February 9, 2001

Goodbye "Fortress America," hello empire

I know a lot of good conservative Republicans, fierce opponents of US global military intervention, who have signed on the to the Bush administration's National Missile Defense program for what they regard as good "isolationist" reasons. To begin with, they opine, the US does indeed have a growing number of determined enemies who would like nothing better than to aim a ballistic missile smack dab in the center of a major American city. After all, if we take the noninterventionist critique of US foreign policy seriously, the American government has made more than its fair share of enemies in the world – but why should the rest of us have to suffer for it? What Chalmers Johnson called "blowback" in his brilliant book of the same name is a reality: the consequences of our disastrous foreign policy are potentially catastrophic. Secondly, these conservatives home in on European objections to NMD, which posit that the US will turn away from its "international responsibilities" and turn in on itself, reverting to "isolationism." "Well then I'm for it!" say these conservative Republicans, who learned during the Kosovo war that the epithet "isolationist" is practically a badge of honor. In supporting NMD, they dream that we will finally be rid of our badgering and eternally cadging "allies," free to prosper in splendid isolation behind the walls of Fortress America. Now, doesn't that sound great? There's only one problem – it'll never happen.


As Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the grievously mis-named Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, puts it, "Even neo-isolationists love missile defense precisely because they see it as the antithesis of a foreign policy. Once we put up the shield, they figure, Americans can mind their own business and the rest of the world can go to hell." If only it were so. But Kagan is sophisticated enough to realize that precisely the opposite is the case. In a piece in the Washington Post [May 21, 2000], Kagan made a case for missile defense aimed at liberal interventionists, arguing that as long as America has to live in fear of retaliation for its global meddling, policy elites will think twice before intervening: but Star Wars technology will unleash them. In a world without NMD, he writes,

"The United States could find itself less and less willing to undertake the risks that come with global leadership. Adversaries would be emboldened by American timidity, and friends would begin to look elsewhere for their security. The ties that bind America to its allies would loosen. In time, the fabric of the international order, now dependent on American military power and on American will to use it, would unravel altogether. In other words, the neo-isolationists have it exactly backwards. Nothing is more likely to push the United States toward an isolationist foreign policy than our increasing vulnerability to missile attack."


This is a rather disingenuous way to say it – it is our aggressive foreign policy that is the root of our vulnerability – but Kagan is right about the peculiar confusion represented by conservative Republican support for NMD. In his piece, Kagan seems to scoff at the idea that there is anyone crazy enough to launch a ballistic missile at the US, and, anyway, "what matters most is deterrence. Not our ability to deter others, but their ability to deter us. For the past decade, American strategy has rested on our ability to project overwhelming conventional force into vital regions around the world" – and, in Kagan's view, nothing must deter us from intervening anywhere and everywhere. Star Wars will make that possible. For if some "weaker power" got tired of being pushed around – say, Iraq – and "had an arsenal of missiles capable of striking Europe and the United States," then

"Would an American president be as quick as George Bush was in 1991 to order an offensive to force him out? Would Congress vote to approve an invasion, knowing the price might be an American or European city? Would the Europeans join forces with us if Paris and Munich were vulnerable?"


Far from being strictly defensive, then, NMD is being sold as an offensive weapon, the necessary shield that accompanies the sword. As such, Kagan seems to realize that the NMD's real constituency is not the Right, but the Left, for here is a project that combines aspects of a government boondoggle and a utopian panacea. In making a direct appeal to Clintonian interventionists of the "humanitarian" variety, Kagan implores "liberal internationalists" to "do some hard thinking." Having opposed NMD in the past because it would undermine arms control efforts, he argues that they must now rethink their position in light of their recent born-again conversion to the joys of militarism. "The day is fast approaching," Kagan writes, "when they will have to choose between their faith in arms control treaties and their belief in America's role as the world's 'indispensable nation.'" This is how the NMD lobby sold Clinton and the Democrats on adopting a modified version of their program, and now the Bushies are pulling out all the stops in a race to put NMD in place and unleash the full military potential of Star Wars.


In selling the idea to the Europeans, particularly the British, the strategy of the Bush administration is to hold out the promise of extending NMD to other countries. I was astonished to read the headline in the International Herald Tribune the other day: "US Intends to Put Anti-Missile Shield Around the World"! This stunning news was announced by newly-installed secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld: speaking at the Conference on Security Policy, an annual pow-wow of defense ministers, policy wonks, and military specialists, Rumsfeld no doubt caused a stir when he declared that "The United States intends to develop and deploy a missile defense designed to defend our people and our forces against a limited missile attack and is prepared to assist friends and allies threatened by missile attack to deploy such defenses." In making their appeal to the Europeans, Team Bush is applying the same strategy Kagan used on domestic liberals. As the International Herald Tribune piece put it: "By expanding the system's coverage in this way, the administration of President George W. Bush clearly hopes to curb complaints from allies that missile defense is an umbrella for the United States that would be liable to make Americans seek security in isolationism." Don't get rid of the umbrella, Rumsfeld is saying to the Europeans, join us and get out of the rain. But what, exactly, will they be joining?


In his speech, Rumsfeld pointedly neglected to use the word "national" to describe the missile defense plan envisioned by the Bush administration, and the implications of this omission are enormous. For what he is offering them is a global missile defense system that would give new meaning to the word "protectorate": from South Korea to the Gulf states, covering the Balkans and certainly Israel, an international missile defense (IMD) system would give our various regional satraps the benefit of living behind an iron curtain, so to speak, against which the missiles of "rogue" nations would bounce off: one that afforded them same dubious benefits as the last one, eternal "protection" – but at what price?


Ah, say the Bushies, but we'll make it worth your while. For if the US, unafraid of ballistic missile "blowback," is going to be unleashed, then the same privilege will be extended to its friends and allies. That, at least, is the implicit promise – and very real danger – of IMD. Consider the recent election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel in the context of the Bushian international missile defense concept: would not the same logic of deterrence outlined above by Kagan apply to Israel? While Sharon might be otherwise restrained from launching an all-out war and achieving his dream of a Greater Israel, the missile shield erected by the US would hardly act as a restraint. The potential costs of war – for Israel – would be so greatly reduced that it is hard to see how Sharon could resist embarking on a course of conquest: huddled under the IMD umbrella, Israeli forces could perhaps fulfill the old Zionist dream of extending Israel's borders from the Nile to the Euphrates.


Britain, too, would be unleashed, and the Tories are practically swooning at the thought of it: dreams of a restored Empire, more adventures in Africa, and maybe even an Anglo-American confederation, dance in their heads. The old idea of an Anglo-American union is being raised, tentatively and even shyly, so as not to offend the nationalist sensibilities of American conservatives, who, after all, cheered Mel Gibson in The Patriot and booed his British tormentors. While Labor naturally seeks integration into the European socialist superstate, Hague and his front-bencher Tories, faced with the choice of rule from Brussels, or from Washington, D.C., have thrown their lot in with the latter. National independence, apparently, is not even an option.


This is what the extension of the IMD over half the globe would mean, symbolically at first, but soon enough in actuality: the de facto merger of the territories protected by the IMD system. A few years ago, the neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, invoking Francis Fukuyama's famous "End of History" thesis, proclaimed that at this "unipolar moment" we need to forget about the outmoded concept of national sovereignty and replace it with "a new universalism." In Krauthammer's view, the "wish and work" of America should be to integrate with Europe and Japan inside a "super-sovereign" entity that is "economically, culturally, and politically hegemonic" in the world. "This new universalism," he writes, "would require the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general." The idea of merging the US into a trans-national union "is not," he opined, "as outrageous as it sounds."


It still sounds outrageous, even with the Bush-Rumsfeld IMD plan in place – but rather less impossible. While the missile defense tests carried out so far have been nothing short of disastrous, there is no doubt that, given the lavish resources being poured into this boondoggle, a system like IMD could be developed in time. This would provide the military framework for a more extensive and gradual integration. In effect, constructing an international missile defense means building an overseas empire, its frontiers defined by the outer limits of the IMD umbrella.


But couldn't missile defense technology still be used to defend the legitimate interests of the US, i.e. the safety of its citizens right here at home? No technology has a moral or political content, but is merely an instrument in the hands that wield it. How technology is used reflects the moral and ideological outlook of its creators, and in IMD we are seeing the true face of Team Bush reflected in the mirror of power. Whether a different administration, one that upheld the foreign policy principles of the Founders and saw itself as the guardian of American sovereignty, would employ a missile defense is another question for another column, but as far as this new crowd in Washington is concerned we are dealing with an altogether different case. Rumsfeld's conception of a global missile defense is the technological embodiment of Krauthammer's "new universalism," the empty phrase that is the "patriotism" of the new millennium. If "the ties that bind will loosen" in a world without international missile defense, as Kagan puts it, then in the world Team Bush is building for us the ties that bind will tighten – until the concept of American separateness is, at best, superfluous, at worst abolished by the new global hegemons.

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"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

Globalizing "Star Wars"

What's Up With the Saudis?

Who is Ariel Sharon?

The Myth of the Saddam Bomb

Are We to Be Spared Nothing?
Mad Bombers of Belgrade Blame Their Victims

Lying About Kosovo

Globalism on the Right

Cold War Follies: There's No Business Like Show Business

An Inaugural Party

Inaugural Fireworks Over Iraq?

Ashcroft Versus the Smear Machine

The Gulf War In Retrospect: the "Isolationists" Were Right

Our War Criminals, and Theirs

The American Dracula

NATO's Poisoned Arrow

The New Bolivar: Hugo Chavez and the Rise of Pan-American Nationalism

No to the International Kangaroo Court

Know Thy Enemy

The Canonization of Colin Powell

Big Government Invades the Internet

The New Cold War: Who's Afraid of Vladimir Putin?

The Case for Pessimism

The Gore Coup: No Justice, No Peace – No Exit

Bush or Gore: Pick Your War

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
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Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cartagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

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Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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