Their dog-eat-dog world

The cabal that four years ago took over the White House brought with them a philosophy of power which ought to be consigned to the dustbin of history, writes Mazin Qumsiyeh*

George Kennan, former head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, once observed: "We have about 60 per cent of the world's wealth but only 6.3 per cent of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better." (Document PPS23, 24 February 1948)

But of course this was not to be. Talk of democratisation is still the best weapon in maintaining disparity and injustice. Thus we toppled the democratic regime of Moussadeq in Iran in the 1950s and reinstalled the Shah not because Moussaddeq wanted to nationalise oil and serve his people but because the US was advancing freedom and democracy against "socialism". Similar arguments were used in Korea, Chile, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti and dozens of other "interventions". People-based resistance limited the success of this strategy of dominance. The epitome of this was the Vietnam War, which was portrayed as stemming the falling domino effect of communism spreading. The US retreat from Vietnam was due to the success of the Vietnamese guerrilla war against the best-equipped army in the world buttressed by people of conscience in America who said: "Enough is enough." Its ramifications were numerous and included a renewed vigour of Third World countries intent on resisting the removal of their natural resources to serve Western vested interests. The war architects were not deterred despite the obvious PR loss as the domino theory proved a fabrication.

These individuals were determined to do imperialism better. They recruited disgruntled liberals. They looked for ways to build a stronger and cohesive message. They found it in a modification of social Darwinism based on early principles advocated by Machiavelli. Their godfather was Machiavelli's intellectual disciple Leo Strauss, a German Zionist who immigrated to the US in the 1930s and mentored people like Paul Wolfowitz while advocating his philosophy of a dog-eat-dog world. His ideas were instrumental in the formation of the current neo-conservative cabal pulling the strings in the White House. According to Strauss, the world is divided into distinct nations with competing interests and will always be thus structured. Under such conditions nations cannot consider collective action and multilateralism unless it is 100 per cent in line with their own selfish interests. Strong leadership is axiomatic, as is the need for military power. Leadership ought not be encumbered by human rights discourse or a moral conscience but nonetheless must "appear" to advocate such ideas. Rulers need not observe the laws they impose on the ruled. As such, a ruler can cheat and lie and do all sorts of things but should at all time maintain the outside appearance of adherence to human rights and caring for people. Further, leaders can use religion as one of many tools to ensure the nation keeps on course as formulated. Outside threats help ensure social cohesion under domestic leadership. Altruism, environmental protection, justice etc, are not the concern of governments and ruling elites. They have no part to play in the equation of power.

Such principles when put into practice in America were obviously controversial but gained ground among a well-positioned group later to be identified as "neo-conservatives", or "neocons" for short. In March 1992, the US Defense Policy Guidance as formulated by Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby (two neocons with strong Israeli ties) was leaked to The New York Times and caused a stir (including a rebuke from Senator Biden). Its Machiavellian/Straussian tone of world domination, preventing the rise of any potential competitor to US power etc, was shocking. The document as revised by its release on 16 April 1992 was far milder, or at least careful in its language. By way of a price, the revised document included for the first time support for Zionism as a key to defence policy: "In the Middle East and Persian Gulf, we seek to foster regional stability, deter aggression against our friends and interests in the region, protect US nationals and property, and safeguard our access to international air and seaways and to the region's oil. The United States is committed to the security of Israel and to maintaining the qualitative edge that is critical to Israel's security. Israel's confidence in its security and US-Israel strategic cooperation contribute to the stability of the entire region, as demonstrated once again during the Persian Gulf War. At the same time, our assistance to our Arab friends to defend themselves against aggression also strengthens security throughout the region, including for Israel." (p14)

The revision was to give neocons renewed energy to implement their plans, but this time more carefully. Neocons were out of the White House between 1992 and 2000 giving them time to consolidate power in other areas (media, think tanks, Congress) and to plan a more careful agenda both to get power and exercise it. It is not a coincidence that as Clinton was dealing with his scandals conservative talk shows were burgeoning, media empires consolidating and, with the creation of such PR machines as Fox TV, agendas shifting. The years 1996-1998 were pivotal in developing the strategies and ideas that would come to shape our world today. As an example, neocons wrote a letter -- which can be found now on the internet -- to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in 1996 entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." The realm under discussion was the Israeli one in the Middle East. They called for regime change in Iraq, led by the US, followed by acts directed at Iran and Syria to secure US (read US-Israeli) dominance over this critical region; critical especially for the economies of US competitors like China and Europe. Chaired by Richard Perle, chief architect of the latest US war on Iraq, this group included James Colbert from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Jonathan Torop from the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee offshoot the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, David Wurmser and Douglas Feith.

The next year, the neocons launched the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). PNAC called for US world hegemony la the Pax Romana. It proclaimed ominously: "The American peace has proven itself peaceful, stable, and durable. Yet no moment in international politics can be frozen in time: even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself ... [the new world order] must have a secure foundation on unquestioned US military preeminence ... The process of transformation is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."

Leaders of PNAC, including Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Libby, Elliot Abrams and others, later acquired positions of power when Bush Jr took the White House. They had earlier written a letter to Clinton and Congressional leaders in 1998 arguing for the removal of Saddam Hussain from power and the assertion of US dominance in the Middle East. They would have to wait two years for the ascension of George W Bush to the presidency in January 2001 and got their windfall (the "new Pearl Harbor") in the form of 11 September 2001. The rest, as they say, is history. They now thought they had all the pieces in place for fulfilling their dreams on an even grander scale than conceived in 1992-1998. The result of their dreams is our nightmare: the bringing of the US into sharp conflict with the rest of the world, the proliferation of terrorism and, some argue, the beginning of the end of US empire. Meanwhile, the heart of global collective action, the UN, is stalled with sometimes 150 countries voting one way on resolutions and the US and Israel voting another (occasionally joined by Australia, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands).

The net result is increased terrorism, increased violence and misery in places like Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, increasing US trade and budget deficits, huge debts incurred by Third World countries and by the US (individual, corporate and government), the decimation of environmental treaties and obligations and, as the US military is spread thin around the world, overall global destabilisation. These are but the price of power as a select groups of Straussians sell books, demand hefty lecture fees and get cozy governmental positions in the game of musical chairs in Washington DC.

These special interests will celebrate their "win" regardless of which president occupies the White House in December. If Kerry wins, watch as another team of neocons take up office. Dennis Ross, a lobbyist for Israel who was US envoy to the Middle East under both Bush Sr and Clinton, may be appointed Secretary of State or to a similarly high- level position. Martin Indyk, another lobbyist for Israel, appointed by Clinton as US ambassador to Israel, might become the new US envoy to the Middle East. It goes on and on. Both Kerry and Bush display classic Straussian characteristics, most clearly in their similar positions on Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and the International Court of Justice, among a host of other critical issues. Further, and perhaps most critical to our survival as a species, neither is willing to tackle the global environmental threats for which the US bears special responsibility (as indicated, US citizens consume over half of the world's resources though they constitute but 1/20th of the world's population). Cosmetically talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil is not an alternative to adopting the Kyoto accords or seriously looking at the effects of "globalisation"; a term which Democratic and Republican administrations use to mean the "free flow" of wealth (of course, to the United States) while preventing anything equivalent for the workers who create it. Basic rights, as recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (including access to food, water and healthcare) become the privilege of the rich.

Only by awakening the US public and linking it to resistance movements from within the world community (including the Iraqi resistance), will this pathway to destruction be avoided. As someone said, those who are not outraged are simply not paying attention. But more people are now paying attention and getting their information from alternative sources (besides the PR of FOX and MSNBC). Our collective and increasingly intertwined future is at stake.

At a deeper psychological level, the choice we have is between believing and acting based on the worst elements of human history (i.e. a Straussian model) or knowledge of the history of the accomplishments of the best of humanity; even daring to imagine and plan for a better future -- in other words, humanism.

What is at stake here is nothing less than a choice between a power politics that sacrifices morality and justice and a path based on human rights for all which also happens to be the only path by which this planet will survive.

* The writer is associate professor of genetics and director of clinical cytogenetic services at Yale University School of Medicine.