4.3 US power questioned and asserted
The yawning gap between military and economic considerations was seen by some as the true Achilles’ heel of US power. Although the US would not face a global competitor any time soon, the position of the US itself – in the Asia-Pacific, north Atlantic and western hemisphere – depended on the legitimacy created by institutionalising shared interests such that none of these regions sought to act independently, let alone counter to US priorities. In this respect, the Middle East was the outlier: a region where the US was unavoidably and deeply entangled because of oil and its longstanding support for Israel, but where it had no institutionalised presence and precious few common interests.
Consistent with the main thrust of US liberal–democratic values (and the strand of its political culture that emphasises its unique role in the world as the exemplar and bearer of progress), the neoconservatives discounted the idea that these challenges could be met merely by a balance of power and a reaffirmation of state sovereignty. Taming the threats of proliferation from ‘rogues’ and ‘evil doers’; bending rising regional powers towards the status quo; and forging a new basis for US international leadership all required addressing the internal or domestic constitution of states and societies as well as the foreign policies of friends and enemies alike. The National Security Strategy of President Bush (extracts of which you read earlier) represented some important continuities with pre-9/11 ideas. However, it also established two distinctive departures from established procedure.
- The notion that where the US led then others would follow.
- If there was a neoconservative doctrine – beyond asserting the legitimacy of unilateral preventative war and a determination to maintain military strength ‘beyond challenge’ – then broadly speaking, it was that a unilateral and coercive exercise of US power, especially military power, could reshape the world to the US’s advantage, and specifically reshape the Middle East to the US’s advantage.
The underlying premise was that the US would therefore be able to secure – especially in light of the challenge of 9/11 – an unchallenged and unchallengeable geopolitical leadership. The root idea was that the US could overcome the rivalries inherent in the balance of power not only by virtue of its military supremacy, but also by the example and universal appeal of its ideology and leadership.