Fear: Foundation of US Foreign Policy

It is better to be feared than loved

Machiavelli, The Prince

 The terrorist attacks committed on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon on 11 September, 2001 triggered an immediate response from President George W. Bush in regards to not only National, but Global security.   This resulted in the US and allied forces waging a “preventative war” against terrorism in both Afghanistan and Iraq as per The National Security Strategy drafted in September 2002.  The idea of preventative war covers three strategies.  First, stopping terrorists before their plans materialize.  Secondly, the overthrowing of tyrannical regimes in rogue states READ: Anti-American states, and lastly, the implementation of liberal western styled democracy.  It was believed by the US Security Council that adhering to these offensive strategies would not only contain terrorist cells and stabilize rogue states but also ensure greater domestic security.  However, this “preventative war” has not only neglected to contain terrorist cells or provide global security but has also created a means of acquiring public approval for otherwise contentious foreign policies through the use of discourse in risk and danger.  These policies prove to be very problematic as they aggressively assert the need for military intervention based upon state created notions of danger from uncertain security threats.  This in turn creates a skewed perception of global security by which the collective (and socially engineered) feelings of danger and insecurity propose the probability of danger and insecurity.     

            Danger is always at the border. Whether it is in the form of pressure on the external boundaries or involves violation of internal boundaries. The September 11th terrorist attacks confirmed that potential danger was no longer to be fought by defensive measures. Through campaigns of colour coded terrorist alerts, which were never green but always at yellow signaling that a terrorist could attack at any time, and the imminent fear that outsiders could again infiltrate US borders, the Bush administration had successfully engineered a collective emotion of fear among most American citizens.  Upon successfully creating a national feeling of vulnerability paired with political statements reflecting American hubris it was collectively agreed that unless dealt with expediently, the state of the nation was at great risk to radical outside forces that threatened the freedom and values of the United States of America.  To President Bush, solely being on the defensive meant waiting for another terrorist attack.  Further, failure to act offensively immediately would give the terrorists more time to strategize, attain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and attack America once again.  In short, the impulsive defense policy of the Bush administration meant acting offensively and expediently rather than waiting for terrorists to come to the borders.

            The National Security Strategy highlighted just how the Bush administration planned to rid the world of terrorists and prevent another 11 September from ever happening on US soil again. First, military intervention was necessary to aid in regime change.  US intelligence was completely positive not only that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMDs but that they knew the exact location of these alleged weapons.   According to this strategy, the only way to secure the nation from the threat of rogue states using WMDs is to overtake the regime all together. With the logic that obliterating their WMDs would not suffice since it would only be a matter of time before they reconstituted their weapons programs, the US used this argument to counter the efficacy of the UN inspections for WMDs and therefore the justification for it to act unilaterally and above international law.  Therefore, in the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had to go. 

            Paired with the overthrowing of the regime, The National Defense Strategy stressed that the main course of terrorism prevention would be the installation of a liberal democracy to take the place of oppressive regimes.  This would both bring stability to the country and freedom to it’s citizens.  This strategy of democratization was especially stressed when the failure to find any actual WMDs affected the US’ public approval of the Iraq intervention. 

            The desire to prevent another major terrorist attack from happening on domestic soil in and of itself is not contentious.  However, one must keep in mind the implications of the US National Security Strategy and the “War on Terror” in general.  First, that the terrorist attacks were the acts of a radical organization-not by a state.  Instead of focusing on these radical clandestine cells the US has engaged in a war to completely restructure a non -western country to a western system of governance.  Although one only needs to refer to the continued, if not escalated conflict in Iraq with no US exit strategy to see that the war for liberation has not been successful, Political Philosopher John Stewart Mill has written almost prophetically about the failure of military intervention in bringing legitimacy to states.  He argues that states should not be intervened upon, especially in regards to their internal legitimacy, noting, “It is usually self-defeating and therefore wrong to intervene in the affairs of another state with a view to accelerating its progress towards representative democracy.” Further, he argues: Where self-determination is not allowed to occur — as when another country intervenes — liberties and free government are likely to fail, resulting either in a return to domestic oppression or in the new oppression of foreign colonialism.

In instituting regime change in Iraq for the purpose of stabilizing the nation and securing the United States of America from another possible act of violent aggression within their borders, The National Security Doctrine supercedes international laws declared in 1681 in the treaty of Westphalia in regards to intervening in sovereign state affairs.  As a result, the US has in no way simply aided the progression to democracy in Iraq but has dominated the process from start to finish making it more of a semi-colonial mission rather than a liberating one.

            Whether this war against terror can be considered justified or not is not the matter at hand, the query I wish to review are the implications of the “act now- act fast” strategy.  Benjamin Barber author of Fear’s Empire: War Terrorism and Democracy notes that the preventive war strategy relies on long term predictions of events that are presumed to happen and are far less certain than those appealed to by the immediate logic of self-defense. The implications of the “shoot now-ask questions later” strategy are crucial as they open the door to fatal miscalculations. 

            The “War on Terror” is problematic for other reasons as well.  For instance, the title proposes that the US has waged war against something specific or in the very least, a specific group.  But this could not be farther than the truth.  There is nothing specific the US can contain, which makes the “War on terror” something more metaphoric than specific. As the saying goes, one person’s “terrorist” is another person’s “freedom fighter”.  In the beginning of this elusive war, “terror” constituted actual terrorist organizations as well as borders that harbour terrorists.  This is where the scope of limitations can be questioned.  Terrorists have been harboured in Afghanistan and other middles eastern countries, but they’ve also been found internally.  Terrorists have been found in New Jersey and Miami as well as other Western countries such as Britain and Spain.  What reasons does the US have for regime change in one area and not the other? 

            So why has something as metaphoric as terrorism garnered such a high priority for state security? Quite simply because the threat of terrorism to state security has been branded as a major issue to the American people; as something that is never far away and can strike at any minute without warning.  Using condensed media images, strategic language and black an white logic about the nature of terrorism and how it should be defeated, the Bush administration has created an effective discourse in order to distract the nation from critically analyzing the actual implications of the “War on Terror” or “Iraqi Liberation” and instead has focused on ways of expediently fixing the problem; completely detached from historical or material context.

            In his hierarchy of human needs, Psychologist Abraham Maslow placed security as the third highest basic need (just under love and self actualization) this shows that the feeling of security is not just something that is favorable, such as lower taxes or increased spending in certain sectors, it is an a priori need.  Additionally, recent psychological research demonstrates that threat-induced anxiety tends to elevate risk perceptions and risk aversion.  For example, studies show that those people living in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks, especially those in close proximity to the World Trade Towers who personally felt threatened by the terrorist attacks, used more caution in handling their mail (for fear of anthrax), spent more time with their families, delayed or cancelled plans to travel if it involved air-travel, and used public transportation in Manhattan less frequently for several months after the attacks.   This is an example of the cautionary actions that take place, no mater how illogical, when there is an internalized feeling of threat to one’s personal security.  As formerly mentioned, the Bush administration took advantage of these feelings of vulnerability, heightened them through constantly moving, colour- coded threat alerts and used these collective feelings to validate a threat that never actually existed in substantial form.  Not to take sympathy with the tyrannical dictator, but at the time the Security Council had vowed that Saddam Hussein was expanding his military and getting ready to eventually employ his alleged WMDs towards the United States, he was actually focusing on containing internal insurgencies from the north and trying to eliminate rebellions in the south of Iraq.  There is no real evidence that he was planning on an outside attack against the United States at all.

            The feeling of threatened security does not stop at protective and cautionary personal behaviors but also translates into the support for protective government policies.  The elusive risk of terrorist threats not only affected the minds of otherwise politically complacent Americans, in fact, reputable critical thinkers such as Harvard scholar Michael Ignattief, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman ad socialist writer Paul Berman, to name a few, initially supported the implementation of an offensive strategy to obtaining state security. These fears and anxieties birthed The National Security Strategy of the United States of America on September 19, 2002.  The goals of this paper were to establish “freedom, democracy and free enterprise” in selected rogue states in order to establish stability, as if stability could only be realized with the implementation of a western styled model.  The paper additionally reinforces the absolute power of the United States and it’s ability to wage preventive war, with or without international approval or cooperation.    

            It is very problematic to think that the US, by divine right, does not have any limitations to its power. Additionally, the focus placed on eliminating the threat and eliminating it immediately, while superceding the need to affirm that a threat is, in actuality imminent has proven to be a fatal mistake for the Bush Security Council.  Even in the wake of new information, that questioned the possibility of Iraq carrying new technologies for WMDs, the fervrence of military intervention in Iraq continued.         

            The intervention in Iraq was the maiden voyage of the security strategy.  It was not only hoped, but also proclaimed that the establishment of “freedom, democracy, and free enterprise” would come at very little cost and in very little time. Further, it was thought that the example of Iraq would be a beacon showing the might of the United States and their capabilities therefore intimidating other rogue states from pursuing weapons programs that threatened the national security of the United States.  In turn this would bring more credibility to the United States as a coercive power.   Barber notes, the main strategy of The National Security Strategy was to “defeat domestic fear with fearsomeness.”In other words, the Security Council believed that they could obtain greater security by making an example out of Iraq and after its submission; other rogue states would willingly surrender to the US out of fear.

            The rhetoric of “fearsomeness” in the US preventive war strategy against Iraq has in no way been subtle or discreet.  With banner phrases of  “wanted dead or alive!” or “Shock and Awe!” the US asserted itself as a force not to be reckoned with, and a temper that will inflict exponential violence upon the “Axis of Evil”.

            A telling example of this intimidation is the “Shock and Awe” campaign that was launched March 19, 2003, the night of the US declaration of war upon Iraq after Saddam Hussein neglected, or perhaps refused, to meet the demands of the George W. Bush (namely, the dismantling of their WMD capabilities and the willing step down of Hussein from leader of the country).  This bombing campaign, known through selected media, as the “Baghdad Blitz” was quite literally a rain of bombs and tomahawk cruise missiles on the city of Baghdad and other strategic Iraqi targets.  This campaign was not only an example of the US military might against Saddam Hussein but also the US flexing its muscles to other rogue states in a very overt way.  The entire campaign was televised so that western viewers and tyrannical dictators alike could watch the strength of the US military from the comfort of their own homes.

              Harlan Ullman dissects the strategy of “Shock and Awe” into its two parts and explains the meaning and significance of each and how this campaign was supposed to influence the behavior of Iraq and ultimately, intimidate other states into recognition of the United State’s power.  “Shock” he notes is the initial reaction, which is supposed to lead to a paralysis and a feeling of helplessness within the enemy. In other words, it means taking over the enemy quickly and is a strategy that is as old as war itself.  “Awe” goes beyond intimidation and paralysis of the enemy.  It is a strategy that is meant to take the initial shock and paralysis and translate it into an enduring quality, as if a pre-existing condition never existed.  Combined, “Shock and Awe” is a tactic that is supposed to throw it’s enemies into submission and surrender to the dominant power quickly with few if any casualties from the bombers side.

            The strategy of fearing rogue states into democracy through militant means is a paradox in and of itself and what Barber calls “Preventive Democracy”.  Authored by the thought of American exceptionalism, the tactics of The National Security Strategy presuppose the right of the United States to determine the conditions of Iraq’s domestic security, and ultimately, the security of the United States.  This includes the implementation of practices that are consistent with America’s own liberal traditions grounded, of course in realism.  It is this implementation of democracy that is supposed to be the long- term defense against anarchy, terrorism and violence.  If the images shown in the media of the state of Iraq and Afghanistan and the very fact that troops are still being deployed in both regions almost five years later are not enough to portray the gaps in the “democratization” logic in bringing security, than history certainly will.  Democracy has never materialized in any country from war, or the muzzle of a gun, rather it is the long process of struggle, civic work and economic development making “preventive war” it’s least likely parent.

           

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About Ashley Drake
Don't cha wish your girlfriend could blog like me

2 Responses to Fear: Foundation of US Foreign Policy

  1. Nicolas says:

    Good article Ashley, although I would like to point somethings out. The neocons would point out, and do on a regular basis, that war and occupation has brought democracy…in the case of Germany and Japan. Although, to the learned this comparison is weak. In the case of Germany and Japan, these were defeated fascist states, defeated fairly in a war of aggression they started. However, the neocons will make the analogy to the imperial pretensions of Saddam and Hitler, and they regularly did.

    I personally question whether the US is even really that serious about the “war on terrorism” which has been renamed now into some Engrish sounding slogan, since its clearly out of vogue. The war in Iraq has been one of the largest corporate welfare schemes in history, the privatization of the military, and services in Iraq has been unprecedented in scale. If the US were really truly serious about keeping Iraq safe for American geo-political interests, they would not allow Iran the amount of power it has accumulated in Baghdad. The average American is worse off because of the war in Iraq, only a few have benefitted from the war in Iraq.

    About fear, fear has been the M.O. of the US ever since the end of WWII. Prior to WWII the US had a policy of instilling hope and new horizons, reference FDR’s 1932 inaugural speech. In order to maintain the military-industrial complex, fear has become integral. In reality, the military-industrial complex accounts for a very small portion of the US economy, but politically it has no equal. Indeed, it is probably advantageous for the M-I complex to be so small economically as co-ordination problems are smaller, along with oil majors and ultra-conservative even messianic groups this represents the modern conservative movement in the US.

    Lastly, a question that has to be asked is if the war in Iraq did have some positive effects in terms of US foreign policy. Consider that Libya gave up its entire weapons program, and offered full disclosure…and now North Korea as well. However, considering the damage done to the pretension of international law, those side-benefits are marginal.

  2. Ashley Drake says:

    I def don’t argue that the war hasn’t been effective on any front- yes Libya is a good example (North Korea we’ll wait and see), although who’s to say it wouldn’t have disarmed under different circumstances? And I don’t know if the cost-benefit really balances out (maybe to neo cons)
    The case of Germany and Japan I’ve heard before, although I think contextually and historically they cannot be compared- it wasn’t a war FOR democracy.
    I completely agree with your second point, in fact the second part of this article (I left out for length’s sake) dealt with the benefits of the war for US contractors, developers etc. There is HUGE money to be made in war and reconstruction, I should have included that part but wanted to focus solely on the shift of national defense from DEFENSE to OFFENSE or, prevention and how contentious and dangerous that is. And how we, as citizens, get sucked into this discourse by allowing ourselves to FEEL threatened by danger that is perhaps, non-existent. Is there always an enemy at the border (perma-amber alert)? is our enemy our enemy because of what they believe, or how we fear them? Should we allow ourselves to be socially engineered to fear by reading the newspapers and listening to politicians?

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