THE TRAGIC irony of the 21st century is that just as faith in technology
collapsed on the world's stock markets in 2000, it came to power in the
White House and the Pentagon. For, the Project for a New American Century's
ambition of "full-spectrum ***" - in which its country could "fight
and win multiple, simultaneous major-theatre wars" - was a monster borne up
by the high tide of techno euphoria of the 1990s.
Ex-hippies talked of a wired age of Aquarius. The fall of the Berlin wall
and the rise of the Internet, we were told, had ushered in Adam Smith's
dream of overflowing abundance, expanding liberty, and perpetual peace.
Fukuyama speculated that history was over, leaving us just to hoard and
spend. Technology meant a new paradigm of constant growth without inflation
But darker dreams surfaced in America's military universities. The theorists
of the "revolution in military affairs" predicted that technology would lead
to easy and perpetual U.S. *** of the world. Ralph Peters advised on
"future warfare" at the Army War College - prophesying in 1997 a coming "age
of constant conflict." Thomas Barnett at the Naval War College assisted
Vice-Admiral Cebrowski in developing "network-centric warfare." General John
Jumper of the air force predicted a planet easily mastered from air and
space. American forces would win everywhere because they enjoyed what was
unashamedly called the "God's-eye" view of satellites and GPS: the "global
information grid." This hegemony would be welcomed as the cutting edge of
human progress. Or at worst, the military geeks candidly explained, U.S.
power would simply terrify others into submitting to the stars and stripes.
Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid *** - a key strategic document
published in 1996 - aimed to understand how to destroy the "will to resist
before, during and after battle." For Harlan Ullman of the National Defence
University, its main author, the perfect example was the atom bomb at
Hiroshima. But with or without such a weapon, one could create an illusion
of unending strength and ruthlessness. Or one could deprive an enemy of the
ability to communicate, observe, and interact - a macro version of the
sensory deprivation used on individuals - so as to create a "feeling of
impotence." And one must always inflict brutal reprisals against those who
resist. An alternative was the "decay and default" model, whereby a nation's
will to resist collapsed through the "imposition of social breakdown."
All of this came to be applied in Iraq in 2003, and not merely in the March
bombardment called "shock and awe." It has been usual to explain the chaos
and looting in Baghdad, the destruction of infrastructure, ministries,
museums and the national library and archives, as caused by a failure of
Donald Rumsfeld's planning.
But the evidence is this was at least in part a mask for the destruction of
the collective memory and modern state of a key Arab nation, and the
manufacture of disorder to create a hunger for the occupier's supervision.
As the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported in May 2003, U.S. troops broke the locks
of museums, ministries, and universities and told looters: "Go in Ali Baba,
it's all yours!"
For the American imperial strategists invested deeply in the belief that
through spreading terror they could take power. Neoconservatives such as
Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and the recently indicted Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, learned from Leo Strauss that a strong and wise minority of humans
had to rule over the weak majority through deception and fear, rather than
persuasion or compromise. They read Le Bon and Freud on the relationship of
crowds to authority. But most of all they loved Hobbes' Leviathan. While
Hobbes saw authority as free men's chosen solution to the imperfections of
anarchy, his 21st century heirs seek to create the fear that led to
submission. And technology would make it possible and beautiful.
On the logo of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office, the motto is
Scientia est potentia - knowledge is power. The IAO promised "total
information awareness," an all-seeing eye spilling out a death-ray gaze over
Eurasia. Congressional pressure led the IAO to close, but technospeak,
half-digested political theory, and megalomania still riddle U.S. thinking.
Mr. Barnett, in The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action, calls for a
"systems administrator" force to be dispatched with the military, to
"process" conquered countries. The G8 and a few others are the "Kantian
core," writes Mr. Barnett, warming over the former Tony Blair adviser,
Robert Cooper's poisonous guff from 2002; their job is to export their
economy and politics by force to the unlucky "Hobbesian gap." Imperialism is
imagined as an industrial technique to remake societies and cultures, with
technology giving sanction to those who intervene.
The Afghanistan war of 2001 taught the wrong lessons. The U.S. assumed this
was the model of how a small, special forces-dominated campaign, using local
proxies and calling in gunships or airstrikes, would sweep away opposition.
But all Afghanistan showed was how an outside power could intervene in a
finely balanced civil war.
The problem for the U.S. today is that Iraq has revealed the hubris of the
imperial geostrategy. One small nation can tie down a superpower. Air and
space supremacy do not give command on the ground. People cannot be
terrorised into identification with America. The U.S. has proved able to
destroy massively - but not create, or even control. Afghanistan and Iraq
lie in ruins, yet the occupiers cower behind concrete mountains.
The spin machine is on full tilt to represent Iraq as a success. Mr.
Barnett, in Blueprint, says: "The US military is a force for global good
that ... has no equal." Both offer ambitious plans for how the U.S. is going
to remake the third world in its image. There is a *** hysteria to the
The narcissism of a decade earlier has given way to an extrovert rage at
those who have resisted America's will since 2001. Both urge utter
ruthlessness in crushing resistance. In November 2004, Peters told Fox News
that in Fallujah "the best outcome, frankly, is if they're all killed."
(Dr. Richard Drayton, a senior lecturer in history at Cambridge University,
is the author of Nature's Government, a study of science, technology, and