November 04, 2003

America's Virtual Empire

Gen. Wesley Clark (D-NATO): "Our difficulties in Iraq are not just evidence of careless planning for the postwar--though they are that. More fundamentally, they call into question the whole theory that America is capable of--or that it is in our interest to create--an empire founded on force of arms. The American military has never been and probably cannot be made into an imperial force along neo-Roman lines. This is not to say that America lacks sufficient power to defend its interests in the world, including spreading values such as democracy and free-market economics. We've had that power for decades, and wielded it successfully. But while a powerful military has been vital, the chief means of our influence has been an interlocking web of international institutions and arrangements, from NATO to the World Bank to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. This network of mutual interdependence, though marginalized by the Bush administration, was largely devised by America, which has also been its chief beneficiary. It is, for all practical purposes, a kind of empire--but to use a contemporary term, a virtual one. Properly used and expanded, it can be the secret to a secure and prosperous future. "

America's Virtual Empire
U.S. soldiers are great warriors, but unwilling
imperial guards. If we want to secure our interests,
we must draw on other sources of power.

By Gen. Wesley Clark

Last March, somewhere in Kuwait, the troops of the
101st Airborne Division gathered the last of their
gear onto trucks that would carry them into war. They
were a magnificent sight. All in uniform, taut and
fit, talking quietly; their weapons slung over their
shoulders; their rucksacks hung neatly along the
trucks' rails. The scene reeked of training and
discipline, the quiet professionalism of soldiers who
have prepped for months and years, who know their
moment is at hand. No scene showed more clearly the
achievements of the all-volunteer force or the
distance our Army had come since the trying days of
In the days that followed, performance lived up to
appearance and reputation. Driving through the dust
and grit, fighting to clear the built-up areas of
Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla, and later surging into the
far north of Iraq to work with the Kurds, the 101st
burnished the reputation of the American man-of-arms.
Fighting, as did those who fought alongside them, with
skill, courage, and compassion, controlling their
firepower to minimize civilian casualties and limit
the destruction of local roads and buildings, this
compelling image of force sprang on its nation's
citizens, and the world's, like the genie emerging
from Aladdin's lamp--unexpected, almost magically

But they were not only the world's most overwhelming
military force. Their presence embodied a powerful
political message. As the 101st's troops carved their
way through the desert landscape and overcame
scattered resistance, they signaled a new American
assertiveness, a willingness to risk lives and
treasure for our beliefs. The U.S. military was so
superior as to be virtually unchallengeable on the
field of battle. Perhaps not since the Roman Empire
had a single state's power under arms so dominated
every possible opponent. In Iraq, the destruction and
dismemberment of the enemy's army had been
accomplished with vast U.S. capabilities left over.
This was a military that could rewrite the boundaries
of what force could achieve. This was an armed force
that made a new kind of empire appear inevitable. And
many foreign policy theorists in and around the White
House and the office of the secretary of defense were
putting forward the idea that America should embrace
its destiny as a new imperial power, using military
force as the chief tool to create a more democratic
and pro-American world order.

On the eve of conflict with Iraq, President Bush
appeared to agree. "A liberated Iraq can show the
power of freedom to transform that vital region," he
argued in a televised address to the nation last
February. "Success in Iraq could also begin a new
stage for Middle Eastern peace." The president's
vision brought pride to America, reflecting
self-confidence in our worth and the superiority of
our values. But it all came down to success on the
ground: success not just in the military sense, after
all, but in a broader sense, one articulated by the
president during the last two years. This was to be a
new America, reborn from adversity and threat,
reaching out constructively to the world, liberating
peoples, reforming a "vital region," enabling the
emergence of a new, universal morality, and taking
advantage of this unique window of American military
dominance to secure into the foreseeable future our
security and safety. A Pax Americana--and maybe even
more--was to fall into place around the globe: a
dizzying journey from the "more humble" foreign policy
to which Bush had aspired during the 2000 campaign.

But today, such a mission appears to be hanging in the
balance. Certainly the United States retains a
preponderance of resources--if it can bring them to
bear. There is no opposing superpower to stoke the
opposition in Iraq, as we did a generation earlier to
the Soviets in Afghanistan. But the occupation has
thus far failed to meet popular Iraqi expectations in
restoring security and minimal economic standards;
Saddam Hussein has evaded capture for months; Baathist
elements remain hostile; al Qaeda and other Islamic
fighters continue to infiltrate the country; and daily
sniping attacks, bombings, and ambushes are inflicting
more casualties each week upon our people. This
resistance is, of course, far from sufficient to
defeat the U.S. military on the ground. But it
nevertheless casts a deepening shadow.

Our difficulties in Iraq are not just evidence of
careless planning for the postwar--though they are
that. More fundamentally, they call into question the
whole theory that America is capable of--or that it is
in our interest to create--an empire founded on force
of arms. The American military has never been and
probably cannot be made into an imperial force along
neo-Roman lines. This is not to say that America lacks
sufficient power to defend its interests in the world,
including spreading values such as democracy and
free-market economics. We've had that power for
decades, and wielded it successfully. But while a
powerful military has been vital, the chief means of
our influence has been an interlocking web of
international institutions and arrangements, from NATO
to the World Bank to the nuclear non-proliferation
treaty. This network of mutual interdependence, though
marginalized by the Bush administration, was largely
devised by America, which has also been its chief
beneficiary. It is, for all practical purposes, a kind
of empire--but to use a contemporary term, a virtual
one. Properly used and expanded, it can be the secret
to a secure and prosperous future.

As events in Iraq have demonstrated, the main obstacle
to an American imperium is that our armed forces,
despite their vast strength, have not been built for
empire, but for war-fighting. Despite a heritage of
frontier service in the American West, they conceived
of themselves in Clausewitzian terms, of big battles
and maximum violence. During World War I, General John
J. Pershing created, with help from the French and
British, the modern, European-style U.S. Army, built
to occupy terrain and absorb casualties. During World
War II, Korea, Vietnam, and afterward, the U.S. armed
forces sought an enemy, focused on him, and trained to
beat him. These were the forces of 20th-century
warfare, of mass armies and the battles of state
against state. They targeted enemy forces--and,
victory achieved, they wanted to go home. They were
citizens first, soldiers second.

The Army has also historically lacked staying power
abroad. By the summer of 1919, a few months after the
Armistice had ended World War I, Pershing's army was
for the most part at home, being demobilized. After
World War II, the Army pulled quickly out of Germany
and Japan, leaving behind smaller, constabulary-type
forces, even in the face of a continuing military
challenge from the Soviet Union. Throughout much of
the Cold War, U.S. forces abroad were under constant
fiscal and political pressures to recall them.
Casualties have always added pressure to withdraw, as
they did during Vietnam. The better the
communications, and the deeper the media coverage, the
greater the sensitivity. U.S. operations in Somalia
were ultimately undone by the deaths of 18 U.S.
soldiers in a single incident. Successful peacekeeping
in Bosnia and Kosovo was believed to be contingent on
avoiding U.S. casualties altogether.

Moreover, the Army itself has changed since the glory
days of the "Greatest Generation." As a consequence of
Vietnam, it is now all-volunteer. New technology,
which has transferred some of the fighting and
destruction to airpower, made the Army smaller
overall. Its units lacked the infantry strength, the
"boots on the ground" that characterized the draftee
armies of the two world wars and even Vietnam. As of
2003, the active-duty Army stands at an authorization
of less than 500,000--a little more than half the Cold
War force and a paltry 5 percent of the World War II
mobilization. Many troops are married. Despite their
patriotism, these are men and women who must weigh the
call of country against responsibilities to family.
Simply recruiting and retaining sufficient soldiers
has been problematic. And supplementing the force with
more than 100,000 volunteer reservists called to
active duty has added to the pressure to finish up
overseas and return home as rapidly as possible.

In the summer of 2003, the troops committed to Iraq,
around 140,000 plus another 15,000 or so in allied
troops, were thin on the ground measured against the
recent standards of peacekeeping. In Bosnia in 1996,
more than 60,000 NATO and associated soldiers had
enforced the cease-fire and peace agreement between
the warring factions. The civilian population there
was less than 4 million. In Kosovo, there were almost
40,000 peacekeepers in a province of slightly less
than 2 million people, in an area roughly 65 miles
square. Yet in Iraq, with a population more than ten
times more numerous and an area some 80 times greater
than that of Kosovo, our troop strength is only about
155,000. Outgoing Army Chief of Staff General Eric
Shinseki's concerns, expressed in February 2003, about
the size of the force required-"several hundred
thousand"--now seem prophetic. Worse, the American
force cannot be rotated for refitting, retraining, and
recuperation in a "steady-state" fashion. The Army is
committed in Iraq--at its peak, more than half the
deployable strength of the Army was there. But in
Afghanistan, South Korea, Kosovo, and Bosnia are other
competing requirements. Any serious rotation would
require mobilizing National Guard formations. No
matter how great its courage and competence, this is a
force whose size, focus,and all-volunteer nature argue
against the likelihood that the president's grand
vision would succeed.

Nor is our army large enough to follow through on the
most expansive visions of the early days in the war on
terror, when there was a vision of "taking down
states," sweeping across the Middle East, greeted by
cheering throngs. Could our military now handle a
drive into Syria, and the subsequent duty there, or
onward into Lebanon? Certainly, the airpower is
adequate, and the ships could pivot offshore-for the
airmen and the sailors, any further actions would be
yet another extended deployment. But for the Army it
is different-they are doing the dirty work in Iraq,
day after day, amid dangers and uncertainties.
Casualties and lengthy, strenuous deployments have
struck at the heart of this force. Most of those
serving there had believed in the compatibility of
their conflicting duties to family and to country.
During the fighting, feeling the national sense of
engagement, the patriotism, and sense of community
involvement, such burdens had seemed bearable. But
occupation is another matter altogether. Even if the
extended tour of duty is completed successfully,
despite the heat and austerity, another call to arms
may be awaiting immediately thereafter. There are
already stories of helicopter pilots transferred
directly from Afghanistan to Iraq. For those that do
return home, there will be another rotation to a
combat training center, more family separation, births
and birthdays missed, wailing children and unhappy
spouses. And every casualty strikes a note of fear
among the families waiting at home.

The U.S. Army that defeated Iraq is a great force,
unique really--but our soldiers aren't the Roman
legions who marched into Brittany, across the Rhine,
and conquered England, or the hardy Brits who sought
fortune and fame along the Northwest Frontier in
19th-century India. No, these are Americans,
unchallengeable in combat, fighting for their
country's self-defense, committed to strike back at
those who might be responsible for the attacks of
9/11--even though no link between Iraq and the
terrorists has ever been established. But they are
utterly void of any interest in the gains and glory of
occupation duty far from home. Indeed, unless there is
a speedy reduction of such requirements there, or a
wholesale call-up of the reserves, we might lose the
essence of the Army that fought its way so valiantly
into Iraq, a casualty not of enemy fire but of
over-commitment and under-resourcing, as its soldiers
and officers opt out. We simply do not have an Army of

Are we there yet?

The public at home was also ill-prepared to shoulder
imperial challenges. 9/11, it's true, sparked the
effort to dispatch a mighty force for an unprecedented
American action. But soon after Saddam's statues came
down, the triumphalism in the media was replaced by
more routine dribs and drabs: unusual murder cases,
sexual assault charges against a sports icon, mounting
concern about the continuing spate of losses falling
upon us in the early postwar period. The American
people, it seemed, would rally for war. (As a British
lord reflected in an earlier century, "War not only
supplied the news, it created the demand for it.") But
when the uncertainty and excitement of the maneuvers
and offensive actions came to an end, public opinion
turned away. Americans wanted their troops home--and

And despite all the evidence pointing to the
unsuitability of the Army to a long overseas
deployment, no extra resources were provided to
prepare for a drawn-out campaign. Instead, U.S.
foreign policy has become dangerously dependent on its
military. The armed forces are now practically the
only effective play in the U.S. repertoire. Only they
have the personnel, funding, and transportation to
deliver relief supplies; organize training for armies
and police; install communications and power; advise
ministries of justice, health, and finance; build
bridges; support election efforts; and inoculate and
treat host populaces. Yet such problems are not among
their primary missions. The troops often resent being
asked to tackle these issues, to which they bring,
often very understandably, a narrow, almost mechanical
approach. For all their versatility, they lack the
knowledge, skills, staying power, and scale to manage
seriously a large nation on a continuing basis. They
are unable to foment deep-rooted political
development. They lack the skills and experience to
revise constitutions, rework property laws and
criminal statutes, and methodically bore into the
deepest aspects of the societies. Troops are not
police officers; the kind of investigations and
anticorruption efforts essential in nation-building
are largely beyond them.

The reliance on the U.S. military feeds another
unfortunate trait: the tendency toward unilateralism.
In the conduct of military operations, the United
States has no peer. No other nation can muster the
intelligence capabilities, logistics, firepower, and
deployable forces that we possess. But by neglecting
diplomatic levers and exhausting other international
alternatives, the Bush administration has left itself
without the numbers to effectively secure our gains.
When, after capturing Baghdad, the military tried to
impose security, it lacked sufficient forces to do the
job-it simply couldn't occupy the breadth of the
country, search for weapons of mass destruction, and
simultaneously guard the immense spread of civil
facilities and infrastructure needed for the
successful transition to an authentically Iraqi
government. And when they went "onto the offensive" by
conducting sweeps and searching homes, they often
lacked the interpreters to explain to families what
they were doing and why--a classic mistake in a
counter-guerrilla effort. They offended local leaders,
and swept up the innocent and uninvolved. Even
straightforward self-defense, like returning fire if
fired upon, cannot but over time inflict even more
casualties upon innocent civilians, as well as arouse
popular anger that will be very hard to assuage.

As of today, the best hope seems to lie in turning
over political authority to a selected Iraqi council
as rapidly as possible, and securing a new U.N.
mandate which would provide the legitimacy needed for
other nations to send in troops and provide financial
assistance. At the same time, we ought to create
sufficient Iraqi security forces to relieve U.S.
troops-an approach which, in early September 2003, the
president finally announced that he was prepared to
follow. But even if we are able to significantly draw
down the U.S. military commitment in Iraq over the
next year or so, our ground forces will have been
stretched tight and will likely need several years and
unanticipated additional resources to recover fully.
So soon after the defeat of Iraq, the vision of U.S.
armed forces as the heart of a new empire--as a
liberating force sweeping through the Middle East,
brushing aside terrorist-sponsoring regimes to create
a new American empire of Western-style
democracies--seems to be fading fast. The
transformation of the region seems a generation away.

Sharing the wealth

But forgoing an empire of arms need not mean forsaking
our leadership role in the world. Indeed, much of the
debate and some degree of the enthusiasm about
American empire seemed to misunderstand America's
enormous power and its unique place in the world.

The United States had come of age as a world power by
the end of the 19th century. Surging in population and
wealth, gorged on foreign, primarily British, capital
in the decades after the Civil War, the United States
by the turn of the century was the world's premier
manufacturing power. Simultaneously, we set out to
compete as an imperial power, seizing Spanish
possessions in the Caribbean and Pacific, dismembering
Colombia to create an independent Panama in order to
build a canal across the isthmus, fighting a difficult
counter-guerrilla campaign in the Philippines to
secure control of the archipelago, and mounting a
"punitive expedition" across the U.S. border into
Mexico in pursuit of the populist Mexican bandit
leader Pancho Villa.

But here the American pursuit of classical empire
ends, for deep within the American psyche has been the
principle of national self-determination, which has
asserted itself again and again as the country has
charted its international course. Cuban independence
was granted in 1902. Repeated U.S. military
interventions in Central America and the Caribbean
during the first third of the century never resulted
in formal U.S. annexation or permanent legal control.
Philippine independence was formally granted in 1946.
Americans tended, on the whole, to be "leavers," not
colonizers. Interests in foreign adventures soon
faded, military expeditions were scaled back and
withdrawn, and local forces, sometimes with U.S.
assistance and advice, took over. The United States
had power and influence, yes, and its businesses
sought to compete globally for gain, but it was not
interested in legal control or classic empire.

Indeed, after World War II, the United States strongly
resisted the re-imposition of colonialism in Asia and
encouraged decolonization elsewhere. We denied
substantial assistance to the French as they sought to
regain full control of Indochina and were pressured
the Dutch out of Indonesia. We weighed in against the
British and French when they invaded Gamal Abdul
Nasser's Egypt in 1956 and encouraged the end of
colonial regimes and white dominance in Africa,
eventually mounting a strong economic campaign that by
the mid-1990s had helped end South African apartheid.
Unlike most classical colonial powers, we were large
and rich in resources. We were much less dependent on
foreign trade for our economic development. Rather
than finding outlets abroad for surplus labor and
capital, we benefited from enormous inflows of foreign
direct investment during the railroad boom of the late
19th century. And by the turn of last century, our
geography and economic development contributed to form
a strong predisposition toward isolationism in U.S.
foreign policy.

But in the aftermath of World War II, we fought off a
return to the historic tradition of withdrawal, first
under the leadership of President Harry Truman and
Secretary of State George Marshall, then continuing
through General Dwight Eisenhower's presidency.
Meanwhile, the value of the extractive
industries-gold, diamonds, timber-that motivated
earlier colonial efforts by other nations was
declining in relative terms. While these industries,
and the multinational companies which dominated them,
continued to hang on in their market sectors, the
terms of trade were shifting. New areas of wealth had
emerged in travel, entertainment, medicine,
communications, and modern manufacturing. Value in
these areas for the most part was not achieved by
dominating sources of supply but by access to markets
and attracting foreign capital and talent.

The United States has continued to draw waves of
immigrants hungry for freedom and economic
opportunity--from the 19th-century Germans, Irish, and
Italians onto the early-20th-century East Europeans,
to a steady flow from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, and
then Central America, as well as from the Middle East
and South and Southeast Asia. During the 1990s, the
United States experienced the highest population
growth rates of any developed country, largely because
it received more than a million immigrants per year,
becoming, by 2001, home to more than 3 million Muslims
of Middle Eastern and Asian origin.At the beginning of
the 21st century the United States is the world's
leading economy, accounting for about 20 percent of
global output and, during the period 1995-2002, for
about 40 percent of the world's economic growth. Over
time the world economy has become disproportionately
dependent on the U.S. growth engine, which has led to
the strange result that the United States must consume
more than it produces--while much of the rest of the
world must produce more than it consumes. This is a
benefit to other countries, which must find markets
for their products, but it is most of all a benefit to
ordinary Americans. No previous preeminent power has
done so well, either in creating wealth for itself, or
in sharing the benefits with others.

Waging peace

This was sustained not by a classic empire but rather
by that interlocking web of international institutions
and arrangements that protected and promoted American
interests and shared the benefits, costs, and risks
with others.

First came the security arrangements which emerged
after World War II. Committed to deterring and
containing the Soviet threat, America stationed
hundreds of thousands of troops abroad--but much of
the expense was borne by the recipient countries
themselves, especially in Asia. The majority of these
troops were not scattered across the underdeveloped
world, but rather concentrated in the once-devastated,
but now highly developed, lands of America's former
enemies. Although Congress grumbled continually about
costs, the truth was that such deployments provided
important contributions to states that had become some
of America's principal economic and commercial
partners. Joined to them by formal alliances, the
United States relieved these nations of some defense
burdens, creating supranational interests in security,
but also providing a crucial U.S. voice in financial,
political, and, ultimately, cultural matters.

Second, the United States exercised leverage through
international institutions and arrangements, initially
through a frame of security treaties: the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization for European allies,
bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea.
Acting with allies, the United States was able to
redistribute the financial, military, and political
burdens of its global security interests. In Europe,
NATO member states provided most of the ground
manpower in the event of war. Independent French
nuclear programs provided a backstop for Cold War NATO
nuclear decision-making. Britain assisted in the
Persian Gulf until the late 1960s. France and Belgium
were active in Africa. And Japan not only came to
develop surprisingly modern and effective self-defense
capabilities; it paid a significant portion of the
operating expenses of U.S. forces stationed there.

Finally, there were such arrangements facilitating
American economic leadership as the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and later the regular
meetings of leading economic powers which eventually
became known as the Group of Eight (G8). Central
bankers frequently met, at least to share
perspectives. The United States also used the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to open new markets for
U.S. goods, products, and services and was the leader
in organizing the World Trade Organization to further
regulate and expand international commerce. General
agreements were led or accompanied by regional
arrangements such as NAFTA--the North American Free
Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The dollar
became the principal world reserve currency.

When the United States developed balance-of-payments
problems in the early 1970s, it was able to shift the
international financial system from fixed to floating
exchange rates, enabling continued growth of U.S.
consumer demand while other nations concentrated on
export-led growth to feed the U.S. market. The oil
shocks of 1973 and 1979 were absorbed, and then
digested, yielding, more than 20 years later, a lower
real price of oil, as well as a strong financial bond
between the oil-producing and oil-consuming countries
marked by reciprocal investments and exchanges of
debt. The allure of an integrated U.S. market was so
strong that during the 1980s and into the 1990s the
United States was able to run enormous federal budget
deficits financed by foreign investors and foreign
governments' purchases of U.S. bonds. Foreign
investments and financing allowed the United States to
expand its economy--and strengthen its
military--without paying for all of it through taxes.
It was partly a matter of economics: The United States
was a safe place to invest, and the returns were good.

Soft sell

For decades, the United States has been at the hub of
this network of mutual interdependence, sometimes
called "globalization." Heavily influenced--some might
say dominated--by us, globalization reflected the
American values of free-market economics and popular
democracy. Enabled by modern communications and
transportation, this network facilitated access to
markets and investment opportunities abroad, assisted
the flow of talent and intellectual property, and
fostered the spread of market forces and democratic
processes around the world. The major beneficiary of
all of this was the United States itself. In short,
this "globalization" was the new American empire.

But it ran not only on the "hard power" of military
security and economics but also on confidence and
shared values. This confidence reflected collective
judgments about broader U.S. policies at home and
abroad, expressed through the multinational
institutions the United States helped create after
World War II. And it was through and within these
institutions, as well as by concrete actions, that
values could be demonstrated and confidence sustained.

The United Nations served as a forum for
communications and for addressing international issues
less directly related to superpower competition. Its
founding and overall design was driven by the United
States, attempting to rectify the failures of the
post-World War I international system that had led to
World War II. Almost immediately, the emergence of the
Cold War undercut hopes that the United Nations could
serve as a means of collective security. But it did.
Support organizations such as the U.N. Development
Programme, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and
UNESCO assumed extraordinary significance for the
peoples of less developed countries. But even more
important, the United Nations became the source of
international law-for that was the status of U.N.
Security Council resolutions. True, it was law without
a real sovereign to enforce it-but the legitimacy it
carried moved domestic politics in many countries.

The United States ardently used this international
system. There were treaties to regulate nuclear and
chemical weapons, as well as agreements to regulate
exploitation of the oceans and govern all manner of
commercial activities. And many of these agreements
were underwritten by the creation of monitoring and
enforcement mechanisms and organizations, such as the
International Atomic Energy Agency and the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The United States had representatives everywhere,
ambassadors and delegates and officers detailed for
periods of service. And, issue by issue, they worked
to pursue and secure U.S. interests.

But the American way was not to rely on coercion and
hard pressure, but on persuasion and shared vision. To
an unprecedented extent, the United States had been
benign and magnanimous as a victor of World War II.
Sharing international power through the United Nations
system, deeply involved in assisting the
reconstruction of the German, Japanese, and Korean
economies, hosting foreign students and encouraging
exchange programs, speaking out against the old
colonial empires, receiving immigrants, the United
States became a model for nations around the world.
American principles expressed in the Bill of Rights
inspired others around the world. We were palpably
uninterested in classical empire-our motives were
consistent with those of dozens of struggling freedom
movements around the world. For our potential
competitors in the developed world, the combination of
U.S. economic strength and American ideals was
difficult to oppose. For two-thirds of a century the
United States was generally viewed as the most admired
nation in the world. To an important degree, American
power in the 20th century was what Joseph Nye, dean of
the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard,
calls "soft power," the power to persuade, based on
American values. It gave us an influence far beyond
the hard edge of traditional balance-of-power
politics, based less on physically occupying countries
and imposing laws and institutions, or even on
wielding our enormous economic and military strength,
as old colonialists might have done, and more on
leading by example, on transparency, and outreach.

To be sure, throughout the Cold War, the United States
sometimes found it challenging to maintain its high
principles abroad in the face of the Soviet threat. We
gradually lost some of our moral edge, creating
adversaries and doubters. Worried about potential
Soviet encroachments upon the Middle East, we deposed
an Iranian leader and replaced him with an unpopular
shah; in Central America, the United States fought for
almost a decade against Marxist-inspired governments
and guerrillas using C.I.A. and special forces
personnel, as well as local movements--a struggle that
succeeded, but at enormous human cost, with additional
human rights violations and illegal government
activities. We often distinguished between
totalitarian regimes, which we opposed, and regimes
that were merely authoritarian, which could serve U.S.
interests--but it was an uncomfortable distinction,
never fully accepted across the American political

The end of the Cold War removed the source of these
contradictions in U.S. policy, leaving the United
States free not only to expound principles but also to
encourage more directly those that aligned with our
values. Conversely, the United States was less
constrained in condemning states that habitually
violated human rights. This new strain of idealism in
U.S. foreign policy was reinforced during the 1990s by
U.S. actions to depose a Haitian junta blocking a
democratic government there, and by the U.S. military
peace operations in the Balkans, Latin America,
Africa, and Asia.

Risky business

But in 2001, recently come to power in a disputed
election, the Bush administration acted unambiguously
to impose a more unilateralist stamp on U.S. foreign
policy. The United States withdrew from international
efforts to address global warming, the Kyoto Treaty.
The administration made clear that it would proceed
with national missile defense regardless of the
U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the South
Korea-North Korea dialogue was essentially rejected;
and a new proposal to focus the United Nations on
tightening sanctions against Iraq was dropped.

Even before 9/11, it was clear that U.S. foreign
policy had changed tack, but responding to those grim
events, the Bush administration definitively abandoned
its "more humble foreign policy." Overnight the U.S.
stance in the world became not only unilateralist but
moralistic, intensely patriotic, and assertive,
planning military action against Iraq and perhaps
other states in the Middle East, and intimating a new
American empire. With an American public reeling from
the shock of 9/11, the message played powerfully at
home, dampening concerns about rising unemployment and
the soaring budget deficit. And the risks were
discounted. No matter that aggressive unilateralism
would hamper counter-terror efforts, turn upside down
five decades of work to establish an international
system to help reduce conflict, undercut the alliance
that had maintained security for half a century in
Europe, and shake relations critical to maintaining
the web of interdependence central to American
prosperity. By September 2003, U.S. forces were in
Iraq--deeply committed, without as yet a clear
strategy either to salvage success or to exit,
continuing discussion about possibly expanding the
area of military action to include Syria and perhaps
other states in the region.

But this shift--rather than promoting the emergence of
the new American empire--put all that we gained with
"soft power" and the virtual American empire at risk,
producing an outburst of worldwide anti-American
sentiment. Opinion polls in many nations show
substantial numbers who think that "bin Laden was more
likely to do the right thing than Bush." These are
concerns not about American values or how we live but
about how America acts abroad. Because such concerns
reflect judgments about American actions, they will
not be countered easily by advertising and public
relations techniques. And they have already affected
the support the United States receives abroad.

Individually, some governments, especially democratic
ones which must listen to the opinions of voters, have
found it more difficult to comply with American
wishes. Turkey, for example, refused to support the
passage of U.S. troops in the war on Iraq and as of
early September had yet to take up U.S. requests to
assist with a peacekeeping force. India declined the
request to participate because the mission was not
under U.N. control, as did Germany and France. These
are only the latest signs of nations beginning to
define their own interests in refusing unilateralist
U.S. "leadership."

What is emerging is more subtle, a more or less
informal constellation of interests among several
states, including both allies and former adversaries,
to frustrate and complicate U.S. policies and
objectives that are increasingly seen at odds with
their own interests. Fundamentally, this risks
unraveling the political and economic structures of
interdependence which have proved so favorable to the
United States. In the narrowest sense, if foreigners
lose confidence in U.S. leadership and reject the
implicit understandings and economic alignments that
have led them-especially the central banks of China,
Taiwan, and Japan-to accumulate dollar holdings, they
could quickly diversify out of dollar assets,
triggering a sharp decline in the dollar's value and
significantly impairing our recovery.

Somewhere in the rising U.S. budget deficits, the
balance-of-payments current accounts deficits, and the
growing resentment of the United States abroad, there
may be a "tipping point," as yet undetermined, which
could be triggered by geopolitical failure on the
Korean Peninsula or in South Asia, a severe oil shock
derived from simultaneous domestic failures in several
producer countries, or a rapid enlargement of more
attractive investment opportunities in China and
India, and greater confidence in the Euro, sufficient
to choke down the continuing influx of foreign
financing. Or we could simply suffer a continuing
gradual erosion of our influence.

But if leadership is defined as "persuading the other
fellow to want to do what you want him to do," as
Eisenhower put it, then American leadership is
failing. We simply aren't persuading others to align
with our interests--we are coercing and pressuring. If
we do not alter our approach, we are headed toward a
less powerful and relevant America, regardless of the
numbers of stealth bombers we deploy or countries we
"access." If this path leads to American empire in the
sense of more countries occupied by U.S. troops, it
will mean a poorer, more isolated, and less secure

Desperately seeking sovereignty

We need to see ourselves and the world around us in
sharp relief--and use that vision to inform better our
policies. Simply put, the United States needs a new
strategy for the 21st century--a broader, more
comprehensive, and less unilateralist approach abroad,
coupled with greater attention to a sound economy at
home, and sensible long-range policies. The Bush
administration's strategy of preemption, published in
the 2002 National Security Strategy, was focused
against Iraq. At home, the formula of the
supply-siders--tax cuts for the wealthy to feed
trickle-down economics--has about run its course. It
is time for America to return to the basic concepts
that ensured its unprecedented prosperity and security
and to adapt from these a new strategy that can better
serve our needs today.

The first of these basic principles should be
inclusiveness. The United States represents
evolutionary values of human dignity and the worth of
the individual-ideals that have steadily swept across
Europe and into much of the rest of the world. We have
been proselytizers, advocating our values, assisting
states abroad, encouraging emerging young leaders to
study and visit the United States. During the Cold War
we were careful to reach across the Iron Curtain. And
when the Cold War ended, we worked hard to encourage
the enlargement of democracy around the world. We
should be seeking allies and friends around the world.

Second, we should be working to strengthen and use
international institutions, beginning with the United
Nations and NATO. Such institutions can provide vital
support to American diplomacy, bringing in others to
share the burdens and risks that we would otherwise
have to carry alone. The United Nations especially can
contribute legitimacy to U.S. purposes and actions.
International law is of little significance to most
Americans, but it carries heavy weight abroad. Both
the United Nations and NATO need refinement,
particularly the United Nations--but these refinements
can be made only through American constructive
leadership, for we are the lone superpower, with the
resources and incentives to do so.

And finally, we must place in proper perspective the
role of the armed forces in our overall strategy. We
should ensure that they retain the edge over any
potential adversary and continue to modernize them to
deal with foreseeable contingencies, including the
possible need to preempt any threat to the United
States. We always have the right of self-defense,
including inherently the right to strike preemptively.
But force must be used only as a last resort--and then
multilaterally if possible.

Operating on these three principles, we should repair
our trans-Atlantic relationships. When the United
States and Europe stand together, they represent
roughly half the world's gross domestic product and
three of the five permanent seats on the U.N. Security
Council. These are the countries that are most
politically and culturally aligned with the United
States. We are the major investors in each other's
economies. We should turn upside down
nineteenth-century Britain's view that Britain had no
permanent friends, only permanent interests. In the
West, we must have permanent friends and allies and
then work to ensure that our interests converge.

Using this trans-Atlantic alliance as our base, we
should then work to resolve our security
challenges--the North Korean and Iranian nuclear
programs, the continuing threat from al Qaeda and
other terrorist groups. We should be working with
allies to help settle disputes between India and
Pakistan and within the Middle East that could explode
into deadly conflict. And we should be pressing
through the United Nations and offering assistance to
ease the ongoing conflicts in Africa.

Fight smart

Surprisingly, most of the discussions about American
empire--as about terrorist threats abroad and our
actions to address them--have little to say about
America itself. Yet in the wake of 9/11, Americans are
seeing themselves in a new way. For the first time in
more than a decade, we are aware of the importance of
the world beyond our borders, as well as the power of
political forces and ideas other than our own. And we
are looking at each other differently, too, seeking a
community with greater trust and security. And we
shouldn't believe that we can meet this challenge
without changing in the process. In the immediate
outpouring of international sympathy after 9/11,
Americans felt a warmth of support that has seldom
been so openly expressed abroad. But much of that
sympathy has evaporated. Many felt that we were
"fixating" on terrorist threats, claiming that their
societies had faced this for a generation. But they
failed to understand that we are of a different
tradition: independent, and determined to restore our
sense of security.

The shock, the fear, and the anger will rightly remain
embedded in our memories, but now is the time to
"fight smart." It is true that we are engaged in "a
campaign unlike any other," which may well extend for
a long time. This is modern war, and no state or
society is better able to wage it than us. We must,
however, develop the appropriate strategy and use both
the military forces and the full array of means at our
disposal. We don't need a new American empire. Indeed,
the very idea of classic empire is obsolete. An
interdependent world will no longer accept
discriminatory dominance by one nation over others.
Instead, a more collaborative, collegiate American
strategy will prevail, a strategy based on the great
American virtues of tolerance, freedom, and fairness
that made this country a beacon of hope in the world.

America's primacy in the world--our great power, our
vast range of opportunities, the virtual empire we
have helped create--has given us a responsibility for
leadership and to lead by example. Our actions matter.
But we certainly cannot lead by example unless we are
sustained by leadership.

Gen. Wesley Clark, U.S.A. (Ret.), was Supreme Allied
Commander, Europe, from 1997-2000. This article is
adapted from his forthcoming book, Winning Modern
Wars. Copyright 2003. Reprinted by arrangement with
Public Affairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
All rights reserved.

Posted by richard at November 4, 2003 11:42 AM