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Tomgram: Chernus, Cornered Empire, the Legacy of 9/11
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, American leaders declared "victory" in the Cold War no less firmly or repeatedly than our President has promised "victory" in his Global War on Terror -- no less than 12 times, in fact, in an August speech to the American Legion National Convention. However, as Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism, recently wrote, victory in our times turns out to be a remarkably quicksilver concept, especially since "the East has solved the riddle of the Western Way of War… [T]he Arabs now possess -- and know that they possess -- the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people."
Triumphantly here today (as your generals sit grinning behind a marble table in one of Saddam's palaces), victory is gone tomorrow (as the IEDs start to explode and the suicide car bombs begin to mount). In the case of the Cold War, the question remains: Was that victory actually gone yesterday? Was it gone by the time officials danced their victory jigs in the corridors of the Pentagon and the White House?
In retrospect, it may be -- as perceptive scholars of imperial decline like Immanuel Wallerstein have long argued -- that we were already definitively on the way down; or, put another way, that there was no victor but there were two losers in the Cold War; that the Soviet Union, the weaker of the two great powers, simply imploded first; while the U.S., enwreathed in a rhetoric of triumph and self-congratulation, was slowly making its way to the door without waving goodbye.
In the fifteen years since the USSR evaporated, most indices of power, especially military power, have been challenged. To offer but a single sobering example, historian Gabriel Kolko, discussing how destructive power has been "democratized," points out that:
"U.S. power has been dependent to a large extent on the country's highly mobile navy. But ships are increasingly vulnerable to missiles, and while they are a long way from finished, they are more and more circumscribed tactically and, ultimately, strategically… [Iran, for example] possesses large quantities of [cruise] missiles, and US experts believe they may very well be capable of destroying aircraft-carrier battle groups. All attempts to devise defenses against these rockets, even the most primitive, have been expensive failures, and anti-missile technology everywhere has remained, after decades of effort and billions of dollars, unreliable."
When, back in the 1960s, Senator J. William Fulbright wrote of "the arrogance of power" as a defining trait of America's leaders, few in power took him seriously. So many years later, the question is: Do our present arrogant leaders have the faintest idea how limited their powers really are? As Ira Chernus, author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin, suggests below, on this fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the leadership of an increasingly cornered empire continues to put its emphasis not just on striking back, but on striking first… and wherever. This is the most dangerous, the most blinding and fearful legacy of the 9/11 attacks. In the long run, it threatens a world in rubble. Tom