Reading Between the Lines on Security

This country has changed considerably since September 2002, when an inconspicuous, 21-page White House report was sent to Congress. That report, innocuously titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America," was a product of the extremist neoconservative intellectuals (Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz et al.) who seized philosophical control of the White House after 9/11 and sold George W. Bush on an aggressive, muscular foreign policy. It became the basis for what has happened since (the invasion of Iraq) and for what may happen in the future; yet, few people really know what it contains.

Some of the key provisions have been aired, of course, primarily those outlining the highly publicized concepts that led us into Iraq, diplomatic unilateralism and military preemption. Section 3 states, 'We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense," and section 5 warns, "To forestall or prevent ... hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." America, says the preamble, will address emerging threats "before they are fully formed." The world, in other words, is guilty until proven innocent, and the Bush administration will be both judge and jury.

These are the most widely circulated ideas outlined in The National Security Strategy, the ones that embroiled us in an unnecessary war, infuriated the United Nations, and alienated world opinion. There are other, less inflammatory aspects of the neocon manifesto, however, that have equal, albeit largely unnoticed, import for the long run. As William Finnegan, writing in the May issue of Harper's, rightly and articulately suggests, it is also a stunningly radical economic document, a blueprint for enforcing the so-called Washington Consensus favoring corporate globalization and unregulated free markets.

Most Americans tend to view economic globalization as a force of nature, something analogous to floods or earthquakes, a phenomenon that simply came upon us and with which we can merely try to cope, adapting to it because it is beyond the capacity of humans to change. On the contrary, says Finnegan, it is a man-made "economics of empire," a construct based on ideology, and section 6 of the neocon screed ("Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth Through Free Markets and Free Trade") is its justification.

A close reading of the Bush administration plan for corporate world economic dominance reveals a breathtakingly audacious agenda. Its opening remarks, contributed by the president, baldly proclaim that the US will "use this moment of opportunity" (i.e. the war on terrorism) to bring democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the globe. It's an interesting juxtaposition of words: four objectives, three of them economic and just one political. Viewed another way, there are soft targets of empire (economic) and hard ones (political-cum-military).

The report proceeds from the general to the specific. Section 4, amusingly entitled "Work with Others to Defuse Regional Conflicts," outlines selective exploitation plans for particular geographic areas. Indonesia, sweatshop heaven for multinational manufacturers, will be prevailed upon to continue its acceptance of open markets (a condition of US economic assistance) and employ "the engine of opportunity" to lift itself out of poverty. The Andean nations of South America are to benefit from "an active strategy" to help them "adjust their economies." SubSaharan Africa will achieve progress by being placed on the path to "economic freedom."

It is the aforementioned part 6 of the report, however, that truly sets forth the economic agenda that will follow the flag in the quest for what the neocons call a better world. In their view, the lessons of history are clear. Market economies, not planned or controlled economies, are the key to prosperity and poverty reduction. (The word "market" appears 13 times, mantra-like, in this section.) To that end, the neocons insist, the US government will pursue the following to promote economic growth and economic freedom beyond America's shores: enhanced legal and economic deregulation policies, lower marginal tax rates, looser controls on financial capital and investment flows, reduced government spending, and free trade. It all sounds like a marriage between Reaganomics and the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund.

Free trade, which is presented as a "moral principle," is the cornerstone of this brave, new economic world; the neocons regard it as the ultimate American value, our most important contribution to global civilization. The ability to buy and sell anywhere at will, they write, represents "real freedom." To advance it, they say, the US will see that bilateral free-trade agreements are promulgated worldwide (think: cheaper imports and lost jobs), that the Free Trade Area of the Americas is enacted (think: NAFTA times ten), that global energy sources are expanded (think: increased environmental degradation), and that American workers are helped to "adapt to the change and dynamism of open markets" (think: lower wages and weaker unions).

Although The National Security Strategy doesn't spell it out in so many words, the inference is clear: there is an integral relationship between free-market economics, neocon style, and America's security in the world. We need, in short, to establish global laissez-faire capitalism as a bulwark against terrorism -- an iffy proposition at best, a bizarre one at worst. Yet, that very notion may indeed be at work right now in conquered Iraq. The Economist magazine, no left-wing publication, reports that Republican-connected, free-market think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, are confidently predicting the quick privatization, at Washington's insistence, of Iraq's state-owned oil sector. Iraq's reconstruction, it further reports, may be ultimately financed by arranging for US and other outside oil firms to lend rebuilding capital in exchange for rights to (or ownership of) the country's petroleum reserves.

It will be instructive to see if The National Security Strategy tie-in between economics and defense does actually manifest itself in Iraq. If so, the war will not only be proven to have been considerably about oil, after all, but the Bush administration's imperial ambitions will be shown conclusively to have a major economic component in the form of a corporate tail wagging the US government dog. At this point, who could doubt it? It's all there in black and white -- and under the White House imprimatur.

Wayne O'Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine.

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