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Hegemon

Our country's military strength and courage have always matched the dedication of a people intent on protecting and preserving precious freedoms. Throughout history our leaders have managed to rally the necessary military support to counter major security threats. In fact, over the last 50 years, America's military might has provided a protective umbrella over much of the world. Lulled into a false since of security, "Old Europe," excluding England, has renounced power politics in the pursuit of a Kantian paradise they believe attainable through patient diplomacy, international court system and governing bodies. Paradoxically, America's hegemonic unilateralism has caused widespread resentment around the world. Should America disavow its role in preference to Europe's vision of paradise, most of the world would lose the very protective umbrella that spawned the idea in the first place. A hegemon we shall stay.

The recent removal of Saddam Hussein's regime was an extraordinary example of our military excellence: the embodiment of a superb all-volunteer force supported by the "Coalition of the Willing," armed with the best in materials and technology, and led by a highly seasoned unified command. But, an uneven aftermath risks undermining popular support.

A revealing historical perspective by John Mearsheimer, entitled "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics," analyzed the hegemonic behavior of powerful modern states over time and arrived at major predictions. Mearsheimer forecasted that our military will soon pull out of Europe leaving an unbalanced bi-polarity that will encourage Germany to go nuclear and force other states to form protective coalitions. He expected the same situation to occur in Southeast Asia with Japan. This prediction will likely come true, particularly if the United States embraces the notion of European paradise.

Finally, he warned that China, the greatest potential hegemon of all time, could grow rapidly over the next twenty years. Depending upon her per capita output, spread over a population ten times greater than ours, China could grow considerably stronger than the United States and become history's first world hegemon. Therefore, he strongly recommended that we reverse our pro-growth policy with China, as practiced in the 1990s, in preference to a more benign policy.

While our country has become more powerful since Gulf War I, its influence in world politics declined, and, despite 9/11, its people continue to look inward. Obviously, in light of these predictions and the subsequent 9/11 attack, America faces a major decision: to remain isolationist or evolve into an activist nation. President Bush initiated an activist approach in keeping with a true hegemon; it remains to be seen if his broad support will endure.

In David Halberstam's recent book, "War in Time of Peace", he described our country's attitude around the time of Gulf War I saying, " The United States was the most schizophrenic of nations, a monopoly superpower that did not want to be an imperial power, and whose soul, except in financial and economic matters, seemed to be more and more isolationist."

True to our history, a populace preoccupied with terrorism, economic setbacks, job instability and other diversions, put aside their problems long enough to stand against world opinion and taciturn international bodies in order to make the world a safer place. For an unforgettable moment, the United States transcended its position as a regional hegemon, and executed an astounding regime change in Iraq, an object lesson that a reign of terror cannot go unanswered, even in a distant hemisphere.

This moment was short lived, however, as outrage displaced pride, and those true to the code of classic liberalism balked upon realizing the intrusion of the Bush initiative into their vision of world politics. Predictably outraged over the betrayal of their spirit of fair play, they turned their resentment on President Bush for overstating the immediacy of the Iraqi threat and demanded a comeuppance for this deception. Why?

Our country's behemoth exterior has hidden an inner self which has traditionally revealed a liberal viewpoint on life, reflecting a strong concern for how others view us and an embarrassment of our nationís relative strength, reminiscent of the oversized, sweet natured cartoon duck, "Baby Huey." For the most part, Americans have been virtuous and passive and, therefore, reluctant to cast their country in the role of an all-powerful hegemon with a desire to make its presence felt as the balancer-of-power throughout the world.

Mearsheimer analyzed the hegomonic behavior of powerful modern sates in the context of opposing realist and liberal viewpoints. He described the liberal [utopian] approach to controlling power struggles among states as "_ a fostering of a stable economic order by the promotion of mutual benefits and prosperity that bolsters peace and, in turn, makes it unprofitable to wage war." He pointed out that liberals believe that international institutions, such as the United Nations, should "_facilitate a peaceful interchange and proscribe unacceptable state behavior by deviants."

Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush have openly denounced realism and favored liberalism because they knew realism to be harsh and, at times, belligerent. President Clinton captured the essence of liberal speak when he said, "_in a world where freedom, not tyranny, is on the march, the cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. Enlightened self interests, as well as shared values, will compel countries to define their greatness in more constructive ways_and will compel us to cooperate."

With at least a bit of liberalism in all of us, speeches such as this have been well received, however, they provide questionable substance in addressing national security. This same liberal mindset, explained in stunning, first-hand detail by Dick Morris in his book, Off With Their Heads, had much to do with President Clinton's inability to respond effectively to a host of terrorist attacks in the late 1990s.

Realists, on the other hand, known for their pessimistic attitude when it comes to international politics, "_have denied any prospect for avoiding the harsh world of security competition and war among challenging states," according to Mearsheimer. Realists have believed that states may attempt to cooperate, but at the root they have conflicting interests, and in their zero-sum game, one state's gain leads to another's loss. While liberals believed that the defining difference between states has been whether they were good or bad; realists contended that all countries are driven to preserve a balance of power that sometimes require states to go to war: just one more instrument of statecraft.

For the most part, Americans have been hostile to realism because it has opposed their basic values and deep sense of optimism and moralism. Clearly, during dangerous times our country's leaders have regularly found it necessary to express realist viewpoints in the language of liberalism, constituting a charade, spin, or a Kabuki drama, in order to condition the public to accept military conflicts believed to be in our country's vital interest. History has demonstrated charades such as this have been both practical and honorable and in our nation's vital interests, notwithstanding Viet Nam. As a rule, neither the United States or any other great nation has acquiesced to international bodies at the risk of endangering their own security.

In the aftermath of the Iraqi War II, liberals have voiced a growing resentment and hostility. While most railings have been petty and trivial, the recent outrage over the excuse of going to war to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction- where no weapons have yet been found-represents a smoking gun in the minds of these liberals.

Convinced that their European principles of international diplomacy were trashed in the interest of expediency and a preemptive war, they have sought remonstration. They believed that they were duped by an orchestrated deception by realists to justify war, delivered ad nauseam by an irrepressible media. Liberals concluded that, true to history, realists have once again rationalized and cajoled a majority into a needless war. But, they vow these realists have tricked the public for the last time. Once their deceit becomes clear, by the inability to uncover any significant weapons of mass destruction, realist propaganda will never be trusted again and our involvement in all wars will end. Presumably, when that day comes, as Melina Mecouri said in Jules Dassin's motion picture, Never On Sunday, "_then, we can all go down to the seashore." Of course, there has always been some logic to what liberals contend, and their inputs have always been required. However, nullifying the inclusion of the realist point of view, that has proven reliable in the service of our national interest, may be a bit overzealous. Mearsheimer certainly thought so when he wrote in the final paragraph of his tome: "Of course, states occasionally ignore the anarchic world in which they operate, choosing instead to pursue strategies that contradict balance-of-power logic. The United States is a good candidate for behaving that way because American political culture is deeply liberal and correspondingly hostile to realist ideas. It could be a grave mistake, however, for the United States to turn its back on the realist principles that have served it well since its founding."

Independently, both the realist and liberal positions seem flawed; but the fusion of both in our transparent society, has guided our country successfully through troubled times. It's up to all of us to perpetuate this magical fusion by giving credence to the opposing belief. American history demands it.

Copyright © 2003, Robert D.Harrell, all rights reserved

To contact Robert Harrell, Email Robert at harrell@zeecon.com

Horseshoe Bay, TX
June, 2003

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Robert Harrell was born in the early 1930's. An avid sailor and golfer, he lives in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.
Robert Harrell