James Mann Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Bush War Cabinet: Conversation with James Mann, Nitze School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, February 14, 2005 by Harry Kreisler

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The Cold War's End

Now, in your book -- it's a very rich book -- there are two very important threads that I would like to bring out. Again, we're cutting into this history selectively. The first issue is what you do with all of this power after the Soviet Union collapses and the main bipolar adversary is gone. There is a discussion in the Pentagon at the end George H.W. Bush's administration involving a Pentagon guidance document that comes up with a set of ideas about where we are now and how we should shape the world. Talk a little about that.

It's one of the most little-recognized and crucial junctures in the modern history of American foreign policy. When the Berlin Wall comes down, suddenly Washington -- when I say Washington, it sounds impersonal, but we're talking about the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department -- is faced with a dilemma. The rationale for America's huge deployments of troops overseas, its huge defense budget, has been the Cold War.

Now the Cold War is coming to an end. Within days of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Democrats in Congress are talking about a "peace dividend." I don't mean to put this just off on Democrats in Congress. If you go back to the newspapers of the time, they're filled with, "Okay, now we don't need this huge defense budget. Shall we put the money into education? Shall we put the money in housing?"

If you look back at this period, as I did (and I'll get to the Vulcans' role in this in a second), you see an unfolding series of rationales for why the United States should preserve this defense budget, the first one right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'll use Dick Cheney, who was then the defense secretary, as the bellwether. He took the lead on much of this.

The first rationale was the Soviet Union is still a very powerful country and can still threaten American interests. So Cheney says, "Gorbachev: what he's doing is he's revitalizing the Soviet Union. It can improve its technology and its military technology. It can still be a threat." About six months, twelve months down the road, you get a series of further summits with Gorbachev and Soviet troops are beginning to be withdrawn from Eastern Europe. That rationale doesn't work, and Cheney comes up with a new one: "The United States needs to preserve its deployments. It's threatened not by the strength of the Soviet Union, but by its weakness."

In other words, strength didn't work as a rationale. Now the question is, "What if the Soviet Union breaks up, falls apart, and you have warring armies, or -- " all kinds of scenarios he throws out. Well, after a while, that seems less and less. The United States takes a piece of that argument and begins, in a strand of policy that continues today, to worry about Soviet nuclear arsenal and different pieces of that. But as a general rationale for America's defense budget, it doesn't work.

The next step is people begin to think about what if we get what I would call "World War II revisited." The Pentagon begins drafting a document that says the policy of the United States is to prevent the emergence of a rival in Europe or Asia. It didn't take a lot for people to understand they were talking about Japan and Germany. When the story leaks to the press, people begin to say, "Wait a minute, these are two of America's leading allies. Why are we doing this?"

Finally, you get step four. These documents are being drafted by the staff of Paul Wolfowitz, who is serving as Cheney's undersecretary of defense. They rewrite this document and it says this: "The United States will maintain such a strong military that it will preserve what's called its 'strategic depth.'" This was a very funny phrase. What that meant, as they spelled it out, was the United States would maintain such military power that no nation could compete with it now or in the future. That the leader of some unknown government would be virtually out of his mind to try to compete with the United States, meaning it would take thirty years and even then it wouldn't work, you would bankrupt your country. This document, which was published just as the first Bush administration left office, became the blueprint for American defense policy after the end of the Cold War. It's never directly countered by the Democrats, and certainly when the new Bush administration takes office, it becomes the blueprint for defense policy after 2001.

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