Ausgabe 17/2003

Masters of the Universe How America Wants to Shape a New World Order

After the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein, the Americans are claiming the right to reorder the world according to their beliefs. In their vision for the future, dictators will be challenged and rivals prevented from ever coming to power.

Editor's Note: The following cover story appeared in the April 19, 2003 issue of SPIEGEL, just weeks after the United States invaded Iraq, launching its second Gulf War.

Commander in Chief Bush appearing before US troops in 2003: Its ego once again boosted by a triumph of its weapons, the US wishes to impose a new order on the world.
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Commander in Chief Bush appearing before US troops in 2003: Its ego once again boosted by a triumph of its weapons, the US wishes to impose a new order on the world.

It was intended as a celebration of Europe. Last week on the Agora in Athens, the marketplace of the ancient world, at the base of the magnificent marble staircase leading up to the Acropolis, 25 heads of state signed a treaty to expand the European Union. Ten states, most of them former communist countries between the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, were entering into an alliance with their Western European partners. Most of these countries had been separated from one another for decades by the Cold War.

But there was little evidence in Athens of the giddiness of reunification so evident after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the only sign of divinity was a pompous fireworks display in the sky above the Parthenon.

The speakers, in 25 brief addresses, certainly highlighted the fact that they were creating a colossus: their new community of 450 million Europeans with a combined GDP of €11.1 billion ($17.1 billion), the world's second-largest domestic market after the United States, would be without precedent in the history of mankind.

Even more significantly, all of this was taking place on a continent whose states had spent the bulk of the past few centuries at war with one another. Now they had bonded together by treaty, and had sealed their alliance on the anniversary of a revolutionary national constitution called democracy. Even those at the US Pentagon who view themselves as the world's saviors could only dream of achieving such a domino effect of infectious liberalism.

"We are no longer prepared to accept that policy is made over our heads," said German foreign minister Joschka Fischer.

On the High Road to Beijing, Moscow and Washington

In fact, his apologists see the reunified, peaceful European empire as a model. "We have been able to overcome wars and rivalries," said German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, adding that it is Europe's obligation "to use precisely this experience to develop a long-term outlook for a world characterized by security and cooperation."

The fact that the prevailing mood on that brilliant spring day in Athens was celebratory but not exactly jubilant was due to someone who was not even present: American President George W. Bush.

That's because he is the leader of a superpower that is preparing to restructure the world according to its own taste, and he had just demonstrated to the Europeans how painfully incomplete and lacking in influence their highly-acclaimed political alliance still is. The dispute over America's war in Iraq had split Europe's governments into two camps that, notwithstanding their newfound proclamations of harmony, had until recently viewed each other with some mistrust.

Great Britain's Tony Blair and Spain's José María Aznar, prime ministers from the more bellicose European contingent -- which, incidentally, also includes most of the Eastern European countries now entering the European Union -- were cursed by angry demonstrators in Athens. France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schröder who, together with Russia's Vladimir Putin, are disdainfully referred to in Washington as the "Axis of the Defeated," must have realized that their grand vision for a common European foreign and security policy remains an elusive goal. Fischer predicted that without radical reform within the EU and closer collaboration in matters of foreign policy, the Europeans will be forced, in future, to accept what others dictate, "just as Switzerland is now forced to accept the decisions we make within the EU."

The contrast could not be more striking. On one side, there is Europe. Although it views itself as a model, the image it projects to the remainder of the world is unconvincing. On the other side, there is the superpower USA, which, its ego once again boosted by a triumph of its weapons, wishes to impose a new order on the world.

In their armed conflict against Saddam Hussein, American optimists, who have demanded this war ever since the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, have seen their predictions confirmed, at least for now: Baghdad was captured quickly and the enemy's forces evaporated under a hail of American artillery.

The popularity of the American president, who had placed his prestige and authority on the line, has risen to new heights on the home front. And America does not seem tired of war just yet. A sense of rage and a tremendous thirst for revenge gripped the country on September 11, 2001, and these feelings do not appear to have abated.

So who's next? Would the United States, emboldened by its speedy victory in Iraq, march on to Damascus, if only to prevent America's conservatives from accusing Bush Junior of making the same mistake his father once made, of having stopped a Gulf War too soon? The country the Assads have claimed as their family property fulfills the two key criteria that, according to the Bush doctrine, can lead to regime change through war: Syria is a sponsor of terrorist organizations and –- presumably –- has weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, the same could be said of Iran, where the mullah-controlled regime is supposedly in the process of developing nuclear weapons. And North Korea has undoubtedly taken the top slot on the list of rogue states, ever since stone-age communist Kim Jong Il issued his one-of-a-kind challenge to the world's superpower: He wants the United States to sign a non-aggression pact designed to protect him from suffering the same fate that has befallen Saddam.

When asked which country will be the next victim of America's preemptive war, Bush's answered that every situation requires its own response. This isn't exactly reassuring. It seems quite apparent that he dreams of a new world order, one in which the strongest world power in human history will deploy its military forces wherever terrorists hide and dictators build secret weapons laboratories.

His predecessors have had the same aspirations, but during the 1990s their tendency was to apply US military might more haphazardly, motivated not as much by national interests as by heart-wrenching television images of faraway conflicts. America's soldiers in Mogadishu and its jets over Baghdad embodied an overweight but ultimately good-natured gorilla, one that would only intervene when crises could not resolve themselves.

Bush is different. He takes it upon himself to implement his plans to the letter. Under his presidency, the military is being transformed into a deadly viper than can attack anywhere with lightning speed. The accidental president, who had led a nebulous existence until September 11, 2001, is inadvertently turning into an imperial president. He is well on his way to fundamentally changing the world and America.


© DER SPIEGEL 17/2003
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