January 20, 2007

Dominion Over the World (III): The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony

Part I: Iraq Is the Democrats' War, Too

Part II: Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much

In the earlier parts of this series, I maintained that, contrary to what many people believe, the war on Iraq represents a continuation of U.S. foreign policy over the last century (and slightly longer). It is time to limn the broad outlines of that foreign policy, and some of its major roots.

For that purpose, I will set out here a few key excerpts from Christopher Layne's very valuable book, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present. Although Layne's focus begins with World War II, I will take certain aspects of his thesis back still farther: to the Spanish-American War and the ensuing U.S. occupation of the Philippines, and even to the Mexican-American War. As I have argued, the central themes go back to our very early history as a nation. Although his time frame is narrower, Layne offers some of the most perceptive and illuminating commentary on this general subject that I have read, and I recommend his book to you very highly.

In his Introduction, Layne writes as follows (the highlights are mine, and I have omitted the numerous footnotes):
This book is not a chronicle of the grand strategy of the Bush II administration or of the two administrations that preceded it. Nevertheless, the real world events that have shaped U.S. grand strategy since the Bush II administration took office--9/11, the war on terror, the March 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and mounting tensions with Iran and North Korea caused by those two states' nuclear ambitions--cast a long shadow. One of my objectives in this book is to put these events into historical perspective and to show that they are part of a larger pattern that extends back to the early 1940s. Here, I take issue with those who have argued that the Bush II administration's approach to U.S. grand strategy--its determination to maintain overwhelming U.S. geopolitical dominance and its muscular idealism--breaks sharply with the principles and assumptions that guided earlier U.S. policymakers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take the administration's resolve to use America's preponderant power to ensure that other states cannot entertain the "hope of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." Here the administration simply reaffirmed the policy adopted by its two immediate predecessors.

The Bush II administration's decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein is another example of continuity in U.S. grand strategy since 1989. As we now know, that decision had nothing to do with 9/11, the war on terror, or Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Rather it was a war of hegemony intended to establish U.S. military and ideological dominance in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Iraq was not the first, but merely the latest, U.S. war of hegemony since the cold war's end. Since the cold war waned in the late 1980s the United States has been involved in a series of such military interventions.

Few raised their eyebrows about Panama (1989) or Haiti (1994, 2004). After all, the United States has a track record of wielding a big stick to maintain stability in its own backyard. But the two wars with Iraq (1991, 2003), the U.S. military interventions in the Balkans (Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999), and the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) do stand out. The first war with Iraq was fought to exert U.S. geopolitical primacy in the Gulf. The Balkan interventions aimed to "strengthen Washington's control of NATO, the major institution for maintaining U.S. influence in European affairs" and to "project American power into the East Mediterranean region where it could link up with a growing U.S. military presence in the Middle East." Afghanistan allowed the United States to do more than go after al Qaeda and the Taliban. The United States shored up its strategic position in the Middle East while simultaneously extending its reach into Central Asia and, in the process, challenging Russia's influence in Moscow's own backyard.


It is often said, with respect to U.S. grand strategy, that the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., "changed everything." But they didn't. After 9/11--as before--geopolitical dominance has been the ambition of the United States. If anything, 9/11 gave the Bush II administration's "hegemonists" a convenient--indeed, almost providential--rationale for implementing policies they would have wanted to pursue in any event, including "regime change" in Iraq (and possibly Iran); the projection of U.S. power into the Middle East and Central Asia; a massive five-year defense buildup, which, when completed, will result in U.S. military outlays exceeding the combined defense budgets of the rest of the world's states; and a nuclear strategy that aims at attaining meaningful nuclear superiority over peer competitors and simultaneously ensuring that regional powers cannot develop the capacity to deter U.S. military intervention abroad. In short, the Bush II administration has sought security by expanding U.S. power and pursuing hegemony. In this respect it has stayed on--not left--the grand strategic path followed by the United States since the early 1940s.
The following passage from later in Layne's Introduction paints the very broad outlines of the two major, interlinked aspects of America's foreign policy. Let me underscore the critical sentence in advance: "The Open Door incorporates both economic expansion and ideological expansion and links them to U.S. national security."

I will argue in this series that, if you understand the underlying assumptions and numerous implications of that single sentence, you will grasp the critical motives and goals of the policies that have brought us to the current perilous moment. (This is not to say that I agree with every aspect of Layne's analysis or with his recommendations as to how our foreign policy should be reformed. I do not, and I will explain some of my disagreements later in this series. But I view his analysis of the origins of our foreign policy and of the mechanisms responsible for its unbroken continuity as correct on the major issues.) I continue to see references in many places to the fact that, even after close to four disastrous years, "no one knows why we're in Iraq." I do not intend to be offensive by stating the following in this form. I mean this quite simply as a statement of fact: such puzzlement betrays a very serious ignorance of the roots of our foreign policy, including its domestic component.

Here is Layne, later in the Introduction:
America's pursuit of extraregional hegemony results, I believe, from the causal linkages between the distribution of power in the international system and intervening domestic variables.


I believe that the "Open Door" explains America's drive for extraregional hegemony. The Open Door school of U.S. diplomatic history holds that beginning in the late nineteenth century the United States has pursued an expansionist--indeed, hegemonic or even imperial--policy, first in the Western Hemisphere and then in East Asia, Euroope, and the Persian Gulf. The Open Door holds the answer to an important puzzle: Why didn't U.S. grand strategy change when the cold war ended? Why did U.S. forces stay "over there" instead of "coming home"? The Open Door incorporates both economic expansion and ideological expansion and links them to U.S. national security. Open Door economic expansion created new interests that had to be defended by projecting U.S. military power abroad, shaped policymakers' perceptions of how those interests were threatened, and led to a new conception of America's security requirements by transforming the goal of U.S. grand strategy from national defense to national security. "National security," Melvyn P. Leffler observes, "meant more than defending territory." Rather, it meant "defending the nation's core values, its organizing ideology, and its free political and economic institutions." The Open Door is as much about ideology as it is about economic expansion and the distribution of power in the international system. Indeed, these factors are linked inextricably, because U.S. strategists believed that the nation's core values could be safe only in an international system underwritten by hegemonic U.S. power and open both to U.S. economic penetration and to the penetration of American ideology. This is what William Appleman Williams called an "Open Door world." Because of the Open Door, U.S. policymakers defined threats not only in terms of the distribution of power in the international system but also ideologically in terms of threats to America's "core values."


The Open Door world described by Williams is a world shaped by liberal -- Wilsonian -- ideas.


Now it's easy to say, as some realists do, that the Wilsonian vision of an Open Door world is simply window dressing invoked by U.S. policymakers as a smoke screen to mask the fundamentally realpolitik nature of U.S. grand strategy. However, the role of Wilsonian ideology in U.S. grand strategy cannot be dismissed so cavalierly--it is far too deeply entrenched in America's political culture and foreign policy tradition for that. In fact, the subtle interplay between Wilsonianism and realism has been the hallmark of U.S. grand strategy. U.S. grand strategy defines U.S. national interests in terms of power, economic openness, and the promotion of U.S. ideals. ...

In grand strategy terms American liberalism is muscular--offensive--not "idealistic." It postulates cause-and-effect linkages about how the United States can gain security. The spread of democracy and of economic openness are embedded in U.S. grand strategic thought because policymakers believe an Open Door world fosters U.S. power, influence, and security. Wilsonianism holds out the promise of peace for the United States. As I demonstrate, however, this is a peace of illusions. Far from creating peace and enhancing U.S. security, the pursuit of an Open Door world is the motor that drives America's quest for extraregional hegemony. Wilsonian ideology is a potent generator of U.S. overexpansion and of unnecessary military entanglements abroad. Wilsonianism makes the United States less, not more, secure.
One of the keys to understanding the continuity of U.S. foreign policy dating back to the Spanish-American War is to grasp precisely how U.S. "national security" interests are defined. It is not true, contra IOZ (as just one example from many similar ones from numerous writers), that we "prosecute insanely aggressive wars against foreigners for incoherent reasons and uncertain goals." To be sure, those wars are "insanely aggressive" -- but they have all been fought for reasons and goals that are entirely "coherent" and "certain." It is how the foreign policy establishment views our "national security" that must be appreciated. (The same error comes up earlier in IOZ's post, in this phrase: "Aside from the fact that you would be terribly hard-pressed to find a single example of our government using the military based 'around a careful analysis of national values and interest' in the last sixty bloody years..." Again, the key lies in exactly how "national values and interest" are defined, which in turn determines the means by which we will seek to protect them. If we are to extricate ourselves from the current disastrous predicament, we must be precise in identifying the nature and genesis of the immense problem involved.)

As I have suggested, IOZ's mistake is only one among many instances; as I noted in earlier parts of this series, the same failure to understand the historical and particularly domestic forces at work in shaping our foreign policy leads many liberals and progressives to view the Iraq catastrophe as a radical break in U.S. foreign policy. They repeatedly state that no one can explain why we're there. A lot of this purported mystification is done for purely partisan purposes, and to advance the false notion that Democrats would, of course, never have made the same kind of mistake.

But as Layne indicates, the ultimate roots of Bush's foreign policy are Wilsonian, and liberal (in the modern sense), in nature. The Iraq invasion and occupation are only the latest manifestation of our determination to create an Open Door world that is favorably disposed toward both economic and ideological expansion by the U.S. We must be very careful to distinguish two separate areas of inquiry here. It certainly may be true that narrower motives also played a part in Bush launching the Iraq war: that he wished to secure his place in history as a successful "war president," and/or that he wanted to avenge his father while simultaneously proving he was more "manly" than Bush I; and as I mentioned here, that the Bush/Cheney administration's ties to the oil industry led to this latest offensive war. As I indicated, the interests of the oil companies in ensuring their control of the oil supply are only a subset of a much larger dynamic.

But it is not a question of either-or. More specific personal motives may also have been involved -- but it still remains true that Bush's foreign policy falls squarely within the U.S. foreign policy tradition. It is not a break with the Open Door approach, but a continuation of it.

I have often lamented our profound ignorance of the cultures and histories of other parts of the world, and how that ignorance explains in significant part the current disaster in Iraq, just as it explains similar earlier calamities. (See these essays in particular: "Sacred Ignorance," and the earlier related essay, "Embracing Ignorance on Principle.") But the ignorance of many Americans extends to the history of yet another country: their own. I admit that I am often extremely baffled and frustrated by the failure of so many otherwise very intelligent writers to appreciate the "big picture," and their seeming inability to grasp the unbroken arc of our foreign policy over the last century. There is one issue in particular that most people appear to have close to no understanding of at all: the rise of corporate statism in the United States, which began in a significant way in the late nineteenth century.

More narrowly, most people do not grasp the role of big business and its most powerful leaders in influencing U.S. foreign policy. I do not refer to big business in the "pure" free market sense, if you will -- that is, business separate and apart from government. Here I refer to the opposite phenomenon: the growing entanglements and alliances between big business and government. It is such alliances that are commonly referred to as corporate statism, or corporatism. Among other goals, big business and major industry leaders constantly sought new markets to exploit, and they turned to government to do their bidding in ways that were increasingly successful. We need to outline some of the critical ways in which these alliances between business and government have had innumerable effects both domestically and abroad.

I will turn to that subject in the next installment.