Catastrophes Real and Imagined

Catastrophes Real and Imagined
Catastrophes Real and Imagined

In Minority Report, the Steven Spielberg film based on a Philip K. Dick story, three humans, through monstrous scientific experiments, have acquired the capacity to foresee the future. The police employ these clairvoyants to arrest criminals before they commit their crime. (The “minority report” from the title refers to those rare cases where one of these clairvoyants disagrees with the others about a crime to be committed.) If one transposes this premise to international relations, does one not get an accurate picture of the Bush (or, rather, Cheney) doctrine now publicly declared as the official U.S. “philosophy” of international politics?

As detailed in the 35-page paper, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” issued by the White House on September 20, the doctrine’s main points are: 1) American military power should remain “beyond challenge” in the foreseeable future; 2) since the main enemy today is an “irrational” fundamentalist who, in contrast to the communists, lacks even the elementary sense of survival and respect for his own people, America has the right to “pre-emptive” strikes; 3) while the United States should seek ad hoc international coalitions for such attacks, it reserves the right to act independently without international support.

So while the United States presents its domination over other sovereign states as grounded in a benevolent paternalism that takes into account the interests of other states, it reserves for itself the ultimate right to define its allies’ “true” interests. Even the pretense of a neutral international law is abandoned, since, when the Americans perceive a potential threat, they formally ask their allies to support them. But the allies’ agreement is optional; the underlying message is always, “We will do it with or without you.” You are free to agree, but not free to disagree. The Bush doctrine reproduces the old paradox of the forced choice: the freedom to make a choice on condition that one makes the right choice.

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on February 28th, 2003. (full text).]

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