State Department Vs

The State Department vs. the Pentagon, and The Bush Doctrine

I perceive one key difference between the Pentagon and State to be the former’s preference for unilateral action as opposed to the latter’s commitment to coalition building. Wolfowitz has been reported to believe that only the UK and Turkey are necessary as permanent allies in the region, and each military action undertaken could involve a different set

of coalition partners, if, in fact, any additional ones are needed. Unilateralism in turn implies a neo-imperial model of U.S. power rather than an alliance model.

It so happened that with regard to Afghanistan, NATO invoked collective security, as did the UN. But the Pentagon was impatient with Colin Powell’s coalition-building last October, and in the end virtually went it alone militarily in Afghanistan. (The British have been allowed a couple of operations, the French I think only one minor one.)

The problem that has emerged with regard to Iraq is that State Department style coalition building has already failed from the outset, since it is clear that France and Germany reject an attack on Iraq without a better casus belli than now exists. So NATO is not going along. (Spain, Italy and the UK are supportive, but France and Germany are the centers of

gravity in NATO and the only ones besides the UK with significant militaries.) And, US allies in the Middle East are refusing to join in against Iraq so far.

So the only way for the Pentagon to go forward against Iraq would be to go it alone again. They would have to buy off Turkey in order to use Incirlik and other facilities there, and Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain would have to be gotten aboard for use of their facilities. But the invasion force would be almost completely American, with perhaps some British

participation if Tony Blair’s government doesn’t fall over it all.

I don’t think the State Department is all that opposed to an Iraq campaign, but I do think that it is alarmed at the idea of the US being diplomatically isolated and condemned for neo-imperialism by all its most powerful allies (not to mention most of the global South, including China and the Muslim world) if it acts unilaterally.

As for the aftermath of an Iraq campaign, the Pentagon would attempt to install a friendly government. Wolfowitz and others talk of it being a democratically elected government.

There are two problems with the Pentagon vision. The first is that a “democratically elected government” and a “friendly government” are not necessarily going to be the same thing, at least in the long run. (What democratically elected Arab government could have supported U.S. policy toward the crises of this spring? Do you think a democratic Kuwait, which

we saved from oblivion, would have?) Traditionally the Pentagon has preferred “friendly” to “democratic.” But “friendly”-but-autocratic governments tend to be unstable and to do things that make the US unpopular over time, actually decreasing its security and moral authority (e.g. Guatamala 1951, Iran 1953, Indonesia 1965, Chile 1973, etc., etc.)

The second is that successful imperialism (that is what it is) requires large and influential local comprador classes willing to be junior partners in governing the colonial state and society. The Pentagon appears not to have noticed that the processes of social and political mobilization in the second two thirds of the twentieth century throughout the world have led to the demise of the compradors and their conversion into nationalists.

The alternative model is that of alliances among political equals (e.g. NATO), which is the State Department model. nilateralism and neo-imperialism of the Pentagon sort are probably ill suited to the world in which we now live, regardless of how many fancy gadgets we can deploy.


Juan Cole

U of Michigan

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