Did al-Qaeda Succeed?
Ten years after the neoconservatives laid out plans for permanent U.S. global dominance – and seven years after the brutal 9/11 attacks gave them the opening to carry out those plans – the neocons instead have guided the United States onto the shoals of a political/military disaster and the prospect of rapid decline.
This grim result from the neocons’ overreach is an unstated subtext of the U.S. intelligence community’s project for assessing the world in 2025, a point 17 years into the future when the United States is likely to have lost its current world dominance, according to a preview offered by the government’s top intelligence analyst.
Speaking at a Sept. 4 conference in Orlando, Florida, Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said the United States might still be “the preeminent power” in 2025, but that “American dominance will be much diminished.”
Further, Fingar projected that the United States would see the greatest declines in the most important areas of global influence, the economic and the cultural, while likely maintaining military supremacy, which would be of lesser importance.
“The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international system in military, political, economic, and arguably, cultural arenas is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace with the partial exception of military,” Fingar said.
“But part of the argument here is that by 15 years from now, the military dimension will remain the most preeminent [but] will be the least significant – or much less significant than it is now.”
In other words, U.S. intelligence is looking toward a future in which the United States may serve as the world’s policeman, but without the more subtle and profitable influence that comes from economic, cultural and political strength – known as “soft power.”
Though Fingar did not tie the “accelerating” erosion of American power to the policies of the neocons and the Bush administration, it is hard to avoid that conclusion.
In 1998, the neocons were unveiling their Project for the New American Century with its vision of never-ending U.S. global dominance. When potential threats did arise, the neocons argued, the United States must react with “preemptive wars,” striking before a rival could pose a serious threat.
After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush embraced these neocon theories, vowing to not just exact revenge on the 9/11 perpetrators but to wage a “global war on terrorism” with the ultimate goal of eradicating “evil” itself.
So, after invading Afghanistan and blasting al-Qaeda base camps, Bush made a quick pivot toward Iraq to fulfill the neocon dream of eliminating Saddam Hussein, a longtime thorn in Washington's side.
The U.S. occupation of Iraq also would establish an American military outpost “East of Suez,” projecting U.S. power into the region, guaranteeing access to its oil and protecting Israel from its Muslim neighbors.
However, the neocons’ neocolonial strategy foundered on the rocks of Iraq’s violent resistance and sectarian warfare. More than five years into the conflict, about 140,000 American troops are tied down in Iraq while a force of about 30,000 U.S. troops finds itself facing worsening security in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders not only survived the U.S. retaliatory strikes after 9/11 but exploited the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq to reestablish themselves inside Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country.
The damage to U.S. interests also extends beyond the war zones. The military adventures are putting the U.S. government more than $1 trillion deeper into debt, drawing away resources that the United States desperately needs to retool its industries, develop alternative energy sources and improve its education, infrastructure and health care.
Plus, the neocon hubris about American dominance has alienated much of the world’s population, squandering goodwill built up since World War II. Instead of the nation that established the Nuremberg principles and wrote the United Nations Charter, the United States is seen as the country of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and torture.
In almost every corner of the globe – and especially in strategic regions such as Europe and the Middle East – respect for the United States as a beacon of political freedom and international progress has fallen to historic lows.
While the rest of the world appears eager to get on with expanded commerce and technological competition, the United States looks like it can’t stop clumsily throwing its military weight around, amid chants of “USA, USA.”
So, as U.S. intelligence continues work on its projections for 2025, the nation finds itself at a crossroads. It can give the neocons around John McCain another four-year lease on the White House – so they can keep doing what they’ve been doing – or the country can take another direction.
As Fingar made clear in his Sept. 4 speech, the future of 2025 is not yet set in stone. It is only the intelligence community’s best estimate based on current dynamics. If those dynamics change, so can the future.
Still, it appears that if al-Qaeda’s motive in attacking New York and Washington on 9/11 was to bait the United States into self-destructive actions in the Middle East and thus undermine America’s position in the world, bin Laden and his associates may have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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