This appeared in the March 11, 2004 edition of The National Interest Magazine.
When desperate victims in far distant conflicts plead for U.S. help, can American forces ever be used for anything other than saving Americans?
As the Bush Administration was busy bullying the UN Security Council into supporting its Iraq war resolution in the fall of 2002, the brilliant satirical newspaper The Onion ran a spoof headline: “Bush Seeks U.N. Support For ‘U.S. Does Whatever It Wants’ Plan.” “I call upon you now,” said the president in his lampoon speech before the world body, “to join us in our vision of America as the only country whose wishes matter.”
In the past three years, the rest of the world community has seen unveiled a doctrine of preventive first strikes against “forces of evil” that have not attacked us. An obsession with overwhelming U.S. military superiority maintained over everyone into perpetuity. An insistence that everyone else adhere to rules of international order that we do not intend to follow ourselves. Condemnations of the nascent nuclear arsenals of others while saying not one word about our own. Contempt for international organizations and any multilateral constraints whatsoever on the employment of American power. Rhetoric declaring that other nations must humbly follow our lead or become “irrelevant.” An arrogant and barely concealed ambition to build a 21st Century American empire.
All of this has estranged, frightened, and provoked enduring enmity in both the councils of other governments and the hearts of other citizens around the world. Millions of ordinary people around the world feel a sense of inferiority and wounded pride in the shadow of American power. Nations and peoples have long memories, especially of the humiliations they suffer during difficult times. And many, as a direct consequence, are now plotting to do us incalculable harm.
George Bush’s foreign policies have made us new foreign enemies. George Bush’s defense policies have weakened our defenses. George Bush’s responses to 9/11 have made future 9/11’s far more likely to occur.
So much for Republicans being “strong on defense.”
BOYS ON THE FENCE
While many talk of a cycle of violence, Dennis Kucinich chooses to talk of a cycle of fear. America’s overwhelming power and overweening behavior on the world stage generates fears in others … which provokes behavior by those others that generates fears of our own.
No one can doubt that hard-core terror types exist who intend to launch attacks on American soil no matter what. Dennis Kucinich has made clear that he would not hesitate to use American military power to defend Americans against such imminent threats.
But the most glaring result of George Bush’s foreign policies seems to be the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies. When we treat others like enemies, then enemies they will surely become. There are undoubtedly today millions of teenage Muslim boys who are essentially on the fence. They have perhaps spent most of their childhood in the madrasa Islamic religious schools. Their families have lived in desperate poverty for as long as anyone can remember. They are unemployed, idle, and hold little hope for obtaining gainful employment. And they are debating within themselves whether take a stab at making it as a citizen of the world â€“ or to enlist instead with the enemies of peace.
So far, George Bush’s incentive program for these boys has been a singular, one-dimensional message: If you seek to do us harm, we will pound you. As Morton Halperin recently observed, the Bush Administration apparently believes ” that the best way to deter suicide bombers is to threaten them with the death penalty.”
What could be more delusional than the neo-conservative notion that our planet contains a finite number of terrorists that we can entice into Iraq and hunt down, and by doing so win the war on terror? During the Vietnam War, it was often said that every time we killed a Viet Cong guerrilla, we created two more. George Bush is all stick and no carrot. And if history has anything to teach us at all, it is that all stick and no carrot never, ever works. All it does is to provoke new individuals to become new perpetrators, and to generate an endless Newtonian cycle of action and reaction.
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLES â€“ AND NATIONS
Dennis Kucinich would accommodate rather than alienate, make friends instead of enemies, and employ carrots far more than sticks. A Kucinich Administration would dry up the swamps of hopelessness, exploitation, and humiliation that cause vulnerable individuals to be seduced down the false road of terrorism. Dennis Kucinich would offer those teenage boys â€“ and all the poor and dispossessed members of the human community â€“ some rewards for a better choice, some hope and opportunity, some promise of full participation in a prosperous and peaceful global civilization. In Dennis Kucinich’s America, our great country would abide by Lincoln’s great precept: “The only lasting way to eliminate an enemy is to make him your friend.”
Next year our great country will spend more on our bloated military machine than all the other countries in the world put together! This is a situation probably unprecedented in all of world history. In Chalmers Johnson’s alarming new book, The Sorrows of Empire, he offers a portrait of what he calls a ” globe-girdling Baseworld” — 725 sprawling U.S. military outposts in 140 of the 189 countries in the United Nations. Oh … and 234 U.S. military golf courses too. The christening last year of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan took us from 12 to 13 ” aircraft carrier battle groups.” No other country has even one.
Yet we will spend one-tenth of one percent of our Gross National Income on development aid — the lowest of any developed country. That gives us a lot to be proud of, doesn’t it? We’re number one — in both our ability to blow things up and in our stingyness. In the great global conversation about how to address destitution and despair in the 21st Century, Paul Kennedy recently observed that the United States is “away on crusade.”
Is this a formula for winning the hearts and minds of the next global generation? Can’t we be something more in the international arena than a hammer looking for nails? In its singular focus on the war on terror, the Bush Administration has squandered opportunities to cooperatively address our most intractable common challenges. As Mikhail Gorbachev recently asked, why not “pre-empt global warming?” A Kucinich Administration would work with the world community to address environmental degradation, persistent hunger, ignorance and illiteracy, safe water, the AIDS pandemic, the degrading status of women in so many places, failed states, cultural obliteration, exploitative transnational corporations, and perhaps most important of all, the grinding poverty of 2 billion souls â€“ fully a third of the planet. We need a president who will work to bridge the chasm between rich and poor â€“ around the block and around the world.
WORLD PEACE THROUGH WORLD LAW
During the original Persian Gulf crisis in 1990, George Bush the father labored to obtain Security Council approval for American actions every step of the way. He recognized that formal international legal authorization was vital to gain legitimacy and credibility, to enforce the will of all nations rather than to impose the wishes of one, and to avoid an anti-American backlash that could haunt us for decades to come.
George Bush the son has obviously chosen a very different approach. By showing such open disdain for the U.N. Charter and international law during the past three years, the primary outlaw on the world stage in the eyes of many today is no longer Saddam Hussein, but us. The rest of the world has not missed America’s legal hypocrisy — when we defied the UN to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein could not get away with defying the UN. “The U.S. tells the world: My sovereignty is inviolable. Yours isn’t,” says the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. “Or, there is one rule for the USA and another for the rest.â€
Dennis Kucinich knows that the U.N. is far from perfect. Dominated by the five victors of a war that ended in the first half of the last century — each one of which through its “veto” can prevent the entire rest of the world from acting — it is profoundly anachronistic, undemocratic, and far from representative of the peoples of the world. But it is the closest thing we have now to a universal forum, a body representing the whole of the human community. At this point in history, the United Nations is the best vehicle we have to assemble the collective conscience of the human community.
Dennis Kucinich believes that the rule of law must apply both to the conduct of our nation in the international arena and the conduct of our government in its treatment of captured adversaries. It is perhaps not too much to claim that the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II was the high point of 20th Century American civilization. And it is perhaps not too much to claim that the high point of the Nuremberg tribunal was not the convictions, but the acquittals. If anyone ever deserved to be summarily lined up against a brick wall and shot â€“ as both Churchill and Stalin advocated â€“ it was the high officials of the loathsome Nazi regime. What did we do instead? We provided them with public trials, fine legal counsel, the full due process of law — and let some of them walk free. Could anything have more profoundly demonstrated not just our military victory over Nazi Germany, but our moral superiority?
In his State of the Union address, President Bush said, “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.” Forget for a moment whether the unilateral, preventive, illegal, and very unwise invasion of Iraq had anything to do with the security of the American people. Consider simply that if we flagrantly disregard the rule of law on the world stage, we eliminate any incentive for anyone else to abide by it. We strike at the very foundations of the legitimacy of the international system. We set the pot simmering with a recipe for international anarchy. Last year Jonathan Schell wrote: “There are moments in history when … what is at stake is not just who will win and who will lose, but the rules by which everyone will have to play from then on.” If we disregard the law of nations we are left with the law of the jungle, where the only constraint on violence is the power and ruthlessness of those who would employ it. Rest assured, in that world, we won’t be the only ones to employ it.
A DEPARTMENT OF PEACE
In 1793 Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, published “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States.” “As the War-Office of the United States was established in the time of peace,” wrote Dr. Rush, “it is equally reasonable that a Peace-Office should be established in the time of war.”
Dennis Kucinich aspires to revive Rush’s grand idea, and to establish a Department of Peace to stand alongside the Department of Defense. If our country must spend hundreds of billions every year preparing for war, how about just 1% of that amount for a department whose raison d’etre is preventing war?
The Department of Peace would seek to make non-violence an organizing principle of society. It would present a wider range of alternatives within the councils of our government. It would work on the international level to promote mediation and conflict resolution between countries and adversarial groups, and in the domestic sphere to teach non-violent methods of resolving disputes. It would seek to articulate new structures of global governance, a paradigm of people resolving differences without resorting to primitive violence, and a clear and sparkling vision of permanent peace as a higher evolution of Homo sapiens as a social animal.
On September 11, 2001, George Bush told the nation that “the first war of the 21st Century” had now been joined. It was as if it was self-evident, for him, that our new century would be soaked in at least as much blood as the last, when more than 100 million souls died face down in the mud. Dennis Kucinich takes no such fatalistic view of the destiny of the human race. The Department of Peace proposal, most fundamentally, is about the proposition that it is within the power of the human imagination to envision abolishing war itself.
DISCOURAGING RATHER THAN STIMULATING PROLIFERATION
Dennis Kucinich believes that the only long-term solution to the threat of nuclear apocalypse is the abolition of nuclear weapons. But the Bush Administration, rather than moving toward abolition, is instead pursuing perpetual possession. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review proposes new bunker busting “mini-nukes” (an oxymoron if there ever was one). It breaks down the historic firewall between conventional and nuclear armaments. It envisions new generations of strategic nuclear warheads in 2020, 2030, and 2040! Yet it says not one single word about any intentions, plans, or plausible routes toward eventual elimination.
In February Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country had tested new strategic missiles with “deep maneuvering” capabilities. American defense planners, said Putin, “have themselves been actively developing their weapons.” Therefore, the president insisted, Russia had little choice but “to modernize our armed forces in the interest of ensuring the security of our own country.” The new missiles, if successfully deployed, would be essentially invulnerable to any conceivable American missile defense system.
Dennis Kucinich has consistently opposed the false promise of missile shields, and consistently warned that our pursuit of defenses would inevitably spur other nations to pour scarce resources into improving and increasing their offenses. With Putin’s announcement, we are seeing the fruits of what the Bush Administration has sown.
One of the grand ironies of the present geopolitical moment is that the one country that is most insistent about retaining its nuclear weapons is the one country that actually needs them the least. America’s conventional military superiority over any conceivable combination of adversaries is utterly unchallengeable — and will likely remain so for many decades to come. We can threaten a “massive retaliation” against any country in the world with our conventional capabilities alone. If any country can defend itself without resorting to our atomic arsenal, it is us. If any country can afford to lead the way to a nuclear weapon free world, it is us.
Our nuclear weapons, in fact, are worse than useless for the real and direct threats to our personal security at the dawn of the 21st Century. Our vast armies and air forces did not protect us on 9/11. Our aircraft carrier battle groups did not protect us on 9/11. And the thing that did the least to protect us on that horrifying day was our bloated nuclear stockpile, our arsenal of the apocalypse. And not only does that arsenal not do a thing to defend us against the inconceivably more horrifying threat of nuclear terrorism, it in fact makes such a threat more likely.
Instead of building a shield in the sky, it is time to get rid of the swords. Nuclear weapons pollute the psyche with the arrogance of infinite power. They create delusions of domination. Through their calculations of mass casualties, they dehumanize us all. Any nonproliferation efforts not accompanied by commitments to disarmaments of our own are utterly unsustainable. The only long-term choice is between a world of many dozen nuclear weapon states or a world of zero nuclear weapon states. In a Kucinich Administration, our country would lead the way toward abolishing these abominations forever.
AN ETHIC OF HUMAN UNITY
Science writer Michael Shermer recently said: “In-group morality is a universal human trait … from the earliest bands and tribes to modern nations and empires. The long-term solution is to view all people as members of our in-group: the species Homo sapiens.”
Dennis Kucinich knows that politics is about not only tangible policy ideas, but also intangible spiritual ideals. And the Americans supporting Dennis Kucinich for president believe that the advancing tide of human unity may be no less than the Great Story of the 21st Century. We know that each of us is bound to a common destiny, that higher than our loyalty to our nation is our loyalty to humankind, that we are all in the same boat on Spaceship Earth. We claim that our national patriotism must be transcended in this new century by our planetary patriotism. We insist that our government’s pursuit of national interests must be accompanied by a consideration of transnational interests. We know that the only way to end incessant cycles of hatred and violence is to stop talking about “them and us,” and to recognize that there is only us.
These are hardly new ideas. We stand in the tradition of what the great developmental psychologist Erik Erikson called an emerging “all-human solidarity.” We see the first glimmerings of what the Princeton political scientist Robert C. Tucker called an “ethic of specieshood.” We are the vanguard of what Voltaire called the “party of humanity.”
The picture taken by Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Pluto shows our planet as a tiny speck, almost completely lost in the glare of the Sun. In his exquisite paean Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan wrote of this photograph: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
We believe that Dennis Kucinich’s global policy agenda reflects the truth of Earth from space. We compare the soft blues and greens of our fragile planet to the stark blackness of the cosmos, and recognize the infinite preciousness of our lonely home, suspended among the blazing stars. We have a nagging intuition that the Whole Earth is perhaps something greater than the sum of its parts. We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. But we also pledge our allegiance to humanity.