Wars not only created social disorder within nations, producing revolutions on the right and left, they also reduced the ability of capitalist states to compete economically with each other. To a significant degree, the
The policy choices made by the
Historically, the main capitalist nations maintained a consensus against all social revolutions in the
All that the
Radical critics cannot draw up a timetable or predict the exact magnitude of future crises because their analytic perceptions are deficient, having lost their appeal and sounding increasingly hollow. But those who rule our political and economic institutions have the problem of resolving the challenges they inherit, and their past incapacity to do so without creating turmoil for some constituency of American society – generally the poor and underprivileged – bequeaths a dismal future to those who are likely to lose the most.
The problem of running a vast foreign and military policy, not just for the
All of Bush’s major policies, especially his wars in
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991 the
The first President Bush assigned this definitional problem to his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, who later became Vice-President under his son. Cheney published a grandiose picture of a dominant American military power so great and omnipotent – and expensive – globally that no nation could rival it. The policy was vague as to which nation or enemy it was directed against, but it included the abandonment of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and a commitment to the use of nuclear weapons against lesser threats: weapons of mass destruction, menaces of an indefinable nature. It was never repudiated, in fact was essentially continued, by the Clinton Administration. It was later to form the basis of the neoconservative vision under the second Bush Administration. Indeed, it has not been repudiated by anyone, whether Republicans or Democrats, even to this day. When parts of Cheney’s vision were published in 1993 the Japanese and the Germans were already deemed to be, once again, potential challengers to American power. After the Gulf War of 1990,
The continuity between of the reigns of the two Presidents Bush is clear enough, as is the fact that the use of nuclear weapons to respond to non-nuclear threats, and the abandonment of deterrence, was also the policy of the Clinton Administration. They in turn were all part of a confrontation with the world that began under President Harry Truman. Cheney was scarcely an accident: he became Vice-President to fulfill a consummately ambitious doctrine committed to dangers, and although the senior Bush later regretted the way the policy was interpreted, he was also the author of what has proved the most grandiose of all efforts: articulating a mobilizing doctrine to replace the fear of communism with an indefinable enemy and threat that will justify the Pentagon’s immense and growing budget.
The disparity between military technology and reality has also affected
The problem for the
Now nations have power without ideology in the true sense of that term, leaving the
Worse yet for the United States, its preoccupation with one nation or region – Vietnam and Iraq are perfect examples – means that it lacks the resources to destroy often far more serious opposition elsewhere. The
Above all, its martial adventures abroad cost far more than the
Everything is going wrong for the
In crucial ways, the basic approach and limits of
Cynicism is prevalent, and often the only motive of political behavior. We can see it in
People, whether theorists, administrators, or whatever, cannot regulate or predict systems run by ambitious individuals, and they frequently cannot regulate systems run by perfectly sincere people either – it is simply far too difficult. There is often an immense disparity between what politicians – whatever they call themselves and no matter which nation they belong to – do and what they say. What they do, not what they say, is crucial, because in countless places they have often betrayed their followers.
Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914, Another Century of War? and The Age of War: the US Confronts the World and After Socialism. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. His latest book is World in Crisis, from which this essay has been excerpted.
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