Sunday, March 18, 2012

American Empire After Ten Years

Gary Dorrien

 This article appeared on the Huffington Post on Monday, March 26.

Nine years ago Gary Dorrien spoke to Kalamazoo peace activists about the nation’s policy of perpetual war as advocated by the neoconservatives.  At the time, he was the Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College.

On Sunday, the Episcopalian priest returned from New York as the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.    

Dorrien addressed a capacity crowd of over 500 people at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Kalamazoo, a place that has opened its doors over the past decade to pray and observe the beginning and subsequent anniversaries of the Iraq War.  The event was sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice.

He spoke about the neoconservatives and their quest for American global domination.  The neocons became the dominant foreign policy faction in the Republican Party during the mid-1990s and continues to this day.

The goals of that policy in 2000 included the following, which have largely come to pass:
  • Repudiate the ABM treaty
  • Build a global missile defense system
  • Develop a strategic dominance of space
  • Increase defense spending by $20 billion per year
  • Establish permanent new forces in Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East
  • Reinvent the U.S. military to fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars.
The election of George W. Bush allowed the neocons to institute their policy and they were especially keen to overthrow Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and North Korea, he said. 

“[They] wanted to create a pro-American Iraq that gave the U.S. a direct power base, ensured the oil supply, set off a chain-reaction of regime changes, gave relief to Israel and got rid of a thuggish enemy, Saddam Hussein,” said Dorrien.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 gave the Bush administration the excuse it needed to attack Afghanistan in October in an attempt to kill Osama bin Laden and quell Al Qaeda, and in 2003 to invade Iraq, which Americans were told had weapons of mass destruction. 

The “stampede to war” is a regular tool for uniting the country whenever it feels it is being attacked, said Dorrien.  Presidents have used it to take continental lands from the Native Americans, to extend slavery in the West and the Caribbean and to invade Latin America.  From the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to the Bush Doctrine of 2001, the United States has asserted its right to invade sovereign nations.  In 1945 we began to amass a global military empire with bases in western Germany, Japan, Korea and the eastern Mediterranean. 

By 1991 as the only superpower, the United States wondered what it would do with its unrivaled might, said Dorrien, so the neocons advocated a new kind of empire not based on the conquest of territory but on “full spectrum dominance.”

“The U.S. employs five global military commands to police the world,” said Dorrien, “it has 750 military bases in 130 nations, covering two-thirds of the world; it has formal military base rights in 40 nations; each branch of the armed services has its own air force; the U.S. Air Force operates on six continents; the U.S. deploys carrier battleships in every ocean’ and U.S. Special Forces conducts thousands of operations per year in approximately 170 nations.”

“Full spectrum dominance” has been a staple of the defense industry and the Pentagon since the mid-1990s as a primary military policy, said Dorrien.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff describe it in their Joint Vision 2020 issued on May 30, 2000:
Over 500 people attended the talk at First Presbyterian Church

“The overall goal of the transformation described in this document is the creation of a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations—pervasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict…Full spectrum dominance [is] the ability of U.S. forces, operating unilaterally or in combination with partners, to defeat any adversary and control any conceivable situation across the full range of military operations.”

Neoconservatism is merely an extreme version of U.S. empire, Dorrien pointed out and the neocons have been able to influence American foreign policy because they are entrenched in the Pentagon and the defense industry.  They also have an extensive network of think tanks (e.g., American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution) and media outlets (e.g., Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review). 

“If John McCain had won the presidency, neocons would still be running our foreign policy [as they did under Bush 43],” said Dorrien.  “Today they are demanding that we overthrow Iran.  And, they are lining up to take over in a Romney or Santorum administration.”

What drives the neocons and the Republican Right in their quest for global domination is their “persistent anxiety,” which is an inherent problem in empire, he said. 

“For the empire, every conflict is a local concern that threatens its control,” said Dorrien.  “However, secure it may be, it never feels secure enough.  Every threat feeds a constant howling of alarm.”

President Obama did not favor invading Iraq, but he added 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 trainers to the force of 37,000 already in Afghanistan.  Then he sent 30,000 more—all this within 18 months of taking office. 

“Obama has taken the path of Lyndon Johnson and Mikhail Gorbachev, escalating on a mess that he inherited, just as Johnson and Gorbachev escalated in Vietnam and Afghanistan,” said Dorrien.  “In both cases, everything got worse, although at least Gorbachev recognized it and reversed course.”

The result has been increasing hatred of the United States by both Afghanistan and Pakistan, more drone attacks without accomplishing any real progress and the perpetuation of Afghan dependency because the people have no incentive to fight for a government they despise. 

Today, the situation in the Middle East is extremely volatile, especially as the Netanyahu government in Israel is threatening to bomb Iran.  If this happens, the entire region could explode into a ball of fire, said Dorrien.  Once again, the neocons are saying there is no serious alternative to war because Iran’s rulers are supposedly so deranged and suicidal that they want a nuclear war with Israel. 

“But that is the crazy, suicidal and self-fulfilling position in this debate,” said Dorrien.  “And we have to say no to that!”

Dorrien sees Obama as a moderate, liberal-leaning politician who needs to be pushed by a strong progressive movement. 

That’s why he kept Bush’s secretary of defense and appointed General James Jones as National Security Advisor, who was astonished himself to be asked.”

Nevertheless, Dorrien supports the re-election of Obama because he doesn’t want the neoconservatives to return to power as indeed they will under Romney or Santorum. 

He also sees those who belong to a faith tradition as key in countering empire and perpetual war because they impel people into the struggles for social justice and to love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.

Adopting a religious stance also does something else, said Dorrien.  It motivates people to give food to the hungry, help the needy and “overcome the violence that is in the world and become partakers of the divine nature” (2nd Peter). 

He is not talking about adopting religious dogma and prejudices of the past or in substituting church power over government but rather in creating “new forms of community that arise out of but transcend religious affiliation, culture and nation.”  These new forms resist a structure of power based on privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Christian supercessionism and exclusivism.

“Now more than ever, we need a self-consciously anti-imperial movement that says:  ‘I don’t want my country to invade any more nations.  I don’t want my country to be dragged into wars.  I don’t want my country to say or to agree that bombing Iran is better than bargaining with Iran.  I don’t want my country to build new military bases for itself anywhere in the Middle East.  Not in my name do we launch yet another war in the name of making us safe.”

Dorrien has published 14 books and written over 250 articles in the fields of ethics, social theory, theology, philosophy, politics and history.  His latest book, The Obama Question:  A Progressive Perspective, is now available.

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