The Legacy of the Cold War
excerpted from the book
America Right or Wrong
An Anatomy of American Nationalism
by Anatol Lieven
Oxford University Press, 2005,
The Cold War perpetuated and strengthened the long-standing messianic,
paranoid and Manichean strands in American nationalism. It also
added a new element, largely unknown in the United States before
World War II, but very important in the history of nationalism
elsewhere: a massive military-industrial and j security complex
with great influence and a stake in promoting armed rivalry with
Since the Vietnam War, the impact of this
new force in American affairs has been seen above all in what
I have described as the American Nationalist Party, or Republicans.
However, it has had a strong presence among the Democrats as well.
Before the Vietnam War, the Democrats were adept at using "scares"
concerning alleged Soviet military superiority against the two
In the 1990s, although Clinton reduced
the military budget somewhat, he also presided over both a still
greater extension of U.S. military presence in the world and a
geopolitical campaign to "roll back" the influence of
Russia within the former Soviet Union. Concerning the war on terrorism,
as of mid-2004 it is not clear that the Democrats have any serious
alternative strategy. If this lack of strategy proves to be the
case, one reason is that they draw their advisers and philosophy
from the same foreign policy and security "ecology"
which was nurtured by the Cold War.
The Cold War also produced the neoconservative academic and bureaucratic
grouping, whose members between 2001 and 2003 critically influenced
the administration of George W. Bush and acted as some of its
leading officials and propagandists. The neoconservatives originated
in the "Vital Center" group set up by Reinhold Niebuhr
and others in the late 1940s to rally American liberals against
the threat of Stalinist communism. The Vital Center split over
the Vietnam War, with the future neoconservatives generally supporting
the war and tough anti-Soviet policies. Via support for the hawkish
Democrat senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, most ultimately
moved to the Republican Party (although some remain formally Democrats
to this day).'
[Neocons] see themselves as a version of Plato's Guardians, a
closed, all-knowing, elect group guiding, protecting (like guard
dogs) and when necessary deceiving an ignorant and flaccid populace
for its own good, to save it from ruthless enemies.
In the case of the neoconservatives, this
tendency was also strongly encouraged by certain secretive and
conspiratorial tendencies in the thought of one of their funding
intellects, Leo Strauss. He fostered a thoroughly Platonic belief
that it is both necessary and legitimate for the philosophical
elite to feed the populace religious and patriotic myths in which
the elite itself does not believe.
[Neoconservatives] have turned sympathy for Israel into support
for Likud; and they have taken beliefs in America's role as a
democratic model and the need for U.S. national unity and turned
them into arguments for interventionist war.
... the neoconservatives ... democratizing messianism is widely
shared within the Democratic Party.
... if Cold War strengthened the messianic aspects of the American
Creed, it also poured new sustenance into the maw of America's
demons and the "paranoid style" of American politics:
an obsession with domestic subversion, belief in an outside world
dominated by enemies and potential traitors, reliance on military
force and contempt for many of America's leading allies. The Cold
War also strengthened messianic nationalism, expressed not only
in the quasi-religious terms of adherence to the Creed, but in
the explicitly religious ones of belief in America nation chosen
by God to lead the struggle against the enemies of God.
Mark Almond in 2003 on the American Enterprise Institute
Acting as the ideological enforcers of
the Bush Administration, the American Enterprise Institute is
a kind of Cominform of the new world order. Its so-called scholars
are the inquisitors of a global regime. Minutes of their foreign
seminars are more like sitting in on a hate session from China's
cultural revolution than a political science class at Yale. Participants
rise to denounce the hate figure of the day or to endorse a visiting
dignitary favoured by the regime. There is an overwhelming stench
of ideological conformity. Washington think-tanks promote not
pluralism, but a Stalinist-style dogmatism with eulogised conformists
and excommunicated heretics. This show-trial mentality is hardly
surprising, as the American Enterprise Institute brings the ideological
successors of McCarthy and renegade leftists together with emigres
educated in the Soviet bloc."
Wars are ... corrupting in their encouragement of the belief that
"the truth has to be protected by a bodyguard of lies,"
in Winston Churchill's phrase: that public lying is morally and
patriotically justified for the higher good of victory, and that
enemy propaganda is to be met not with the truth but with counterpropaganda.
Conscious or unconscious falsification of facts and evidence has
become a staple of much of the discussion of international affairs
in the United States-as demonstrated, for example, in the 2003
media campaign against France. Such publicly funded institutions
as Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia were founded and have
continued in this spirit, even after the end of the Cold War.
The Cold War ... perpetuated and intensified
already existing tendencies in American political culture. Coming
on top of World War II, however, it also introduced something
quite new: a state system of permanent semimobilization for war,
institutionalized in the military-industrial-academic complex
and the academic bodies linked to it. As the radical U.S. critic
and historian C. Wright Mills wrote in 1959 "For the first
time in American history, men in authority are talking about an
'emergency' without a foreseeable end... the American elite does
not have any real image of peace-other than as an uneasy interlude
existing precariously by virtue of the balance of mutual fright.
The only seriously accepted plan for 'peace' is the fully loaded
pistol. In short, war or a high state of war preparedness is felt
to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United
... This "emergency without end"
has now been repeated in an intensified form in the war on terrorism;
but the nature of the security establishment and military-industrial-academic
complex created by the Cold War also helped make the United States
poorly fitted to fight against terrorists. Instead, this complex
of institutions and attitudes requires states as enemies-and if
such enemies are not readily apparent, it will instinctively seek
to conjure them up, at least in the American public mind.
So important did military spending and
the military-industrial sector become during World War II and
the Cold War that-with space exploration as a minor adjunct-they
have become fundamental to the U.S. economy, U.S. economic growth
and above all U.S. technological development. Despite its often
almost incredible wastefulness and corruption, this military spending
has also been in some ways a kind of unacknowledged but rather
successful state industrial development strategy in a country
whose free market ideology meant that it could not formally adopt
or admit to such a strategy.
In the decades before 1914, all the major European powers with
the partial exception of Britain lived in a state of permanent
semimobilization. This condition reflected the objective security
circumstances of the European continent at the time; but as in
the United States during the Cold War, it also first created and
was then itself fed by great military, bureaucratic and industrial
blocs with a strong vested interest in the maintenance of a mood
of national paranoia, of fear and hatred of other countries, and
of international tension.
A classic example is the German Navy League,
backed by the great steel and armaments interests, allied to the
old military aristocracy and dedicated to the creation of an arms
race with Britain." Such groups contributed a good deal to
the competing aggressive nationalisms which eventually clashed
between 1914 and 1918.
Every country had its version of the U.S.
"Committee on the Present Danger" which mobilized fear
of the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Every European country
before 1914 had its own repeated and carefully stoked panics concerning
the enemy's military capabilities, such as the "Missile Gap"
scare that the Democrats created as a weapon against Eisenhower
with the help of intellectual allies including the nuclear scientist
and arch-Cold Warrior Edward Teller."
The need for major states as enemies stems partly from the fact
that only the perceived presence of enemy states can justify military
spending at the level which the industries concerned have come
to demand. Terrorist groups require a very different set of responses,
much more complicated but also very much cheaper." But, the
intellectual and institutional framework of the men and women
concerned also requires enemies who in some sense are their own
evil twins, with similar mind-sets and ambitions: military-bureaucratic-economic
state elites, not terrorists driven by a complex and alien mixture
of religious, cultural and socioeconomic values and motivations.
A really thorough reform of the American defense establishment
to meet the threat of Islamist terrorism would require the fundamental
recalibration of the American security elites-an idea which, not
surprisingly, does not enchant them.
The memo on security challenges which Rumsfeld drew up for the
Bush administration as it took office dwelt on the threat to the
United States from Iraq, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea,
and from weapons of mass destruction, but not from al Qaeda. Former
antiterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke has complained bitterly
of the indifference of the Bush administration to the terrorist
threat both before and after 9/11, compared to their obsessions
with missile defense and with war against Iraq. And in Iraq, the
entire obsession was with the defeat of Saddam Hussein, to such
an extent that the planners seemingly neglected even to secure
that state's civilian nuclear facilities and prevent terrorists
from getting radioactive material for a "dirty bomb."
... the 1990s saw a determined effort in certain right-wing and
security circles to cast China in the role of the new Cold War
enemy-and not only in the Republican and neoconservative opposition,
but to some extent among Democrats as well. This effort included
the usual campaigns to emphasize Chinese human rights abuses and
vastly exaggerate China's military capabilities."
The hope was to create a U.S. security
strategy of "containing" China, modeled on the "containment"
of the Soviet Union during the Cold War; to attempt to bankrupt
the Chinese state by forcing it into an unsustainable arms race;
and to undermine the Chinese state from within by encouraging
movements for democratic revolution and ethnic secession. Meanwhile,
the Chinese nuclear deterrent was to be neutralized by an American
system of missile defense.
These views were pushed especially hard
by the so-called Blue Team, an informal grouping of anti-Chinese
junior officials, think tank members and congressional staffers,
and had considerable impact in Congress, though much less within
the official community. The Blue Team was a conscious attempt
to imitate the success of the so-called B Team, a similar (but
more senior) group of officials and propagandists of the 1980s
who set out to dramatize the supposed extent of Soviet power.
The curious thing is, of course, that virtually every proposition
advanced by the B Team concerning the Soviet Union has since been
In 1999 Republicans in Congress mounted
a classic scare of the "Missile Gap" type, with the
Cox Committee accusing China of having spied so successfully on
the United States as to be able in a short time to match American
nuclear technology and threaten the U.S. mainland. The report
also declared that "essentially all Chinese visitors to the
United States are potential spies." The report set off an
orchestrated Republican media campaign attacking the Clinton administration
for "weakness" and pushing for tougher policies against
China. It was replete with phrases like "the greatest nuclear
theft since the Rosenbergs" (the Soviet spies who provided
Moscow with U.S. nuclear secrets in the 1940s) and "every
nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal has been compromised."
Former UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick declared-incredibly-that
"it renders us immediately a great deal more vulnerable than
we have ever been in our history." Former House Speaker Newt
Gingrich called it "the largest espionage success against
the United States since the Soviet Union in the 1940s .
Echoing "yellow peril" racist
stereotypes which long predated the Cold War, the Washington Times
reported that "both Mrs. Kirkpatrick and Mr. Gingrich believe
the Chinese are capable of launching a missile at American troops,
allied targets and even American cities. Mrs. Kirkpatrick said
the Chinese do not value human life and might be willing to suffer
retaliatory consequences for the psychological benefit of striking
American soil with a Missile."
Among many right-wing politicians, such
attitudes to China continued unabated even after 9/11, with House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay in June 2003 publicly calling China
"a backward, corrupt anachronism, run by decrepit tyrants,
old apparachiks clinging to a dying regime.
In the first months of the Bush administration,
it seemed that this anti-Chinese approach, like the then-anti-Russia
approach, might be adopted as official U.S. policy. Given the
ferocious views of the Chinese system which he had expressed in
the media, the appointment of John Bolton to the State Department
could have been taken in itself as an anti-Chinese act."
Like Condoleezza Rice, Bush repeatedly called China a "strategic
competitor" and called for a range of tougher U.S. policies."
Rice called on the United States to build up India as a strategic
counter to China and to take a more firmly pro-Taiwan stance in
its relations with Beijing. 61 Time magazine reported that the
Bush administration in its first weeks in office was "hosing
down China with acid."
If 9/11 had not occurred, many of the
officials and commentators who have since used the terrorist attacks
as an argument for radical unilateralism in U.S. policy would
have directed their energies to stirring up the maximum possible
American public hostility to Russia and China and to manufacturing
crises in relations with these states. They would have remained
just as indifferent to the terrorist threat as they were before
9/11, despite the fact that repeated attacks on American targets
outside the United States had already occurred.
Present Dangers, a book of essays by leading
neoconservatives and other rightwing hard-liners, edited by Robert
Kagan and William Kristol and published in 2000, provides evidence
of how Bush administration policy might have developed had 9/11
not intervened. Its title intentionally recalled the already mentioned
Cold War era Committee on the Present Danger.
In keeping with the Realist tradition
before September 11, the authors are indifferent to terrorism
and issues of violence and stability within societies; of fifteen
essays, not one is devoted to terrorism as such (with the partial
exception of one on Israel). Instead they are obsessed with the
threat to the United States from a range of supposedly powerful
rival states, all of which must be approached with the maximum
degree of toughness. "Appeasement" is a constant theme.
The last essay of Present Dangers, for example, is a paranoid
attempt to suggest that the U.S. position vis-à-vis China
resembles that of Britain vis-à-vis Germany in the early
1930s-a "Realist" analysis almost surreal in its indifference
to economic, technological, political and ideological realities."
"America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant
power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome. Accordingly,
America is in a position to reshape norms, alter expectations
and create new realities. How? By unapologetic and implacable
demonstrations of will."
...the book An End to Evil, by Richard Perle and former Bush speechwriter
David Frum and published in 2003, expressed a greater or lesser
degree of embittered hostility not just to the Muslim world, but
to Russia, China, the United Nations and every country or institution
which had in any way questioned or resisted the United States
over war with Iraq.
An End to Evil advises the United States
to oppose European unity. Most of Western Europe is said to be
affected by "the same jealousy and resentment that animate
the terrorists"-an astonishingly extreme and provocative
statement to come from a man still serving as a senior government
adviser. No exception whatsoever was to be made for different
terrorist movements, or between their political and military wings-except
in the case of Russia, which is accused of having invented its
terrorist threat and fabricated its terrorist attacks. The only
country treated positively is Britain-whose views and interests
are then treated with dismissive contempt.
Irving Kristol in 1989
"If the president goes to the American people and wraps
himself in the American flag and lets Congress wrap itself in
the white flag of surrender, the president will win .... The American
people had never heard of Grenada. There was no reason they should
have. The reason we gave for the intervention-the risk to American
medical students there-was phony but the reaction of the American
people was absolutely and overwhelmingly favorable. They had no
idea what was going on but they backed the president. They always
Former New York Times executive editor A. M. Rosenthal called
for the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria,
Sudan "and any other devoted to the elimination of the United
States or the constant incitement of hatred against it" to
be given a three-day ultimatum to hand over both terrorists and
their own leaders to the United States. If they refused, their
capitals and major cities should be "bombed to the ground
beginning the fourth" Charles Krauthammer made the same demand
later concerning Afghan cities: "To restrain our military
now in order to placate our diplomats is a tragic reprise of Vietnam.
Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly declared during the first stage
of the Iraq War that "there is a school of thought that says
we should have given the citizens of Baghdad forty-eight hours
to 'get out of Dodge' by dropping leaflets and going with the
AM radios and all that. Forty-eight hours, you've got to get out
of there, and flatten the place. Then the war would be over...
It's just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been
fighting this war with one hand behind our back."
As disagreement between the United States
and parts of Western Europe (and most of the rest of the world)
over war with Iraq intensified in 2002-03, the bitter hostility
of American nationalists was extended to any country which refused
to follow the United States into war. This spirit led to the U.S.
House of Representatives voting to change the designation of "French
fries" in its restaurant to "Freedom fries"; but
it also affected even some normally moderate and intelligent American
Even usually moderate figures succumbed
to the hysteria, with Thomas Friedman declaring in the New York
Times that "France is not just our annoying ally. It is not
just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy."
Right or Wrong