Article — From the October 2002 issue

Dick Cheney’s Song of America

Drafting a plan for global dominance

( 2 of 9 )

Before the Plan was about domi­nation it was about money. It took shape in late 1989, when the Soviet threat was clearly on the decline, and, with it, public support for a large mil­itary establishment. Cheney seemed unable to come to terms with either new reality. He remained deeply sus­picious of the Soviets and strongly re­sisted all efforts to reduce military spending. Democrats in Congress jeered his lack of strategic vision, and a few within the Bush Administration were whispering that Cheney had be­come an irrele­vant factor in structuring a re­sponse to the revolutionary changes taking place in the world.

More adaptable was the up-and-coming General Colin Powell, the newly appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Ronald Reagan’s national se­curity adviser, Powell had seen the changes taking place in the Soviet Union firsthand and was convinced that the ongoing transformation was ir­reversible. Like Cheney, he wanted to avoid military cuts, but he knew they were inevitable. The best he could do was minimize them, and the best way to do that would be to offer a new se­curity structure that would preserve American military capabilities despite reduced resources.

Powell and his staff believed that a weakened Soviet Union would result in shifting alliances and regional conflict. The United States was the only nation capable of managing the forces at play in the world; it would have to remain the preeminent military power in order to ensure the peace and shape the emerging order in accordance with American inter­ests. U.S. military strategy, therefore, would have to shift from global con­tainment to managing less-well-defined regional struggles and unfore­seen contingencies. To do this, the United States would have to project a military “forward presence” around the world; there would be fewer troops but in more places. This plan still would not be cheap, but through careful restructuring and superior technology, the job could be done with 25 percent fewer troops. Powell insisted that maintaining superpower status must be the first priority of the U.S. military. “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Su­perpower Lives Here,’ no matter what the Soviets do,” he said at the time. He also insisted that the troop levels he proposed were the bare minimum necessary to do so. This concept would come to be known as the “Base Force.”

Powell’s work on the subject proved timely. The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, and five days later Powell had his new strategy ready to present to Cheney. Even as decades of repression were ending in Eastern Europe, however, Cheney still could not abide even the force and budget reductions Powell pro­posed. Yet he knew that cuts were unavoidable. Having no alternative of his own to offer, therefore, he reluctantly encouraged Powell to pre­sent his ideas to the president. Pow­ell did so the next day; Bush made no promises but encour­aged him to keep at it.

is an investigate reporter, formerly of the National Security News Service.

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October 2019