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<nettime> The American Commonwealth of Nations
Kermit Snelson on Mon, 21 Jan 2002 23:16:56 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> The American Commonwealth of Nations


The Winter 2001/02 issue (No.66) of the American political journal "The
National Interest" has recently appeared on US newsstands.  This periodical
is co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and the
Canadian media baron Conrad Black, and is a mouthpiece for the very powerful
"realist" faction within the foreign policy establishment of the United
States.  This issue contains perhaps the most extensive public expression
yet of that faction's reactions to the September 11 attacks.

It's difficult to paraphrase the arguments of this issue without sounding as
insane as the originals, so my post will consist mostly of direct quotations
without editorial comment.  The page references are, of course, to the TNI
volume cited in this post's first sentence.

The theme is summarized by an observation from James Kurth, senior fellow at
the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a Swarthmore College professor.
Kurth had published a piece in TNI's previous Fall 2001 issue called "The
Next NATO: Building an American Commonwealth of Nations", and follows this
up in the Winter issue with this:

     The American war on global terrorism provides both a new necessity and
a new opportunity for building an American commonwealth of nations. [p.150]

This comment is in response to a letter by Robert F. Ellsworth, former U.S.
Ambassador to NATO, which praises Kurth's Fall 2001 TNI article (and the
9-11 attacks) as follows:

     Little did [Kurth] know, of course, that the ghastly but brilliant and
precise terrorist attack of September 11 on the two main symbols of global
capitalism and military power would shock the nation and the world into
undertaking a project something like building a new commonwealth of nations
[...] The globalization of terrorism directed against civilization has taken
us back to the Thirty Years War of the 17th century, a war of religions.
The Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 put war on a state-to-state basis, but
this is now, evidently, quite obsolete.  Some sort of revised legitimation
of civilization is necessary. [p.149]

The "revised legitimation of civilization" Ambassador Ellsworth might have
in mind is expressed by an article elsewhere in the same issue called "The
World of Achilles: Ancient Soldiers, Modern Warriors" by Robert D. Kaplan.
Kaplan is a professional publicist for the ideas of Harvard professor Samuel
P. Huntington, the author of the famous essay "The Clash of Civilizations?"
that appeared in the journal "Foreign Affairs" 72:3 (Summer 1993).

To help illustrate the nature of Kaplan's relationship to Huntington, the
following might help.  In last month's (December 2001) issue of the US
magazine "The Atlantic Monthly", Kaplan published a 12-page hagiography of
the elderly professor which was billed on the issue's paper overleaf as "The
Prophet".  Kaplan's article praises Huntington's career and describes in
detail nearly every book of his since 1957's "The Soldier and the State: The
Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations."  Interestingly enough, the
article does not mention Huntington's famous 1975 paper "The Democratic
Distemper", which appeared in the book "The Crisis of Democracy: A Report on
the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission."  Kaplan's
article does, however, find room to describe how Huntington, "a geek with a
backbone of steel", once subdued a mugger near the Harvard campus.

Kaplan's TNI "Achilles" article is adapted from his new book, "Warrior
Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos", published last month by
Random House.  In this article, Kaplan argues that the ethical monotheism
founded by the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is obsolete,
at least as a guide to political morality.  The first consequence of this
thesis is that the distinction between civilian and military rule insisted
upon by contemporary democracies is itself obsolete:

     [...] the artificial separation between civilian and military command
structures that has been a feature of contemporary democracies continues to
dissolve.  We are reverting to the "unified" leaderships that characterized
the ancient and early-modern worlds, reflecting what Socrates and
Machiavelli recognized as the basic truth of all political systems: whatever
the labels those systems claim for themselves, war and diplomacy are two
facets of the same process. [p.37]

This means that military action must be free from democratic oversight:

     Collaboration between the Pentagon and corporate America is necessary,
and will grow.  Short of a response to the occasional outrage perpetrated
against us, going to war will be less and less a democratic decision [...]
In the future [...] the decision to use force will be made autocratically by
small groups of civilians and general officers, the differences between them
fading as time goes on." [p.38]

Since the modern system of nation-states is obsolete, as noted above by
Ambassador Ellsworth, Kaplan draws the inevitable conclusion that
international law is obsolete as well:

     The concept of "international law" promulgated by Hugo Grotius in 17th
century Holland, in which all sovereign states are treated as equal and war
is justified only in defense of sovereignty, is fundamentally utopian.  The
boundaries between peace and war are often unclear, and international
agreements are kept only if the power and self-interests of the parties are
there to sustain them.  In the future, wartime justice will not depend on
international law; as in ancient times, justice will depend on the moral
fiber of military commanders themselves, whose roles will often be
indistinguishable from those of civilian leaders. [p.38]

Why is this new epoch necessary?  Globalization, says Kaplan.  Apparently,
globalization won't bring universal prosperity after all.  In fact, it will
create an impoverished, angry and well-armed world mob that must be
constantly suppressed using military brutality:

     Globalization is Darwinian.  It means the economic survival of the
fittest -- those groups and individuals who are disciplined, dynamic and
ingenious will float to the top, while cultures that do not compete well
technologically will produce an inordinate number of warriors [...] Thus,
while there are enormous differences between, say, a Radovan Karadzic and an
Osama bin Laden, neither plays by our rules; both are warriors. [p.39]

What will the US need to face down these angry and inferior cultures?  A
state of permanent war, together with the replacement of democracy by
aristocracy:

     Effective responses to the outrages of these warriors are inconceivable
without the element of surprise, making democratic consultation an
afterthought.  After all, war is subject to democratic control only when it
is a condition distinctly separate from peace.  In Cold War confrontations
such as Korea and Vietnam popular opinion played a major role, but a
protracted state of quasi-conflict marked by commando raids and electronic
strikes on enemy computer systems -- in which the swiftness of our reaction
is the key variable -- will not be guided by public opinion to the same
extent.  Such conflict will feature warriors on one side, motivated by
grievance and rapine, and an aristocracy of statesmen, military officers and
technocrats on the other, motivated, one hopes, by ancient virtue. [p.40]

What does Kaplan mean by ancient virtue?

     [...] there is a model that explains how states and other groups are
likely to approach war in the future.  It is an age-old model based on an
ancient code of honor [...] An alliance leader must play the role of
barbarian chieftain.  In theory, international law governs world politics;
in practice, relations between great powers are regulated by a sort of Code
Duello [...] designed to ritualize the struggle for power, not to end it.
[...] Such a code may not be Judeo-Christian, yet it is moral just the same.
[p.45]

And what kind of behavior will result from this new moral code?
State-sponsored, possibly illegal assassinations, for one thing:

     Either the law against assassinations that sprang from our Vietnam
experience will be scrapped, or it will be sidestepped. [p.41]

Not to mention willingness to kill civilians, including children:

     The enemy will take hostages and place critical supplies susceptible to
precision bombing beneath schools and hospitals.  For such adversaries, our
moral values -- our fear of collateral damage -- represent our worst
vulnerabilities.  The most sincere and heartbreaking truth of the ancients
is the vast gulf that separates political-military virtue from individual
moral perfection.  It is such a truth that may help define the 21st century,
as we are forced to choose in the midst of high-tech war between what is
right and what is unfortunately necessary. [p.43-44]

A revival of profitable wars of aggression in defiance of international law:

     The Mexican War was probably unjust -- motivated as it was by sheer
territorial aggression.  But it was a war well worth fighting:  The United
States acquired Texas and the entire Southwest, including California.  In
the 21st century, as in the 19th, we will initiate hostilities [...]
whenever it is absolutely necessary and we see a clear advantage in doing
so, and we will justify it morally after the fact.  This is not cynical.
The moral basis of U.S. foreign policy will depend upon the character of the
nation and its leaders, not upon the absolutes of international law. [p.45]

And the natural enemy of this new morality will be, of course, the free
press:

     Another problem will be the unwitting collusion between the global
media and our enemies [...] The power of the media is wilful and dangerous
because it dramatically affects Western policy while bearing no
responsibility for the outcome.  Indeed, the media's moral perfectionism is
possible only because it is politically unaccountable. [p.44]

Why is the media so dangerous?  Because it's dominated, says Kaplan, by a
cosmopolitan cultural elite with insufficient respect for authority:

     Because the elite media is dominated by cosmopolitans who inhabit the
wider world beyond the nation-state, it has a tendency to emphasize
universal moral principles over national self-interest.  "Most newsmen",
says Walter Cronkite, "feel very little allegiance to the established order.
I think they are inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority
and institutions." [p.42]

Kaplan's views, however bloodthirsty, unlettered and unhinged, should not be
dismissed.  The book from which this article was adapted is currently
Amazon.com's #77 bestseller.  It is praised on their site by Henry Kissinger
as "one of the most thought-provoking and profound books that I have
recently read."  It also carries endorsements from former US defense
secretaries William Perry and William Cohen, former US National Security
Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  This
book, and the TNI article from which it is derived, is clearly intended as
an important influence on public opinion.

Other articles in this issue of TNI try to identify today's war against
terrorism with past conflicts with Islamic powers.  One seriously argues
that "America's war against the Barbary pirates 200 years ago bears
similarities -- and lessons -- for the present war against terrorism."  The
author even goes back to the Crusades, drawing an even more insane
comparison with the current situation:

     Not since Saladin defeated the Crusader armies at the Horns of Hattin
in 1187 has any Islamic group felt that it had the ability to drive the
infidel from the Middle East.  At Al-Qaeda's disposal are tools and
techniques that once were the exclusive province of the West. [p.50-1]

The TNI issue also reviews of a book on the Habsburg emperor Maximilian II,
which includes this comment (together with a singularly unsurprising
citation):

     Of what relevance is Maximilian's life and era to our own?  Samuel
Huntington, in "The Clash of Civilizations," issued this insufficiently
heeded warning:  "To ignore the impact of the Islamic Resurgence on Eastern
Hemisphere politics in the late twentieth century is equivalent to ignoring
the impact of the Protestant Reformation on European politics in the late
sixteenth century."  In this regard, Maximilian certainly had his eye on the
ball, reflecting deeply and creatively about the impact of the great
religious upheaval of his own century. [...] Maximilian faced a complicated
mix of strategic and religious division -- a militant Islamic force at the
gate, and sharp differences of creed within the broad confines of empire.
It made sense to Maximilian, for practical as well as moral reasons, to seek
unity within so that he could stave off assault from without. [p.137]

There's even more in this issue, such as a blueprint for a "regime change"
in Iraq and a piece by a Yale Law professor who argues that prosecuting
terrorists should not be inhibited by an "inability to satisfy artificial
rules of trial evidence."  But you get the idea by now, and I'll conclude
simply by saying that the articles taken together comprise what is, in my
opinion, perhaps the most brazenly published program for world domination,
brutality, religious war and destruction of the rule of law to appear in the
West since "Mein Kampf".  If the very powerful "realist" faction behind this
publication is currently waging a power struggle within the US government
with anything close to the ferocity of its ideological struggle in the US
media, the world is truly hanging on the edge of an abyss.

Kermit Snelson

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