Enduring Freedom or Enduring War? Prospects and Costs of the New American 21st Century

Carl Mirra, ed., Enduring Freedom or Enduring War? Prospects and Costs of the New American 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: Maisonneuve Press, 2005).

This book is a valuable collection of articles, some analytical and others more polemical, written to explore the causes and consequences of what Bush administration officials promise to be a decades-long war against terrorism. These officials (as well as their cheerleaders in academia and the news media) promise that ‘enduring freedom’ is the ultimate goal in this war – freedom from the fear of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and the ability to pursue the economic and political freedom associated with capitalist democracy. The articles here subject these promises to critical scrutiny. As Carl Mirra states in his introduction, “the real questions raised by George W. Bush’s ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ are freedom for whom? And freedom at what costs?” (7).

The best articles in this collection provide strong documentation of the patterns of US political-military strategy. David Armstrong offers a history of neoconservative planning for the Iraq war beginning in the 1990s. ‘The Plan’ began with the draft “Defense Planning Guidance” in 1992, a document created by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. The DPG was designed to ensure that high and expanding levels of military spending would continue after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The major themes of the DPG were: 1) the US military should be sufficiently large and powerful to prevent the emergence of any rival to its power; and 2) should a potential threat to US interests arise, the United States should undertake unilateral action against that threat. These themes were later developed by the Project for the New American Century in their 2000 report “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” and became the center of the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Armstrong demonstrates that the strategy underlying the ‘war on terror’ and the US invasion of Iraq had been painstakingly crafted over the previous decade, thereby undermining the popularly held idea that 9/11 ‘changed everything.’

Carolyn Eisenberg takes this further, seeing considerable continuity between current US policy and US policy in the Cold War period. She rejects the argument, popular among liberal opponents of the Bush administration, that neoconservatives have ‘hijacked’ the foreign policy apparatus, imposing a unilateral strategy of preventive war in place of an earlier strategy that was more multilateral and made greater use of diplomacy and international institutions. She argues that the Bush administration’s assertion of “the right of the United States to attack another country when there is no immediate threat, but simply the possibility that at some unspecified time that country might become dangerous” (34) is not new; this strategic principle was the foundation of countless post-war military interventions by the United States. As in the Cold War, current U.S. strategy emphasizes the centralization of power, the hegemony of national security experts who “reflect a concern for the power of the nation-state, along with the prerogatives of capital” (35), and the strengthening of the military-industrial complex. What is new, she argues, is how boldly the Bush administration, freed from the constraints of so powerful a rival as the former Soviet Union, proclaims this right: “The real significance of the 2002 National Security Strategy is its public nature. For what the Bush administration is doing is conditioning the American people to a period of sustained warfare” (34). We might add that the rest of the world, particularly the global South, is likewise being conditioned to expect sustained war should it fail to accept its subordinate role in global capitalism.

Other articles apply this critique to specific conflicts in which the United States has taken a leading role. Phil Gasper, for example, reviews the history of US support for the mujahadeen in Afghanistan beginning in the late 1970s (i.e., before the neocon ‘hijacking’), which had the objective of stimulating Soviet intervention in support of its Afghan communist allies and creating, in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, “the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War” (42). Of course, one of the other elements of this war was CIA support (through Pakistan’s ISI security services) for Osama Bin Laden and, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban. Articles by Michael Parenti, Staughton Lynd, and Max Fraad-Wolff and Rick Wolff examine the US invasion of Iraq. Parenti argues that the invasion must be seen as part of a broader pattern of using military force to insure “the supremacy of global capitalism by preventing the emergence of any other potentially competing superpower or, for that matter, any potentially competing regional power” (56). The neocon-led invasion of Iraq, for Parenti, differs little from Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia, in that both targeted countries developing outside the market -– further evidence of the essential continuity of US policy. Lynd agrees, stating that “Gulf War II does not represent a fatal change [referring to Arthur Schlesinger’s comment on Bush policy] from the policy that got the United States into Vietnam. It is the same old car with a new coat of paint” (61). Lynd, like Parenti, concludes that the invasion “is a war to prevent nations from operating outside the global capitalist order” (61). Fraad-Wolff and Wolff see the US invasion of Iraq as an imperialist war arising from capiitalism’s structural need for expansion. Bush administration themes of democracy, freedom, human rights, etc. “revise and update earlier imperialisms’ self-celebration as civilizing and modernizing missions to the planet’s backwaters” (64). The continuity here is not simply with US Cold War policy, but with centuries of imperialist domination of the capitalist periphery by the core.

In addition to addressing the goals of US policy, the articles in this book examine how state officials construct notions of ‘threat’ to mobilize citizens in support of these goals. Mark Salter coins the term “economy of danger” to refer to “the political use of danger as a commodity or resource in a particular field of public discourse… [T]he aim of the war on terror is not to achieve some kind of military victory condition, but to continually marshal perceptions of danger to justify American policies” (148). Bruce Cumings and Greg Elich, in their articles on North Korea, examine how the United States has manufactured a crisis over North Korean nuclear weapons in order to undermine efforts at reconciliation between North and South Korea, which would threaten US military and political interests in Asia. Cumings concludes from his review of US policy toward North Korea, “When you’ve lost your real enemies, the next best thing is to invent them” (71). Brian Martin Murphy’s article on Africa’s place in the National Security Strategy points to the significance of a ‘basket case’ narrative in NSS references to Africa, one that sees ‘failed states’ producing internal and inter-state conflict and safe haven for terrorists. By constructing a narrative that sees Africa as a source of threats requiring increased attention from the United States, the NSS provides justification for expanding US military involvement in Africa. In his article, Josh Klein argues that an important ideological development, which he refers to as “new militarism” (162), has played a major role in supporting the ‘war on terror’ and the invasion of Iraq. Although new militarist ideology makes use of nationalism and racism, as did earlier forms of militarism, it is defined primarily by “1) more flagrant war-starting, 2) expansion of mass destruction weaponry, and 3) open contempt for arms control” (162). This ideology provides policy elites as well as their allies in the news media with the resources necessary to inflate threats and to obscure the roots and sanitize the consequences of US militarism.

The power to construct threats to win popular consent for state policy is, however, full of contradictions. Consent can be withdrawn, and this gives space to movements against war and militarism. One feature of this book that makes it useful for anti-war activists is the numerous selections from key policy documents and speeches. Stephen Shalom presents an “Iraq White Paper” containing statements from Bush administration officials justifying its war policies as well as selections from news reports and more extensive investigations that provide critical evaluations of the goals and consequences of US policy. In addition, the book contains an appendix with key documents in the ‘war on terror’ and the invasion of Iraq. The most important of these are the Pentagon’s “Defense Planning Guidance” (1992) and “Defense Planning for the 1990s” (1993), the Project for the New American Century’s “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (2000), and the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002). Other documents include Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address, his March 2003 announcement of the invasion, and his May 2003 announcement of ‘victory’ in Iraq. These are useful resources for understanding the logic of US policy and for holding the Bush administration accountable for the outright lies and gross distortions that defined their case for war. As Josh Klein states, “A significant cause for hope in fighting the war machine is that hiding in power elite documents we can find evidence that they are concerned with losing control of public opinion… We should feel emboldened by the secret worries of the war makers. Since they can be made to care what we think, they can be stopped” (169f). This book makes an important contribution to achieving that goal.

Reviewed by Daniel Egan
University of Massachusetts-Lowell

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