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The Bush Doctrine

The Bush Doctrine affirms the legitimacy of a preventive strike and emphasizes the notion that "if you are not with us, you are against us." U.S. foreign policy, therefore, is no longer just about containment or supporting freedom fighters, but about shedding the multilateralism favored by the Clinton administration. Is the Bush Doctrine a sound and effective strategy in the war on terror?

published by
 on October 7, 2002


In the war on terror, the Bush administration has enunciated the Bush Doctrine, which, among other things, affirms the legitimacy of an American preventive strike and emphasizes the notion that "If you are not with us, you are against us." U.S. foreign policy, therefore, is no longer just about the Truman Doctrine (containment) or about the Reagan Doctrine (supporting freedom fighters), but about shedding the multilateralism favoured by the Clinton administration and pursuing a more active, unilateral approach.

Is the Bush Doctrine a sound and effective strategy in the war on terror? Is it the right tactic to pursue against Iraq? What are its benefits? Its downfalls? To discuss these and other aspects connected to the Bush Doctrine, Frontpage Symposium has invited James Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993-95 and a former Navy undersecretary and arms-control negotiator, James Lindsay, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Studies Program; Victor Davis Hanson, currently a visiting professor of military history at the US Naval Academy and author of the new book An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism; and Daniel Brumberg, an Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran.

Question #1: Gentlemen, let us first define the Bush Doctrine. We had the Truman Doctrine, which was about "containment" of the enemy (communism). We also had the Reagan Doctrine, which was about supporting freedom fighters around the world. The Reagan Doctrine was obviously an extension of the Truman Doctrine in that it added an offensive ingredient.

Could you kindly articulate your view, just briefly, about these doctrines, and how you think the Bush Doctrine serves as either an extension or departure from them? Overall, how would you define the Bush Doctrine and what do you consider to be its main significance?

Hanson: The doctrine, however provocative, seems more codification of what in fact we have already seen in Iraq earlier during the 1990s, in Panama, and in Bosnia and Kosovo - cases where America acted pre-emptively to intervene against regimes that posed perceived threats to either its own or its allies' security, but had not attacked directly the United States. Both in fact and theory the doctrine has perplexed its critics because the roll-call of targeted autocrats - Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein - are fascistic and belie the old Cold War exegesis that America intervenes cynically and solely to subvert leftist regimes or to prop up rightist authoritarians.

Lindsay: The Bush Doctrine holds that American should not wait to be attacked, but move proactively to disrupt and defeat terrorists and tyrants. On one level, there's not much new here. Counter-terrorism policy, law enforcement policy, and sanctions on terrorists states have all had a preventative aspect. And in elaborating the Bush Doctrine senior administration have repeatedly stressed that proactive action is not limited to military action.

On another level, the Bush Doctrine marks a potentially major shift by arguing not for pre-emptive military strikes (when an attack is imminent) but preventive war. The real question is whether the administration has any intention of pushing that policy line anywhere but Iraq (which it has also justified attacking because of its refusal to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions). The supply of rogue states is small, and the administration has already taken North Korea and Iran off the list of potential targets and it's difficult to imagine the 82nd Airborne landing in Damascus. The Bush Doctrine may ultimately prove tailored to justify a target set of one.

If you read the document it covers a great deal - economic issues, development in Africa, etc. I don't consider it particularly new or noteworthy that we will seek to have enough military forces to keep any other power or group of powers from being stronger than we are. What is new - and in my view quite correct - is the proposition that when a rogue state that is developing weapons of mass destruction is also a threat in terms of working with terrorists against us, we may be forced to move militarily against that state and/or group before they have or use such weapons. This makes eminent good sense regarding a state such as Iraq. Hand-wringing to the contrary, the document does not assert that we will take such actions against states with whom we just disagree, or that have some weapons of mass destruction - this pre-emptive doctrine is limited to the context of terrorism of global reach and of weapons of mass destruction. The document also laudably focuses on the mission of the US to introduce decent government into parts of the world which don't have it and which spawn terrorism - in this it follows, for the current war, the tradition of Wilson's 14 Points, Roosevelt's and Churchill's Atlantic Charter, and the speeches, inter alia, of JFK and Ronald Reagan.

Brumberg: I am not a big believer in the efficacy of doctrines, especially in the post-Cold War age. The Reagan Doctrine was about confronting the Soviet Union. He had the guts to envision a world without the Soviet Union and communist domination of Eastern Europe ("tear down this wall!"). But in our confrontation with the Soviet Union, a lot of time, money and especially lives were wasted because we treated the communist threat as a homogenous ideology and political reality. That's an important lesson for those who argue a "with us or against us" approach to terrorism and radical Islam in the post Cold War era.

Woolsey: Well, Mr. Brumberg, as founder and president of Yale Citizens for Eugene McCarthy in 67-68, I would agree to the point about communism not having been homogenous - but how was it not a political reality? Similarly, Shi'ite Islamism, Sunni Islamism, and Saddam's Baatism/Fascism with an Islamist face are far from homogenous. But that doesn't mean they aren't all three evil and capable of sporadic assistance to one another - sort of like three Mafia families. There's no reason to pull our verbal punches on any of the three, even though each requires very different tactics to defeat it.

Lindsay: That we overreact or under-react in foreign policy is hardly anything new or a knock on doctrines. We simply aren't smart enough to always judge events and trends correctly. Doctrines are useful for identifying an administration's foreign policy priorities and telling us how it intends to achieve them. How well does the Bush Doctrine on those two scores? It is certainly clear about our ends - its counter-terrorism. September 11 makes it difficult to argue that it shouldn't be a top priority. The problem arises in how the administration proposes to address the threat. It oversells what preventive war, which it mistakenly labels as pre-emption, can deliver. (The fine print of the National Security Strategy calmly acknowledges that "the United States will not use force in all cases to pre-empt emerging threats.") It fails to provide a coherent strategy for stopping the spread of technologies of mass destruction. And it identifies failed states as breeding grounds for terrorism but offers no clear guidance on how to prevent states from failing.

Question #2: Gentlemen, are we sure that the strategy of "You are With Us or Against Us" is a wise one for the U.S. to pursue in the war on terror?

Hanson: Korea's recent admission of very nightmarish past operations against Japan and its purported willingness to begin experimentation with limited zones of capitalism, together with Saddam Hussein's recent frantic efforts to deal with UN resolutions, reflect the ripples from the President's rhetoric. Given the stasis of institutions and bureaucracies, and the vested interests of thousands in ensuring that problematic relationships with Gulf autocracies and European allies remain sacrosanct even in the face of new realties, an occasional loose word by the President I think is salutary. It is easier than we think for many to forget that 3,000 were vaporized in New York just a year ago-anger, candor bordering on recklessness, and occasional hyperbole are not necessarily unwelcome in a leader during national crises. Churchill's rhetoric was far more tempestuous - and bloodthirsty - than anything Bush has uttered.

No, it's not wise if by this phrase we mean exacting the same public commitment from all relevant players to support a U.S. led campaign to topple Saddam. Indeed, I don't believe that when the term is "operationalized" by the White House it will insist that all countries provide the same level of active or verbal commitment to such a campaign. Some players will, on a public level, prefer to remain aloof from the effort or even criticize it, while at the same time giving certain kinds of assistance behind the scenes. We may see this kind of thing in Jordan or even Iran. Moreover, it is important not to treat the foreign policy making institutions of states such as Iran as monolithic. To push Iran, as we have, tends to reinforce hardliners and put the reformists on the defensive.

Woolsey: The level of commitment need not be "the same", as Mr. Brumberg accurately says, from all participants, but we should press very hard to avoid having nations actually take the terrorists' side by (as he suggests) criticizing our anti-terrorist efforts. Silence and covert assistance is understandable - open opposition, i.e. support for terrorism, is not. In the case of Iran, Mr. Brumberg has it exactly wrong and the President exactly right: the brave students, women, real reformers, and - increasingly - dissident Ayatollahs appreciate our firm stance against the mullahs who control power in Iran - they are on their last legs: we should not throw them even a verbal lifeline.

Lindsay: We should be careful not to confuse rhetorical flourishes with actual policy decisions. Daniel Brumberg and James Woolsey are both right. What the administration has asked from other countries has depended on what it judged they were likely to give. And it certainly makes sense, as James Woolsey argues, to take a tough line when countries openly support terrorists. But we also need to acknowledge the reality that Daniel Brumberg points to - public denunciations of Iran do make life harder for reformers in the short term. We are very sensitive to that reality when it comes to our friends, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that don't meet our democratic standards. No one can offer a simple formula for assessing the trade-offs here. The operative maxim is weigh your words carefully.

Brumberg: I would like to take a moment to counter Mr. Woolsey's point about the mullahs in Iran being "on their last legs." Like it or not (I dislike it), the regime is not on its last legs. The opposition does not have the means to topple the vast array of institutions that the regime has at its command. Moreover, the steep increase in oil prices has given the government ample funds to lubricate this machine.

"Real reformers," are both within and outside the regime. Any change will require some kind of political pact between the two. The current efforts of Khatami and his allies to challenge some of the basic pillars of the regime may or may not create a framework for that pact. But whatever change that does come will come via a slow liberalization of the current order, not its collapse.

Mr. Woolsey has it exactly wrong on Iran, which he has confused with the former Soviet Union. As for his remarks on level of commitment etc...I actually do not believe that our criticism of Iran (axis of evil etc...) has hurt the reformists as much as some argue. There is a logic to the cycle of confrontation, clash and tactical retreat between the regime and the opposition which is not as heavily influenced by international events as some have argued. But a frontal political attack on Iran, by which I mean a declaration or even implication by Bush the "Iran is next" would, in fact, undermine reform, not advance it. The recent admission by Administration officials that other axis countries such as North Korea cannot be treated the same as Iraq indicates that the logic of nuance does not escape the Administration.

Woolsey: Nuance is fine - I am unaware of any explicit statement or even implication by the Bush Administration that, in the sense that force would be used, "Iran is next" - that's another straw man: a foil which Mr. Brumberg seems bound and determined to keep creating because he doesn't really have any good arguments against the real human beings who disagree with him.

Whether he's right - that there will be only gradual change in Iran - or I am - that the mullahs' control will not last for years into the future, only time will tell. What Mr. Brumberg is neglecting, I believe, is the fact that the mullahs' Isamist Shia ideology (quite alien to the Shia tradition - the Shia have normally been quite apart from the state until Khomeini) is dead. The mullahs have not only lost the young people, the women, and the real reformers (most of whom are in jail), they are increasingly losing the Ayatollahs - not only the brave Montazeri, but now the conservative Taheri as well. One reason that Reagan and Moynihan foresaw the end of the Soviet Union better than most is that they paid attention to the fact that the people of the USSR and Eastern Europe had essentially stopped believing in communism. Mr. Brumberg should notice that the same thing has happened to the mullahs' totalitarian ideology.

Lindsay: Mr. Woolsey and Mr. Brumberg are colliding on an important point. I certainly hope Iranian hardliners are on their last legs, but that seems an optimistic reading of the situation in Teheran for the reasons Mr. Brumberg points out. The hardliners certainly have lost popularity, but Fidel Castro shows that dictators can hang on for a long while after the revolutionary fires that brought them to power die out. And sometimes direct political confrontation is counterproductive. It allows hardliners to wrap themselves up in their national flag as standing against American attempts at domination. Again, Castro is a case in point.

Question #3: Would it be accurate to say that the multilateralism favoured by the Clinton administration was ineffective? Would it be a disaster if it were pursued right now vis-à-vis Iraq?

Brumberg: I don't think it is accurate to argue that the Clinton Administration blindly pursued a policy of multilateralism, if by that we mean a policy that was hamstrung by the wishes of our allies. On Kosovo, for example, we took an initiative which was not supported by the UN, and which some of our allies in NATO were hesitant to support. Leadership that encourages others to follow is not credible unless the US is willing to clearly signal that despite absent support it will, on some occasions, go it alone.

The Clinton Administration, in terms of its use of force, was not completely adverse to playing the role of the hegemonic power, while the Bush Administration, despite its readiness of unilateral action, prefers to place any war on Iraq in some kind of multilateral context, gaining the legitimacy (and some of the constraints) from this context, but without paying too high a cost. Secretary Powell is certainly an advocate of this kind of tempered, hegemonic/multilateralism.

Woolsey: The key question is whether we are willing to take action if, after trying to be multilateral, some part or another of the posse refuses to show up. The Clinton Administration (and the first Bush Administration before it) delayed far too long in confronting Milosevic and tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and others died because they let their efforts toward multilateralism run their course too long. Once the Administration decided to act in mid-1995 in Bosnia and at the end of the decade in Kosovo - giving the allies and permanent members of the Security Council a chance, but then moving forward when one or more stalled or fudged - we got the job done. The rest of the posse should generally get a bite at the multilateral apple, but that's it.

Lindsay: Mr. Woolsey has framed the issue in the right way. It's in America's interest to seek multilateral responses where it can. Multilateralism spreads burdens, provides legitimacy, and can produce more effective solutions. And on core national security issues, the United States must be prepared to go it alone even if everyone else prefers the sidelines.

The key point to keep in mind here, though, is that if Washington acts wisely, it won't end up in the situation where it has to go it alone. The United States has tremendous power and prestige to assemble a posse, to borrow Mr. Woolsey's phrase, if it so chooses. President Bush's decision to go to New York in September and frame the Iraq issue in terms of whether the United Nations would enforce its own resolutions is a case in point. The wonder is that it took the administration so long to opt for a strategy that would garner it allies and minimise the international political fallout of a war on Iraq.

Hanson: Multilateralism is becoming more a state of mind, apparently a very necessary effort to preserve the sense of status and honor of allies who otherwise can offer very little in terms of real military support - but if snubbed or humiliated still do great damage in unleashing their considerable cultural machinery in promoting anti-Americanism. For good or evil we live in a world where the US Marine Corps is larger than European continental armies, and the world's aggregate navies possess a fraction of the power of our Mediterranean fleet. I would agree with the others that it is wise to place the onus on the UN, NATO, and the EU, and do so in sincerely moral rather than stridently hostile or cynical terms: do you wish another Milosevic who murders with impunity while you either cannot or will not act?; do you want another League of Nations that is as vocal as it is impotent?; do you wish a vast post Cold-NATO bureaucracy without purpose or mission, where membership not action is its only agenda?

Question #4: In the war against the Nazis, there could be no moderates. You were either for freedom or you were for Nazism. It is just as simple today: how can there possibly be a "moderate" when it comes to dealing with fanatics who think that the way to solve life's problems is to hijack an airplane with innocent people aboard and fly it into a heavily populated building? This is a conflict between good and evil, and the Bush doctrine is correct not to tolerate non-alignment. Right?

Brumberg: Not all fanatics are equally threatening. If we are faced by any leader or country that threatens international peace like Hitler did, there can be little room for moderation. But the Bush Administration must know that even the most "totalitarian regime" is not monolithic. Hitler was nearly killed by some of his own generals. I sense that the Bush administration is hoping for a similar turn of events in Iraq, although hardly betting the store on it.

Woolsey: No one should count on an Iraqi von Stauffenberg - they keep getting killed (as did von Stauffenberg). It's hard to get more monolithic than the cadre around Saddam if only because he keeps killing anyone, including close relatives, who even earns distinction, much less poses a threat. And it's hard to be much more threatening than Saddam is with his chemical and bacteriological weapons, his work on nukes and longer range ballistic missiles, his history of, twice, launching wars and, twice, using chemical weapons. Compared to Saddam's record today, Hitler's before 1939 was quite modest. Ideologically the two are quite close. Most modern historians agree that if Britain and France had moved against Hitler in 35-36 he could have been stopped. Those who advocate waiting to see what Saddam does in the future have to deal with the fact that, like Hitler, he will get stronger every month and that they are giving counsel less understandable than the judgments of Baldwin, Chamberlain, and Daladier in the mid-30's.

Lindsay: As the question is posed, who could disagree with it? The problem is that the good versus evil distinction is not a terribly helpful guide to making policy. The question isn't whether evil exists, it's what is the best way to defeat it? That's when the world ceases to be black and white and becomes grey. The Bush administration, for instance, has over the past year muted its criticism of Russian atrocities in Chechnya, Chinese suppression of political dissidents, and Saudi Arabia's abysmal human rights record (not to mention its profoundly anti-Western and anti-American educational curriculum.) None of these behaviors suddenly ceased being evil after September 11. Rather the administration judged, rightly or wrongly, that those issues had to be put aside to pursue a higher priority.

Hanson: Mr. Lindsay's correct litany of realistic measures and often depressing alliances is nevertheless the stuff of all war; we gave Stalin over 350,000 GMC trucks that both aided the war against Hitler and yet were later used to facilitate the apparatus of the Gulag - and this was a regime whose record of mass murder is simply unsurpassed in the 20th century. As the Romans remarked, "Sumus homines, non dei" - we are men, not gods, and fight the evil of our own era as best we can and according to our station with the realization that war is never the choice between 100% good and evil, but more likely between something better and something worse.
Why we carpet bombed Dresden, Hamburg, and Tokyo, only to announce that after the armistice that we held no grudge against the Japanese and German people who were "liberated" rather than seen as active abettors in such murderous regimes is illogical in retrospect, but quite understandable at the time. Should we be successful in eliminating Iraq's top echelon without extensive civilian casualties, we will be hailed as "liberators" - yet, should we fail and see American corpses dragged through Baghdad, there will be spontaneous victory celebrations without need of Saddam's coercion. 

Question #5: What are the dangers of the United States unilaterally pursuing its objectives as it sees fit? How do we minimize them? 

Brumberg: Our allies in both Western Europe and the Middle East will find it easier to contend with domestic opposition to an American led campaign against Saddam if we have some kind of international legitimacy from the UN or NATO, preferably the UN. Also, on a tactical level, Saddam is more likely to make concessions if he sees the international community supporting action. The fewer the cracks in the global arena, the less likely it will be that the U.S. will find itself having to fight a prolonged ground war whose objective is to topple Saddam, since we can probably gain international consensus for a new UN resolution whose purpose is to seek conditions favorable to a coercive inspections regime. But if our goal is much greater than this, i.e. to topple the regime and establish a democracy etc...this is something we may have to pursue alone, and in a regional, if not global, context that will, at least initially, be very hostile. 

Woolsey: I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Brumberg. In the first place, what imaginable "coercive inspections regime" could actually disarm Baathist Iraq, which has shown its capacity for lying and deception time and time again since 1991? A brief inspections proposal if adequately coercive might serve to underline (for those who haven't been paying attention to what happened in Iraq after 1991) Saddam's intransigence, but that's its only utility. And what "concessions", at least what imaginable ones that mean anything? This is a completely totalitarian regime that has been playing the UN like a piano since 1991 in a very similar fashion to the way Hitler played the League of Nations - if anything the UN looks more foolish in 2002 than the League looked on the eve of Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. We will not have to topple Saddam alone: we will have basing rights from a few countries in the region as needed, we will have the Brits, bless them, and possibly - since they have a habit of showing up at the last minute once the shooting starts, as in 1991 - the French. Other nations tend not to have the right kind of forces, or intelligence, or smart weapons, or mobility. Their role will be to come out of the saloons (like the townspeople in the old movie High Noon after the Marshall and his wife defeated the gang alone) and pat us on the back and tell us that they were with us all along. 

Lindsay: The danger is you rub people the wrong way. The question is, so what? In the short run, it probably doesn't much matter. We (both the White House and the American public) can live with blistering editorials in the Le Monde and protest marches on Westminster.

The danger is longer term. Resentments build up. Our Democratic allies may come under domestic pressure to edge away from the United States, or discover that anti-Americanism can play well as an electoral issue (think Gerhard Schroeder). And a backlash over one issue can spill over onto others. Anyone who spends time trying to reduce European opposition to genetically modified foods quickly discovers that the issue is as much about attitudes toward things American as it is about science.

Elsewhere in the world, anti-Americanism can feed the terrorist threat we are seeking to defeat. What we see as a fight for universal values others are likely to see as raw pursuit of national self-interest. The fact that a yawning gap often exists between word and deed in American foreign policy - we demand democracy for Iranians but not for Saudi Arabians - makes things worse. This is not to say that anti-Americanism causes terrorism. It doesn't. But it certainly makes the job of defeating terrorists that much harder.

The way to minimize the costs of unilateralism is to minimize its use to when it's absolutely needed - and you are willing to pay the price. Acting unilaterally when the same ends can be had by acting multilaterally is to pay retail when you can buy wholesale.

Hanson: There is no absolute concrete moral concept of unilateralism or multilateralism - interventions must be judged on the particular landscape of the times. If we act resolutely and with success against a generally recognized evil - such as Saddam Hussein - then in the postbellum euphoria we will have plenty of support. Should we fail, or alternatively gratuitously attack other states with less good cause - a Libya or Syria -- for example, then such unilateralism will be counterproductive and only cause us problems in the future. Kosovo and Bosnia are now seen as positive interventions, not because of EU, NATO, or UN support or lack of such, but because we were successful and Milosevic was both so odious and murderous. One without the other, and we would have been roundly condemned. Much is made in Europe of US unilateralism, but perusal of foreign press accounts at the time of Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosova, and Somalia suggests that we were actively encouraged to get involved and were seen as either weak or selfish for our initial reluctance.

Question #6: In general, will a concrete application of the slogan "You are either With Us or Against Us" advance or undermine American interests in the Middle East?

Lindsay: With the exception of Iraq, we're not going to see a concrete application of such a simple slogan, so the question is really beside the point. Counter-terrorism is a top priority in American foreign policy, but it is not the only one. We don't push everyone to the wall on terrorism because we know it will cost us dearly on other issues we value. The Bush administration for all its tough talk understands this quite well. In the case of Iraq, if the war goes as planned, and we can win the peace, U.S. interests will be advanced. But we should be honest. Wars don't always go according to script and building a stable, democratic Iraq is a tall order.

Brumberg: A black and white application of the slogan "You are either with us or against us" will not advance our interests for reasons I have already discussed above. Since there are many shades of "being with us," it would be foolhardy to insist on one standard. Israel could be "with us" during a campaign against Iraq by not retaliating. Iran could be "with us" by refraining from aiding Iraq, even its hard-liners maintained a hostile rhetoric towards the US during the conduct of the campaign. This isn't a cowboy film we're talking about, it's real world politics.

Woolsey: I don't recognize the President as the straw cowboy Mr. Brumberg seems to want to attack. I have no reason to believe that the President would disagree that the examples of different ways of "being with us" which he uses for Israel and Iran are perfectly acceptable - they are to me anyway. 

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