by Alan Pyeatt
Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and
Resources for a New Century (September, 2000)
The tragic loss of innocent lives that occurred in September 11, 2001 left our country and our people deeply scarred. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11, it is appropriate to examine the significance of these attacks in light of American foreign policy, and to compare them to other landmark events in our history.
The 9-11 attacks have been referred to as a “new Pearl Harbor.” Is this comparison appropriate? What similarities are there between the two events? The answers to these questions can illuminate not only our nation’s past, but more importantly, the kind of future toward which we are headed.
Most Americans understand the first Pearl Harbor as an unprovoked, unexpected attack by the nation of Japan, which finally brought the United States into World War II. And this is the same understanding that many Americans have of the 9-11 attacks: an unprovoked, unexpected attack by a group of Muslim extremists, which caused America to fight the Global War on Terror.
But there are two problems with this view. First, there is evidence that neither attack was unprovoked or unexpected. Second, and more important, the conventional view ignores the role both these attacks had on increasing interventionism in American foreign policy.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, most of Europe was embroiled in a war that pitted Great Britain and the Soviet Union against Germany and Italy. At the same time, Japan was expanding its empire in eastern Asia.
In the United States, most Americans were opposed to fighting another war in Europe. Despite the deaths of 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians, World War I, which was billed as “the war to end all wars” had not ensured peace. Nor had it “made the world safe for democracy.” The democratic governments in Italy and Germany had given way to fascism, and then attacked the remaining European democracies. So, as Thomas Fleming pointed out in The New Dealers’ War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the War Within World War II, in summer of 1941 “polls revealed 68 percent of the people preferred to stay out even if that meant a German victory over England and Russia.” In his article, “Pearl Harbor: Fifty Years of Controversy,” Charles Lutton wrote that “on the eve of Pearl Harbor, polls indicated that 80 per cent of the people did not want the United States to enter the war as an active participant.”
Meanwhile, Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly stated that he wanted to keep America out of the war in Europe. But according to historian Charles A. Beard, “even as he was promising to keep the country out of the war, Roosevelt was conniving to maneuver the United States into it.” Finally, Hitler provided Roosevelt with the opportunity he needed. On September 24, 1940, representatives of Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact. This treaty committed its signatories to mutual defense if any of them were attacked by any nation, such as the United States, that was not already at war. Lutton explained, “From this date, then, war with Japan meant war with Germany and Italy, and this came to play an increasingly important role in Roosevelt’s maneuvers.”
Most Americans would be surprised to hear that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not only expected by FDR, but had actually been provoked. But several historians – including John T. Flynn, Percy Greaves, Harry Elmer Barnes, and George Morgenstern, among others – have shown that not only did FDR reject peace overtures by Japan, he actually pursued policies that encouraged the attack.
The most damning of these revisionist histories was probably The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor: The Washington Contribution to the Japanese Attack, by Admiral Robert A. Theobald. Admiral Theobald had been in command of the Pacific Fleet’s destroyers when the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Admiral Theobald concluded that, among other things, FDR had “retained a weak Pacific fleet in Hawaiian waters, despite contrary naval advice, where it served only one diplomatic purpose, an invitation to a Japanese surprise attack.”
The Pearl Harbor attack was a tremendous success in overcoming American opposition to the war. Public opinion changed overnight, and Congress declared war on Japan the next day. Before the week was out, Congress had also declared war on Germany and Italy. Even former opponents of intervention such as Charles Lindbergh joined in the war effort. California Congressman Joe Baca summed it up when he said, “As costly as it was in the lives of our men and women in uniform, in military assets, and in esteem and pride, Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for America.”
After World War II, instead of returning to its previous non-interventionist foreign policy, America took the lead in fighting the Cold War, and has established permanent bases in Okinawa, Korea, Germany, and many other far-flung parts of the globe. So the final legacy of Pearl Harbor is not just America’s entry into World War II, but the rejection of its previous foreign policy in favor of intervention.
In 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union left America as the only remaining superpower. Most Americans expected the end of the Cold War to result in lower defense expenditures and reduced involvement overseas. However, others saw an opportunity to impose a new world order where America’s authority could not be challenged.
In 1997 William Kristol and other conservatives formed a think tank called Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Not content with being the lone superpower in the world, the PNAC advocated increasing American power to impose their political will (thinly disguised by such terms as “leadership”) anywhere in the world. They developed a document called Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, which outlined a strategy to support this goal.
Rebuilding America’s Defenses defined four “core missions” for America’s military:
1. “Defend the American homeland,”
2. “Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars,”
3. “Perform the ‘constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security
environment in critical regions,” and
4. “Transform U.S. forces to exploit the ‘revolution in military affairs.’”
However, when Rebuilding America’s Defenses was written in September, 2000, the PNAC faced two major obstacles: First, instead of reductions, its strategy required increasing military expenditures by $15-20 billion every year. Second, the American public had rejected the notion of acting as the world’s policeman after the spectacular failure of that policy in Vietnam. And the PNAC not only wanted America to accept that role once again, but to spend enormous amounts of money and commit American soldiers’ lives to implement it. So, the PNAC needed a dramatic change in public opinion to achieve their goal.
From its inception, the PNAC lobbied for “regime change” in Iraq – in other words, deposing Iraq’s government and replacing it with one which would presumably be more amenable to American interests. Then, when President George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, he appointed several PNAC members to high-level positions in his administration. Some of these appointees were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby, John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, and Richard Armitage, to name just a few. The new administration reoriented America’s foreign policy toward achieving the PNAC’s goals.
Conveniently, less than nine months after Bush became president, the Bush administration and the PNAC were handed their “catastrophic and catalyzing event.” Questions abound whether the government had advance warning of the attacks but let them occur anyway, whether the World Trade Center buildings collapsed due to being hit by airplanes or controlled demolition, how a Boeing airliner could have hit the side of the Pentagon and caused a 16-foot diameter hole without leaving its wings, tail section, luggage, or corpses visible on the lawn, etc. Interested readers may want to research the writings of David Ray Griffin and former CIA asset Susan Lindauer, or the websites of organizations such as Patriots Question 9/11 or Architects and Engineers for 9-11 Truth, etc. However, as intriguing as these questions may be, they are outside the scope of the present article.
Our concern is the effect the 9-11 attacks had on public opinion and foreign policy, and the results are unquestionable. The Bush administration immediately claimed that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were behind the attacks. When the Taliban government refused to turn him over to American authorities, the public overwhelmingly supported invading Afghanistan. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and eventually toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, again with overwhelming public support, despite lacking any evidence that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 attacks. The United States has also participated in subsequent military operations in Yemen and Libya, and is threatening action against Iran. Even though public opinion has changed regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, the war in Afghanistan continues (with occasional forays into Pakistan), and the U.S. still has 50,000 “non-combat” troops in Iraq.
In short, the 9-11 attacks galvanized public support for the invasion of two countries and potentially many more. It has established the concept of regime change to eliminate governments that pose a challenge to American hegemony, and two governments have already been toppled. (Libya conceivably makes a third, although it supposedly was toppled by an indigenous revolution supported by NATO, rather than an American invasion.) Naturally, defense budgets ballooned to support this increase in foreign intervention.
Of course, 9-11 initiated several other changes, as well. “No-fly” lists, unlimited detentions, secret prisons, waterboarding and other forms of torture, and assassination have all resulted from the Federal government’s fight against terrorism. And even if the war on terrorism ever ends (which is far from a given), freedom from these abuses will be very difficult to regain.
Clearly, both 9-11 and the Pearl Harbor attack were watershed events that changed American public opinion to support foreign wars, increase defense spending, and expand the scope of military operations. And in the repercussions of both events have had long-term significance. Furthermore, as we have seen both events were anticipated, if not downright orchestrated, by the advocates of foreign intervention. And after they occurred, the opportunities they provided to change public opinion and gain support for predetermined policies was exploited for maximum effect.
In sum, the terrorist attacks which occurred on 9-11 clearly served as the “new Pearl Harbor” envisioned by the PNAC.Mr. Pyeatt is a civil engineer who lives in Southern California. He’s currently an At-Large member of the California LP Executive Committee.