC was leaked to the New York Times in March
1992. Critics on both the left and the right attacked it immediately.
Then-presidential candidate Pat Buchanan portrayed candidate a "blank
check" to America’s allies by suggesting the United States would "go to
war to defend their interests." Bill Clinton’s deputy campaign manager,
George Stephanopoulos, characterized it as an attempt by Pentagon
officials to "find an excuse for big defense budgets instead of
downsizing." Delaware Senator Joseph Biden criticized the Plan’s vision
of a "Pax Americana, a global security system where threats to
stability are suppressed or destroyed by U.S. military power." Even
those who found the document’s stated goals commendable feared that its
chauvinistic tone could alienate many allies. Cheney responded by
attempting to distance himself from the Plan. The Pentagon’s spokesman
dismissed the leaked document as a "low-level draft" and claimed that
Cheney had not seen it. Yet a fifteen-page section opened by
proclaiming that it constituted "definitive guidance from the Secretary
Powell took a more forthright approach to dealing
with the flap: he publicly embraced the DPG’s core concept. In a TV
interview, he said he believed it was "just fine" that the United
States reign as the world’s dominant military power. "I don’t think we
should apologize for that," he said. Despite bad reviews in the foreign
press, Powell insisted that America’s European allies were "not afraid"
of U.S. military might because it was "power that could be trusted" and
"will not be misused."
Mindful that the draft DPG’s overt expression of
U.S. dominance might not fly, Powell in the same interview also trotted
out a new rationale for the original Base Force plan. He argued that in
a post-Soviet world, filled with new dangers, the United States needed
the ability to fight on more than one front at a time. "One of the most
destabilizing things we could do," he said, "is to cut our forces so
much that if we’re tied up in one area of the world ..... and we are
not seen to have the ability to influence another area of the world, we
might invite just the sort of crisis we’re trying to deter." This
two-war strategy provided a possible answer to Nunn’s "threat blank."
One unknown enemy wasn’t enough to justify lavish defense budgets, but
two unknown enemies might do the trick.
Within a few weeks the Pentagon had come up with a
more comprehensive response to the DPG furor. A revised version was
leaked to the press that was significantly less strident in tone,
though only slightly less strident in fact. While calling for the
United States to prevent "any hostile power from dominating a region
critical to our interests," the new draft stressed that America would
act in concert with its allies – when possible. It also suggested the
United Nations might take an expanded role in future political,
economic, and security matters, a concept conspicuously absent from the
The controversy died down, and, with a presidential
campaign under way, the Pentagon did nothing to stir it up again.
Following Bush’s defeat, however, the Plan reemerged. In January 1993,
in his very last days in office. Cheney released a final version. The
newly titled Defense Strategy for the 1990s retained the soft touch of
the revised draft DPG as well as its darker themes. The goal remained
to preclude "hostile competitors from challenging our critical
interests" and preventing the rise of a new super-power. Although it
expressed a "preference" for collective responses in meeting such
challenges, it made clear that the United States would play the lead
role in any alliance. Moreover, it noted that collective action would
"not always be timely." Therefore, the United States needed to retain
the ability to "act independently, if necessary." To do so would
require that the United States maintain its massive military
superiority. Others were not encouraged to follow suit. It was kinder,
gentler dominance, but it was dominance all the same. And it was this
thesis that Cheney and company nailed to the door on their way out.
The new administration tacitly rejected the
heavy-handed, unilateral approach to U.S. primacy favored by Powell,
Cheney, and Wolfowitz. Taking office in the relative calm of the early
post – Cold War era, Clinton sought to maximize America’s existing
position of strength and promote its interests through economic
diplomacy, multilateral institutions (dominated by the United States),
greater international free trade, and the development of allied
coalitions, including American-led collective military action. American
policy, in short, shifted from global dominance to globalism.
Clinton also failed to prosecute military campaigns
with sufficient vigor to satisfy the defense strategists of the
previous administration. Wolfowitz found Clinton’s Iraq policy
especially infuriating. During the Gulf War, Wolfowitz harshly
criticized the decision – endorsed by Powell and Cheney – to end the
war once the U.N. mandate of driving Saddam’s forces from Kuwait had
been fulfilled, leaving the Iraqi dictator in office. He called on the
Clinton Administration to finish the job by arming Iraqi opposition
forces and sending U.S. ground troops to defense a base of operation
for them in the southern region of the country. In a 1996 editorial,
Wolfowitz raised the prospect of launching a preemptive attack against
Iraq. "Should we sit idly by," he wrote, "with our passive containment
policy and our inept cover operations, and wait until a tyrant
possessing large quantities of weapons of mass destruction and
sophisticated delivery systems strikes out at us?" Wolfowitz suggested
it was "necessary" to "go beyond the containment strategy."
Wolfowitz’s objections to Clinton’s military tactics
were not limited to Iraq. Wolfowitz had endorsed President Bush’s
decision in late 1992 to intervene in Somalia on a limited humanitarian
basis. Clinton later expanded the mission into a broader peacekeeping
effort, a move that ended in disaster. With perfect twenty-twenty
hindsight, Wolfowitz decried Clinton’s decision to send U.S. troops
into combat "where there is no significant U.S. national interest." He
took a similar stance on Clinton’s ill-fated democracy-building effort
in Haiti, chastising the president for engaging "American military
prestige" on an issue" of the little or no importance" to U.S.
interests. Bosnia presented a more complicated mix of posturing and
ideologics. While running for president, Clinton had scolded the Bush
Administration for failing to take action to stem the flow of blood in
the Balkans. Once in office, however, and chastened by their early
misadventures in Somalia and Haiti, Clinton and his advisers struggled
to articulate a coherent Bosnia policy. Wolfowitz complained in 1994 of
the administration’s failure to "develop an effective course of
action.' He personally advocated arming the Bosnian Muslims in their
fight against the Serbs. Powell, on the other hand, publicly cautioned
against intervention. In 1995 a U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign,
combined with a Croat-Muslim ground offensive, forced the Serbs into
negotiations, leading to the Dayton Peace Accords. In 1999, as Clinton
rounded up support for joint U.S.-NATO action in Kosovo, Wolfowitz
hectored the president for failing to act quickly enough.
After eight years of what Cheney et al. regarded as
wrong-headed military adventures and pinprick retaliatory strikes, the
Clinton Administration – mercifully, in their view – came to an end.
With the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency, the authors of
the Plan returned to government, ready to pick up where they had left
off. Cheney of course, became vice president, Powell became secretary
of state, and Wolfowitz moved into the number two slot at the Pentagon,
as Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy. Other contributors also returned: Two
prominent members of the Wolfowitz team that crafted the original DPG
took up posts on Cheney’s staff. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who served
as Wolfowitz’s deputy during Bush I, became the vice president’s chief
of staff and national security adviser. And Eric Edelman, an assistant
deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush Administration,
became a top foreign policy adviser to Cheney.
Cheney and company had not changed their minds
during the Clinton interlude about the correct course for U.S. policy,
but they did not initially appear bent on resurrecting the Plan. Rather
than present a unified vision of foreign policy to the world, in the
early going the administration focused on promoting a series of
seemingly unrelated initiatives. Notable among these were missile
defense and space-based weaponry, long-standing conservative causes. In
addition, a distinct tone of unilateralism emerged as the new
administration announced its intent to abandon the Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty with Russia in order to pursue missile defense; its
opposition to U.S. ratification of an international nuclear-test-ban
pact; and its refusal to become a party to an International Criminal
Court. It also raised the prospect of ending the self-imposed U.S.
moratorium on nuclear testing initiated by the President’s father
during the 1992 presidential campaign. Moreover, the administration
adopted a much tougher diplomatic posture, as evidenced, most notably,
by a distinct hardening of relations with both China and North Korea.
While none of this was inconsistent with the concept of U.S. dominance,
these early actions did not, at the time, seem to add up to a coherent
It was only after September 11 that the Plan emerged
in full. Within days of the attacks, Wolfowitz and Libby began calling
for unilateral military action against Iraq, on the shaky premise that
Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network could not have pulled off the
assaults without Saddam Hussein’s assistance. At the time, Bush
rejected such appeals, but Wolfowitz kept pushing and the President
soon came around. In his State of the Union address in January, Bush
labeled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an "axis of evil," and warned that
he would "not wait on events" to prevent them from using weapons of
mass destruction against the United States. He reiterated his
commitment to preemption in his West Point speech in June. "If we wait
for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long," he
said. "We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and
confront the worst threats before they emerge." Although it was less
noted, Bush in that same speech also reintroduced the Plan’s central
theme. He declared that the United States would prevent the emergence
of a rival power by maintaining "military strengths beyond the
challenge." With that, the President effectively adopted a strategy his
father’s administration had developed ten years earlier to ensure that
the United States would remain the world’s preeminent power. While the
headlines screamed "preemption," no one noticed the declaration of the
In case there was any doubt about the
administration’s intentions, the Pentagon’s new DPG lays them out.
Signed by Wolfowitz’s new boss, Donald Rumsfeld, in May and leaked to
the Los Angeles Times in July, it contains all the key elements of the
original Plan and adds several complementary features. The preemptive
strikes envisioned in the original draft DPG are now "unwarned
attacks." The old Powell-Cheney notion of military "forward presence"
is now "forwarded deterrence." The use of overwhelming force to defeat
an enemy called for in the Powell Doctrine is now labeled an "effects
Some of the names have stayed the same. Missile
defense is back, stronger than ever, and the call goes up again for a
shift from a "threat based" structure to a "capabilities based"
approach. The new DPG also emphasizes the need to replace the so-called
Cold War strategy of preparing to fight two major conflicts
simultaneously with what the Los Angeles Times refers to as "a more
complex approach aimed at dominating air and space on several fronts."
This, despite the fact that Powell had originally conceived – and the
first Bush Administration had adopted – the two-war strategy as a means
of filling the "threat blank" left by the end of the Cold War.
Rumsfeld’s version adds a few new ideas, most
impressively the concept of preemptive strikes with nuclear weapons.
These would be earth-penetrating nuclear weapons used for attacking
"hardened and deeply buried targets," such as command-and-control
bunkers, missile silos, and heavily fortified underground facilities
used to build and store weapons of mass destruction. The concept
emerged earlier this year when the administration’s Nuclear Posture
Review leaked out. At the time, arms-control experts warned that
adopting the NPR’s recommendations would undercut existing arms-control
treaties, do serious harm to nonproliferation efforts, set off new
rounds of testing, and dramatically increase the prospectus of nuclear
weapons being used in combat. Despite these concerns, the
administration appears intent on developing the weapons. In a final
flourish, the DPG also directs the military to develop cyber-, laser-,
and electronic-warfare capabilities to ensure U.S. dominion over the
Rumsfeld spelled out these strategies in Foreign
affairs earlier this year, and it is there that he articulated the
remaining elements of the Plan; unilateralism and global dominance.
Like the revised DPG of 1992, Rumsfeld feigns interest in collective
action but ultimately rejects it as impractical. "Wars can benefit from
coalitions," he writes, "but they should not be fought by committee."
And coalitions, he adds, "must not determine the mission." The
implication is the United States will determine the missions and lead
the fights. Finally, Rumsfeld expresses the key concept of the Plan:
preventing the emergence of rival powers. Like the original draft DPG
of 1992, he states that America’s goal is to develop and maintain the
military strength necessary to "dissuade" rivals or adversaries from
"competing." with no challengers, and a proposed defense budget of $379
billion for next year, the United States would reign over all its
Reaction to the latest edition of the Plan has, thus
far, focused on preemption. Commentators parrot the administration’s
line, portraying the concept of preemptory strikes as a "new" strategy
aimed at combating terrorism. In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post
following Bush’s West Point address, former Clinton adviser William
Galston described preemption as part of a "brand-new security
doctrine," and warned of possible negative diplomatic consequences.
Others found the concept more appealing. Loren Thompson of the
conservative Lexington Institute hailed the "Bush Doctrine" as "a
necessary response to the new dangers that America faces" and declared
it "the biggest shift in strategic thinking in two generations." Wall
Street Journal editor Robert Bartley echoed that sentiment, writing
that "no talk of this ilk has been heard from American leaders since
John Foster Dulles talked of rolling back the Iron Curtain."
Preemption, of course, is just part of the Plan, and
the Plan is hardly new. It is a warmed-over version of the strategy
Cheney and his coauthors rolled out in 1992 as the answer to the end of
the Cold War. Then the goal was global dominance, and it met with bad
reviews. Now it is the answer to terrorism. The emphasis is on
preemption, and the reviews are generally enthusiastic. Through all of
this, the dominance motif remains, though largely undetected.
This country once rejected "unwarned" attacks such
as Pearl Harbor as barbarous and unworthy of a civilized nation. Today
many cheer the prospect of conducting sneak attacks – potentially with
nuclear weapons – on piddling powers run by tin-pot despots.
We also once denounced those who tried to rule the
world. Our primary objection (at least officially) to the Soviet Union
as its quest for global domination. Through the successful employment
of the tools of containment, deterrence, collective security, and
diplomacy – the very methods we now reject – we rid ourselves and the
world of the Evil Empire. Having done so, we now pursue the very thing
for which we opposed it. And now that the Soviet Union is gone, there
appears to be no one left to stop us.
Perhaps, however, there is. The Bush Administration
and its loyal opposition seem not to grasp that the quests for
dominance generate backlash. Those threatened with preemption may
themselves launch preemptory strikes. And even those who are
successfully "preempted" or dominated may object and find means to
strike back. Pursuing such strategies may, paradoxically, result in
greater factionalism and rivalry, precisely the things we seek to end.
Not all Americans share Colin Powell’s desire to be
"the bully on the block." In fact, some believe that by following a
different path the United States has an opportunity to establish a more
lasting security environment. As Dartmouth professors Stephen Brooks
and William Woblforth wrote recently in Foreign Affairs, "Unipolarity
makes it possible to be the global bully – but it also offers the
United States the luxury of being able to look beyond its immediate
needs to its own, and the world’s, long-term interests. .....
Magnanimity and restraint in the face of temptation are tenets of
successful statecraft that have proved their worth." Perhaps, in short,
we can achieve our desired ends by means other than global domination.