By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The doctrine of pre-emption is also the bomb with which the U.S. has blown to smithereens the Western alliance of the past 60 years. The United Nations was founded in part to diminish the prospects for pre-
emptive war; Article 51 of the U.N. Charter flatly outlaws such conflicts. NATO was established explicitly as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union; the notion of NATO initiating conflicts was never accepted, nor hardly ever discussed, by its member nations. Had the U.S. opted to pursue a strategy of rollback rather than containment against the USSR and its satellite states — of invading Hungary or Czechoslovakia, say, when rebellions in those nations threatened Soviet control — that would have tested NATO’s coherence. But from Harry Truman through Poppy Bush, no American administration seriously entertained such a policy.
By the very act of proclaiming pre-emption as our new national policy, then, Bush II was in effect also declaring a pre-emptive war on the system of international institutions that the U.S. built at the end of World War II. That was fine with the neoconservatives, who, with the fall of Soviet communism, sought a world over which the U.S. exerted unfettered control. That was fine with Bush himself, the first genuinely xenophobic president the United States has had since it rose to the status of a world power. (It’s clear already that Bush is far more comfortable running a war than he was practicing diplomacy.) But to build the world anew, they needed a new 1914 — a war to end old alliances, to blow away the United Nations, the European Union and other impediments to American power in much the manner that World War I destroyed the old Romanov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern empires.
Okay, they’ve got their war. We’ll see if a 1914 level of wreckage will in time follow in its wake.
The rise of a belligerent unilateralism in the nation’s capital has also provoked the formation of what I would term the first mainstream anti-imperialist movement the U.S. has known since 1898, at the time of the Spanish-American War. The anti-war resolutions of many leading unions, including the AFL-CIO, and of more than 135 cities across the country, almost invariably condemn the wisdom and legitimacy of a unilateral conflict. That is, these resolutions state a clear preference for an international order of laws and standards, over the neocons’ vision of America as the arbiter and enforcer for the planet. And these resolutions — coming as they do not just from college towns but also from L.A., Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and many of America’s largest unions — are really the voice of the Democratic base in American politics.
The formation of a mainstream anti-imperialist movement is something for which the American left — home to what has been an insular and marginal anti-imperialist movement since the Vietnam War — is singularly ill-prepared. As anyone who has attended an anti-war demonstration over the past half-year can attest, these rallies often feature a stultifying array of speakers, championing niche left causes of uneven merit, alternately upsetting and boring the bejesus out of demonstrators who came out simply to oppose the looming war.
The movement is about to face an even more immediate challenge: that of its position on the U.S. presence in Iraq once Saddam is overthrown.
The left will have to weigh the relative merits of its post-Vietnam sensibility — in which the idea of American troops occupying a conquered nation is plainly something to be shunned — against the imperatives of nation building, the liberal doctrine that arose in the ’90s which states that America should provide the wherewithal for nations it has invaded to rebuild their physical, and build their democratic, infrastructures. It’s imperative that liberals separate the question of commitment of financial resources — which the U.S. needs to do in massive amounts as soon as Saddam is overthrown — from that of control. To foster the international legitimacy of the occupation and de-Saddamization of Iraq — and, no small thing, to avoid further inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region — the force should be placed under the command not of Tommy Franks but some U.N. commissioner, and the troops need to be drawn from a wide array of nations, not primarily from the U.S.
At all events, the battle lines over America’s proper role in the world have been drawn. On one side are the neo-imperialists, who have relearned the lesson of 1914 that to deploy — for the hegemon in a unipolar world — is to go to war. On the other side are the fledgling neo-anti-imperialists, who should look back to their forbears of 1898 to learn how to assemble a broad movement — and must go them one better if we are to curtail an administration determined to turn the world into a sullen imperium.
A version of this article has appeared inThe American Prospect.