In 1997, a group of conservative American politicians, academics and policy brokers announced â€˜The Project for a New American Centuryâ€™. The line up reads like a whoâ€™s who of important players in the Bush administration since 2001. There is vice-president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis Libby (Cheneyâ€™s chief of staff), Paul Wolfowitz, formerly in the defence department and newly appointed president of the World Bank, and Zalmay Khalilzad (who has served until recently as the ambassador to Afghanistan and is now the ambassador to Iraq). It also includes Jeb Bush, president Bushâ€™s brother.
PNAC is focused on the concern that â€œAmerican foreign and defence policy is adriftâ€. They worry that the US may not have what they describe as the â€œresolve to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interestsâ€. They seem disappointed in the willingness of Americans to take up the burden of Americaâ€™s role in the world. PNACâ€™s goal, they say, is to â€œmake the case and rally support for American global leadershipâ€.
Their name and vision clearly echo Henry Luceâ€™s famous 1941 manifesto â€˜The American Centuryâ€™ in Life magazine. Luce starts his essay by observing that â€œWe Americans are unhappy. We are not happy with America. We are not happy about ourselves in relation to America. We are nervous â€“ or gloomy or apathetic.â€ The rest of the essay can be read as an argument as to why Americans should make a decision to find some thing that will, as he says, â€œinspire us to live and work and fight with vigour and enthusiasmâ€. If they can do this, Luce says, then Americans can â€œcreate the first great American centuryâ€.
According to Luce, there was a war that was waiting to be fought. It was not just the second world war, but a much larger struggle. This was the war that Americans had been evading for decades. He wrote:
The fundamental trouble with Americans has been, and is, that whereas their nation became in the 20th century the most powerful and the most vital nation in the world, nevertheless Americans were unable to accommodate themselves spiritually and practically to that fact. Hence they have failed to play their part as a world power â€“ a failure which has had disastrous consequences for themselves and for all mankind. And the cure is this: to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such mean as we see fit.
Luce was calling on America to embrace a role as a global empire. There are few who would disagree that after the second world war the US did just what Luce proposed. It took the opportunity that was available and exerted on the world all the influence it could for the purposes and with all the means that its leaders saw fit. In 2002, president Bush declared â€œToday, the US enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influenceâ€. But looking back over these 60 years or so and looking around the world and America now, it is clear that American â€˜global leadershipâ€™ has proven to be a short-lived and difficult period of global domination and the whole idea is in crisis again.
In the aftermath of the second world war, the US used all kinds of power in its effort to exert influence. One study that tried to list the US use of its armed forces â€œas part of a deliberate attempt by the national authorities to influence, or to be prepared to influence, specific behaviour of individuals in another nation without engaging in a continuing contest of violenceâ€ cites 215 incidents between 1946 and 1975. The list excludes actual wars. A 1998 study looked at policy in the post-cold war period and observed that â€œUnencumbered by cold war fears of sparking confrontation with the powerful Soviet Union, American policy-makers turned frequently to threats and the use of forceâ€. It examined eight major cases of US threats and use of force in that period and concluded â€œThe US sometimes succeeded in these ventures and sometimes failed. Success rarely came easily, however; more often, the US had to go to great lengths to persuade adversaries to yield to its will.â€ Even without a superpower enemy, America was not prevailing easily.
The US at the end of the second world war also created new international institutions, including the United Nations. It has run into problems with this as well. At the founding conference in San Francisco in 1945, 50 nations met to draw up the Charter. There were disagreements between Britain, the Soviet Union, and the US on side and the less powerful nations on the other, with the major powers insisting that the Charter give them power to veto actions by the Security Council. A history of the debate and the UN veto records that â€œAt one point during the conference,… several delegations of smaller nations became somewhat unruly in their opposition to the vetoâ€, whereupon one of the US delegates told them that â€œthey could go home from San Francisco if they wished and report that they had defeated the veto but they could also report that they had torn up the Charter.â€
The US got its way. But here too success was not to last or to come easily. In the first flush of the post-cold war world, secretary of state Madeline Albright claimed that â€œthe UN is a tool of American foreign policyâ€. A few years later in trying to get UN support for the use of force against Iraq, president Bush found himself with no option but to threaten its very existence, declaring to the UN General Assembly â€œWill the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?â€ Nonetheless, the threat was ignored and despite US bullying and bribes the overwhelming majority of Security Council members refused to support the US resolution authorising an attack on Iraq.
Suspicion of US Motives
It is not just governments. People around the world have been responding. A January 2005 Pew study on global opinion, based on their polling in recent years in 44 countries, reported that â€œthe rest of the world has become deeply suspicious of US motives and openly sceptical about its wordâ€. It observed that â€œAnti-Americanism is deeper and broader now than at any time in modern history. It is most acute in the Muslim world but it spans the globe â€“ from Europe to Asia, from South America to Africa.â€ This includes people in countries that have been close US allies for over 50 years.
The Pew survey found that these opinions were enduring, noting that â€œthis new hardening of attitudes amounts to something much larger than a thumbs down on the current occupant of the White Houseâ€. Pew reported that â€œat the heart of the decline in world opinion about America is the perception that the United States acts internationally without taking into account the interests of other nationsâ€. A December 2004 public opinion poll in 23 countries found that in 20 of these countries a majority of citizens believed it would be better for Europe to become more influential than the US in world affairs.
Nowhere is the decline in the â€˜global leadershipâ€™ of the US more evident than in its occupation of Iraq. The much vaunted â€˜coalition of the willingâ€™ that the Bush administration claimed to have built in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq has all but collapsed. Thirteen countries have already withdrawn their forces. Italy, Poland, Ukraine have all recently announced they will pull their troops out; these are the fourth, fifth and sixth largest contingents of foreign troops there. The countries that will soon be left, apart from US and UK, are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Japan, Denmark and Australia.
President Bushâ€™s leadership at home is in deep trouble too. The Washington Post noted that his election victory in 2004 was far from the mandate he claimed it to be. He received 50.7 per cent of the popular vote, while John Kerry managed to get 48.2 per cent. The last time a president was re-elected with such a small margin was almost two hundred years ago, in the early 1800s. President Bush now has the lowest approval rating of any president at this point in his second term, according to polls going back to second world war.
Unease at Home
Domestic US opinion is now uneasy about the war. United for Peace and Justice, a national network of anti-war groups, counted 583 towns and cities around the country that were planning events to mark the second anniversary of the war. This is up from 319 such events last year. In the state of Vermont, in a day of coordinated town meetings, 49 out of 57 communities approved resolutions calling for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. A March Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 53 per cent of Americans feel the war was not worth fighting, 57 per cent say they disapprove of Bushâ€™s handling of Iraq, and 70 per cent think the number of US casualties is an unacceptable price to have paid.
It is not just the Iraq war. The American public seems to be telling pollsters that they do not support a â€˜global leadershipâ€™ role for their country. Only about 8 per cent supported a hegemonic role for the US, as the â€œpre-eminent world leader in solving international problemsâ€. There was little difference between Republicans and Democrats. The overwhelming majority agreed that â€œThe US should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countriesâ€. Asked the same question another way: â€œDo you think that the US has the responsibility to play the role of â€˜world policemanâ€™ â€, they gave the same answer â€“ overwhelming majorities, over 70 per cent were opposed. Even larger majorities criticised existing policy, by saying that â€œThe US is playing the role of world policeman more than it should beâ€.
There is more than just rejection of the idea of global domination. There is widespread support among the American public for the US submitting to international institutions and the will of the international community. A poll in March 2005 found that 57 per cent of Americans believed that the US should not have an absolute veto at the United Nations, and agreed that if a decision was supported by all the other members, no one member, not even the US, should be able to veto it. Almost 60 per cent of Americans believed that the United Nations should become â€œsignificantly more powerful in worlds affairsâ€. Asked whether, â€œwhen dealing with international problems, the US should be more willing to make decisions within the United Nations even if this means that the US will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice,â€ 75 per cent of those who described themselves as Democrats said that it should as did 50 per cent of Republicans.
Majorities also agree that the US should join the International Criminal Court, even if that meant US troops possibly being brought to trial there, in signing the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, in ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the convention banning landmines convention. There was even widespread public support for the US accepting and being bound by adverse decisions from the World Trade Organisation.
Henry Luce would be deeply disappointed. It seems that the majority of Americans remain, as he put it, â€œunable to accommodate themselves spiritually and practicallyâ€ to empire. If the people have their way, the American century may turn out to be much shorter that he or his successors at PNAC could ever have imagined.
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