Thinkers Launch Anti-Empire Drive
by Jim Lobe
October 17, 2003

Representatives of a new coalition of prominent foreign-policy scholars and analysts whose political views range from right to centre-left announced here Thursday they hope to spearhead opposition to the imperial policies pursued by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Leaders of the 'Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy' charged that the administration is moving "in a dangerous direction toward empire," an idea that they said has never been embraced by the U.S. public.

The spokespersons said they will hold a series of policy forums and conferences around the country, publish papers and articles, and represent an anti-imperial viewpoint on television and radio, media that, since the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, have been largely dominated by pro-imperial or pro-war voices.

"We are a diverse group of scholars and analysts from across the political spectrum who believe that the move toward empire must be halted immediately," says the coalition's charter statement, signed by 44 foreign-policy specialists.

"We are united by our desire to turn American national security policy toward realistic and sustainable measures for protecting U.S. vital interests in a manner that is consistent with American values," it added.

"The time for debate is now," the charter states, noting that imperial policies "can quickly gain momentum, with new interventions begetting new dangers."

Among the more prominent right-wing signers are Doug Bandow, a special assistant to former president Ronald Reagan and now a senior officer at the libertarian Cato Institute, Scott McConnell, chief editor of The American Conservative magazine and Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business & Industrial Council Educational Foundation.

Representing more centrist positions are Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, former senator Gary Hart and Harvard international relations professor Stephen Walt.

More left-wing figures in the group include Charles Kupchan, an aide to former president Bill Clinton now with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Kenneth Sharpe, a prominent foreign-policy analyst from Swarthmore College in Philadelphia.

The launch of the coalition, which intends to recruit other members, comes amid growing concern in both the U.S. Congress and the public about the aftermath of Washington's invasion of Iraq last March.

Congress is currently debating the fate of an administration request for some 87 billion dollars over the next year for U.S. military operations and reconstruction in Iraq. While the package is expected to be approved with only minor modifications, it has provoked substantial unhappiness, even from Bush's fellow Republicans, who worry that the occupation could turn into a quagmire.

In addition, the administration's proposed new anti-terrorist legislation has provoked considerable opposition on Capitol Hill among lawmakers who claim that it jeopardises many constitutional rights and gives too much power to the state.

And while public-approval ratings for Bush's foreign policy, which fell precipitously through the summer, have stabilised, his support as measured by a series of polls this month, continues to erode.

Thursday's launch of the coalition was tied to the change in the national debate, according to Kupchan, who noted that the public dialogue on Washington's global role had been far too muted, if one-sided, since the 9/11 attacks.

"Now there's been a shift in the country that has taken place," he said. "The fact that we're all together here speaks volumes about the degree to which our foreign policy is off course."

"We're finally getting our act together," said Christopher Preble, a Cato analyst who played a key role in convening the group.

The coalition does not intend to recruit from the grassroots, where a number of existing movements opposed the war on Iraq. It will instead focus on the recruitment of foreign-policy specialists and analysts who can help frame the context for public and media debate.

A major target of the group will be the "neo-conservative" strategists in and around the administration, especially those close to Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who led the charge into Iraq, continue to argue for military and other actions against Syria, Iran, and North Korea, and promoted the larger strategic vision of global U.S. military dominance.

The coalition's purpose appears to be, above all, to publicly take on liberals and conservatives who support the administration's imperial policies, beginning with its 'National Security Strategy.'

That document, issued 13 months ago, calls for Washington to maintain its predominant position in the world at all costs, even to the extent of waging pre-emptive war against would-be rivals, and to reshape regions of the world in ways that are compatible with U.S. interests and values.

"While officials in the Bush administration publicly reject the terms 'empire' and 'imperialism'," according to Preble, "empire fever appears to have seized those on both the political left and the political right," he added, citing a recent assertion by prominent neo-conservative writer Max Boot that "America's destiny is to police the world."

Despite their various political and foreign-policy philosophies, all members of the group accept the basic notion that the pursuit of U.S. military domination will ultimately prove self-defeating.

"We can expect, and are seeing now, multiple balances of power forming against us. People resent and resist domination, no matter how benign," asserts the charter, titled 'The Perils of Empire.'

"Empire is problematic because it subverts the freedoms and liberties of citizens at home, while simultaneously thwarting the will of people abroad," it notes. "An imperial strategy threatens to entangle America in an assortment of unnecessary and unrewarding wars."

An imperial strategy also "threatens to weaken us as a nation, overextending and bleeding the economy and straining our military and federal budgets."

"We are more isolated from the general opinions of mankind than at any time in history," said McConnell, adding that he shares the concerns of conservative icon Edmund Burke, who worried in the early 19th century that Britain's very power at the time would result both in opposition around the world and in taking on costs that it could not afford in the long run.

Kupchan said the administration's basic assumptions had already proven deeply flawed. Among those, he said, were its belief that "the stronger America is, the more uncompromising its leadership, the more likely the rest of the world would follow along."

"The United States today is far less safe than it was several years ago, because we have weakened the international architecture which helped protect us."

(Inter Press Service)

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Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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