Last March, as U.S. troops were preparing to launch the invasion of Iraq, a much quieter war was taking place inside the Pentagon. Karen Kwiatkowski, a lifelong conservative and career military official, was knocking heads with what she called “the neoconservative coup, the hijacking of the Pentagon.” Kwiatkowski recently wrote of the war and occupation in Iraq and what she calls the Bush Doctrine Experiment: “Costs have been high, payoffs unclear and there is no exit strategy in sight.”
Can you describe the Bush Doctrine as you saw it operating within the Pentagon, and how is the experiment going?
The doctrine as presented in the National Security Strategy is an offshoot of the Project for a New American Century’s “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” Both NSS and RAD are on the web. The NSS includes the idea of pre-emptive war as a policy instead of an emergency response, and rewrites or invalidates the idea of international law.
The Doctrine is about the US as global hegemon, militarily and ideally economically. This attitude is reflected in the desire to expand the military footprint to control or leverage global territory, global resources like oil and gas, and space as well. The attitude that we are the dominator, all others are either working for us or else are in our way, is well reflected in the Pentagon, specifically among Bush appointees. Andrew Marshall, a key longtime, neocon-friendly strategist in the Pentagon, has been working on global military placement issues for a long time, and preparing to prevent the ascendance of any near peer competitor for the United States in the next thirty or more years. It is serious business for the policy makers, even though it is not shared widely or publicly.
The experiment is not working because we are financially strapped as a nation, and we have a volunteer military and a domestic population that is not prepared to colonize the world. Hence the need for and convenience of a “war on Terror” to try to activate this effort.
If it is going badly, why, and does the White House know it? Is there a “course correction” that can happen.
It is going badly in some senses, and not badly in others. If the public rhetoric about improving the lives and giving democracy to the Iraqis (or the Afghanis) is the basic reason for the occupations/emplacement of new governments is true, then it is not working that way. But if the real reasons for the wars and occupations (increasing and solidifying a military basing structure and force projection footprint around key oil and gas regions and within areas where threats to US (and Israeli) interests (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia) could emanate, then it is succeeding marvelously. In fact – a civil war and other strife in Iraq will sap national energies that a united front or a stable democracy might have developed to actually ask us to remove our forces and hand over the bases we have already built in Iraq (and Afghanistan).
As for course corrections, indeed, pulling back and reducing our footprint in Iraq for example, is possible and doable. Instead of an announced plan to keep 80,000 to 100,000 troops in Iraq at our bases indefinitely, we should announce and implement a more drastic reduction to less than 10,000 troops, and simultaneously accelerate the self government of Iraq. To correct the wrongs done already in Iraq, contracts awarded to members of the US appointed governing council and their extended families should be invalidated and an open public bidding process initiated to ensure that we have not created an new secular Shia elite led by Ahmad Chalabi in Iraq to take the place of the secular Sunni elite of the Ba-ath Party.
Our Kuwait and Saudi presence likewise should be reduced drastically. Plans to construct the largest US embassy in the world in Baghdad should be nixed immediately, and we should lease space or purchase an existing building. The palaces we occupy in Iraq should be vacated and turned over immediately, in advance of elections to show good faith. US interference with the Iraqi financial banking system and oil ministry must be reduced or eliminated. These are practical steps, the overall course correction is characterized simply as giving them their country back.
You are not a peacenik; rather a career military official and a self described “life time conservative.” But you have written a lot about the values you hold dear and admire within the military and how those were trampled by the neo-conservative revolution. Can you describe the moment when you knew the Pentagon and the uniform were no longer your home?
The moment in August 2002 when I had written five anti-neoconservative essays to help ease my own angst about what I had been seeing going on around me, and I realized that my views had made me an internal “enemy” of the policy makers. It dawned on me that my allies would be those outside the Pentagon who cared about the directions we were going. I sent these articles to Col David Hackworth and asked if he would publish them anonymously. He agreed to. However, in a larger sense, my politics while never changing, resulted in my switching to a third party. The Republican Party I grew up in had evolved from the small government, states rights and bill of rights party into something that was really the opposite — federal centralization and growth, big spending domestically and interference with others abroad. I registered Libertarian in about 1995.
I’ve seen your writings in MilitaryWeek.Com, LewRockwell.Com, American Conservative magazine. It seems clear that while you are critiquing the Republican inner circle, your perspective is shared and admired by other conservatives. Do you see opportunities for progressives and conservatives to collaborate on “regime change” at home? Do you see yourself as part of a movement of conservatives against the neo-conservative agenda in Washington?
Absolutely. Progressives and traditional conservatives share a respect for the individual over the state, and they share a love of the freedom of thought and action that made this country the great place it has been. Both have been appalled at the restriction in civil liberties, including infringements on free speech, property rights, privacy, and the right to defend oneself in speech and action against government infringement or interference. Both love the Constitution, in contrast to the neoconservatives in both political parties and the current administration. I am wholly in the conservative movement against the neoconservative agenda, and have been since 2002. I have discovered, however, that many conservatives have been fighting and debating the neoconservative agenda for as many as twenty years, and I am proud to be a newer member of this movement.
You write, “the terror fight can be won…. But as the Madrid bombings illustrate, it is not being won by Bush or his policies.” What alternatives do you see? What policies would you support? And finally, do you see the political will to pursue that sort of approach mounting?
The terror fight can be won using a combination of domestic policing/sleuthing, international policing/sleuthing, and certain changes in US policy that make us appear to be hypocritical and insensitive to the problems facing a large number of people, particularly in the Arab world. The article I linked to by Jeff Record lays out how terror can be reduced and fought. Winning the war on terror (there really is no such “war”) does not mean that terror tactics won’t ever be used in the future. It means that the reasons for such acts against the United States or her allies will be eliminated while the criminal funding of those who do the terror acts is reduced drastically. If we wished to start winning the war on terror, we would:
- Stop overtly and militarily supporting undemocratic and authoritarian governments (Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Taliban before Nov 2001, corrupt and undemocratic African and north African governments) around the world. Divert those funds towards countries that reflect our own interests and values, or else reduce the national debt. This of course hurts American defense contractors who depend on government subsidies to sell weapons to our autocratic allies, and this corporate capitalism of sorts must be resolved.
- Address territorial defense and border issues more aggressively, and do so in conjunction with local national and international policing agencies. Share information, learn from countries that have dealt with terror successfully in their histories.
- Pay serious attention to resolving the Israel Palestinian issues by listening to the people in Israel and the people in Palestine — or else simply stop funding Israel and Egypt.
- Pull back our military presence globally, and voluntarily reduce our global military empire — starting with Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Ensure that the military is not sucked into more domestic or international police work (honor the Posse Comitatus Act). This is a side issue, but it is a subtle way to rein in domestic authoritarianism in our government and preserve democracy at home — which in turn reduces homegrown terrorism like the Murrah Building. Murrah is seen as a terror attack against the Federal Government as a result of the military assisted storming of Waco.
These are things that more and more Americans are starting to ask for anyway, as they become fatigued with the endless proclamations by the state about a war on abstract meaningless concepts (terror, drugs, illiteracy, etc) and as they realize Bush and the neoconservative worldview of American military hegemony has made the world more, not less, vulnerable to future major attacks.
What do you think America’s role in the world ought to be?
I would like to see America as a light on a hill, a gentle giant, productive, free, not demanding other countries buy our goods or our treasury notes, not threatening other nations with inflicting our version of democracy on them. We should, as a nation, decide whether to operate our nation as a constitutional republic, a nation of laws, or if instead we prefer to be a country driven and defined by corporate capitalism and mercantilism.
Our huge military machine is a cold war anachronism, and yet politically, we have been unable to reduce it in the 15 years since the Cold War ended. This is a structural problem, and we would do well to solve it before we become an empire and collapse the whole house of cards under that future weight. America’s role in the rest of the world should be simply that of “Good citizen.” We should be the family in the neighborhood who keeps our yard clean, invites the neighbors over on occasion for a BBQ, and whose children all do well in school and have nice manners, respecting the property of others. That is all, and it is certainly enough.
What now for Karen Kwiatkowski?
I am happily retired, teach college part time, and raise cattle and horses out here in western Virginia. I will continue to speak out on the directions I think this country should go, as we all should.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
We've partnered with the publisher, Haymarket Books, and 100% of your donation will go towards supporting In These Times.
Frida Berrigan writes for TomDispatch, Waging Nonviolence and other outlets. Her book, It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, was published by OR Books in 2015. She lives in New London, Conn., with her husband, three kids and six chickens.