Hope in the Face of The National Security Strategy: Three Readings and Patriotic Publicity

[1] He looked straight into my eyes that night and said it. “America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire”-2004 State of the Union Address.1 That President Bush had to tender this assurance eyeball to eyeball to the nation and to the world surely indicates that real “empire” merits investigation.

[2] Beyond denials of empire the President’s affirmations also merit attention. On high occasions especially the President’s rhetoric projects religious connotations and meanings, even Christian ones. That’s, of course, not unheard of from American presidents. It does mean, however, that we Christians have a special stake in his public speech. I’m particularly struck not only by the rhetoric of mission but more so by the President’s rhetoric of calling, as in “the common calling of freedom-loving people”2 and “the calling of our time.”3

[3] America’s public vocation is at stake, surely. And President Bush has embedded American vocation authoritatively within The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002. NSS tightly links the polarity of vulnerability and security with the rhetoric of liberty. The President increasingly does this as illustrated in his 2005 Second Inaugural Address:

We have seen our vulnerability …
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one … Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time. 4
[4] In this essay I will, first, look briefly at official denials of empire. Second, I will examine three readings of NSS. All three readings are possible; indeed, they’re operative. Reading and readings always take place within rich contexts and contexts contribute to public meaning. Third, I will show how these three readings permit empire thus propagating a strain of failing patriotism. Finally, I will suggest patriotic publicity as a hopeful way toward developing civic international nations.

1. Empire: Denial or Vocation?

[5] The President’s denial of empire has taken on a life of its own. Four days after the 2004 State of the Union denial of empire Vice President Cheney, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, again disavowed any U.S. ambition to empire.5 The Vice President’s denial came because he and his wife, Lynne, had, a mere month earlier, sent out the official Vice Presidential Hallmark Christmas-Holiday Card with a painting of the interior of the Vice Presidential House on one side accompanied by the following greeting:

Our best wishes to you and your family
in this holiday season
and throughout the year ahead.
Lynee Cheny Dick Cheny

The other side of the card has the following:

“And if a sparrow cannot fall
to the ground without His notice,
is it probable that an empire
can rise without His aid?”

Benjamin Franklin
at the Constitutional Convention,
June 26, 1787

Wow! What starts, in the Evangelist Matthew’s imagination (Matt. 10), as Jesus in full authority sending forth his apostles to proclaim the Gospel culminates, in Benjamin Franklin’s imagination, as Jesus’ Father blessing the American “empire” from 1787 in perpetuity. So, what is it Mr. Vice President, empire or not?

[6] The Vice President gave a three part response. First he credited-really, blamed-Lynne for choosing the quotation. “She should have to explain why it was on the Christmas card.” Second, “Franklin was speaking about the importance of some recognition of the importance of the Almighty in the affairs of man.” Third, he explained that an empire in Franklin’s day is different from what America’s posture has been over the course of its history as well as in the world today. “So I wouldn’t let the Benjamin Franklin quote be misinterpreted as somehow it’s intended now to talk about the United States as an empire.” “If we were to [missing word or words?] empire, we would currently preside over a much greater piece of the Earth’s surface than we do. That’s not how we operate.”6 The first leg of the Vice President’s stool sounds more like Genesis 3 deja vu all over again. His second leg points to the necessity of developing a critical theology of “God-bless-America theology,” which must wait until another occasion. His third leg challenges us to examine the state of the question of empire. The Vice President can disavow empire because he defines it technically only in terms of territorial ownership.7

[7] Already in 2002 President Bush twice denied any aspirations to empire using the same territorial definition. He first disavowed empire in his now-famous West Point speech on June 1, 2002.8 He again denied empire on November 11, 2002 in a speech at a White House reception for veterans. “We have no territorial ambitions, we don’t seek an empire. Our nation is committed to freedom for ourselves and for others.”9 The President’s West Point speech has become famous, first, because he significantly develops what is called-by the neo-cons and by the President-the Bush Doctrine.10 Secondly, four quotations from the West Point speech become official epigrams for four of the nine sections of NSS, which officially houses much of the Bush Doctrine.

2. Three Readings of NSS

The Quick Look Patriotic Reading.

[8] Let’s call our first reading of NSS the “quick look patriotic reading.” This is how I first read NSS. It’s full of specious, feel good, motherhood and apple pie kinds of words: freedom, democracy, free enterprise, liberty, peace, just peace, equality, open societies, defending our nation against its enemies, human rights, hope, accountability, common values, our responsibility to lead in this great mission, and on and on. Condoleezza Rice, then the President’s National Security Advisor and primary drafter of NSS, did well on this score.

[9] After a while all this feel-good rhetoric starts to build up and actually starts to back up, or perhaps better, to back one up. You start to wonder, “What’s really going on here?” NSS isn’t just some run-of-the-mill, dry, in-house U.S. Department of Defense or Department of State military strategy document. Indeed, it isn’t a strategy document at all. Nowadays, leadership development folk like to talk about vision, strategy, and tactics. Whenever the 2004 presidential debates and campaigns got on the subjects of national security, the so-called war on terrorism, and of the Iraq War, the candidates never got much beyond military tactics or at best military strategy. Senator Kerry kept harping on “not enough troops,” “failed to secure this or that weapons cache,” “no exist strategy,” etc. But NSS is not so much a strategy as it is a vision.

[10] NSS is this President’s “vision thing,” the thing which his father could never quite get a hold of for himself or communicate to the American public. It’s a vision thing accessorized with plenty of patriotic paraphernalia. On this score Bush 43 far outshines Bush 41. NSS’s first epigram for chapter one, “Overview,” comes from the West Point speech and casts the vision.

Our Nation’s cause has always been larger than our Nation’s defense.
We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace-a peace that favors liberty.
We will defend the peace against the threats from terrorists and tyrants.
We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers.
And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.
Defend, preserve, extend-these are the operative words. They function as the outline for the President’s cover letter; they organize the remaining chapters of NSS; and they set forth “a distinctly American internationalism.” NSS is right there in the public domain-got to give the President credit for that!-up there on the web for, well, for popular “consumption.” That’s what we’re far too good at these days. And we tend to gulp as well. On the surface the “quick look patriotic reading” is an abstract, decontextualized reading. On a deeper level popular patriotic consumption is the context. And this context plays right into the hands of the next reading, the neocon reading.

The Neocon Reading.

[11] The neoconservative movement has been on the ascendancy since 9/11. It did not, however, originate with 9/11. Neocons in general and a particularly influential group in particular have been developing a comprehensive vision of American internationalism at least since 1992 and they laid it out in 2000 in Present Dangers.11 Neocon internationalists identify three periods that the U.S. is going through on its way toward realizing “The New American Century”: 1) 1989 to 9/11/2001, the period of “American confusion and indecision”; 2) 9/11 to March 18, 2003, the day before the invasion of Iraq, the period of “illusions destroyed”; 3) March 19, 2003, the invasion of Iraq, the period of “a new era of Pax Americana.”12 While the neocons have been around since the Reagan administration, they took 1989 and the collapsing Soviet empire as their call to arms. Each period contains both a crisis and an opportunity. Each period is a stage toward America’s coming of age. And, each stage depends, of course, on a parallel stage in the neocons’ own work agenda. Period one is preparation, period two is indoctrination, and period three is execution. Prepare the comprehensive vision and vocation of America, indoctrinate the President to indoctrinate the nation in the Bush Doctrine, and execute the vision of NSS as statecraft, the first obvious step being Afghanistan, the first momentous step being Iraq.

[12] President Bush did not possess the Bush Doctrine when he was elected in 2000. Neocons, of course, knew that. Truth be told, the President was not elected as a neocon. Neocons converted him, as they are well aware. When elected, he was, according to neocon lore, some pathetic combination of isolationist and cold-war realist internationalist. On that score they are right. Neocons detest both, especially when wimpishly combined.

[13] September 11th traumatized the President. He, like every U.S. citizen and citizens throughout the world, was psychologically traumatized. As President his trauma quickly surfaced as a vision deficit regarding international polity. His vision started and stopped with ABC-Anything But Clinton. His undisciplined diet of a little isolationism here and a little realism there left him and the country impotent, incapable of responding, say the neocons. Neocon internationalists saw this clearly; indeed, they anticipated it. They immediately named the “crisis” and seized the “opportunity.”13 They convinced the President that his trauma was a “crisis,” doubly rooted, in his own faulty view of the presidency-the President thought presidency meant mainly domestic leadership-and in his own flabby vision of international polity. It’s the vision thing; and neocons knew the way forward. After 9/11 the neocons would steadily evolve the Bush Doctrine. Neocon lore: after 9/11 neocons breathed into George W. “the Bush Doctrine” and he became a living President. The calling to empire would need articulation and execution.

[14] The neocon ascendancy supplies the context for a neocon reading of NSS. This reading tightly grips NSS’s “distinctly American internationalism.” Two foci guide the reading: the neocon vision of a distinctly American internationalism and the neocon vocation of statecraft which implements the vision. These foci form an unyielding ellipse for this reading. Neocon internationalist vision carefully yet thoroughly infiltrates NSS. The neocon practice of statecraft effectively implements NSS. In this way NSS fashions the American vocation of “benevolent global hegemony,” the neocon euphemism for empire as we will see shortly.14

[15] The neocon movement aims to sculpt the future by controlling the vision of U.S. internationalism. Numerous people within the President’s administration bring muscle to the neocon grip but none more than Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz works one step removed from a full public posture of a Vice President Cheney, or a Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, or others. Wolfowitz, as Assistant Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, was third in command at the Pentagon.15 Under President George W. Bush, he’s been Deputy Secretary of Defense, thereby second in command at the Pentagon. In 1993, he was the George F. Kennan Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College. From 1994-2001, he served as Dean and Professor of International Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University. Wolfowitz reads decisively! He knows how to pack Condi Rice’s patriotic rhetoric with neocon punch and prowess.

[16] Wolfowitz notes, “In a world where American primacy seems so overwhelming … [t]he ultimate test of foreign policy is how successfully it shapes the future.”16 During the last quarter century “the world [has] indeed been transformed in America’s image,” assert the neocons (5). America should seek, therefore, both to strengthen and to extend this transformation. This will happen by “above all, preserving and reinforcing America’s benevolent global hegemony.” Neocons denounce “a return to normal times” and deplore the notion that America would ever again be “a normal nation” (9-12). America should never again become a mere “savior of last resort” for world peace or a “reluctant sheriff” enforcing justice (15-16). Those callings would signify an America far too weak and wimpy. Instead, they compare American power and prestige to that exercised when “Rome dominated the Mediterranean world” (6). The neocon America obeys a new calling and exercises a new vocation with a preferred future. The “United States would instead conceive of itself as at once a European power, an Asian power, a Middle Eastern power and, of course, a Western Hemisphere power” (15-16). Above all, neocons pursue a “unipolar era”! (6) “A multipolar world . . . would be far more dangerous” than the unipolar world of American “benevolent global hegemony.”17 “Benevolent global hegemony” means “full spectrum dominance,” as hegemonic theorists put it. Neocon vision needs neocon statecraft.

[17] Neoconservative statecraft anchors itself in an aristocratic mode of life centered in three practices: first, maximizing the aristocrat’s own will by minimizing the rule of law; second, observing “linguistic discipline” to accomplish ends; and third, exercising “resolve” in all things.

[18] Neocon statecraft enthrones the classic aristocratic ethos of rule by those with superior virtue. Wolfowitz says it bluntly. “Thus, foreign policy decisions cannot be subject to the kind of ‘rule of law’ that we want for our domestic political process” (334). Note the cleavage! Domestically, the rule of law; internationally, a change of kind! Neocons desire an America that follows international rule of law only when expedient (41). This is not a neocon first suggestion; it’s the neocon first commandment. It’s a matter of substance, not style.

[19] Neocons deem America the most virtuous nation on the earth. William Bennett puts it simply. “Today, America sits at the summit. [We] elicit awe and admiration from every nation” (304). Here rests the soul of aristocracy. “Who, then, will rule the ruler?” comes the classic Western question. Aristocrats assert, as always, “‘law’ is embodied in the person of the ruler!”18 America deserves to be “the man” of the world; we’ve demonstrated that.19 We’ve stood the test; we live autonomously; we set the agenda; we declare the doctrine, “You are either for us or against us.” Aristocracy has always practiced a culture of assumption and a statecraft of exceptionalism (289-290). Aristocrats assume that their own will is righteous. Herein lies an old strain within American life. President Bush expressed it unreflectively on September 14, 2001 in his significant address at The National Cathedral in Washington D.C.:

Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. The conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.20
The basic response to Al Qaeda all the way to Afghanistan was surely justified. Still, the god-like, aristocratic rhetoric of “It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing”-not to mention “rid the world of evil”!-betrays the President’s default aristocratic posture. At a minimum the President would benefit from a paragraph by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Among the various forms of dominion and community we must regard as most dubious the modern form of universal imperialism, elaborated from a utopian vision. It is morally dubious precisely because it contains ingredients which make for its present success. It builds a tremendous power apparatus by the prestige of a creed which promises the elimination of all force from human society. It is universal in claims because it pretends to have a cure for universal evils. It is the character of utopianism to promise redemption not from some evils but from all evil. Imperialism in the name of universal values was, as we shall see, a characteristic mark of dominion for many millennia. The claims were always dubious because no value embodied was as universal as claimed, and the community which was organized by and for the prestige of the ideological scheme was not as universal as intended.21
[20] Contrary to the neoconservative movement, America’s founders set our statecraft on a different footing from aristocracy. We are a nation “of laws and not of men.”22 We do not desire aristocracy. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” protests Lady Liberty as she looks east across the Atlantic.

[21] Linguistic discipline is crucial to neoconservative statecraft (41). Expunge “indiscreet language”!23 Neocons learned this way back in 1992 when Paul Wolfowitz penned the now-famous Pentagon draft of neocon grand strategy. America seeks “primacy and predominance” and will “maintain mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global scale.”24 Neocon linguistic discipline takes a classic page from the most famous modern aristocrat, Niccolo Machiavelli. “[E]mploy the fox … [and thereby] circumvent the intellect of men by craft … [H]e who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”25 Neocons never use the “e” word-empire-in public, making them ever more successful sponsors of “empire.”

[22] Finally, aristocratic “resolve” rounds out the neoconservative ethos (337-362). The experience of the British Empire is the counter example. Briefly stated, “the British lacked the will” to maintain, strengthen, and extend their empire (350). Neoconservatives again take a page from Machiavelli, this time from the penultimate chapter of The Prince. There Machiavelli narrates the myth behind the ancient aristocratic maxim fortes fortuna iuvat, fortune favors the brave. Lady Fortune is wild and “shows her power where valor has not prepared to resist her … [I]t is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman … She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.”26 These are the intellectual roots of the President’s epistemological resolve, his “stay-the-course” disposition, his “no doubt presidency.”27

[23] The neocon reading of NSS is full-bodied. Here I’ll take up only one facet of NSS, the rhetoric of prevention and the execution of preventive war, and save for another time the critical questions of market economy in chapter six and democratic structure in chapter seven. The President’s rhetoric of “fight for a just peace,” particularized as “defend,” “preserve,” and “extend,” becomes the rhetoric of “prevent” in chapter three and the execution of preventive war in chapter five. Anyone familiar with just war tradition’s long argument to distinguish defensive war from preemptive war and preventive war, and to reject preventive war as immoral, will have their ears tingle with the following operational statement:

We will disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations by … defending the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and demonstrating the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country . . .28
The neocon reading loves the slope created by this slippery silence.

[24] And just to summarize the deafening silence NSS plays a neocon note that grates the ears of folks edified by just war tradition: “we recognize that our best defense is a good offense… .”29 Amazing!

[25] The slippery slopping together of preemptive and preventive wars totally infests chapter five’s rationale regarding weapons of mass destruction. In addition chapter five slops together imminent threat, gathering threat, and emerging threat, thereby weakening, if not obliterating, significant just war distinctions.

[26] Truth be told, the neocon reading had already snuck it into the President’s prefatory letter to NSS: “And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against emerging threats before they are fully formed. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. So we must be prepared to defeat our enemies’ plans, using the best intelligence and proceeding with deliberation.”30

[27] Have no doubt about it. NSS’s slippery silences, summed up in “our best defense is a good offense” and coupled with our “best intelligence,” have eviscerated America’s prestige on the international scene.

The Kinder, Gentler (Neo) Conservative Reading.

[28] Reinhold Niebuhr argued that the structure of nations and empires is built on two pillars. Nations and empires surely need “power” no matter which international order exists. Less self-evident, noted Niebuhr, is the necessity of “prestige.”31 Prestige or “soft power,” as it’s known today, “is not just a matter of ephemeral popularity; it is a means of obtaining outcomes.”32 No doubt both power and prestige are necessary for nations not to mention empires.

[29] The neocon reading of NSS concentrates on power. Richard Haass offers another reading of NSS, a kinder, gentler (neo)conservative reading. This reading concentrates more on prestige, the side of Niebuhr’s dialectic that neocons have let slip. At least, that’s Haass’s read. From 2001-2003 Haass was Director of Policy Planning for the Department of State and a principal advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Indeed, the kinder, gentler (neo) conservative reading has been located primarily at the Department of State. It would be too simple to see this reading as merely the diplomatic reading. Let’s see why.

[30] A concise source for this NSS reading is Haass’s “The world on his desk.”33 Haass speaks to President Bush, “the weary winner,” as he “contemplates his second term.” Haass dubs his two pages “a briefing,” suitable for the President. He beautifully constructs his first paragraph. He notes that the President “faces far more challenges” than he did four years ago. Not only more, they are “more difficult ones.” Is Haass suggesting that after four years the President has left us in worse shape than when he came into office? Likely, Haass is too diplomatic to be that forthright in public. Still, it’s not too far a stretch to think that Haass would suggest this is so and that this should be among the things which the President would do well to contemplate. If Haass implies this, then perhaps he’s calling for the President to, well, in Christian parlance, to repent. Why might this be the case?

[31] Haass gives two reasons why “far more challenges and more difficult ones” are rising up. First, there’s “the objective state of the world, with a host of problems.” He briefly names terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Israelis and Palestinians, Darfur, China-Taiwan, Russia. He didn’t even mention China-Japan or Venezuela or…, you add it.

[32] Haass cites “the current condition of the United States” as the second reason for “far more challenges and more difficult ones.” First, Haass clearly affirms, “America remains the world’s pre-eminent actor.” Now, however, come the four “buts”: “but it is also stretched militarily, in debt financially, divided domestically and unpopular internationally.” “Stretched militarily” entails “power” in Niebuhr’s polarity, and “in debt financially” also entails power, economic power. “Unpopular internationally,” surely indicates a “prestige” deficit.

[33] “Divided domestically,” what does that entail? Haass says not a word, not one more word! He never offers any direct analysis of “divided domestically.” He’s right, of course. But why so much silence? Of course, “divided domestically” means morally divided. Perhaps the best we can surmise from Haass comes in one cryptic-yet loud?-burst in the concluding paragraph: “New wars of choice are less likely.” Ouch! Haass brings down the hammer because just war tradition condemns “wars of choice.” Luther, for instance, is typical of just war tradition:

[W]e must distinguish between wars that someone begins because that is what he wants to do and does before anyone else attacks him, and those wars that are provoked when an attack is made by someone else. The first kind can be called wars of desire; the second, wars of necessity. The first kind is of the devil; God does not give good fortune to the man who wages that kind of war. The second kind are human disasters; God help in them!34
Notice that Haass says “new” wars of choice. Does this indicate that Haass judges the Iraq War unjust? He does indicate that in this second term the President’s first agenda item should be “success in Iraq.”

[34] Haass is coy. Note now how he completes his sentence: “New wars of choice are less likely; Mr. Bush will have his hands full.” Haass does not make an explicit moral argument. Rather, he proceeds pragmatically with “hands full.” This applies both to Iraq specifically and to America’s relation to the world in general. Regarding Iraq, “This [success in Iraq] need not require transforming Iraq into a shining city on a hill. It does mean making it a functioning country.” Translated: First, Mr. President, don’t go “faith-based” on us-no “shining city on a hill” required. Second, don’t go “transformational” on us.

[35] One the one hand, Haass was likely pleased to hear Condoleezza Rice in her “Opening Remarks” at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 18, 2005.35 She repeatedly rang the bell, “the time for diplomacy is now.” Demonstration wars of neocon choice were hatched at the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice. And America’s international prestige plummeted. Now is the hour for the Department of State to do diplomacy, and perhaps now not just as cover for wars of choice. On the other hand, Haass was likely less pleased with Rice’s vision of “transformational diplomacy,” also in her “Opening Remarks.”

[36] Prestige, in Haass’s imagination, will return when diplomacy happens the old fashion way, pragmatically. And that’s the essence of his “briefing.” “Mr. Bush could benefit considerably from simply adjusting the tone and style of his diplomacy.” After all, “For all its weaknesses, it [America] remains the world’s dominant power.” Haass worries that the American superpower is “stretched,” a typical pragmatic-not moral-critique, most often applied to empires. Empires fall not because there’s anything immoral about them but because they overstretch themselves, usually financially, which is Haass’s focus. That’s likely his distaste for “transformational diplomacy.” It breeds arrogance. And arrogance, classically, is the aristocrat’s fatal flaw. For aristocrats breeding is everything. Haass’s kinder, gentler, aristocratic reading of NSS promotes-perhaps only permits?-merely a kinder, gentler empire.

[37] Even Martin Cook, just war ethicist presently at the U.S. Air Force Academy and previously at the U.S. Army War College, too readily permits a similar kinder, gentler empire. “Be Imperial without Being Imperialist.”:

Athens found itself, almost by accident, as an imperial power. The structure of its military, its economy’s dependence on freedom of navigation and trade, and the defensive requirements of a still dangerous Persian empire all made Athens’ far-flung empire (by ancient standards) worldwide. The strategic question before it was not whether to head an empire, but how to head it.

In this respect also, the situation of Athens bears close resemblance to our own . . .

The strategic goal, therefore, is to be imperial without being imperialist, without risking ‘imperial overstretch,’ in Paul Kennedy’s famous phrase. What that means, of course, is that one must use the instruments of national power to help shape the environment and the conduct of the ‘international community’ such that it conforms to national interests. It also means that one must do so in such a way that one does not create enemies by imperialist conduct, and one must use one’s resources prudently, and not to exhaust them in futile overreach.36
3. The Failing Patriotism of Permissive Readings

[38] NSS permits empire! It permits either the “best-defense-is-a-good-offense” preventive war empire of the neocons or the kinder, gentler empire lite of NSS transformational diplomacy. The only NSS question is timing.

[39] The weakness of Niebuhr’s twofold, power-prestige normative structure of nations and empires comes home here to roost. Niebuhr’s normative proposal permits empire. The shock of power can overextend and thus the awe of prestige decline, leading to a weakened, even fallen empire. But empire is permitted. After all else is said and done Niebuhr can only warn against self-deception, regarding America’s status as empire, and against pride, regarding an empire overextending. Against self-deception: “the empire of the American superstate … which is so desperately anxious not to be an empire.”37 We’ll deal with Niebuhr’s warning against pride below.

[40] John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale University and national security expert, simply wants America to get over its anxiety about empire. Gaddis offers the following definition of empire: “a situation in which a single state shapes the behavior of others, whether directly or indirectly, partially or completely, by means that can range from the outright use of force through intimidation, dependency, inducements, and even inspiration.”38

[41] We’ve always been an empire and we should continue along that path, argues Gaddis. Empire is our “default” destiny. An American patriotism of empire is not new. Furthermore, NSS not only permits empire, it promotes it, and it should, according to Gaddis.

[42] The patriotism of empire comes from an identity that longs for empire as the way to achieve security. The British invasion that started the War of 1812 led John Quincy Adams, as the Secretary of State under President James Monroe, to develop the “Monroe Doctrine.” Adams’s principle was to achieve security through expansion. Adams built his grand strategy for implementing this expansionist principle around three foreign policy practices: preemption-prevention, unilateralism, and hegemony-empire.

Preemption where marauders might exploit the weakness of neighboring states, or where that weakness might tempt stronger states to establish a presence; unilateralism, so that the United States need not rely upon any other state to guarantee its security; and, finally, hegemony over the North American continent, in order that the dominant international system there would reflect a preponderance of American power rather than a balance among several powers, with all the possibilities for wars, commercial rivalries, and revolutions that the latter arrangement had led to in Europe.39
Gaddis draws a distinction between preemption and prevention. Preemption means “military action undertaken to forestall an imminent attack from a hostile state.” Prevention means “starting a war to keep such a state from building the capability to attack.”40 He notes, however, that in the nineteenth century this distinction seems “to blur.” He uses “preemption” to cover the blur. So does NSS.

[43] President Andrew Jackson, both before and during his presidency, executed Adams’ expansionist empire by the preemptive-preventive practice of “dispossessions”-Gaddis’s distressing euphemism-carried out on Native American Indians. Presidents James Polk, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson early on, would all, to varying degrees and with differing skill, execute Adams’s expansionist grand strategy of empire through preemptive-preventive, unilateralist, and hegemonic practices. Adams wrote already in 1811 to his mother Abigail that America was “destined by God and nature” so to expand. A few years later he argued that “any effort on our part to reason the world out of a belief that we are ambitious will have no other effect than to convince them that we add to our ambition hypocrisy.”41

[44] Gaddis draws three conclusions. First, Adams’s expansionist strategy of empire is “surprisingly relevant.”42 Second, overall President Bush “whether intentionally or not, has been drawing upon a set of traditions that go back” to Adams; the Bush Doctrine therefore “reflects a return to an old position, not the emergence of a new one.”43 This is what makes the Bush Doctrine neoconservative. It conserves this old expansionist tradition of empire. It is neo because it now unapologetically aspires to be both fully global and fully full spectrum dominance. Third, Adams’s three expansionist practices of empire are and should remain America’s “default [practices]: when in doubt, fall back on these.”44 Soon after 9/11 the President fell back precisely on this expansionist patriotism; so does NSS, and so does the President in his Second Inaugural Address.

[45] Gaddis is right on his first two conclusions but wrong on the third, and so is the President. Who, I ask, visits Washington D.C. as a patriotic exercise and goes to the John Quincy Adams memorial or the Polk memorial or the McKinley memorial or the Teddy Roosevelt memorial or the Taft memorial? While their expansionist empire is one American tradition, most Americans, precisely on a common sense level of American patriotism, visit a different set of traditions embodied in the likes of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and now the National Museum of the American Indian, among others.

[46] What exploded on 9/11 as a security crisis has, since March 2003, become a national identity crisis as well. The security crisis is not over, of course. Neither is the national identity crisis. Does America desire empire? Many judge the Iraq War to be unjust. I do because it is a demonstration war of empire. The willingness of the President and his promoters to continually oscillate the rationale displays the wild war permissiveness of “our best defense is a good offense.”

[47] FDR, for example, took a different patriotic path. What exploded at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 as a national security crisis ironically erupted into an age of hope. FDR repelled and rejected the tradition and practices, the vision and vocation, of an expansionist American empire as a failing patriotism, a faulty patriotism, not a default patriotism. Instead, he led America into a more civic internationalist era.45

4. Publicity and the Hopeful Patriotism of Civic International Nations

[48] Normatively speaking, power and prestige alone do not suffice to censure empire itself as a basis for international order. When empire is normatively on the scene the best one can do is what Haass and Niebuhr do, prophetically warn against pride. Niebuhr:

It is particularly difficult for nations to discern the limits of human striving and especially difficult for a nation which is not accustomed to the frustrations of history to achieve this moderation. It is not sloth or the failure to exploit our potentialities but undue self-assurance which tempts the strong, particularly those who are both young and strong.46

Without censure empire remains. Sometimes, empire remains more contained; other times, not so.
At best, it’s lingering; at worst it’s aspiring. Under NSS it’s aspiring. The search for a morally better international order will not proceed vigorously without a fundamental critique of empire.

[49] A critical theory of empire comes about by adding a third basic pillar to the international order of nations. Let’s call this third, “publicity.” Publicity does not mean public relations; far from it. Publicity entails sturdy accountability to wider publics, to other nations as well as to the rapidly emerging publics of global civil society. The American patriotism of publicity appears early and forthrightly. Ironically, the Declaration that claims Independence promotes publicity: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”47 There’s insight here not to be wasted!

[50] Publicity as public accountability entails the moral vigilance of nations, of international institutions, and especially of global civil society. Moral vigilance contributes to the effectiveness of civic international publicity. Publicity underlies national and international truth and reconciliation processes, for instance, as well as the emerging International Criminal Court in regard to the genocide in Darfur. Now we must ask, in what ways has world Christianity been hearing a call from God to a vocation of civic international publicity? Publicity takes seriously precisely what Niebuhr, ironically, did not take structurally into account: i.e., himself. Publicity accounts for prophecy.48

[51] Without “publicity” the power of strong nations remains unfettered by moral constraints and prone toward empire. Without “publicity” a nation’s prestige or soft power gets too easily co-opted by power for expansionist interests. For instance, New York Times editorial writer Thomas Friedman, after citing serious weaknesses in the U.N. turns to the positive:

But at its best, the U.N. has been, and still can be, a useful amplifier of American power, helping us to accomplish global tasks that we deem to be in our own interest.

In short, I don’t much care how the U.N. works as a bureaucracy; I care about how often it can be enlisted to support, endorse and amplify U.S. power. That is what serves our national interest. And because that is what I want most from the U.N., I want at the U.N. an ambassador who can be a real coalition builder, a super-diplomat who can more often than not persuade the U.N.’s member states to act in support of U.S. interests.49

[52] Without publicity diplomacy readily gets used as kindly, gentle cover for power emancipated from moral justification. The December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean basin presents a different kind of example. Empires have always used natural disasters as opportunities to display their magnanimity, their generosity, their benevolence. Historically, an empire’s benevolence is the choice coin for building prestige and thus for building empire. Without publicity prestige merely ingratiates recipients efficiently, thereby serving empire evermore effectively.

[53] When publicity becomes a choice coin of the international order, powerful, prestigious nations become civic international nations. Civic international nations contribute to and abide by the international rule of law in principle and in practice, thereby expanding its scope, its effectiveness, and its worthiness. Civic international nations strengthen international institutions by mending them not ending them. Under the vigilance of publicity civic international nations proliferate international treatises and agreements that move beyond emergency benevolence by establishing stakeholder systems of economic life, which empower emerging nations and peoples and environments. Under publicity stakeholder systems also, of course, meet the more proximate interests of powerful nations.

[54] As publicity occupies a stronger central role within the international order the just war tradition will become the strong moral restraint on the use of power which it aspires to be. The use of power only when authentically necessary will then be honorable and thus honored. Ecumenical Christian churches have the potential to contribute significantly here. When war is waged unjustly, as in the Iraq War, for instance, repentant patriotism in the open light of civic international publicity must confess public sins. People ask, “But we’re in Iraq now and we can’t just leave, can we? We must ‘stay the course,’ as the President says. It would be even worse now if we left.” Repentant patriotism refuses merely “to stay the course” that we have been on. In repentant patriotism, first, we admit we were wrong. We waged a war of choice, an unnecessary war, an unjust war. We waged it as a demonstration war, to demonstrate our expansive and expanding empire. The United Nations inspections, in spite of their difficulties, worked, and were continuing to work. A civic internationalist order was more God-pleasing than empire, no matter how lite. Numerous other specific confessions would follow. Second, given America’s moral, not merely tactical, failure, we must then stay in Iraq repentantly to build just peace. In repentance we now stay with the full participation of the United Nations and under full U.N. and global civil society publicity.

[55] Finally, increasing the vigor of civic international publicity will transform “prestige,” which has its roots in aristocratic modes of life, into just peacebuilding. Just peacebuilding50 sits more readily within deliberative democratic modes of life as well as within a civic international order. Here is an opportunity for the historic Christian peace churches and the historic just war tradition churches to collaborate vigorously in new ways for an era of civic international nations. Here Christian churches together can help innovate American patriotism.

End Notes

1 The President’s 2004 State of the Union Address is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040120-7.html

2 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (hereafter NSS) at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html, p. iv.

3 The President’s Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005 is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050120-1.html

4 Ibid.

5 Vice President Cheney’s speech, along with the accompanying question and answer session, is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/print/20040124-1.html. I thank Christian Scharen for informing me about the Cheneys’ holiday card.

6 We’d do well, perhaps, to remember, whether Franklin or the Vice President did, that Edward Gibbon published volume I of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776.

7 I address the present state of the question of American empire in my “Hope in the Face of Empire: Failed Patriotism, Civil International Publicity, and Patriotic Peacebuilding,” Word & World 25 (Spring 2005): 127-138. I take up denial of empire on the basis of a territorial definition in my “God against Empire: Implicit Imperialism, Deliberative Democracy and Global Civil Society,” Consensus: A Canadian Lutheran Journal of Theology 29 (Spring 2004): 9-60.

8 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html

9 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/11/print/20021111-2.html

10 For a neocon appraisal of the Bush Doctrine see Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly, “The Bush Doctrine,” at http://www.newamericancentury.org/defense-20020130.htm. Donnelly’s more extensive analysis of “the Bush doctrine” is “The Underpinnings of the Bush Doctrine,” National Security Outlook, February 1, 2003 at http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.15845/pub_detail.asp.

11 Nineteen ninety-two is the year that Paul Wolfowitz, we’ll get back to him soon enough, produced his Pentagon memo that got roundly criticized; see Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion: Why New Great Powers Will Arise,” International Security 17.4 (Spring 1993): 5-51. Robert Kagan and William Kristol, eds., Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy, (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000). Present Dangers offers a coherent vision cast by sixteen prominent neocon intellectuals.

12 Donnelly identifies these three periods; see “The Proof of Primacy,” National Security Outlook (February 2004): http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.19760,filter.all/pub_detail.asp. Donnelly’s National Security Outlook represents a more internationalist agenda for AEI.

13 Recall that Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign Policy and Defense Policy is the subtitle of Present Dangers.

14 Kagan and Kristol, p. 6.

15 The World Bank’s brief biography of Wolfowitz. From June 1, 2005 until June 30, 2007, Wolfowitz was the President of the World Bank, nominated by President Bush and elected by the Executive Directors. There Wolfowitz executed the “benevolent” face of the neocon vision.

16 Paul Wolfowitz, “Statesmanship in the New Century,” in Kagan and Kristol, eds., Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000), pp. 312, 314. Page numbers in this paragraph and the next six of the main text refer to Present Dangers. G. John Ikenberry, Peter F. Krogh Professor of Geopolitics and Global Justice at Georgetown University, has concisely and insightfully articulated seven elements that form the neocon internationalist “new grand strategy” (see “America’s Imperial Ambition,” Foreign Affairs 81.5 (Sept-Oct, 2002): 44ff.). Ikenberry does not cite Present Dangers and he does not offer any footnoted references.

17 Kagan and Kristol, p. 24. In international political philosophy, noted “hegemonic theorist” William Wohlforth developed the warrants for a unipolar world; see “The Stability of a Unipolar World,” International Security 24.1 (Summer 1999): 5-41. He also offers the warrants for strict linguistic disciple regarding words like empire or hegemony. In public, neocons should stick to “leader” and “leadership.”
Kagan and Kristol cite him favorably (22). Thomas Donnelly, formerly Deputy Executive Director of Project for the New American Century and presently Resident Fellow at American Enterprise Institute, calls Wohlforth’s hegemonic theory “groundbreaking” (see Donnelly, “Brave New World: An Enduring Pax Americana,” National Security Outlook, American Enterprise Institute, April 1, 2003 at http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.16710/pub_detail.asp

18 See Plutarch, “To an Uneducated Ruler,” in Moralia, vol. 10, par. 780ff., trans. H. Fowler, in Loeb Classic Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960).

19 This is the ancient aristocratic discourse of “telios aner,” “the perfect man.”

20 NSS, p. 5.

21 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Structure of Nations and Empires (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1959), p. 27. I’ll return to Niebuhr again.

22 John Adams inscribed this crucial anti-aristocratic criterion in the opening clause of the original draft of the Massachusetts Constitution (1779), which became a national model. It now stands as the culminating clause of Part One (see http://www.mass.gov/legis/const.htm).

23 Wohlforth, op.cit.

24 Max Boot, “Doctrine of the ‘Big Enchilada,'” The Washington Post, October 14, 2004 at http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraq-101402.htm.

25 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), chap. 18, p. 25.

26 Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. xxv, p. 35. For Machiavelli’s virtue of “resolve” see Quentin Skinner, Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 28-35, 38-42.

27 A good example is President Bush’s February 8, 2004 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Tim Russert.” See http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4179618/.

28 NSS, p. 6. The modern classic treatment of preemptive and preventive wars is Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 74-85. We would need a more extensive treatment to inquire whether terrorist organizations make a difference here and whether the category of war is indeed appropriate.

29 NSS, p. 6. I borrow the phrase “slippery silence” from Wes Avram in Anxious about Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities, ed. Wes Avram (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004), p. 30.

30 NSS, p. v.

31 Niebuhr, pp. 8-32, 66-88. Niebuhr uses the word “force” not “power.” See especially Joseph Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (Cambridge, MA: Foreign Affairs, 2004).

32 Joseph Nye, Jr., “The Decline of America’s Soft Power,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2004). Also see Joseph Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (Cambridge, MA: Foreign Affairs, 2004).

33 Richard Haass, “The world on his desk,” The Economist (November 6, 2004), pp. 36-37.

34 Martin Luther, “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955-1986), vol. 46, p. 121. Doubtless Luther borrows this famous distinction between wars of desire and wars of necessity from Augustine (see Augustine, “Letter 189 To Boniface,” Saint Augustine: Letters, vol. 1 (1-82), trans. Wilfrid Parsons, SND, vol. 30 of The Fathers of the Church, ed. Roy J. Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1955), p. 269.

35 See http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/40991.htm.

36 Martin L. Cook, The Moral Warrior: Ethics and Service in the U.S. Military (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), p. 13. In very many respects Cook presents quite a wonderful and worthy moral analysis.

37 Niebuhr, p. 28. Of course, the depth and richness of Niebuhr’s power-prestige proposal and his very significant realist critique of moral ambiguity deserve far greater attention than I can give here.

38 John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 106. I depend on Gaddis for my historical account of American “empire.” His historical account tightens up significantly his loose definition of empire, which, if taken too literally, would define present day Singapore or Taiwan, perhaps even Haiti, as an empire. This small 140 page book is well worth reading! I, however, reject his point of view as will become clear.

39 Gaddis, pp. 37-38. Gaddis also argues that the Monroe Doctrine does not so much inaugurate a practice of isolationism, “a misnomer,” but rather a practice of unilateralism (p.24). While he uses “hegemony” in most of his account, toward the end he himself argues for an expanding “empire of liberty” (pp. 106-113).

40 Ibid., p. 123.

41 Ibid., pp. 26-27. One wonders whether Adams’s warning inspired Niebuhr’s own warning against self-deception.

42 Ibid., p. 16.

43 Ibid., pp. 31, 26.

44 Ibid., pp. 31. See, for instance, “President Thanks Armed Forces at ‘Saluting Those Who Serve’ Event,” at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/01/20050118-4.html.

45 For the FDR story see Gaddis, pp. 35-67. Gaddis uses “reject” to describe FDR.

46 Niebuhr, p. 299.

47 The Declaration of Independence at http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

48 A fuller account of publicity will attend to crucial dimensions in addition to the prophetic, like the sapiential and the pacific.

49 Thomas Friedman, “The Best Man for the U.N.,” New York Times, April 27, 2005, p. A29.

50 See, for instance, Glen Stassen, ed., Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1998). I add three additional practices to Stassen group’s ten: prayer, public repentance, and publicity.

Gary M. Simpson

Gary M. Simpson is Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.