In the discussion over the presence or absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we risk missing the larger implications of the policies which led, among other things, to American intervention in Iraq, and the question of where these policies may lead in the future.
Picture a state in which about ten percent of the citizens have a vote. This enlightened minority, led by a smaller ideological core, or "vangard", rules and attemts to "lift up" the vast enlightened masses. The instruments of their rule include extensive and intrusive police forces, both open and covert. They also have at their disposal a huge, well-funded and advanced military, and a panapoly of sophisticated tools for shaping both culture and opinion.
The above sketch describes the Soviet state created by V. Lenin in Russia after the revolution of 1917. But in one of the ironies of history, it also describes the "world state" many American conservatives have begun, mostly in their sleep, to construct. A world where American politicians, elected by 6% of the world's population, and advised by a much smaller inner circle of advisors, representatives, and lobbyists, use American economic and military muscle to influence governments, economies and cultures worldwide bears several chilling points of resemblence to Lenin's Russia.
Economic incentives to encourage favourable treatment for American industrial and cultural exports favour a subtle economic and politial interventionism; the strategy the current administration has adopted for fighting terrorism leads to direct military interventions. The hyper-nationalism currently fashionable among many American conservatives leads many of them to reject any effort to build international institutions which might constrain American military or economic power. To crown it all, many conservative nationalists have begun to promote a vision of the United States as a society immune to the traditional temptations which made power a subject of suspicion. Ideologues fired by the idea of the United States as a "city on a hill" have begun to suggest that any American initiative would leave the world better off.
Taken altogether, these ideas lay the foundation for a world dominated by the United States, in which the American government does not necessarily use force a great deal, but refuses on principle to accept any restraints on its actions. As we have seen, this lack of constraint goes far beyond theory; in the case of Iraq, some American conservatives argue that the United States has (or should have) a mission to remake Arab Moslem culture by any means necessary. While those who propose these actions claim they do so because states such as Iraq pose a threat, they also say the American government (and only the American government) has the right to determine what constitutes a threat, and what to do about it.
The divisions in the American government require policy making by consensus. This helps ensure that everyone has a say in the design of policies, but it also means the resulting policies do not always reflect the wishes of any one person or group. Instead, policies often follow a path of least resistance, producing a decision everyone consulted could agree on, even if nobody would deliberately choose to make such a decision. Thus, the American political process can lead to actions no one person would advocate or even really defend, as long as it does not outrage anyone with a seat at the table. This does not offer much comfort to the 94% of the world's people who do not have a seat at the table.
Many people see the issue of the appropriate constraints on American power in the context of the current struggle against Islamicist terror. Conservatives bemoan the "abandonment" of Americans by their allies, while liberals excoriate the administration for supposedly wasting the goodwill the United States enjoyed right after the terror attacks of 2001. I believe both miss the point: I think most countries remain determined to work with the United States to resist the terrorism of fanatics and psychopaths like Bin Laden, and I doubt the affection people around the world feel for the United States has really lessened. Most of us certainly do not want to live in the world the Islamicists dream of. We simply see the other risk: that if we agree that the American government has the right to prosecute the war on terror as it sees fit, we will end up forced to agree the American government has the right to pursue any other of its interests as it chooses, without restraint or accountability. Whatever affection and admiration we feel for the United States, we will not give a blank cheque to a government we did not elect.
Many of us do not think that endorsing the actions of the Bush Administration would give much help to Americans, either; minority rule frequently undermines the freedom of the rulers as much as the ruled. A ruling minority, to use Thomas Jefferson's vivid metaphor, has "the wolf by the ears", and anything which threatens its committment to hold on threatens that minority, and often gets treated as treason. The war on terror now threatens to narrow the range of acceptable opinion in the United States; ideologues and opportunists have linked the Bush version of "evil" to everything from academic theories they dislike to software distribution channels that eat into their business models.
Considering the expense, in money and freedom, of creating a superstate to run the world, Americans (and everyone else) should think carefully before agreeing to it. At the very least, the American government should not adopt this policy because it forms the line of least resistance in American politics.
John Spragge is president of Dancing Cat Software of Ann Arbor Michigan and Toronto Ontario. His Medicine Line columns appear from time to time in the Ethical Spectacle.