chapter  6
28 Pages

American power and preventive war

Neoconservatives seek not only to perpetuate American preponderance to preserve global stability and prevent the outbreak of great-power war; they aim to employ American power to serve a number of strategic ends. Any study on the neoconservative approach to American foreign policy must come to terms with neoconservative ideas and beliefs on American power. This chapter begins by analyzing how neoconservatives attempted to restore the national faith in America’s military might in the wake of the Vietnam War. It also examines how they attempted to enhance the effectiveness of American power. The attempt to re-moralize American power and the attempt to capitalize on advances made in sophisticated military technologies, I argue, was an attempt to make the exercise of American power more acceptable, even desirable. Overwhelming faith in American power has fostered among neoconserva-

tives a quixotic confidence in what American power can achieve in the world. It was a confidence on display in Iraq, a conflict I examine comprehensively in this chapter, and it was a confidence leading neoconservatives to embrace the idea of preventive war. It is crucial, I explain, to distinguish between the idea of preemption and the idea of prevention, something neoconservatives rarely do. The idea of preventive war, even after Iraq, has never been repudiated by neoconservatives or even refined so as limits could be imposed on it. After the unanticipated consequences of the 2003 Iraq War, neo-

conservatives remain just as confident that American power is intrinsically benign, and just as certain that American power can achieve a number of strategic objectives. If ever there was evidence that once an idea is embraced it acquires a life of its own, then the idea of preventive war is certainly it. It is an idea that permits American soldiers to be deployed abroad in a variety of theatres, fighting a number of battles against a number of different enemies, at a cost that is unendurable. Before that argument is made, though, it is important to return to the conflict that did so much to undermine the image of an innocent America: the conflict in Vietnam.