The Great American Gong Show: Woodrow Wilson Meets Dr. Strangelove

February 23, 2002

Comment: #441

Discussion Thread - Comment #s - N/A

Attached References:

[1] William Pfaff, "A Prospect Of One War After The Other," International Herald Tribune, February 21, 2002. Excerpts.

[2] Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Uniting mission and coalition," The Washington Times, February 22, 2002 Excerpts.

[3] Mark Lilla, "New Rules of Political Rhetoric," New York Times [Op-Ed], February 24, 2002 Excerpts.

[4] Harold A Gould, "Making sense of "The Axis of Evil," The Hindu, February 23, 2002 Attached.


A great fear among the Framers of the Constitution arose from their understanding of the connection between war, imperial rule, and the decline of the Greek and Roman democracies, not to mention the war-making foibles of European kings. If one thing is clear about the original intent of the Framers, it is that their primary reason for fearing a king was the royal prerogative of a king to make war. So, they set up a system of checks and balances to make it impossible for the President to be a king. Nevertheless, in times of war, history has shown repeatedly that the patriotic psychology can create a sense of necessary expediency (for domestic political as well as foreign policy reasons) that can tempt even the most republican of Presidents to bypass the constitutional limits to his power. Carried to extremes, patriotic expediency can lead to a kind of intellectual laxity that threatens the most basic liberties and subverts the foundations of representative democracy. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus in the Civil War, and Roosevelt's approval of the unconstitutional incarceration of loyal American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II illustrate the natural tendency toward this kind of excess in our political system.

There are now signs that the open-ended war on terrorism may be moving American politics in this direction. The war against Osama bin Laden and his shadowy al Qaeda network is mutating gradually into an unlimited, quasi-religious war against evil, wherever it may be found. This is a very dangerous development, given our political system's vulnerability to the anti-constitutional whims of patriotic expediency. But even greater strategic dangers lurk inside this development, because this kind of subjectivity naturally corrupts the decision cycles of a collective leadership.

OODA loops & the danger of incestuous amplification

A quasi-religious theory of evil rests upon a subjective quality that lies in the eye of the beholder. The Ayatollah Khomeni, for example, held a very different view of evil (the Great Satan) than did most Americans. Portraying one's enemy in such unlimited subjective terms can build political solidarity by energizing mass patriotic emotions, but it also dulls the collective mind by making the political decision cycle more vulnerable to the tyranny of pre-conceived beliefs.

The late American strategist Colonel John R. Boyd (USAF Ret) evolved a theory of conflict centered on the idea of deliberately creating and exploiting these kinds of vulnerabilities in his adversary's decision cycles. He argued that these cycles can be thought of as interacting hierarchies of observation - orientation - decision - action (OODA) Loops at all levels of the social organizations in conflict with each other. [New readers can find a compendium of Boyd's work and other essays on his theories on our Boyd and Military Strategy page.]

Each adversary at a given level of organization pursues his own goal by rolling through these decision cycles - each observes events and threats in the external environment, orients himself to the meaning of those observations, decides what actions are needed to cope with the unfolding situation, then takes the requisite actions, and observes the effects of those actions and re-cycles. In this game, raw observations are given meaning by the internal cognitive apparatus of the observer; and observations do not exist as objective events in themselves, independent of the observer. Boyd referred to the internal cognitive apparatus as orientation, and he recognized it was the most powerful—and vulnerable—part of the OODA Loop.

Boyd argued that present and future OODA Loops are influenced by an Orientation that can shape, as well as be shaped by, the observations one makes of the external environment.

Students of non-linear dynamics (sometimes called complexity theory) will recognize immediately that the "shaping" effect of the orientation activity introduces a wild card into the cybernetic character of every OODA Loop (this wild card is known technically as a positive feedback effect). This latent wild card makes the future evolution of all OODA Loops unpredictable, unstable, and potentially explosive.

The importance of the wild card becomes apparent when one examines the how an unbalanced shaping effect can amplify the dysfunctional behavior of even the most simple one-dimensional OODA loop: Let us assume an orientation activity insensibly shapes an individual's observations of the external world in a way that forces those observations to always fit the inner workings of his own assumptions (e.g., the black and white assumption about behavior in the context of a self-righteousness war of good versus evil). In this case, the individual would "orient" himself to the world he wants to see rather than the world as it is. And because he is insensible to this bias, he will not realize the distortion of his observation. The decisions and actions flowing out of his orientation will be disconnected from the external events triggering those observations but connected in some subtle way to the internal workings of the his orientation.

Now, if the results of the decision and actions flowing out of this loop are monitored (i.e., observed) and fed back into the observing system, his orientation activity will compound the original effect by forcing the new observations to fit his internal assumptions. The loop then feeds forward into decisions and actions that produce a result that is even more disconnected from external events (nevertheless, the monitoring effect is again reinforced by the connection to the internal workings of the orientation) and the process amplifies itself at an accelerating rate, much like the noise explodes when a hi-fi speaker is set next to the microphone driving the speaker.

Now hold a gun to this decision maker's head and force him to speed up his decision cycle. The quickening pace of decisions and actions will become progressively disconnected from the real world, and eventually the OODA Loop will have to degenerate into confusion and disorder as it dawns on the individual that progress toward his goal is not being reached and as his movement away from the goal becomes unavoidably apparent. Add in the presence of a menace to one's well-being (remember, there is a gun at the head), which creates tremendous psychological pressure that feeds back into the mind, and it becomes clear how the entire decision cycle can be pushed over the precipice into panic and chaos that will eventually collapse the will to resist. This is precisely what happened to the French Army's OODA Loop (i.e., which was shaped by its Maginot Line orientation) when the German's blitzed it in May 1940. [DNI Editor's note: and may well have happened to Osama bin Laden and the leadership of al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.]

Boyd's whole theory of conflict centered on the idea of winning by creating this kind of self-referencing state of mind in the head of the enemy and then turning on the pressure to make a decision. Boyd referred to this goal as "folding an adversary's OODA Loop back inside itself."

The chattering class raises a scary question

With this background in mind, a reading of the four attachments to this commentary suggest the frightening possibility that our leaders, or at least the "celebrity intellectuals" shaping US opinion, are doing this to themselves, which if true, could make our country more vulnerable to the real threats we face.

William Pfaff [in Ref 1] and Arnaud de Borchgrave [ in Ref 2], hardly a pair of bleeding hear pacifists, describe how the OODA loops shaping the war-mongering chatter of America's celebrity intellectuals, most of whom, by the way, have never inconvenienced their own lives by serving in uniform, are not connected to the grand strategic conditions in the real world.

In Ref 3, Mark Lilla argues that the assumptions behind the theory of an Axis of Evil are outdated and disconnected from reality because they apply more to the ossified two-sided chess-like character of the Cold War than to the dynamic multi-dimensional complexity of post-cold war world. In Ref 4, Professor Harold Gould argues that the purpose the war rhetoric is only elliptically intended to enunciate a new doctrine of global interventionism and is more related to a return to the "trickle-down" economic policies of Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, and the off-year congressional elections in November 2002.

There is a common thread in these four essays: each author is positing an argument that reflects the same unstated premise: namely, that internally focused, self-referencing assumptions are shaping behaviour. If this premise is close to being correct, we may be witnessing decision cycles in the early stages of folding back inside themselves. In such a case, Boyd's theory would predict that American war politics will become progressively disconnected from reality - which will naturally descend into greater confusion and disorder, if left to its own devices. What happens after that is too horrible to contemplate.

So the scary question suggested by these four references is: Are American war politics degenerating into an incestuously amplifying military gong show?

I asked my good friend Dr. Werther, a political conservative with a mild libertarian streak, or more precisely, a classical 18th Century liberal, if he thought I was seeing visions in cloud formations.

To my surprise, he has responded with the carefully constructed Werther Hypothesis postulating that the incestuous amplification of the chattering class is indicative of an even LARGER Gong Show—one taking the form of a massive structural breakdown in American politics.

I urge you to read carefully the Werther Hypothesis, then read the essays by Pfaff, de Borshgrave, Lilla, and Gould before drawing your own conclusions about whether or not we are on the cusp of the Great American Gong Show.

The Werther Hypothesis


Woodrow Wilson Meets Dr. Strangelove: The Dysfunctionality of the American Political System
by Werther*

* Werther is the pseudonym of a Northern Virginia based defense analyst

How many readers who live near Washington have lately had a small but nagging doubt about whether they would be around to collect their retirement? Is that doubt in any way connected with international events? You tell yourself that statistics are in your favor: the probability is much greater that you will succumb to an automobile accident. But the worm of doubt remains; the prospect of a lump of plutonium changing its atomic structure within 20 miles of you is unsettling, to say the least.

And how did it come about that the privileged citizens of the Sole Remaining Superpower, the culmination of Francis Fukuyama's triumphal march of history, should worry about inadvertently becoming a neutron absorber? Surely this is impossible for a country that spends more on its military that the next 14 - or is it now up to 20? Or 25? - countries combined?

It is this author's tentative hypothesis that the American political structure, particularly the national security component of it, has become an unstable feed-back system that reinforces the most volatile and dangerous tendencies existing within the body politic. Unlike a stable feed-back system such as a thermostat, the American political apparat more closely resembles a steam locomotive with a stuck valve. Even if it were left alone, the pressure would tend to build up beyond the capacity of the boiler to contain it; but the explosion will come even quicker when there is a maniacal fireman who continues to stoke coal into the firebox.

The reader may object that this metaphor in no way describes the American political system. Surely the Democrats and Republicans oppose one another with distinct and opposing platforms that tend over time, as long as one party does not have an unbroken monopoly of power, to cancel one another out. But (again, particularly in the national security field) this is not the case. The party institutions, and the "politically acceptable" flavors of liberalism and conservatism they represent offer not contrast, but a system of mutual reinforcement that is disguised as disagreement. One result is the pile of rubble in Lower Manhattan, the prospect of limitless war, and a society with far less freedom of movement and privacy than would have been conceivable even a few years ago.

At the macro level, the two parties have for many decades staked out national security positions that subtly reinforce one another. The strongest ideological strain in Democratic national security policy for many decades has been Wilsonian interventionism (or, as it has been euphemistically called, "internationalism"). It mobilizes that body of opinion in the United States, which is susceptible to appeals based on spreading democracy, universal human rights, and spiritual uplift generally. Its straw man and scapegoat is something called "isolationism," which has ceased to have any definable meaning and now is merely used as a devil-word in foreign policy mock-debate in the same way that "racism" is used in what passes for domestic policy debate.

Now, the charge of "isolationism" might seem a little implausible after a century in Americans suffered 53,402 combat deaths (not just deaths in theater) in World War I; 291,557 in World War II; 33,651 in Korea; and 47,378 in Vietnam [1], not to mention countless lesser conflicts from the fetid jungles of El Salvador to the flyblown wastes of Lebanon. Yet the canard persists, even as the Pentagon boasts that it has Special Forces trainers in as many as 110 countries in the course of a year (haven't they run out of countries? - are there any A Teams in Pago-Pago or Queen Maud Land?). [DNI Editor's note: Here's the CIA World Factbook 2001.]

The dominant ideological strain in Republican national security policy at present is neoconservative militarism. Earlier varieties of Republican national security thinking that emphasized restrained military spending as a reflection of restrained foreign policy ambitions, are all but extinct. Even the so-called national interest "realism" of the Henry Kissinger school is in definite eclipse. As much as Republicans continue to boast with school-boyish glee about their foreign policy "realism," the Kissinger school, for all its manifest flaws, was founded upon the contrary notion that America had finite resources and could not pick fights whenever and wherever it was emotionally satisfying.

The neoconservative ideology holds that military budgets can never be too high. Year in, year out, in times of peace or war, regardless of the threat or lack of it, heedless of actual military performance in combat, there is only one lesson: military spending must be increased. This banal theme is the Leitmotiv, nay, the sole reason for existence, of many neoconservative publications like The Weekly Standard.

The Washington con game goes approximately like this: Democrats will accuse Republicans of being isolationist hayseeds unworthy of the tradition of Arthur Vandenburg and Dwight Eisenhower. Alas, the argument continues, the GOP is too busy unplugging Granny's dialysis machine even to care about the grave humanitarian/human rights/ecological crisis in [insert name of country]. The New York Times publishes dozens of editorials eerily like that every year, with their tone of assured knowledge and impending crisis. The Republicans will immediately respond, how can we do anything about it? - that draft dodger Clinton gutted the military so badly that we're no longer a match for the Paraguayan National Guard. How dare you appeasers expect the brave men and women who constitute our general officer corps to scrape by on a mere $350 billion a year! The fern-bar Clausewitzes who do their non-combating from the offices of the Center for Security Policy, the American Enterprise Institute, or the Heritage Foundation have developed these diatribes into a literary form almost as spontaneous and graceful as that mastered by Winston Smith croaking into his Speakwrite in 1984.

The reader will notice that the two "opposing" views are only apparently in opposition. They are not, in fact opposed in principle, it is more accurate to describe the two positions as a division of labor, whereby the Democrats provide an enlightened rationale for intervention suitable for America's center-left intellectual consensus. Republicans, for their part, provide a rationale for militarizing the alleged crisis and creating impetus for further military spending increases. Accordingly, American national security policy is hardly ever resolved in favor of not intervening; it typically unfolds as a preemptive decision by the national security mandarinate in favor of intervention. The only choice remaining is a rigged debate on MacNeil-Lehrer about lesser-order decisions (ground troops or air only? Does the administration have an exit strategy that will satisfy Republicans? How many European countries have to be on board to pacify internationalist Democrats?). In any case, by that point, the 81st Airborne will have already had its mission orders for Port-au-Prince, or Kuwait City, or Skopje.

The principle of two seemingly contradictory policies reinforcing one another and leading to a ghastly synthesis is also apparent in the specific components of our national security policy. Take, for example our Middle East policy, the great unmentioned and unmentionable clue hiding behind the events of September 11. If you started from the premise that you wanted to construct the most awful Middle East policy conceivable, you could not go far astray if you offered $4 billion a year and a policy blank check to Israel while suppressing informed public discussion of annoying little matters like the U.S.S. Liberty, the Beirut barracks bombing, and Israeli intelligence operations in the United States, not to mention the water under the West Bank that, according to Ariel Sharon [2], supplies one-third of Israel's annual consumption budget. But that in fact is what you have: a policy that is one of the wonders of the world for its groveling subservience to foreign interests (so much for Republican "national interest" Realpolitik).

Even so, we have not yet plumbed the depths of sheer stupidity; there is one way to make our Middle East policy worse: let's spend fifty years fashioning an energy policy that makes the U.S. economy dependent on the favor of pre-medieval Wahabbite fanatics who are sworn enemies of Israel. Let us pretend it is the sovereign right of every soccer-mom and yuppie to consume "cheap" oil in their three-ton leviathan SUVs, oil thoughtfully provided by our Gulf "allies" (and let us not delude ourselves that U.S. oil is "cheaper" than European oil: U.S. citizens pay the incremental cost of gasoline through the defense budget and Middle East foreign aid, rather than at the pump). Thus we have achieved a disastrous and self-negating Middle East policy founded on two bedrock principles: our political class is addicted to Israel, while our business class is addicted to the enemies of Israel. And somewhere, in the rarified realms of the National Security Council or the Council on Foreign Relations, these principles are blended together into a true masterpiece of horror: a policy guaranteed to enmesh the United States inextricably in the unremitting millennia-old hatreds of a violent and unstable region of the world. This is what sails under the banner of a bipartisan foreign policy.

Has the author perhaps picked a special case, a hard case, to make an exaggerated point?

There are other policies, too, which seem cunningly designed by someone with a death wish. How, for instance, could one make a belligerent foreign policy physically dangerous for American citizens, not merely when they travel abroad, but at home too (this messianic belligerence, by the way, is a bipartisan accomplishment, whether it be Madeleine Albright's answer to the query about why the United States government chose to drop bombs - " … because we are the United States; we see farther because we stand taller…" - or George Bush's "axis of evil.")? It is bad enough that alternately preaching, meddling, playing favorites, selling arms, and bombing is well calculated to provoke every lunatic with a grievance from the Pillars of Hercules to the Sunda Straight. The danger is exponentially exacerbated by a bipartisan immigration policy that has, since 1965, allowed anyone from the affected regions practically unhindered access to U.S. territory.

Again, America's Punch-and-Judy two party system plays a pivotal role. Democrats, calculating electoral advantage from changing U.S. demographics, staunchly support virtually unlimited immigration, replete with pious quotations from Emma Lazarus and cries of xenophobia against presumably Republican opponents. But the Republicans themselves are not uniformly opposed to immigration; the "business wing" of the Republican Party (the only wing that counts) has an equally fervent interest in unlimited immigration because of its depressive effect on wages. During the last decade, Robert Bartley must have written 50 op-eds in the Wall Street Journal in favor of open borders. What motivated him: High-minded concern for the huddled masses, or a more self-interested calculation of what the Business Roundtable wants? To ask this question is to answer it.

This is not the place to debate in detail the pros and cons of immigration, although the events of September 11 should make the national security component of the subject obvious to anyone. But what is striking is that the wishes of the vast majority of American citizens, pro or con, had absolutely no bearing on the formulation of policy. The political decision-makers in both parties made up their minds, and after conducting the formalities of a sham debate, imposed the current program, a program which, when executed in conjunction with an quarrelsome and meddling foreign policy, created the opportunity for an unparalleled disaster on American soil. But don't expect an admission from the Best and the Brightest that they were wrong.

There you have it: a dysfunctional political system that conducts fraudulent debates, poses false alternatives, and forecloses real ones. It protects "interests"—its own perpetuation—at the expense of its chief constitutional duty, the safeguarding of the American people. Is it an exaggeration to say the melancholy prophecy made 50 years ago by the historian Harry Elmer Barnes, that America was fatally tempted to engage in "perpetual war for perpetual peace" has come true? To answer that question, a quote from an "Administration insider" says it all: "… if that [i.e., our policy] means embarking on the next Hundred Years' war, that's what we're doing." [3]

Have a nice hundred years.

[1] Department of Defense: Principal Wars in Which the United States Participated 

[2] During an interview with Ari Shavit, Sharon posed the rhetorical question to Shavit: "Is it possible today to concede control of the hill aquifer [in the West Bank], which supplies a third of our water?" See Ari Shavit, "Sharon is Sharon is Sharon," Ha'aretz Magazine, 12 April 2001

[3] The Observer (UK) 14 October 2001

End Werther Hypothesis

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

International Herald Tribune
February 21, 2002

A Prospect Of One War After The Other

By William Pfaff,
Los Angeles Times Syndicate



America's celebrity intellectuals are now signing manifestos endorsing the war on terrorism. The country already has committees to name and shame university teachers critical of American policy.

Yet there actually has not been that much dissent.


But it would be hard to collect many names of influential people who are against a war on terrorism, even if they criticize how this one is conducted.


According to some officials in Washington, thousands of terrorists still roam the world, and America is in greater danger than it ever was before, even during the Cold War. If so, where is victory? Liberating the Afghans from their government was a happy result of the war against terrorism, but that certainly was not an American policy before Sept. 11.


Does a U.S. military intervention leave the United States, and the world, better off than before?

The elder Bush asked the question. Many in Washington today say that it doesn't matter, that what is important is to act, and the result can be forced to conform to what America wants.

The younger Bush seems to have decided. A Defense Department circular reportedly puts a stop, as of late this month, to all regular army and active reserve separations from service, in a long list of sensitive military specialties. Washington gossip has it that Iraq really is next, perhaps by summer.

Reference #2

Uniting mission and coalition

Arnaud de Borchgrave
The Washington Times
February 22, 2002


The fact that no European ally or Middle Eastern friend (with the exception of Kuwait) will back the Bush administration if it decides to go it alone [into Iraq] does not faze Mr. Cheney. He told the Council on Foreign Relations he believed the international community would stand behind the administration.

It is hard to believe U.S. Embassies have fallen prey to telling the home office what the administration wants to hear. More likely, ranking visitors from the Middle East have nodded instead of shaking their heads. The only problem with a nod in the Arab world is that it's a sign of politeness, not acquiescence. The Arabs are always loath to say no. It's rude.


When it was suggested that Turkey was not even lukewarm, the knowledgeable columnist said, "Not according to my Turkish sources, including the ambassador." Phone calls to equally knowledgeable sources in Ankara elicited no favorable echo.


Clearly Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz - who was among the guests - and his let's-get-Saddam-now hawkish followers within the administration have won the intramural struggle against Secretary of State Colin Powell. But the Saddam devil is in the Pentagon details.

The Kurds will rise up against Saddam as soon as the first bombs fall was another given at the vice president's party. Two days later, the Wall Street Journal front-paged a 2,000-word piece from the Kurdish area of Iraq that made clear the Kurds had never had it so good with their share of Iraqi oil sales and wanted no part in a war to remove Saddam from power.

Another question raised with the conservative opinion-makers was what happens if the U.S. victory in Afghanistan continues to unravel as it appears to be doing. There was a response for all the caveats. "We should not be involved in Afghanistan beyond the defeat of al Qaeda and Taliban," said another stalwart.


What the unilateralists have not thought through is the extent to which the Bush Doctrine pushes away close allies and new friends like Vladimir Putin's Russia and encourages them, in effect, to stand up for America's enemies. Not a good tradeoff.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and United Press International.

Reference #3

February 24, 2002

New Rules of Political Rhetoric

New York Times [Op-Ed]


So when our European allies reacted negatively to the phrase "axis of evil," the Bush White House may well have felt that it was reclaiming the Reagan legacy. If the French foreign minister is livid, the speech writers probably thought, we must be doing something right. But even those who thought Ronald Reagan's rhetorical flourishes well suited to the demands of the cold war era have reason to think that President Bush's rhetorical approach is a mistake.


Our rhetorical response to these new adversaries must therefore be fresh - not least because some future adversaries may turn out to be not states, but transnational networks of disaffected people with global aspirations. To the extent that they represent anyone, it is not a state; it is "the street."


In this situation President Bush's speech writers, like his generals, must not trap themselves into fighting the last war.


Mark Lilla is professor of social thought at the University of Chicago.

Reference #4

Making sense of "The Axis of Evil"

By Harold A Gould
The Hindu,
February 23, 2002
[Re-printed with permission of author]

Foreign outrage over President George Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" is understandable. Unquestionably, Mr Bush was lumping apples and oranges together under a single jargonistic rubric. Not only did this statement ignore real distinctions that ought to be made concerning political trends in each state. It actually undermined promising political initiatives which the United States itself had recently undertaken vis a vis at least two of the three. In the case of North Korea, American diplomacy had been instrumental in inducing North Korea to significantly tone down its pursuit of a nuclear capability, and make reconciliatory gestures toward South Korea. The former President Bill Clinton, especially, gave high priority to this undertaking and made what was widely perceived to be remarkable progress. In the case of Iran, the US had backed away from its monotone of negative rhetoric to assist Mohammed Khatami's efforts to buck the Islamic fundamentalists breathing down his neck and move his country toward political moderation. Now, in the aftermath of the Bush pronouncement, demonstrators are back in the streets shouting anti-American slogans, an obvious sign that the beleaguered hardliners have seized the moment. Even in the case of Iraq, a comparative quiescence had set in. However, tentatively, there were indications that Saddam Hussain might be inclining toward some kind of accommodation with the UN that would permit a resumption of inspections in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions.

So the question is why did the President choose this moment to stir the pot and go hardline on these three countries?

The answer primarily lies not in the domain of foreign policy (although there are obvious implications) but in the domain of US domestic politics. The purpose was only elliptically intended to enunciate a new doctrine of global interventionism. More compelling but understandably less publicised motives were to legitimize a return to the "trickle-down" economic policies of Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, and to anticipate a round of off-year congressional elections due later this year. .

The underlying purpose of President Reagan's economic policies, let us recall, was to radically reduce the tax obligations of American corporations, for the deliberate purpose of crippling government's capacity to fund liberal social programs which the business community and the conservative political establishment abhorred. The result was the devastation of the country's educational, health care and administrative systems, massive corporate corruption (e.g., the looting of billions of dollars from savings and loan institutions by their own executives), bloated defense budgets, and colossal public debt (as government was compelled to borrow from abroad and from its own social security funds in order to make ends meet). As the consequences came home to roost in the form of rising unemployment and social discontent, a way was sought to camoflage this nexus of contrived prosperity for the rich at the common man's expense once it resulted in the Republicans losing their majority in the US House of Representatives in mid-term elections. In the days of the Cold War, the standard technique for diverting public discontent over domestic political failures was by ratcheting up the demonization of the Soviet Union. It was in this context that Mr. Reagan's "Evil Empire" phraseology was born.

From the moment he assumed the presidency, the current George Bush commenced implementing a domestic political strategy identical to that of his father and his father's role model, Reagan. In less than six months he had induced Congress and the country to approve $2 trillions in tax cuts. Their immediate effect was to jeopardize the budget surpluses which President Clinton, against bitter Republican opposition, had amassed primarily by compelling the corporate community to bear a fairer share of the country's tax burden. Ironically, however, despite being dragged kicking and screaming into submitting to these reforms, the corporate community actually profited mightily from them. From1992 to the end of the Clinton administration, the United States achieved fiscal solvency for the first time in memory. This made possible social programs and investment strategies that reduced unemployment and poverty to the lowest levels in American history. However, results were not sufficient to persuade ideological purists in the opposition to abandon demonstrably unworkable economic premises. They continued longing for a return to the "old days."

As one of their own, America's corporate barons expected Mr Clinton's successor to "rescue" them from their reluctant role as benefactors of the nation's fiscal health. Despite years of quixotic free market policies which had radically widened the gap between rich and poor, elephantized the national debt, and brought on economic stagnation (policies which incidentally the senior George Bush himself once had labeled "voodoo economics" until he abandoned his convictions in exchange for second place on the Republican ticket), Mr. Bush the Second dutifully used his initial majorities in the House and Senate (the Senate later reverted to Democrat control through the defection of Senator Jeffords) to "return the money to the American people," as he phrased it. The result was that a mere 1% of American taxpayers received nearly 50% of the tax relief!

The depredations of Osama Bin Laden, al-Qa'ida, and the Taliban, and the ensuing War on Terrorism, has given Bush the Younger's administration an unanticipated opportunity to accelerate the dismembering of the Clinton economic strategy which brought America its unprecedented period of prosperity. With the economy already in recession well before September 11th due to the effects of a year of irresponsible tax cutting, the added costs of the war have doomed to oblivion what remained of the budget surplus, a process destined to accelerate even further if proposed additional corporate tax-cutting is enacted.

As was the case in the Reagan era, the socio-economic consequences of this return to "voodoo economics" threatens Republican chances in the congressional elections scheduled for later this year. Economic concerns have repeatedly been shown to matter most to American voters, even when a war is going on. It is in this context that Mr. Bush's allusion to the "axis of evil" is best understood. As the Reagan-Bush administration endeavored to save itself from the consequences of faltering economic policies in the late1980s and early 1990s by resort to the bogey man imagery of the "Evil Empire", so we are now witnessing a comparable attempt by the son to keep the political wolf from the door by conditioning the American public to accept a permanent state of war against a so-called "Axis of Evil" consisting of states at present only marginally threatening to US strategic interests. While, as noted at the outset, it cannot be denied that this shibboleth has been assigned an international role, its principal raison d'etre is to divert public attention (and anger) from the possible political fallout, with off-year elections approaching, of time-worn conservative fiscal and economic policies whose implicit purpose is to enrich American corporations by fiscally exempting them from their social responsibilities.


Boyd and Military Strategy