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George W. Bush - Judge, Jury and Executioner
September 28, 2002
By Michael Shannon

Well, at least now we know.

Since the end of the Cold War there has stood an eminently reasonable question posed by a number of boat rocking malcontents: why do we continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to maintain and expand a military infrastructure that was designed to defeat an enemy that no longer exists? It was more than merely a valid question, it was evidently unanswerable. And as each year passed the paradox of this enormous military expenditure, flying in direct contradiction to the absence of a credible threat, became increasingly obvious. Particularly when it was repeated ad nauseam - ironically enough most loudly by those who supported these gargantuan defense budgets - that the United States had no intention of being the world's policemen. So what were we going to do with all those supersonic planes, a navy spread from one end of the globe to the other, warehouses full of smart bombs and enough nuclear weapons to end life as we know it?

The answer surely does not lie in that the US defense establishment was preparing for the enemy of the twenty first century. As we are all too painfully aware; that enemy hit us like no enemy ever has and all our mountains of well polished weaponry did not deter them in the slightest. So even in the midst of our darkest grief the quest for an answer continued. That is until just last week. It was then the Bush administration released a document with the straightforward title of National Security Strategy of the United States of America 2002 that answered the question with a degree of finality that is breathtaking.

This document is an extraordinary piece of work and one which clearly redirects the future course of American history. From the moment of its release both friend and foe alike were on notice - no longer would the United States be the reluctant sheriff. Now we would act as the self-appointed judge, jury and executioner.

This willingness to not only fully commit the armed forces of the United States in the machination of global geo-politics but to make the decision to so do based on unilateral interests if deemed necessary is at once a radical departure from our historic modus operandi as well as an evolutionary development. On the latter point, it is rather amusing that so many have suddenly taken to accusing - or congratulating, depending on your perspective - the US of being an empirical power. While the United States may not be a conqueror in the classical sense of the word - taking over directly the administration of captured lands and peoples - we have shown no hesitancy over the course of the past seven decades to establish permanent military bases at locations of our choosing. Paul Kennedy, writing in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, makes note that in 1985 the US had over 520,000 troops stationed around the globe, far more than the British ever had at the height of their empire. And ten times more than Imperial Rome ever dreamed of.

While the number of troops the United States has on station around the globe may in fact be somewhat lower today, the lethality of the firepower at their command has increased exponentially.

Likewise, it is the rules of engagement by which this power will now be wielded that the Bush administration has so drastically altered. With the exception of small scale operations - Panama, Grenada - the United States has been loathe to initiate hostilities with a foreign power. Even in those instances where the US was itching to get into the fight - a century ago against the Spanish in the Caribbean and Pacific, and much more recently against the communist insurgents in Vietnam - they waited until such time as a reasonable believable provocation occurred. Mr Bush has summarily dismissed the need for any such niceties and declared that ill intentions alone are now grounds for a massive military strike.

The second and equally startling change is in the announced willingness of the United States to go it alone in its pursuit of perceived threats to its interests. And not only is this policy shift noteworthy so too is the manner in which it was unveiled. For Mr Bush to call the United Nations irrelevant is the epitome of sophistry, for if there is but one reason why the United Nations has lost its effectiveness, it is that the United States - the strongest, richest, most powerful member nation - also happens to be the most delinquent in meeting its financial obligations and most narcissisticly self-indulgent in its selective use of the General Assembly and Security Council.

In short, the government of the United States only respects and support the decisions of the UN when they are in direct accordance to its wishes. If they are not, we not only ignore them but we belittle them. That the nation who served as the driving force behind the conception and realization of this organization whose primary function is "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" has reduced its contribution to dismissive scorn of its once noble crusade should cause every American a deep sense of shame.

And finally there is the pronouncement that the United States will not permit any nation or alliance of nations to garner greater military power than its own. How easily this declaration can be interpreted to mean that any effort by a nation to build up its defense to forestall American action will only succeed in speeding up the eventuality of such action, will remain to be seen. But that it will be used as a justification for those to whom we may wish harm to double their efforts to arm themselves - with the very weapons we are so rightfully in fear of - is of little doubt.

This proclamation sets the United States down a treacherously slippery slope. The taste for conquest has not only long since proven itself to be intoxicating, it often becomes reason unto itself for further conquest and conflict. Russian Imperial Chancellor Prince Gorchakov is quoted in the excellent, and never more relevant than today, book, The Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin, in referring to the impulses of colonial powers: "all have been drawn into a course where ambition plays a smaller role than imperious necessity, and the greatest difficulty in knowing where to stop."

In other words. the more possessions a nation holds under its command, the harder it must work to maintain and defend them. This tendency to overreach has proven to be the death knell for every imperial power in history. That it will prove no different for the United States is virtually pre-ordained.

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