David Korten
March 24, 2003

I gave a talk at a peace rally Friday in Seattle at which I suggested that March 21, 2003 will go down in history as one of America’s darkest hours. The U.S. government sent tens of thousands of America’s best and bravest young men and women into battle, launched a massive air assault in in a war most all the world correctly believes is unnecessary, illegal, and immoral, and, while the country was distracted by war, the Republican controlled Congress approved a budget that includes new tax cuts for the rich and a reduction in disability benefits for military veterans.

I spent more than the usual time preparing my peace rally presentation because I felt the need to clarify my thoughts on the meaning of this war and what lies ahead. I welcome your comments. 

The reflections below supplement and update my remarks at the rally, with a focus on the question: What is the point of continuing with peace rallies now given the war has already started, is expected to be over in a matter of days, and is at the command of a man who has demonstrated little regard for public opinion? The answer lies in the increasingly clear picture of the global agenda of the administration now in power in Washington.

A New Global Security Framework

In recent years as the U.S. foreign policy establishment has taken up an explicit debate on the pros and cons of American empire. You can find a comprehensive bibliography with web links at: <www.comw.org/qdr/empire.html>.

A centerpiece of this debate is a document titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century released in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century <www.newamericancentury.org>, a policy advocacy group founded in 1997 by a virtual who’s who of top White House and Defense Department officials carried over from the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

It is a group of extremist right wing military hawks joined by their view of a world they see as an inherently competitive place in which peace and order can be achieved only the imposition of superior military power. Since the fall of the Soviet Union left America in the position of the sole global superpower, they have been committed to consolidating and maintaining American military dominance of the world to impose an “international security order in line with American principles and interests.” They call it a “Pax Americana” or “American peace.”

The document suggests that the rationale for the present U.S. war in Iraq was in place long before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. While oil surely is an issue, the larger strategic objective is to establish a major and permanent U.S. military presence in the Middle East by locating U.S. military bases in Iraq to dominate the region, which explains why the civilian officials in command of U.S. military forces are so intent on occupying Iraq. A list of principle players and excerpts from the report may be found in an addendum to this report.

Until March 19, 2003 the global peace movement focused on preventing the U.S. military assault of Iraq. The war has started, but the work of the global peace and justice movement has only just begun. As I spell out in my presentation to the Seattle rally, Iraq is merely the second war [after Afghanistan] in a scenario of perpetual war in pursuit of empire planned by the ruling junta in control of U.S. military forces.

Future demonstrations and other initiatives must focus attention on the choice between a path of international cooperation toward true peace and democracy and a plan for perpetual war and U.S. military domination that in the end will be as devastating to the United States as it will be to the world. It is time for the international movement to regroup around two positive, pro-active goals: one immediate and the other longer term.

The immediate goal is to work for a speedy end to war in Iraq and to assure a serious international commitment under United Nations supervision to rebuild and demilitarize Iraq under a stable and democratic government as a model for the Middle East. We must make clear that there is no place in such a scenario for U.S. military bases or for the acquisition of Iraqi oil fields by the victors as spoils of war. If the goal is truly liberation of the Iraqi people, then let the Washington policy makers walk their talk by yielding control of the oil fields and the occupation to the United Nations to administer as a trust under international authority for the Iraqi people until Iraqi civil administration is restored.

Those who launched this war claim that a primary aim of the invasion is to disarm Iraq and destroy its weapons of mass destruction. It is a valid goal, even though the means are flawed. Having suffered the costs of war to achieve it, we should hold those who launched the war to their commitment. It would be an additional travesty if in the name of disarming Iraq they were allowed to turn Iraq into a U.S. military base stocked with weapons of mass destruction beyond Saddam Hussein’s wildest fantasies.

The long term international goal should be to advance a new vision of security based on international cooperation and a commitment to bring members of terrorist networks to justice, eliminate all weapons of mass destruction in all countries including the United States, and create the world of truly democratic, life-serving societies that can be — a world in which war is obsolete and every child is born with a reasonable hope for a decent life.

Democracy in a Divided America

The United States is a deeply divided country. It remains to be seen whether the extremism of the ruling junta’s elitism, reckless fiscal policies, militarism and assault on civil liberties may spark a public revulsion and unite the country behind a more positive agenda. In preparing my talk for the Seattle peace rally I took care to search for a language that might potentially reach a broad cross section of Americans who love their country, want to be good neighbors to the world, and are concerned about their personal security in a time of uncertainty — including those who currently support the war. It is an imperfect effort, but a goal to which I believe we must all aspire.

In time of war there is a natural psychological tendency to rally around an authoritarian leader who appears strong and decisive, a point not lost on those who initiated this conflict. It is especially important in this situation to focus on issues and values rather than directly attack by name the person much of the population looks to for a sense of security. I’ve become aware that when you invoke the name of a powerful opponent in anger you divert life energy from yourself to them, create an inflated sense of that person’s power, and cloak them in an aura of invincibility.

The deep divide America is experiencing in this time of fear and uncertainty creates a longing for community, national unity, and purpose. Clarity in expressing one’s patriotism and love of country is important in such times if one is to have hope of being heard by an inclusive audience. Most peace activists in America embrace a nuanced message that calls for peace and at the same time honors and supports the brave young men and women of the military services who are bound by their oath of military service to risk their lives for their country on the orders of their commanders.

To obey orders is the patriotic duty of the soldier citizen. To support the troops who risk their lives in the service of our country’s security and its founding ideals of liberty, justice, democracy, and the rule of law is a patriotic duty of the civilian citizen.

As a former U.S. Air Force officer and veteran of the Vietnam War I also believe, however, that the duty of the civilian patriot to support the troops necessarily includes the obligation to be vigilant in holding those who order the military into battle accountable to those same ideals, to assure that when they send troops into harms way they are acting in the interests of peace and security in accord with national and international law, and to speak out with a clear voice when they do not. It is our sacred obligation as civilian citizens to those who risk their lives for our freedom, to our country, and to the world.

To heal America’s deep wound we must listen to and understand the point of view of people of good will on the other side of the divide, a task to which I’m increasingly turning my attention. It is instructive in this regard to look closely at the broad range of reactions to the Iraq war. On the pro-peace side there is a large group of people with a significant history of activism in support of peace and justice. Then there is a growing group of what we might call new arrivals — disproportionately women — who are experiencing a political awakening and for the first time find themselves called to positive and active political engagement. There is another substantial group that has become so overcome with despair that they have simply tuned out, shutting off the news and shutting down. Then there is a group — disproportionately men — that treats the war as an exciting sporting event. Many others are rallying around the flag and Mr. Bush in the belief that this is a just war undertaken in a just cause. A few of those who support the war are irredeemable extremists, but most are good people eager to do the right thing. This is this latter group we most need to understand.

Fran and I rarely turn on the TV and we normally leave our radio tuned to our local public radio station, which is one of the few remaining electronic sources in the United States other than the internet for reliable information and thoughtful discourse. Over the last couple of days I’ve been scanning the radio dial to see what people are saying on commercial radio. We have even turned on the television from time to time. It is a stunning educational experience rather like taking a journey to an alien planet — a reminder of how thoroughly ghettoized America is, not only racially, but also intellectually and politically.

Most of my friends and colleagues, virtually all of whom are active in the peace movement, consider Bush to be one of the worst and most morally bankrupt presidents in American history, a dangerous rogue dictator on a messianic mission to use the power of the U.S. military to bend the world to his view of peace, freedom, and justice. They generally believe the war against Iraq is driven by some combination of an effort to cover up the disasters of a failed administration, a vision of U.S. military empire, and a lust for oil. They generally support weapons inspections backed by a threat of military force, but consider an invasion at this time in defiance of world opinion and the United Nations to be unnecessary, illegal, and immoral.

Step into the world of commercial talk radio and these perceptions are turned on their head. Bush is held in almost saintly reverence as a man of outsized virtue on a mission from God to liberate Iraq and the world from a evil ruler who threatens America and the world with his weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorists. The talk show hosts speak of moral certainty and a world defined by good and evil. On Friday evening, one commentator suggested that France did the United States a favor by blocking endorsement of the Iraq war in the United Nations, because once American soldiers are greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people the world will know that it is the United States, not the United Nations, that is the source of moral authority in the world. A guest on one of yesterday’s talk shows called for charging celebrities who criticize America and Mr. Bush abroad with treason. As bombs and missiles were raining down on Baghdad a talk show host said: “Expect the liberals to do the same thing they did in Afghanistan. They’ll find a couple of families killed by stray missiles and blow it up all out of proportion as a slaughter of innocents.”

The theme of moral certainty runs strong among the advocates of war.  There is also a constantly repeated refrain that that the good people of the world, those who identify themselves as conservatives, are thwarted in their efforts to restore the moral foundation of society by morally ambiguous liberals who condone all manner of perversions, support Saddam Hussein, oppose the war on terrorism, and promote misguided policies responsible for humanity’s social ills. The bad people, the liberals, are driven by hatred and engage in malicious and unwarranted attacks on Mr. Bush because they continue to resent the fact that he beat Al Gore in the presidential election. They see liberals as so filled with anger and hatred for Mr. Bush that they irrationally oppose everything he does, even taking to the streets in peace marches to thwart his noble effort to liberate the oppressed people of Iraq.

Voices from the Christian Right regularly quote a Biblical verse from Romans 13 as a warning to those who oppose Mr. Bush that they risk the wrath of God:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Night before last I heard a radio preacher follow up this message with the reading of scripture verses that in his mind make the case that killing is not murder when it is in a just cause and that just killing is sanctioned by God. He also observed that given the inherently evil nature of men and women, war is inevitable.

It is stunning how selective the reading of biblical text can be. A few versus beyond the frequently quoted verse, Romans 13 also says: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Immediately before it there is the admonition to:

“Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

As I listened to a variety of voices from the pro-war side of the great divide I became aware of a fascinating pattern of which I had previously been only dimly aware. The pro-war and pro-peace factions hold perceptions of themselves and their opponents that in many respects exactly mirror one another. Each sees itself as a thoughtful, informed, responsible, compassionate, and loving, but besieged, minority actively denied the media voice enjoyed by its opponents. Each believes that its path, in contrast to the path of the other side, is the way to global peace, justice, democracy, and prosperity. Each sees the other side as prejudiced, misinformed, irresponsible, selfish, hateful, in control of power and the media, and intent on suppressing dissent.

The differences of the two sides regarding the war and Mr. Bush seem in some ways to relate less to differences in values than to differences in perception of fact. Those who support the war believe that Mr. Bush is the legitimately elected president of the United States. They also believe that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, was involved in the terrorist attack on the United States, and presents a present and future threat to the security of America and the world. They believe U.S. forces will be greeted as liberators and that following the war America will feed the hungry, rebuild the country, and bring democracy to Iraq’s people.

Those who oppose the war believe that Bush lost the election, is guilty of election fraud, was appointed to office by a politicized U.S. Supreme Court in a decision that has no basis in law, and regularly lies to the public. They agree that Saddam Hussein is a brutal and sadistic ruler, one of many the world would be better off without. But they see no evidence that he currently possesses weapons of mass destruction or was involved in any way in the terrorist attack against the United States. Nor do they believe he poses a particular threat to the United States or his neighbors that cannot be dealt with through UN weapons inspections. They have no faith that a ruling junta that demonstrates no respect for democracy in America is qualified or inclined to install democracy in Iraq and believe a doctrine of unilateral preventive war is a doctrine of madness and mutual destruction.

In short, the pro-war group believes what they are told by administration officials and the corporate press. The pro-peace group does not. At a deeper level the pro-war faction seeks moral certainty and are receptive to the moral pronouncements of powerful authority figures who speak as God’s agents. Those who see moral certainty as the refuge of scoundrels in a morally complex and ambiguous world are distrustful of rulers who claim divine authority, reduce complex situations to a choice between good and evil, and place themselves above the law.

The official line, which is faithfully repeated by most corporate media and their featured right wing pundits and talk show hosts, is being scripted by master propagandists. The only reporting to Americans allowed from the battlefield is by reporters who are “embedded” in the military units and report only what the military wants the public to see and hear. We watched an official briefing on TV Saturday morning that appeared to have been scripted ahead of time right down to which reporter would ask what question of the presiding general in what order.

U.S. forces are always referred in the news to as “Coalition Forces,” which implies broad international support. When talking about Iraqi weapons they are “weapons of mass destruction,” although there is no indication Iraq has used or possesses anything other than conventional and often outdated weapons and armaments.  The U.S. forces have only “precision weapons,” implying they make fine distinctions between Iraqi military personnel and innocent Iraqi civilians, although in one break from the official script a news commentator reported that three “precision guided” U.S. missiles had missed Iraq entirely and hit Iran.

I’m trying to make sense of it all. Empire has never been a particularly popular idea in America. I believe that most Americans are good and ethical people and that there is an American majority prepared to support international cooperation toward creating a world that works for all grounded in universal principles of liberty, democracy, justice, and the rule of law — the ideals on which this nation was founded. We must get really good at articulating a positive vision in an inclusive language that people of good will can hear irrespective of their existing political loyalties.

The peace and justice movement in America also faces both long- and near-term challenges. The long-term challenge is to replace a politics of fear, hate, and division with a politics of hope, love, and healing to create a new political context in America in which international cooperation in the pursuit of peace and justice is the norm and policies of unilateralism, preventive war, and the rule of power in disregard of the rule of law are unthinkable. The near term challenge is to see that the 2004 election replaces the failed regime of right wing extremists now in control of the U.S. government with a democratically elected administration committed to the task of healing and rebuilding America and its relations with the world.

With regard to the forthcoming election I sense the mood within the progressive community leans toward a shift in tactics from building third parties to an effort to reclaim the Democratic Party based on a pragmatic recognition that present political structures in the United States virtually preclude a third party electoral victory at the national level. It would require progressive groups to join together as a block committed to reform from within. Whatever the strategy, regime change in America must be high on the agenda of progressive groups between now and the next election.

Current Activities of the PCDForum International Secretariat

The PCDForum’s institutional engagements here in the United States continue to center on the Positive Futures Network and the recently formed Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), described in previous Bulletins. It will hold its first national conference in Portland, Oregon May 30 – June 1st in conjunction with the Sustainability Forum and continues with the work of building local chapters. Information is available on the BALLE website: <www.livingeconomies.org>.

The Positive Futures Network and YES! magazine continue to grow in substance and reach in response to an ever growing hunger for the YES! message of hope and transformation. As the implications of the current direction of events becomes ever clearer, growing numbers of people are looking for a way to become constructively engaged. Our subscriptions and financial contributions continue to grow accordingly. We are now focused on increasing our investment in outreach to youth, marketing to continue to increase circulation of YES!, and development of the web. The end of May we will host our largest ever State of the Possible retreat for a diverse and influential gathering of movement leaders from across the United States to consider the path ahead.

The most popular YES! article of late is “The War against Ourselves,” an interview with Major Doug Rokke, a career U.S. army officer who was responsible during the previous gulf war for protecting American troops from nuclear, chemical, and biological agents. Immediate and evident U.S. casualties of the war were quite small relative to the usual experience in major wars: 294 dead and a little over 400 wounded or ill — many of these a result of “friendly fire.” Since the end of the war, however, 221,000 American men and women who served in the area of the conflict have subsequently been awarded disability for serious health conditions related to their service, approximately 30 percent of those deployed. A substantial portion of the disabilities were association with exposure to the depleted uranium used in our own munitions. In addition the incidence of birth defects in children born to those who served in the Gulf war is two to three times higher than normal. Major Rokke concludes that our advanced weapons have become so deadly to ourselves and the planet, that war has become obsolete. 

In my November 2002 bulletin I mentioned that Sarah van Gelder, the executive editor of YES!, and I had begin exploratory work on a book on living economies. That project is presently on hold. I’m focusing my attention on writing The End of Empire, a book that will carry forward the themes of the joint paper by Nicanor Perlas, Vandana Shiva, and myself discussed in my previous Bulletin Global Civil Society: The Path Ahead. The End of Empire [This was the working title for The Great Turning] examines the deeper psychological and institutional roots of an end game confrontation between the evolutionary and historic forces of empire and community and the implications for the work ahead. I’ll keep you informed as it comes together.

In solidarity for the world that can be.


Project for the New American Century
Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century

Key players in founding and articulating the policy positions of the Project for the New American Century include : Richard Cheney, Vice President to Bush II, Secretary of Defense to Bush I, and White House Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan; Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense to Bush II, Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense to Gerald Ford; Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense under Bush II, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Bush I, and Director of Policy Planning for the Department of State under Reagan; Richard Perle, Chairman, defense Policy Board, Department of Defense under Bush II, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under Reagan. Jeb Bush, Governor, State of Florida and brother of George W. Bush was also a founding member.

Their vision for America and the world is spelled out in Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, which is publicly available on their website <www.newamericancentury.org>.   Rebuilding America’s Defenses was issued in September 2000 two months prior to the presidential election that led to the Supreme Court’s appointment of George W. Bush as U.S. president. It spells out an explicit and detailed blueprint for global U.S. military domination. It serves as the blueprint for the military plans and policies of the administration of the Bush II administration and its central premises have been carried forward into a number of subsequent official documents available on the White House and Department of Defense website. The following sample of quotes gives the flavor and thrust of the document.

“At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”

  • “If an American peace is to be maintained, and expanded, it must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence.” 
  • “The Pentagon needs to…calculate the force necessary to protect, independently, U.S. interests in Europe, East Asia and the Gulf at all times.”
  • “While long-range precision strikes will certainly play an increasingly large role in U.S. military operations, American forces must remain deployed abroad, in large numbers.”
  • “Constabulary missions…demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations…. the preponderance of American power is so great and its global interests so wide that it cannot pretend to be indifferent to the political outcome…”
  • “An America incapable of protecting its interests or that of its allies in space or the ‘infosphere’ will find it difficult to exert global political leadership. …Space control is not an avoidable issue. It is not an optional extra.”

The following excerpts relate to Iraq and their goal of a strong U.S. military presence in the Middle East.

  • “There is a question about the role nuclear weapons should play in deterring the use of other kinds of weapons of mass destruc­tion, such as chemical and biological, with the U.S. having foresworn those weapons’ development and use….there may be a need to develop a new family of nuclear weapons designed to address new sets of military requirements, such as would be required in targeting the very deep under­ground, hardened bunkers that are being built by many of our potential adversaries.”
  • “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein….Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.”

There is no suggestion in the report that its authors believe or hope that the mere threat of force might be sufficient to achieve American objectives in the world. They assume the inevitable necessity of actual war. There is no mention of an exit strategy for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from a country once it has been occupied by force. Nor is there any mention of a path to eventual demilitarization. It is based on a clear presumption of might makes right without reference to national or international law.