“The end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union left Western governments seeking a new sense of purpose on the world stage. They found it in the profession of the policeman. They concerned themselves with countries that had, in their view, offended international peace and order and also standards of good behaviour towards their own peoples. This intervention moved from that of charitable aid and exhortation to economic sanction and, eventually, military aggression. The turn of the 21st century has come to be known as the age of intervention —humanitarian, liberal, neoconservative or neoimperial according to taste. The targets were almost all small Muslim states,” Simon Jenkins writes. He is no crusader or campaigner, but a cool-headed professional journalist. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were destroyed; so also Syria.
This book is a most instructive collection of his writings in The Times (London) and The Guardian from 1999 to 2014. His beat is mostly London though he has visited some of the places in question, such as Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the [Persian] Gulf, Lebanon and Syria, apart from frequent trips to America. He freely admits to error on some occasions. Each article has a comment with the benefit of hindsight.
The United States which the journalist describes lives up to its critique by President Barack Obama’s favourite political philosopher, the Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote in 1958: “The American nation has become strangely enamoured with military might.”
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War did not diminish the enchantment. It saw, instead, a surge of triumphalism and militarism. The New York Times of March 8, 1992, carried a revealing report by the noted correspondent Patrick E. Tyler. The administration was working on a new version of the “Defence Policy Guidance”, a classified paper rewritten every two years. The 1992 version was the first one since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in December 1991. It was leaked. The draft document said: “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.” In Western Europe and East Asia as well as the Middle East (West Asia), the goal of American policy should be “to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power”. It suggested the possibility of bringing the new states of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union, and of giving them new security commitments from the U.S. that would protect them from an attack by Russia.
The part of the draft which attracted the most notice was its suggestion that the U.S. should work actively to block the emergence of any potential competitor to its power. The language seemed to apply to Japan, Germany or a united Europe, and to China and Russia. It said the U.S. should discourage the “advanced industrial nations” from challenging the U.S.’ leadership, in part by taking these countries’ interests into account and also through unmatchable military strength. It suggested that competition with Japan and Germany should be confined to economics; the U.S. should make sure it had no military rivals.
The White House tactically distanced itself from the leaked Pentagon document. So, for that matter, did Paul Wolfowitz (then Undersecretary of Defence for Policy). Dick Cheney (then Secretary of Defence) approved of it.
James Mann, in Rise of the Vulcans , writes: “The draft suggested that the main purpose of American military power was to preserve America’s role as a superpower and to block countries like Japan and Germany from equalling the United States.
“Two months later Pentagon officials informed reporters that the document had been recast in such a way that it was dramatically different from the original. Officials suggested to reporters that the original draft had been toned down. The Pentagon had ‘abandoned’ the idea that its strategy should be to block the emergence of a rival to American military supremacy, reported one Pentagon correspondent.
“However, the revised vision of American strategy contained most of the same ideas as the original.… The final version didn’t talk about stopping allies from emerging as rivals. But it said the United States should ‘preclude any hostile power from dominating a region critical to our interest.’ Presumably any nation that came to rival American power could be deemed potentially ‘hostile’ if its policies weren’t aligned with those of the United States.” (James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans , Penguin, 2004, pages 210-212; a magisterial book which documents the aspirations, intrigues and policies of the school of strategists that had emerged. Vulcan was the Roman god of fire).
The Vulcans represented a mood and an attitude that spawned an atmosphere in the nation and facilitated their recipes to be carried out. James Mann writes: “During the 35 years from 1968 to 2003 the Vulcans reflected the moods and beliefs of America as a whole… one that pursued unchallengeable military strength for the United States. Many Americans disagreed with them, but not enough to dislodge them from power for long. When the Vulcans dealt with the world, they were a stand-in for America: its government, its national security establishment, its political beliefs and choices.
“The question remained whether the venture into Iraq in 2003 marked the point where history turned once again. Did it represent the outer limits of the expansion of American power and ideals? From the perspective of the Vulcans themselves, it clearly did not; they portrayed Iraq as merely a way station on the road toward democratising the entire Middle East.
“There was no question that the Vulcans’ venture into Iraq grew out of their previous 35 years of thinking about America’s role in the world. It represented a final step in the transfer of ideas that the Vulcans had formed during the Cold War into a post-Cold War world—the ideas that the United States should emphasise military strength, should spread its ideals and should not accommodate other centres of power.
“Over the past few years modern historians have drawn a picture of world events in which one era, the Cold War, ended in 1989 and a new era, the post-Cold War, started then . But hidden within this picture, there lay another, entirely different historical narrative, one that began in the two decades before 1989 and continued for at least 15 years afterward. It was the story of the pursuit of unrivalled American power, the story of the rise of the Vulcans.” Behind those 35 years lay a certain tradition and it continued after 2003, as James Mann notes.
Prof. John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago recalls: “The United States, it should be emphasised, did not become a hegemon in the Western Hemisphere by accident. When it gained its independence in 1783, it was a weak country comprised of 13 states running up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Over the course of the next 115 years, American policy-makers worked unrelentingly in pursuit of regional hegemony. They expanded America’s boundaries from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean as part of a policy commonly referred to as ‘Manifest Destiny’. Indeed the United States was an expansionist power of the first order. Henry Cabot Lodge put the point well when he noted that the U.S. had a record of conquest, colonisation, and territorial expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century. Or I might add the 20th century” ( The Chinese Journal of International Politics , Volume 3, 2010, pages 381-396). The U.S. has been at war for 14 of the 21 years since the Cold War ended. This was written in 2010, before the attack on Libya in 2011.
Prof. Mearsheimer belongs to the small band of scholars who are prepared to consider the other side’s viewpoint, such as Stephen Walt and Andrew J. Bacevich. India can boast of very few such, whether on China or Pakistan. Most are paperback pocket editions of the Vulcans; small in vision and slender in knowledge.
This is what Mearsheimer wrote of China specifically: “Why would China feel safe with U.S. forces deployed on its doorstep? Following the logic of the Monroe Doctrine, would not China’s security be better served by pushing the American military out of the Asia-Pacific region? Why should we expect China to act any differently than the United States over the course of its history? Are they more principled than the Americans? More ethical? Are they less nationalistic than the Americans? Less concerned about their survival? They are none of these things, of course, which is why China is likely to imitate the United States and attempt to become a regional hegemon.
“And what is the likely American response if China attempts to dominate Asia? It is crystal clear from the historical record that the United States does not tolerate peer competitors. As it demonstrated over the course of the 20th century, it is determined to remain the world’s only regional hegemon. Therefore, the United States can be expected to go to great lengths to contain China and ultimately weaken it to the point where it is no longer a threat to rule the roost in Asia. In essence, the United States is likely to act toward China similar to the way it behaved toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War” —and still does. Witness North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) expansion to the borders of Russia. The Economist quoted a Chinese admiral who likened the American Navy to a man with a criminal record “wandering just outside the gate of a family home” (March 13, 2009). Not long ago, India objected to the presence of the great powers’ navies in the Indian Ocean.
This is where Simon Jenkins’ work acquires relevance. It demonstrates convincingly that the U.S.’ march to its “Manifest Destiny” is very much on. 9/11 was, as Zbigniew Brzezinski said, an act of terrorism by Osama bin Laden, not an act of aggression by the state of Afghanistan. The Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Louise Richardson, holds the same view. It was a case of “over-reaction” by the U.S.
Simon Jenkins’ spontaneous comments are realistic. 9/11 is his starting point. “It is a human disaster, an outrage, an atrocity, an unleashing of the madness of which the world will never be rid. But it is not politically significant. It does not tilt the balance of world power one inch. It is not an act of war. America’s leadership of the West is not diminished by it. The cause of democracy is not damaged, unless we choose to let it be damaged. Maturity lies in learning to live, and sometimes die, with the madmen.
“The events of 9/11 saw an outpouring of sympathy for America that is hard today to recall. Messages of support came from almost every country on earth, including Russia and China, excluding only such sworn foes as Iraq and Afghanistan. The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] leader, Yasser Arafat, gave blood for the people of New York. All the world claimed ‘to be American’. Even the Taliban leadership was so shocked as to summon a loya jirga (tribal conclave) to discuss what to do about their al-Qaeda guests in the Tora Bora Mountains. Many younger leaders were reported to have pressed for them to leave. They were now ‘unwelcome guests’.”
In issue was an agreed tribunal. “Intelligence indicated that this might happen [the handover of bin Laden] but would take time. American opinion was disinclined to wait.” He might have written particularly of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The bombing began on October 7, 2001. “The fall of Kabul put the city, and notionally the country, under a U.N. ‘transitional administration’. An interview with a former Afghan diplomat in London convinced me that the Taliban had been sufficiently split on hosting bin Laden that it needed only time to spring him. Indeed he told me bin Laden was already a dead man for the murder of the Tajik leader, Shah Massoud.
“A post-9/11 loya jirga at Kandahar saw younger Taliban commanders (some in contact with Americans since the 1990s) furious at their leader Mullah Omar continuing to give hospitality to bin Laden and his alien Arabs. They secured a request, unenforced, that he leaves. (Lucy Morgan Edwards, The Afghan Solution , Bacteria, 2011.) As it was, America and Britain ‘took ownership’ of a distant foreign state. As in Bosnia and Kosovo, the age of intervention had led from military victory to military occupation to de facto political responsibility.”India’s reaction
What was India’s reaction? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, instantly offered bases to the U.S., which it had not sought, to sideline Pakistan. The U.S. preferred Pakistan.
After Afghanistan came Iraq in 2003. The New York Times dropped the column by one of the most astute analysts, William Pfaff. Today, that war is not deplored because it was a criminal aggression, but because it is a failed adventure. Iraq lies broken and ruined.
Libya followed in 2011, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the strongest advocate of intervention, as she was of the view to attack Iraq in 2003. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 was agreed to by the Russians because it did not authorise a military intervention. It was cheated, as was Muammar Gaddafi, who had renounced his nuclear weapons. North Korea learnt the lesson.
The author writes: “The NATO pledge that there would be no foreign troops on the ground was mendacious. From the moment air power failed to achieve the undeclared goal of Tripoli’s surrender, the pledge was broken. NATO ground troops were extensively deployed in Libya, the distinction between overt and covert forces being spurious. ‘Special’ soldiers are still soldiers. Close air support is also identical in tactical effect to ground artillery, as deployed in the final assault on the Gaddafi compound.
“Britain claimed it was not taking sides in a foreign civil war. It clearly was. The rescue of Benghazi mutated, as did the Iraq venture, into a wider war to remove a regime no longer to Britain’s liking. Aid of every sort was given to the rebels, from political and diplomatic support to training, logistics and battlefield leadership in the attack on Tripoli.
“Throughout the campaign, the British government has said it is ‘for the Libyan people to decide their own fate’ and its involvement would end once a tyrant had departed the scene. That was naive. Britain has, with NATO, most emphatically decided the fate of the Libyan people. It has brought anarchy in the place of order, hoping that anarchy will be brief. It cannot disown the consequences.…”
In a late comment he adds: “In September Cameron paid a ‘victory’ visit to Benghazi, but he did not dare set foot in Tripoli which by then was already too unsafe for any Western leader. They could no more walk the streets in ‘liberated’ Baghdad. He had left Libya to the mercy of the triumphant rebels and the result was chaos. Over the following two years, brutalities worthy of Gaddafi were reported. Oil production slumped and Tripoli soon became a no-go area for outsiders. By the summer of 2014, the British embassy had to close. Libya was no longer on the interventionist’s map. It was no longer news.”
On August 30, 2013, the House of Commons snubbed Prime Minister David Cameron by refusing him the vote to sanction the bombing of Syria. “Two decades of intervention had delivered seven wars, two in Iraq, two in former Yugoslavia, one each in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Libya. Two of these, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were more protracted than any seen in the 20th century. Few lessons were learned from each. Invasions were planned but not occupations, which were often chaotic. The world’s most powerful armies found themselves humbled by the world’s most primitive. The expense was colossal, some $3-4 trillion on one estimate, the benefits largely elusive. At the end there was a ghost of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, but little stability, peace or prosperity. None of the ‘victorious powers’ dared walk the streets in the capitals they claimed to have freed from oppression.
“The invading powers, heavily militaristic in character, proved good at regime destroying but not at regime building. Rival defence and diplomatic agencies found it hard to plan strategies for occupation, and thus hard to know when success had been achieved and when it was time to depart. They could not ‘cut and run’. The motto was ‘The job must be finished’, if only to atone for the rising number of war dead.”
This is not a report on a recent disease but a diagnosis of a deeply entrenched malady which is inherent in the American polity. This is why it rejects equal partnership not only with Russia but also with Western Europe. Does India stand a chance?
The best course for all is to devise a world order that rests on accord and thus acquires legitimacy and stability. This is a task worthy of India. It cannot play its part if it compromises its independence to become America’s foot soldier in its confrontation with China and, not unlikely, with Russia. This is precisely the role which the U.S. has chosen to assign to a flattered Modi government. U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on April 8, 2016: “Militarily, the Department of Defence is operationalising the next phase of the rebalance, and cementing it for the long term. We are enhancing America’s force posture throughout this vitally important region to continue playing a pivotal role from the sea, in the air, and under the water, as well as to make our posture more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable. To do so, we continue to bring the best people and platforms forward to the Asia Pacific —not only increasing the number of U.S. military personnel in the region, part of some 365,000 assigned to the Asia-Pacific today, but also sending and stationing some of our most advanced capabilities there.”
In New Delhi, he offered sops to India’s chauvinists on April 10, 2016. The U.S. has a “whole global agenda with India. Its relationship with Pakistan was focussed on Afghanistan and terrorism.” No wonder Narendra Modi and his cohorts find the offered embrace irresistible.
One must repeat the questions: What is the character of this ally? What is the nature of the world order and can we contribute to its reform by forging alliances or by independent action in friendship with all—the U.S. and China, included?
Meanwhile, the Modi government must discharge its duty to Parliament and the nation by publishing the sordid, secret accord with the United States of America.