I’m currently reading the National Security Strategy, which the Bush administration established last September. According to Noam Chomsky, this document essentially declares the right to attack any potential challenge to the global dominance of the United States. I admire Chomsky and I respect his always lucid observations, but of course I need to look at this document for myself. I could not get past the first of many sections without commenting, so I think what I’ll do is treat this one section at a time and post my comments as I go. My objective is to identify the risks that we may be taking when we accept documents like this from our government.
The document opens up with …
The United States possesses unprecedented— and unequaled—strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.
The overview illustrates a nation that emerges from the cold war without counterbalance and suggests that this superpower be leveraged to promote a balance of power that favors freedom. But the problem that I see with this document is that it lacks any indication of who the freedom is for. Freedom is a relative quantity. In South Africa, the Dutch created the Orange Free State, so named because the people there were free to have slaves unlike in the British controlled regions where slavery was banned, for them that constituted a free society. Free trade often means that corporations are free from protective regulations, in other words, free to exploit the workers – free to rip off the consumers… Freedom might mean the freedom to rape, the freedom to kill or the freedom to steal.
Words like freedom and liberty should have modes of operation; in it’s “pure” mode for instance, the term freedom or liberty might carry the singular meanings that we most often think about when we see these words installed in American culture like gleaming jewels that adorn our proclamations, our songs of patriotism and our political speeches. In pure form they can remain suspended in a metaphysical world of idealism and inspiration, but once applied to the physical world, where pure states are rarely ever preserved, these words should switch to an “applied” mode where we should automatically ask questions, starting with who gets the freedom and who pays for it. In applied mode the terms must be qualified.
The National Security Strategy is a document that sets these words down, without qualification, as actual objectives upon which strategies are built. This means we are permitted to understand the strategy but the objectives may remain elusive, or worse yet, open for interpretation. The document provides absolutely no guarantee to anyone that the prescribed strategy won’t be used to secure the freedom for a dictator to enslave his people. Of course there is some language in the second section that uses another unqualifed term “human dignity” but again without qualification it’s hard to know what people this applies to and what people it doesn’t. Obviously, doctrines can be misleading… Our own founding doctrines state that all men are created equal but what they really meant was that all landowners were created equal, the rest of the Americans had to fight for representation.
This is not a direct attack on the strategy so much as it is an effort to look at it from another angle and to at least recognize the potential danger of such a declaration. The document starts off by stating how the power and influence of the United States is unparalleled. Anytime you have an unmatched power, I don’t care if it’s the United States or anyone else – you should always challege their intent and you should always read between the lines.
- (2019 Edit: The Bush strategy is no longer posted on the White House website.)