Continuing with my analysis of the National Security Strategy document…
In my last post on this subject,
National Security Strategy (part 1),
I got only as far as the first paragraph and was struck by the rhetorical use of the word “freedom” so I dedicated the post to this opening paragraph alone. I questioned the liberal but unqualified use of the term in defining a critical policy that effectively serves as license to use the most powerful forces in the world to achieve it’s objectives. The burning question is – freedom for who? As far as I can tell, the National Security Strategy makes no attempt to answer this question.
The paragraphs that follow, making up the rest of the strategy overview, contain more buzzwords designed to evoke emotional support for the policy while being vague enough for clever interpretations should any party of influence decide to bend the document to suit their desires. The overview introduces the notion that this is a new century requiring new rules, but already the document uses questionable language to set the stage.
“For most of the twentieth century, the world was divided by a great struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality.”
Obviously, this line was meant to build up sympathy for the side we commonly associate with freedom and equality – us. Still, this battle of ideas, or as many refer to it, the battle of “isms” was actually a little less clear on issues of freedom and equality. As Bill Emmott, Chief Editor for the Economist, in his book 2020 Vision puts it, “Marxism and its adaptations, Leninism and Maoism were said to be up against liberal, democratic capitalism in it’s various forms.” Emmott continues to explain, “An egalitarian ideology, rejecting private property and the profit motive and enforced by totalitarian methods, confronted an ideology of inequality made acceptable by freedom, democracy and private property.” Already you can see the discrepancies. Did the US fight for freedom AND equality or just the freedom that makes inequality acceptable?
This question pops up before we even move beyond the realm of ideas and into the real events of the 20th century where the inequalities of democratic capitalism were often enforced by US supported dictators and industrial protectionism and the visions of Marxism were most often replaced by whatever policies, suited the totalitarian authorities of communist states. In reality, the battle was between power centers and the ideas were mere symbols, good for rhetoric but otherwise inherit. Really, this line in the National Security Strategy document is no more informative than if it referred to the great struggle as one between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.
The overview continues with a description of the current situation where, the “good guys” have won the battle of ideas, but there are still the “embittered few” – “bad guys” that continue to pose an unacceptable threat.
“We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few. We must defeat these threats to our Nation, allies, and friends.”
The comparison between old threats presented by fleets and armies and new threats presented by the potentials of WMD seem very straightforward and hard to argue with, but this is a time where internally our nation seems more divided than ever and externally, our ties with our allies and friends seem more stressed than ever. Again, my point being that this language is very generalized and open to interpretation. When the authors and supporters of this strategy refer to the threats to our nation, are they referring to the threats to the people of our nation or do they really mean something else? The document continues…
“The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests…”
Maybe a good idea to understand then, what our values and our national interests are. With any luck, they may have something to do with American people. OK so I’m being a little cynical, but why do I get this feeling that our national interests and values are determined more by lucrative agreements than by moral integrity? In any case, these values and national interests don’t seem to be defined anywhere in the document and leaving it up to our interpretation may be a problem considering our national incoherency. Just take a look at American voters as we draw close to the 2004 elections. As a nation, we can’t seem to agree on what our national interests and values are. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact I think quite the opposite – disagreement is a privilege enjoyed only by democracies with a reverence for freedom. All the more reason to be specific about what values and interests a national security strategy is designed to support.
“The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. Our goals on the path to progress are clear: political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity.”
That’s the aim? …To make the world “not just safer but better”? Safer for who? Better in what way? Political and economic freedom for who? Are these unreasonable questions to ask? After Indonesians in the province of Aceh protested the Mobil Oil Corporation’s economic freedom to destroy their environment, literally destroying their homes, crops and water supply, Mobil asked their commercial partner, the Indonesian government to suppress their protests, which the government did by literally slaughtering them**. Does that count as part of the struggle for “economic freedom”?
Is our warning to all the sovereign nations of the world that they should choose sides in a global war an example of “peaceful relations with other states”? And are the prisoners locked up without trial in Guantanimo or humiliated in Abu Ghraib an example of “human dignity”? Are all of these things necessary? I’m not saying they are – I’m not saying they aren’t. I’m just saying the language of the document is too vague and from my humble perspective it doesn’t really seem to reflect our actions either.
This document can easily be described as a license for our government to attack anyone it wants to. The qualifications are vague and interpretive and the reasoning is just as vague. Personally, I think we should insure our national defense and as the most powerful nation in the world we should make efforts to protect the liberties and welfare of people around the world. I think most Americans feel this way.
* Indonesia’s state-owned oil monopoly, Pertamina, holds a controlling 55 percent stake of Arun while Mobil owns 35 percent.