Wednesday, May 12, 2004

MO� BETTER BLUES

Part Three of a six-part series on 'Progressive Internationalism'


The foreign policy manifesto which animates �liberal hawk� thinking on the subject of American imperialism as well as John Kerry�s campaign, "Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy", promises to occupy �the vital center between the neo-imperial right and the non-interventionist left�. Yet contrary to positioning itself against what it calls �neo-imperial� policies associated with the Bush administration, �progressive internationalism� (PI) offers its own form of imperial practice different in style but not in substance from what the Bushies offer in Iraq, the greater Middle East and the world. PI is best understood as �mo� better imperialism� � a plan to overcome Bush�s incompetency and make empire work. For the anti-imperialist camp, this so-called �alternative� does little more than give one the blues.

The key claim of PI which reveals this fact is the following:
While some complain that the Bush administration has been too radical in recasting America�s national security strategy, we believe it has not been ambitious or imaginative enough.
As the authors argue in this very quote, PI is not Anti-Bush, nor is it Bush Lite. It is Bush Plus. Indeed, PI wants to do more, not less, imperialism, and a John Kerry presidency promises nothing more than a sanitized Bushism abroad.

Note first and foremost that PI embraces the invasion and occupation of Iraq on precisely the same basis as that provided by the Bush administration.
We also backed the goal of ousting Saddam Hussein�s malignant regime in Iraq, because the previous policy of containment was failing, because Saddam posed a grave danger to America as well as his own brutalized people, and because his blatant defiance of more than a decade�s worth of United Nations Security Council resolutions was undermining both collective security and international law.
Colin Powell said as much before the United Nations.

PI also embraces the most ambitious (most would say most fanciful and utopian) definition of US goals in the Iraq War: �the transformation of the greater Middle East � the vast arc of turmoil stretching from Northern Africa to Afghanistan�. Because of such a grandiose end, PI can brook no waivering on the subject of building democracy in a unitary liberal Iraq, the demonstration project for the entire region �which could inspire and encourage democratic reformers elsewhere�. Not achieving this fundamental transformation of Iraq is the definition of failure � and �In this, we simply cannot afford to fail.� The logical deduction, therefore, is that
we will maintain a robust military presence in Iraq for as long as it takes to achieve security and stability
How long might such a �robust� presence last? PI co-author Kenneth Pollack has said recently in Foreign Affairs
the key question is whether the Bush Administration adapts its policy to the needs of reconstruction or instead opts to phase out its engagement in Iraq. There is enough good in Iraq and enough positive developments there that if the United States and its Coalition allies are willing to address the challenges listed above, there is every reason to believe that Iraq could be a stable, prosperous, and pluralist society within a period of 5-15 years.
PI also envisions �the bold exercise of American power� in Afghanistan to a much larger degree than the Bush administration. While current policy is dedicated to supporting the Karzai government (and through US ambassador/proconsul Zalmay Khalizad, a co-signatory to the infamous 1998 PNAC letter to Clinton urging the invasion of Iraq, running the capital), there is little effort to conquer the entire country. Karzai is left to bargain with local warlords in the time-honored way the Afghan �state� � which it clearly is not and has never been � is run.

PI rejects this approach as clearly not �ambitious� and �imaginative� enough. Since the US is �in danger of losing the peace� in Afghanistan, PI promises to �press for an expanded NATO peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, to help extend the authority of the Afghan government throughout the country�. In fact, NATO itself is to be �enlarged and modernized� in order to take on many more Afghanistans in the future, for �the challenge of transforming the greater Middle East� should become the new focus of the alliance. Kautsky�s prediction of �ultraimperialism� may come true yet.

With a long-term occupation of Iraq, an expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan, and an enlarged NATO, clearly there has to be more troops and more money. This is where PI takes to its high horse and condemn Bush for practicing empire on the side and on the cheap. PI is not just imperialism, but �responsible� imperialism.

As a �responsible� alternative to Bush, PI is keen to roll back social spending and raise taxes in order to pay for imperialism in a sustainable manner. Clinton is repeatedly praised for his �commitment to fiscal discipline� and Bush condemned for failing to �adjust. . . our budget priorities� in light of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The left is hammered for its �perennial complaint that America spends too much on the military. This is no time to cut the Pentagon�s budget.� So clearly somebody else�s budget will have to be cut � responsible imperialism requires it.

Ominously, PI also condemns Bush�s failure to carry the language of war abroad into the actions of war at home. It asks rhetorically, �if America is truly at war, why does the president refuse to put America on a wartime footing?� From an opponent of US imperialism, such a question is an act of rhetorical positioning. From a supporter, however, it is a plan for the future.

PI speaks readily of the need for �service and sacrifice� from the American public.
a patient public ready for sacrifice and service

the Bush administration has failed abysmally to summon Americans to sacrifice and service at a time of national emergency

the White House persists in the illusion that we can have it all . . . without any sacrifice from the public or adjustment of our budget priorities.
When PI speaks of �sacrifice� and �service,� it isn�t hard to connect the dots to �military draft�. Such a draft need not be anything like a Vietnam-era net catching up only the young, poor whites and minorities and sending them off to Indochina. It could be universal. It could be used to replete the ranks of the National Guard at home. It could be used to put half a million American troops in Iraq. As PI co-author Kenneth Pollack has recently stated,
The fall of Saddam has produced the same kind of power vacuum in Iraq that the death of Tito did in Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, it has produced a similar state of lawlessness in Iraq. And the United States has not adequately filled that vacuum.

Part of that failure lies in the size of the U.S. force in Iraq. There are not enough American and Coalition troops in Iraq -- and particularly not enough infantry, civil affairs personnel, and military police -- to provide the kind of security that is needed. If Generals Abizaid and Sanchez were authorized tomorrow to begin patrolling the streets, they probably would not have the troops to do it.

Adequately providing security for a country of 25 million people is a massive task. Military analyst James T. Quinlivan of the RAND Corporation has demonstrated that stabilizing a country requires roughly 20 security personnel (troops and police) per thousand inhabitants. In his words, the objective "is not to destroy an enemy but to provide security for residents so that they have enough confidence to manage their daily affairs and to support a government authority of their own." For Iraq, with a population of nearly 25 million, that would require a total security force of nearly 500,000.
The alternatives are many. The long and the short of it is, however, that a military draft in one form or another is a distinct possibility under PI.

�Progressive internationalism� promises to carry out the post-New Deal role of the Democratic Party in the United States to a T: to rationalize the very society which destructive capitalist/right-wing interests have created. Consider Bill Clinton, who didn�t try to change the society which Reaganism had wrought but instead to smooth its rough edges as well as � most importantly � make it more stable by eliminating capital�s many myopic and destructive tendencies including corruption, market instability, and unsustainable forms of inequality. After all, managing and maintaining Reaganism is the very essence of the �third way� in the United States, the very movement which concocted PI.

Ironically, incompetent empire may be exactly what we want, at least in the short term, for incompetent empire is likely to fail whereas competent empire is likely to succeed. In the United States it is almost universally assumed that �staying the course� in Iraq is unequivocally the best strategy for all concerned; the only question is whether such a practice is viable � politically, economically, socially. This premise, however, should not remain unchallenged.

PART TWO: Building a Better Bush

PART ONE: Kerry is So Very . . .

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