It is hard to say which is more shocking, the Bush administration's recent “National Security Strategy for the United States” or the deafening silence that has greeted it. True, we are preoccupied by the question of Iraq. But the impending war there is just one small piece of the puzzle of U.S. foreign policy. The “National Security Strategy” (NSS) shows us what the puzzle looks like when all the pieces are put together.
If you want to understand what Bush’s plans for Iraq are all about, read the
NSS very carefully. (It’s at www.whitehouse.gov/nsc;
click on the link right under the smiling snapshot of Condi Rice.) Its brazen
audacity is matched only by its unprecedented honesty. There may not be much new
in it. But this is the first time in a long time that U.S. leaders have told the
world so openly just what they are up to. Even the most cynical among us are bound
to raise an eyebrow, at least.
The theme of the NSS is that the U.S. wants only one thing: freedom for everyone. But the U.S. government alone has the right to decide what counts as freedom. America’s “values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society.” There is “a single sustainable model for national success” for the whole world: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.
If anyone chooses to be free in a way that Washington does not approve, they are not really free. In fact, they are enemies of freedom, enemies of civilization, threats to our national security, and ripe for preemptive attack. That is now official U.S. policy. Really.
So we must make war on Iraq, and on all our enemies, not because they hate our freedoms, but because WE hate THEIR freedoms. Are there nations that freely choose to ban genetically modified seeds? to restrict foreign investments or foreign-made goods? to experiment with forms of democratic socialism? to limit the operations of foreign corporations on their soil? to elect a religiously-based government? to have religiously-based public education?
We hate their freedom to make those choices. Those choices will not stand, the NSS insists. U.S. national security requires “a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests.”
Our values and national interests happen to merge quite neatly, especially when it comes to “economic freedom.” According to the Bush policy, you cannot be free unless you practice unfettered capitalism. “People everywhere want to … own property and enjoy the benefits of their labor.” “Policies that further strengthen market incentives and market institutions are relevant for all economies.” Free trade is “real freedom.” “International flows of investment capital are needed.” If you want to be free, you must have “pro-growth legal and regulatory policies” and “lower marginal tax rates.” The rich must be free to get richer.
True, the document admits that “a world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable.” The U.S. government has never been known to fret much about justice. It does worry about stability. But the document’s path to raising everyone’s living standard is more of the same: IMF, WTO, World Bank, the usual suspects whose track record shows an astonishing ability to widen the gap between rich and poor. Apparently stability as well as justice must take a back seat to the freedom of the rich to get richer.
To preserve that freedom, the NSS promises that no nation will be given any chance of “surpassing, or equaling, the [military] power of the United States.” It is a jaw-dropping vision of a globalized corporate Pax Americana, enforced by the mightiest killing machine in the history of the world.
Freedom means more than just free enterprise, in the NSS. It means democracy, free elections, free speech, freedom of worship, and other positive values. But has anyone heard any talk of war lately against Burma or Turkey or Saudi Arabia? You don’t get preemptively attacked for denying basic human rights. That honor is reserved for those who dare challenge the U.S. mission of world domination -- even democracies like Chile in 1973 or Nicaragua in the 1980s.
In the NSS, "freedom" is an elastic concept. It provides an endless array of justifications for going to war. When any government is seen, for any reason, as a threat to U.S. interests, it can be declared an enemy of freedom. Then it’s “regime-change” time.
That is Iraq’s sin. Its government will not roll over and accept U.S. hegemony. That is why thousands of Iraqis, young and old alike, will soon shed their blood. If we want to stop the war in Iraq and future wars, we should demand a full-scale debate on the “National Security Strategy,” right now.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado
at Boulder firstname.lastname@example.org