1992 : la crise américaine post-Guerre froide

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1992 : la crise américaine post-Guerre froide

Ces trois textes du commentateur et historien américain William Pfaff parurent dans l’International Herald Tribune il y a onze ans. Les deux premiers abordent la question de ce que l’auteur identifie comme une “crise d’identité” de l’Amérique après la fin de la Guerre froide : « I argue simply that the disorientation and anxiety felt by Americans in this aftermath, this hangover, of the Cold War, have to do with the loss of an identity — not the loss of an enemy. »

Ces deux textes nous rappellent en effet que l’Amérique d’après 1989 a connu une profonde crise morale, notamment cause de l’échec inattendu du premier Bush dans sa tentative de réélection, en 1992, et cause également de l’élection inattendue de l’inattendu Bill Clinton. Placée en perspective, la description de cette crise morale semble nous interroger pour savoir si, finalement, le 11 septembre 2001 et tout ce qui a suivi ne sont pas la manifestation violente de cette crise, dix ans plus tard.

Pourquoi pas ? Moins d’un mois après ces deux textes paraissent dans la presse des extraits d’un rapport interne du Pentagone qui est aujourd’hui reconnu comme l’inspirateur de la politique agressive et expansionniste qui fut lancée après 9/11 et qui se trouve aujourd’hui en lambeaux. Ce n’est pas un hasard, bien sûr, si on retrouve autour de ce document quelques-uns des principaux protagonistes d’aujourd’hui : Paul Wolfowitz en est le principal auteur, Dick Cheney est le secrétaire à la défense à qui Wolfowitz soumet son texte.

Pfaff, lui, fait un commentaire de cet événement sous un titre “burlesque” qui vaut son pesant d’or («  To Finish in a Burlesque of Empire? »). Il semble alors si extraordinaire que ces prescriptions des extrémistes du Pentagone soient un jour suivies qu’effectivement, on dirait que nous sommes dans le domaine du burlesque. Nous y sommes par conséquent, et il s’agit par anticipation de la description de la situation d’aujourd’hui.

Il n’est pas inutile de faire un lien entre les deux événements de 1992 qui sont ici commentés, et un lien, naturellement, entre 1992 et aujourd’hui. A cette lumière, la crise 9/11 et ce qui a suivi deviennent une façon de répondre, une décennie plus tard, à la crise d’identité américaine que diagnostiquait Pfaff. Le problème est qu’il semble bien que la réponse, aujourd’hui, tourne court. Ce qui nous ramène vite fait, et dans les pires conditions du monde, à la case-départ : «  So where do we Americans go now? Who are we now? »



The Post-Cold War Search for U.S. Goals

PARIS - An interesting series of articles in The New York Times has described a sense of loss of purpose in many areas of American life following the Cold War's end. Without an enemy to struggle against, many seem to be questioning what exactly it is that Americans -and America - are supposed to be doing.

The problem is obvious among military professionals and in the defense industries, but is also easily addressed there, requiring scaling-down and a redirection of effort toward the classical patterns of peacetime military preparation and planning: But this is hard in practice. A nation which before World War II was hostile to the very idea of a standing army finds itself at the finish of the Cold War with nearly 400 foreign military installations and a half million troops overseas. But remaking American security policy nonetheless presents a solvable set of problems.

Unless Patrick Buchanan is elected president — which one may reasonably doubt — there will be no precipitate rush homeward of these troops. Most will eventually come home, but there is no reason for this to happen in a destructive way, undermining alliances and regional balances, of power. Thus U.S. allies may look to the future with a certain assurance.

The mere entropy of military-political commitment and deployment says that the U.S. withdrawal from its global commitments will happen in a way that does not jeopardize basic allied or American interests. I am convinced, however, that troop withdrawal will come. The American public displays no real ambition today to affirm global hegemony in the guise of a “new world order.”

There are grave difficulties in the reform of the nation's overall foreign policy and strategy, dominated for more than 40 years by the rivalry with the Soviet Union. Yet that too is a professional problem, and an intellectual challenge. It is necessary to reconsider the international situation, the new dangers that exist, to assess the American interest in the light of these changes, and to look for the rational response. It can be done — which is not, of course, to say that it will be done well.

But we are in another dimension when people can say — as does the distinguished psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton — that individual Americans “no longer know how to view the world or how to understand our own national problems.”

To a remarkable degree, the personal lives of Americans have been shaped by the conflict with communism. This always is true in a war, of course. But when other wars have ended, Americans have been left in no doubt about who they are, what they should do, or what the nation's purpose really is.

Today those doubts exist. It is as if the quality of America itself has in these 40 years been stripped clown, so as to cause people to believe that winning the Cold War was all that the United States was about.

Certainly there was always official and unofficial proclamation of ambitions beyond that goal — calling for global liberty, humanity's well-being and prosperity — but since the 1940s these calls have always had an implicit link to the Cold War. To state such goals was part of that struggle.

They were expressions of the old progressive American conception of foreign policy which had found its most influential expression in Wilson's Fourteen Points, and in the Versailles seulement after World War I and creation of the League of Nations (and, later, of the United Nations). But this progressive notion of foreign policy, aimed at global reform, has been under critical attack in the United States for years, and President George Bush's tentative reformulation of it last year — as a U.S. mission to create a new world order — fell flat after it proved that not even Iraq had been given a new order: only the reinforcement of the tyrannical old order.

A practical reorientation of American government, and even of American politics, away from the Cold War, seems to me painful, but feasible, indeed, inevitable. Some fear that new enemies will be named — or imagined — to take the place of an Evil Empire overcome by Good. That possibility cannot be excluded.

Some think Washington will look for new enemies to smite in the Third World — Libya again, or new Panamas, or Grenadas. I suppose that is possible; assuming an elevated level of unscrupulousness in the White House. I cannot, however, see such policies as popular with Americans.

Some promote the idea of a new religious war between the West and a radicalized Islam, Ideological and moral conflict may certainly come about, and more terrorism — but surely not war. War for what?

In practical matters of policy and national realignment, it seems to me that one is justified in taking an unexcited view of the effects of the Cold War's end on American life and institutions. But there is a deeper question to answer, which I will take up in a second column. I believe that the end-of the Cold War has laid bare a very deep crisis in what may be called the American identity — the American's sense not only of national purpose but of what he or she really is, or wishes to become. That seems to me worth further discussion.

William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, 11 février 1992



Post-Cold War Anxiety: Deep and Tangled Roots

PARIS - During the 42-odd years of the Cold War the United States ceased to be the society it was when the Cold War began. When people examine the anxieties and uncertainties provoked among Americans by the Cold War's end, and by the loss of the political certainties that governed American life for decades, they are inclined to overlook how much has changed in the United States that had nothing to do with the Cold War.

The first and fundamental change is very simple. The United States was in 1945, and remained until the 1960s, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant country it had been since the settlement of the North American colonies in the 17th century.

Quotas and social barriers directed against Jews began to come down after World War II. Hitler had made both the genteel and the crude forms of prewar anti-Semitism and exclusion unsustainable. American Catholics had ceased during the war to be the immigrant working-class population they had largely been before.

Nonetheless the general norms and values of early postwar American society remained those of the predominantly North European Protestant majority that had dominated the country since the start, providing its elites in both North and South, and making up that yeoman rural population that in most of the country had set the society's character as well as its educational (and patriotic) standards.

In 1960 the first Roman Catholic president, John Kennedy, was elected. He was in every respect except his religion a member of the dominant group: white, Massachusetts-born, Harvard-educated, rich, a naval officer and combat veteran. Yet his Catholicism was in the 1960 campaign still considered the mort important potential obstacle to his election.

But his victory ended Protestant domination of the presidency and confirmed Catholics' conviction that they were unqualifiedly American.

The 1960s next saw the triumph of the civil rights movement and a final end to the discriminatory legislation and officially condoned social and educational practices which since the end of slavery had still held Americans of African origin to an invidious and inferior place in American life.

By the end of the 1960s, the United States could no longer be described as a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant nation. But what was it? Some called on it to become a “multicultural” nation. Yet nations presumably are social entities of some cultural coherence.

They possess an identity. American legislation in the 1970s favoured Asian and Latin American immigration. The melting pot was given a still more complicated mixture. Moreover, to place pressure upon these new citizens to conform to established American norms was increasingly seen as an unacceptable attack upon the values with which they had arrived.

As everyone — natives and newcomers alike — watched the same television and eat the same junk food, it was possible to maintain the illusion of a common identity.

Crucially important at exactly this point in the American experience was the war in Vietnam and its aftermath. These produced a powerful repudiation by many young (and not so young) Americans of the governing (white, Protestant) “establishment” held responsible for putting the United States into a war which these people believed unjust, and many of them thought criminal. For them, America had become “Amerika.”

The matter is very complex, but I would argue that immigration and the traumas of Vietnam (and Watergate, etc.) combined to produce in the contemporary United States a loss of certainty about what it is to be an American, and beyond that, a loss of confidence in whether it is a good thing to be an American. If this is true, it is a development of unprecedented significance.

From the moment of the first explorations, America was seen both by its settlers and by observers abroad as a place of signal opportunity and a source of hope. It was held a place where men could find a fulfillment denied them in the Old World of Europe. Contemporary Europeans believed this just as much as those who set out for the new land. America was vast, exotic. Its native people were perceived by Europeans as both marvelous and innocent - because uncorrupted by civilization.

This picture of America as a “new Eden” rapidly degenerated, as we all know, ending too often with the treatment of the natives of these “new Indians” as vermin to be exterminated.

However, the belief in America as land of all promise survived, and was decisively reinforced with the foundation of the new United States, the first true democracy, the place where Enlightenment beliefs were given reality.

The idea that the United States is the place where mankind made a new start has been the animating conviction of American national life for more than two centuries. It was the driving force behind the great waves of immigration to the United States.

But now we see something very different. The controversies which wrack America today, not only in the universities but in public life, about “multiculturalism” and bilingualism, the challenge that minority groups have mounted to the old American norms — the widespread unwillingness this year, for example, to celebrate Columbus's “discovery” of America (the quotation marks are not mine) — represent a fundamental challenge to the historical understanding of the identity of the American nation.

It is easy to dismiss as unhistorical and even nonsensical much of this effort to characterize the exploration, colonization and attempt to Christianize the Americas as mere exploitation and “genocide.” It is absurd to treat the history of the United States as a chronicle of imperialism and oppression. However, the fact that these things are so widely argued seems to me evidence of a collapse today of that sense of national identity which previously sustained the American nation.

So where do we Americans go now? Who are we now? I have no answer. I simply know that I find the idea of a multicultural or “rainbow” nation unconvincing. In ways it is a pleasing idea. It rights injustices. It invites a new social order of cooperation and goodwill. I fear that the actual results will be the contrary. But I do not know. I argue simply that the disorientation and anxiety felt by Americans in this aftermath, this hangover, of the Cold War, have to do with the loss of an identity — not the loss of an enemy.

William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, 12 février 1992



To Finish in a Burlesque of Empire?

PARIS - The Defense Department's new effort to justify continued high U.S. military spending is a more imposing job than the last one. Last month a compendium of scenarios of “illustrative future wars” became known, prepared under the auspices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All were reruns of past wars, often several at once: North Korea attacking South Korea while Iraq goes on a new rampage, or Panama taken over by rogue policemen linked to narcoterrorists — who “threaten to close the Panama Canal.” The United States has to spring into action.

It was not an exercise long in imagination, and it found little favor in Congress. It did disclose a new Pentagon acronym, REGT — for “resurgent/emergent global threat,” meaning a new U.S.S.R. or the equivalent, requiring return to the comfortable old days of Cold War and reliably high and regular military appropriations.

The new Pentagon program for the post-Cold War world, leaked to The New York Times by an official who thinks that the matter deserves more debate than it has received, says that the United States should now make it its policy to “convince” everyone else not to challenge “our leadership or seek ... to overturn the established political and economic order.” Internationalism and collective security are not part of the program. “Benevolent” and permanent world domination by the United States is the aim.

According to this draft Defense Planning Guidance — an internal document of the Bush administration meant to serve as the basis for force structure development, military budgets and strategy for the rest of this decade — Japan and Europe are to be “preempted” from becoming substantial military powers or global competitors against America by keeping them inside American dominated security zones. An independent European security alliance is to be blocked because it would undermine NATO, considered the instrument of continued American predominance in Europe.

Potential competitors are to be deterred “from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” Nuclear proliferation is to be prevented, if necessary by unilateral American military interventions — even in Europe and the former Soviet states.

Russia will continue to be targeted by American nuclear forces, as the sole potential nuclear threat to the United States, and American policy would be directed to preventing that country from again becoming a first rank technological power.

This Defense Department document obviously expresses the interests of the institution which produced it. It is a program to justify high military budgets and large military forces and national security bureaucracies for as long as the eye can see or the imagination stretch.

It cannot, however, be dismissed as mere bureaucratic paper-propagation, since the policies advocated already have made themselves felt. American hostility to independent European defense, vigorously expressed during the past three years, clearly comes from exactly these assumptions about what America's future relationship to Europe should be. Current rumblings in Washington about the need to destroy Iraq's and North Korea's nuclear capabilities must be seen, in the light of this document, as having more behind them on the mere need of a desperate president to get re-elected.

On the other hand, there are two fundamental obstacles to the achievement of such a program. The first is that the American public is unlikely to wish to pay for it. Moreover, the American public may not even want it. Global hegemony is an idea that may please conservative publicists and the national security intelligentsia, but it can still be counted on to raise hackles on necks in Middle America.

Middle America in any case is on a tax strike. The United States suffers an enormous overhang of public deficit and private debt; it declines to pay its current obligation to the IMF or to the United Nations or UN peacekeeping forces; it has offered, in proportion to its wealth, only a derisory level of assistance to the ex-Communist countries, and virtually none at all to the Third World; and it has both Republican and Democratic challengers to George Bush running strongly on campaigns promising to end “foreign aid” — as if there were any left to cut. This does not seem a public mood in which a five-year, $1.2 trillion spending program to achieve world hegemony will win cheers, or is even politic to propose.

Finally, as a moment's reflection on geopolitical history would suggest, this is a program that will generate its own antithesis. Western Europe alone is today a substantially larger industrial agglomerate than America, and a more populous one. Japan is a much more dynamic industrial power than America, with much more rapid rates of growth. Neither are major military power today, but they certainly were in the past and could become so again if they felt that necessary.

This American plan tries to substitute military primacy for the industrial and economic predominance that the United States enjoyed between 1945 and 1975 but now has lost. It disregards the fact that America's political leadership in the postwar years came from industrial and social accomplishment, and from the moral authority of disinterested policy-making, rather than from simple military power.

It is a plan for American world leadership through intimidation. It is a politically and morally stunted program whose logical outcome would be to make of the United States itself that “resurgent/emergent global threat” that the Pentagon foresees. Is this what Americans want? To finish in a burlesque of an Empire?

William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune, 12 mars 1992


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