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America's Kindly Hegemony

"Neo-conservatives confiscate western and American values and join them with interest politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, America's interest lies in transforming a `unipolar moment' into a `unipolar era'... What is central is continuing the `kind-hearted hegemony' as long as possible, `not waiting for the next threat." The Neo-Cons are countered by the realpolitik strategists counseling a moderate internationalism. Translated from the German
America's Kindly Hegemony

A battle around foreign policy rages in Washington. Power and world-views are involved. Staunch neo-conservatives gather to conquer the White House

By Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT, 17/2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de/2002/17/Kultur/print_200217_amerika.html.]

Whoever wants to feel the attraction of "America's kindly hegemony" should become acquainted with William Kristol. Kristol is the most zealous multiplier of this term. His business card identifies him as the editor of the Weekly Standard, a little weekly, but he is much more. He acts as a theoretician of American world domination and rises to the intellectual voice of the neo-conservative wing of the republicans. Every week in his column he assesses whether George Bush remains ideologically on course or is seized by compromise tendencies in office.

Kristol's office in Washington is only a few hundred meters from the president. Photos of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with one worshiper, himself, hangs over his desk. Kristol like to speak of a "struggle" of "us" and "them. This conflict takes place in Washington, not Afghanistan as a kind of struggle of foreign policy cultures. This struggle has often been described as a power struggle between "moderates" and "hardliners". In truth, it is a contest of schools of thought within the right-wing, between the political party establishment of the republicans and Kristol's aspiring neo-conservatives. This conflict has marked every foreign policy debate since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. America's future role in the world is at issue.

Bill Kristol feels on the side of the victors. "Two years ago, my friends and I were a minority within the party," he said. "Now we are clearly in the majority." Kristol believes his fraction has won the heart of the president and thus captured the White House. The "conflict between good and evil", the "axis of evil" and the danger of "weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists" are all terms from the dictionary of neo-conservatism in the president's mouth. Since Bush still speaks of the "regime change in Iraq", Kristol believes the president is now permanently committed to the neo-conservative agenda. However the United States these days negotiates with "the terrorist Arafat" instead of supporting Israel in the hunt for terrorists as Kristol's doctrine urges.

Birth of "Rogue States"

Bill Kristol with co-author Robert Kagan has presented his theory in many articles and in an essay two years ago, The Present Danger. Accordingly America's foreign policy must be committed to universal values, namely democracy and human rights. The country allows dictators to do what they like as long as they are well-disposed towards Washington. America cannot stand aside when despots torment their people or threaten neighbors. If necessary, the United States must intervene militarily and help democracy break through.

The mission of the neo-conservatives also fell to the European left-liberals who seemingly accepted their criticism of traditional American foreign policy. Only America is the bearer of universalism, not the alliance of all who represent universalism, the "West" or the UN. According to the motto, what is good for America is good for the world. Neo-conservatives are convinced of the fundamental innocence of the United States. They see in their country a bastion of decency, incapable of inflicting harm if only its values are trusted. The protestant-sectarian myth survives here according to which "the good" is at home in America. "The evil" must have its homeland elsewhere.

In a world of threats, America must always be armed according to the neo-conservatives. The military power that only serves the good cannot be powerful enough. Neo-conservatives would never tolerate American troops under UN command since the UN would only bridle America's power as an association of smaller countries including authoritarian regimes. Even Nato is suspicious to them because of the joint decisional structure. Allies are welcome as "instruments of the American will, not as partners" as Adam Garfinkle analyzed in the journal The National Interest.

Neo-conservatives confiscate western and American values and join them with interest politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, America's interest lies in transforming a "unipolar moment" into a "unipolar era", writes Charles Krauthammer, a neo-conservative columnist of the Washington Post. According to Bill Kristol, what is central is continuing the "kind-hearted hegemony" as long as possible, "not waiting for the next threat but influencing the international environment so this threat doesn't grow." In his essay he identifies "rogue states alongside China" who could acquire ABC-weapons, "Iraq, Iran and North Korea". They weren't an axis for Kristol in the year 2000.

The "Neo-Cons" in the Washington jargon don't have any worries that the care of the world patron could become too much for one country or another. As America's value canon is superior, its hand is ordering and forms alliances automatically. America has a magnetic effect on democracies. The threat of the high-tech military helps for everything else. This mixture of morality and the military, fascination and fear should secure the Pax Americana in the 21st century.

Nothing is more divisive in the camp of the republicans than the idea of a permanent hegemony of the United States. The superiority of the US is only a fact of the present, not a goal for the rival faction, the foreign policy analysts oriented in realpolitik. The goal of the neo-con strategy is an "imperialism with a friendly face". They see the United States as a republic, not as an empire or new Rome setting out against the barbarians. "If our superiority is violent at present", says one of them, Richard Haass, the head of planning in the State department, "there are still limits. We need allies. We cannot force our ideas on others. American leadership is imperative, not American unilateralism."

The realpolitik people believe every attempt at controlling the world will only produce worldwide opposition and the danger of war. The bond of the allies to the US will wear off in the course of such a policy. Allies only reluctantly subordinated themselves and sought new partners. This cannot continue. Together with its allies, America must define interests and care for security. Alliances and international agreements can serve American interests. America's right-wing realists only want to use armed force when vital American interests are affected. Securing the oil supply counts, not spreading democracy.

This moderate internationalism with its skepticism about war as a problem-solver arose in the Cold War. Those marked by the nuclear deadlock and by human slaughter in the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam defend this moderate internationalism. Their godfather up to today is Henry Kissinger. His disciples influenced the later foreign policy of the US: George H.W. Bush, James Baker and Brent Scowcraft. Their current torch-bearer is Secretary of State Colin Powell. His advisors are Richard Armitage, Richard Haass and Middle East expert Anthony Zinn.

The neo-conservative opponents see their most important base in the Defense department. One of their secretaries is there, Donald Rumsfeld, who has his kindred spirits in his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and chief advisor Richard Perle. The most powerful point man resides in the White House, Vice-president Richard Cheney who is also supported by a brother in his mind's eye, chief of staff Lewis Libby. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, serves an an incubator of their ideas. Kristol's Weekly Standard is their central organ. Fox TV contributes jingoism.

This division of republicans prominent in every discussion about Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel reaches back into the sixties. At that time thousands of white democrats in the southern states went over to the right-wing on account of their rejection of civil rights laws. The foreign policy of their new party seemed too moderate to the sun-belt republicans. At the 1978 Republican party congress, they rebelled against their own Secretary of State. Henry Kissinger appeared to them as a weakling, not as a devourer of communists. The converts of that time, many leading neo-conservatives today, ultimately rally around Ronald Reagan. When George W. Bush is praised these days as "like Reagan", that is the highest accolade conferred by neo-conservatives.

Battle of two party lines

The moralization of conservative foreign policy began with Reagan. Reagan coined the term "evil empire" for the Soviet Union. For the Reagan people, détente policy meant that the Soviet dictatorship could rule half the world. That George H. W. Bush followed Reagan in 1989 was a catastrophe for neo-conservatives. With the older Bush, a traditional foreign policy spokesperson managed the collapse of the old world order. The Reagan wing constantly had the president's ear. At the end of the Cold War, he could have celebrated the triumph of good over evil with a parade and a speech. However Bush only responded: "I will not dance on the Berlin wall." He didn't want to humiliate the Russians as losers but to win them as partners. At first he didn't speak of America's new leadership role.

On the other hand, opposition was heard from his own ranks. Shortly before the end of his term in office in 1983, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney presented a strategy paper on American foreign policy of the future. As the goal of American policy, he emphasized preventing every other power or alliance from becoming a world power. The paper had to be withdrawn. The author brooded for eight long Clinton years until he was vice-president.

Bush senior picked up Dick Cheney as a right-wing refractory thinker. Bush junior after his assumption of office regards him as his friend. The neo-conservative elite now arrives at the center of power. In the first months, this elite underlined its skepticism toward international agreements - ABM, Kyoto protocol and the international criminal court. Soon after September 11, there was a positional battle more embittered than ever before. Conflict is parked off by the question about the coalition against terrorism. The coalition should be large-scale, declared Secretary of State Powell; America needs political support. The coalition should be small-scale, replied Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; America needs military striking force. Powell prevailed but Rumsfeld sabotaged the resolution by hardly accepting military assistance. He doesn't want European influence on military decisions. The neo-conservative idea of allies as mere vassals is reflected here.

When America should attack and urge its Afghan allies to march on Kabul was controversial. Wait! cried Secretary of State Powell. An interim government must be first formed so no power vacuum arises. Strike! replied Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. America's enemy must first feel its military power. This will facilitate later political solutions. Rumsfeld prevailed. The pictures of celebrating women in Kabul confirmed the neo-conservative idea of the air force as a herald of freedom and democracy.

For neo-conservatives, the attacks of September 11 were a confirmation of their sinister suspicions. Weren't they the ones who had warned for years of the weakening US? Didn't the US arm too little? Were potential enemies no longer deterred? Would the airplane attacks have been possible if the United States had responded more decisively to the assassinations of the nineties whether in Saudi Arabia, Yemen or East Africa?

Al-Qaida has sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The alarm signal red is heard. For years, rogue states have been the greatest threats for neo-conservatives. If these countries were to pass on their arsenal to the terrorists, America could be politically blackmailed. Therefore for neo-conservatives, the Iraq policy is the archimedian point of the future foreign policy of the US.

Saddam Hussein's overthrow would be the ideologically perfect event: liberation of an enslaved people joined with a chain reaction leading to the democratization of the whole region. At the end neighboring states would be threatened, particularly Israel. All other rogue states would be in a panic; the US would soon intervene. That there is no evidence of Saddam's involvement in the New York attacks is not annoying. "Preventing the next September 11, especially a nuclear, chemical or biological September 11, is central, private self-defense, not the September 11 of last year", writes Charles Kraufhammer. George W. Bush followed this view in his state of the union speech when he proclaimed the "policy of regime change".

Decadent Europe

Eternally critical Europeans regard neo-conservatives as a hopeless case: a lifeless boring continent without values, will and weapons. Europe once agreed in an appeasement policy and cannot see or solve any problem without the US. Conversely, Europe owes an answer to the challenge of the neo-conservatives. Where is its analysis of the threat-scenarios? Where is the criticism of the American agenda? Where is a counter-design? In the past, only grumblers were heard in chancellor-, editorial- and think tank rooms, climaxing in the Spiegel cover page with the "Bush warriors" and the remark that Washington policy is "simplistic". Nothing but snobism appears toward the new continent. The most powerful weapon of neo-conservatism is "its intellectualism", the New Yorker writes.

Does America's foreign policy reflect the neo-conservative turn? Many things depend on the head in a presidential system. George W. Bush is not a man who can long tolerate a conflict of schools. He brings personal tendencies into the office. On one hand, his father, an internationalist, has influence and on the other the Texan sun-belt republicans. George W. Bush has something of the absoluteness of a convert on his way from alcohol to Christianity enabling him to sharply distinguish good and evil. As a result, the moral claim of neo-conservatism is attractive to him.

Bush is a pragmatic politician. Deciding the school conflict would be unwise if he wants to hold onto power. Bush actually speaks more neo-conservative than he acts. He rejects nation building in Afghanistan and thereby gladdens the hearts of many neo-cons. At the same time nation building occurs under another name with American assistance.

For a week Bush has even been in open conflict with the strengthened neo-conservatives. They see the Middle East outpost of democracy in Israel which - like the US - resists terrorism with all means and therefore doesn't need any warnings or admonitions. The Neo-cons refuse pressure on Israel. In conversations with Arafat in the most recent conciliation mission, they see a perfidious attempt of Europeans and Arabs to divert from attacking Iraq. Bush has ignored all that. He has decided for Colin Powell's realpolitik. Perhaps the world in Washington will be divided in two governments. Only one is a kindly hegemony.

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