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, paper


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 other states.

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 Eisenhower administrations.

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.

Permanent Mobilization

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 States."

... 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 proven false.

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."

Charles Krauthammer
"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 will."

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 analysts."

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."

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