Jim Lobe, "US and the triumph of unilateralism," Asia Times Online, 10 September 2002


WASHINGTON - When excerpts of the document first appeared in the New York Times in the spring of 1992, it created quite a stir. One senator described it as a prescription for "literally a Pax Americana". Indeed, the draft Defense Policy Guidance (DPG), which set forth the underlying assumptions for US grand strategy into the next century, was pretty astonishing.

Written by two relatively obscure political appointees in the Pentagon's policy office after the Gulf War, it boldly called for permanent US military pre-eminence over virtually all of Eurasia - to be achieved by "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role" and by pre-empting states believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction.

It foretold a world in which US military intervention would come to be seen "as a constant fixture" of the geo-political landscape and Washington would act as the ultimate guarantor of the international order. Indeed, the draft failed to even mention the United Nations.

"While the US cannot become the world's 'policeman' by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations," the draft said.

The paper was essentially a vision of a world dominated by the unilateral use of US military power to ensure international stability, promote the US national interest, and prevent the rise of any possible challenger for the foreseeable future.

The leak, apparently arranged by someone in the military brass worried about the costs of enforcing such an imperial vision, sparked major controversy. At the insistence of then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, the final DPG was toned down to the point of unrecognizability.

But the draft's strategy clearly retained a central place in the hearts and minds of its two authors and their boss, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney, until new circumstances might offer a more auspicious moment. That moment came on the morning of September 11 last year.

At that moment, Cheney had already become the most powerful vice president in US history, while the draft's two authors, Paul Wolfowitz and I Lewis Libby, had risen to the posts of deputy defense secretary and Cheney's chief of staff, respectively.

In the year since then, these three men, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded officials elsewhere in the administration, have engineered what former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently described as a "radical break with 55 years of bipartisan tradition" in US foreign policy making.

That tradition, as described in an article by Georgetown University professor G John Ikenberry in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, consisted of a mixture of two grand strategies pursued after World War II: a realist policy organized around containment, deterrence and maintaining a global balance of power; and a more liberal, internationalist policy based on constructing a set of multilateral institutions and alliances to promote free trade, open economies and democratic values.

While various past US administrations have emphasized one strategy over the other, none since World War II has abandoned both at the same time. "For the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, a new grand strategy is taking shape in Washington," says Ikenberry, who warns that viewing the administration's policy after September 11 as directed against terrorism is to miss its much broader purpose and thrust.

"According to this new paradigm, America is to be less bound to its partners and to global rules and institutions while it steps forward to play a more unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorist threats and confronting rogue states seeking WMD [weapons of mass destruction]," Ikenberry writes in the article titled "America's Imperial Ambition". "The United States," he adds, "will use its unrivalled military power to manage the global order."

In that respect, the war on terrorism must be seen as a facade for a much more ambitious strategy of projecting US military power around the world, especially Eurasia, and cutting loose the multilateral bonds that have constrained Washington's freedom of action and power.

The attacks of September 11 (and the quick military success in Afghanistan that followed) ended a stalemate within the administration between more traditional foreign-policy practitioners, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and those who embraced the new paradigm, like Rumsfeld and Cheney. The latter also gave the new strategy a momentum it could never have achieved with its previous marginal political support.

Behind this strategy, of course, lie the 1992 draft DPG and a coalition of three major political forces. These include: right-wing power players, some of whom, like Rumsfeld and Cheney, played key roles in the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations; mainly Jewish neo-conservatives closely tied to the Likud Party in Israel; and leaders of the Christian and Catholic right.

The events of September 11 effectively empowered this coalition within the administration at the expense of the more traditional forces led by Powell, who, significantly, has received strong support from veterans of the first Bush administration, most prominently Scowcroft and Baker.

Aside from a strong belief in US military power and a worldview that assumes that the United States is fundamentally good, the three components of this coalition share several key perspectives that have guided Bush's policy decisions over the past year. These include strong backing for Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and efforts to sabotage several international mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court and arms-control accords.

They also share a contempt for multilateralism, which necessarily denies the "exceptional" nature of the United States, a similar disdain and distrust for Europeans, and a conviction that radical Islam poses a major threat to the United States and the West and that Israel must be considered a strategic ally of Washington in the Middle East.

The same coalition also considers China a long-term strategic threat that should be confronted sooner rather than later, although this view has been muted over the past year due to the need to retain Beijing's support, or at least acquiescence, for the administration's more immediate goals in the Middle East, the Gulf and Southwest Asia, including basing US troops in Central Asia and elsewhere around China's periphery.

All of these positions have been addressed in letters and statements issued by the coalition's most concrete institutional form outside the administration, a group called the Project for a New American Century. It was founded five years ago by two dozen prominent right-wingers, many of whom, including Cheney, Rumsfeld and the authors of the 1992 draft DPG, Wolfowitz, and Libby, now occupy top positions in the administration.


Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Bush Administration Page