WASHINGTON, Dec (IPS) – The Reader-in-Chief is at it again, and anti-imperialists around the world have reason to be concerned.
According to the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush has taken two books with him to Texas for his holiday reading, which he will presumably indulge between his favourite ranch pursuits â€“ clearing brush and biking.
The first is about his most admired role model, Theodore Roosevelt, the other on the wonders being achieved by U.S. soldiers around the world.
The choices are not unimportant. Indeed, Bush is known to read so little â€“ both for official business and for diversion â€“ and to be so impressed by the few books he does read that it is imperative for people who are paid to know whatâ€™s happening in Washington to find out whatâ€™s on the presidentâ€™s nightstand when he turns out the light.
As the U.S. was gearing up for war in Iraq in the summer of 2002, for example, reporters noticed that Bush had tucked under his arm a rather scholarly â€“ and hence unlikely â€“ book, â€œSupreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime”, a book by Elliot Cohen, a neo-conservative military historian and friend of then-Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
The book argued that great civilian leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Georges Clemenceau, made far better commanders than the generals who demanded that they be given a free hand in conducting the war. It was perfectly timed for persuading Bush to stand up to the recommendations of the top brass that he deploy far more troops to invade and occupy Iraq than what Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and prominent neo-conservatives were calling for.
Similarly, Bush was given a copy of right-wing Israeli politician and former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharanskyâ€™s â€œThe Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terrorâ€ immediately after its publication in late 2004, and was so impressed by its argument for an aggressive pro-democracy policy in the Arab world that the White House asked the author to interrupt a book tour for a personal visit.
â€œIâ€™m already halfway through your book,â€ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly told Sharansky when he showed up the next day. â€œDo you know why Iâ€™m reading it? Iâ€™m reading it because the president is reading it, and itâ€™s my job to know what the president is thinking.â€ Passages in the book were subsequently incorporated into Bushâ€™s 2004 inaugural address. It is in this context that Bushâ€™s latest selections should be analysed. The first, â€œWhen Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House”, concerns his favourite presidential antecedent, whose famous or infamous 1904 Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine shortly after the Spanish-American War heralded Washingtonâ€™s claim to great-power status and its right to intervene unilaterally anywhere in the Americas against â€œchronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilised society”.
The choice may suggest that Bush, who clearly subscribes to the â€œgreat manâ€ theory of history that was the rage in Rooseveltâ€™s time, is contemplating a very active retirement. If it doesnâ€™t take him on safari in Africa or on scientific expeditions to the Amazon (unlikely pastimes for a man who by all accounts is an unenthusiastic and incurious traveler), it could make him a permanent force in the Republican Party and for the kind of aggressive nationalism that Roosevelt espoused through much of his career.
The second book on Bushâ€™s reading list, â€œImperial Grunts: The American Military on the Groundâ€ by Robert Kaplan is far more worrisome in its implications, at least for the remaining three years of his presidency.
Kaplan, who began his career as a self-described â€œtravel writerâ€ in the 1980s, has evolved into a political thinker whose outlook is explicitly imperialist â€“ a term that he has used and re-used in recent years with unabashed approval â€“ and, in the words of one conservative reviewer and retired Army colonel, Andrew Bacevich, â€œreactionary”.
In his view (and one that would be shockingly familiar to Roosevelt in his â€œRough Ridingâ€ days in Cuba more than 100 years ago), the â€œwar on terrorâ€ and associated conflicts is simply a repeat of the U.S. Armyâ€™s Indian Wars, but on a nearly planetary scale.
Instead of the Great Plains and western reaches of the 19th century U.S., however, todayâ€™s â€œInjun Country”, as Kaplan calls it, consists of the entire Islamic world, from the southern Philippines to Mauritania, as well as other un-governed or misgoverned areas in desperate need of order and civilisation.
And who best to civilise these places and their inhabitants than the U.S. military, specifically the â€œimperial gruntsâ€ with whom Kaplan embedded himself â€“ no doubt with the enthusiastic support of the Pentagon and probably Rumsfeld himself â€“ for weeks at a time in various parts of the world on three continents, and who, not incidentally, bear a striking resemblance to Bushâ€™s own self-image?
In contrast to the â€œelitesâ€ and â€œglobal cosmopolitansâ€ who dominate the media, the State Department, Washington think tanks and academia, and the Democratic Party, these soldiers are â€œpeople who hunted, drove pickups, employed profanities as a matter of dialect, and yet had a literal, demonstrable belief in the Almighty”, according to Kaplan.
He offers remarkable praise for the war-fighting traditions of â€œthe gleaming officers corps of the Confederacyâ€ â€“ that is, the military arm of the slave-owning southern states, including Bushâ€™s Texas, during the Civil War â€“ and for the present-day â€œmartial evangelicalism of the South”.
In a â€œHobbesian worldâ€ where U.S. military commands and deployments span every continent, U.S. imperialism is not a choice, but rather a necessity, just as it was for the British in the late 19th century, according to Kaplan, who argues that Washingtonâ€™s â€œrighteous responsibility (is) to advance the boundaries of free society and good government into zones of sheer chaos”.
In one telling piece of analysis, he describes the presumed thoughts of a Filipino in Zamboanga, presumably a descendant of Moro who resisted, at the cost of tens of thousands of their lives, U.S. imperialism 100 years ago: â€œHis smiling, naÃ¯ve eyes cried out for what we in the West call colonialism.â€
With a message like that, itâ€™s not difficult to imagine Bush, who has met with Kaplan at least once before in the White House, requesting a return visit, in which case it may be useful to review the kinds of policy recommendations he is likely to make.
A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq now, Kaplan has predicted, would result in a â€œreal bloodbathâ€ and a reversal of liberalisation in the Arab world, including the reconstitution of Lebanon by the Syrians â€œin their own totalitarian image”.
He has also cautioned against Chinaâ€™s growing political and economic clout in the world. â€œUnless we begin military cooperation with Indonesia, for instance, at some point the Indonesian military will be captured by the Chinese in some form.â€