Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yes, Sarah P, there really is a Bush Doctrine

I doubt Sarah Palin has gotten around to reading it. But in the early months of the Iraq War, Robert Jervis of Columbia published an article on the Bush Doctrine in the Fall 2003 Political Science Quarterly, "Understanding the Bush Doctrine". Obviously, somebody thought there was a Bush Doctrine in 2003, even though Republican pundits in 2008 expressed surprise that Sarah Palin would be expected to be aware of that fact running for Vice President.

The Bush Doctrine was first formally stated in a document of September 2002 known as The National Security Strategy of the United States. No, who would expect a Vice Presidential candidate to know about that?

Bush actually articulated the basic Bush Doctrine perspective somewhat earlier in his West Point speech of 06/01/02.

Jervis broke out four elements of the Bush Doctrine, which Jervis worded as follows (my italics):

  • a strong belief in the importance of a state’s domestic regime in determining its foreign policy and the related judgment that this is an opportune time to transform international politics
  • the perception of great threats that can be defeated only by new and vigorous policies, most notably preventive war
  • a willingness to act unilaterally when necessary
  • and, as both a cause and a summary of these beliefs, an overriding sense that peace and stability require the United States to assert its primacy in world politics.

Jervis cautioned:

It is, of course, possible that I am exaggerating and that what we are seeing is mostly an elaborate rationale for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that will have little relevance beyond that. I think the doctrine is real, however. It is quite articulate, and American policy since the end of the military campaign has been consistent with it. Furthermore, there is a tendency for people to act in accord with the explanations they have given for their own behavior, which means that the doctrine could guide behavior even if it were originally a rationalization. [my emphasis]
Both his caution and his analysis hold up well. In actual practice, the main application of the Bush Doctrine has been in the Iraq War.

But that's because the war turned out to be much longer and much more of a disaster than Cheney, Rummy and the neocon fantasists ever imagined it would be. So their own overextension of US military power prevented them from applying the Bush Doctrine to "regime change" in Syria or Iran. (Though they still have two months!)

But from what's in the public record, we know that they have been engaging in acts of war both secret and not-so-secret against Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And they've been up to serious mischief in Venezuela and very likely in Bolivia, as well. And a few years from now, once some of the secrets come to light, this listing may well look like I'm trying to minimize the scope of what they've been doing.

The first element that Jervis identified had to do with the notion that the United States should aggressively promote democracy everywhere - but in practice with oil-rich Muslim countries high on the priority list - and that countries with democratic regimes would be more peaceful and act in ways more consistent with American interests. As things worked out, Cheney's idea of democracy proved both here and abroad to resemble that articulated by East German Communist leader Walter Ulbricht, as he explained to his Party comrades in 1949 what kind of government they were founding: "Es muss demokratisch aussehen, aber wir müssen alles in der Hand halten." (It has to look democratic, but we have to control everything.)

But if were to assume that the Wilsonian trappings were being taken seriously in Washington - and I don't find it impossible that Bush himself did at some level - it still raises real questions. If it was a form of Wilsonian internationalism, it was Wilsonianism on steroids. Or maybe OxyContin. Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy. The Bush Doctrine ideology proposed to make the world safe by making wars of liberation to install democracy. And, at a less lofty level, there were more immediate problems, as Jervis wrote in 2003:

The implicit belief is that democracy can take hold when the artificial obstacles to it are removed. Far from being the product of unusually propitious circumstances, a free and pluralist system is the "natural order" that will prevail unless something special intervenes. Furthermore [according to the Bush Doctrine], more democracies will mean greater stability, peaceful relations with neighbors, and less terrorism, comforting claims that evidence indicates is questionable at best. Would a democratic Iraq be stable? Would an Iraq that reflected the will of its people recognize Israel or renounce all claims to Kuwait? Would a democratic Palestinian state be more willing to live at peace with Israel than an authoritarian one, especially if it did not gain all of the territory lost in 1967? Previous experience also calls into question the links between democracy and free markets, each of which can readily undermine the other. But such doubts do not cloud official pronouncements or even the off-the-record comments of top officials. The United States now appears to have a faith-based foreign policy. [my emphasis]
Jervis notes of the second element of the Bush Doctrine holding that great new threats require preventive war, "Optimism and pessimism are linked in the belief that if the United States does not make the world better, it will grow more dangerous."

He also called out an important aspect of the Bush Doctrine, which is its antecedents in the most hawkish of the Cold Warriors:

Terrorists [in the Bush Doctrine view] are fanatics,and there is nothing that they value that we can hold at risk; rogues like Iraq are risk-acceptant and accident prone. The heightened sense of vulnerability increases the dissatisfaction with deterrence, but it is noteworthy that this stance taps into the longstanding Republican critique of many American Cold War policies. One wing of the party always sought defense rather than deterrence (or, to be more precise, deterrence by denial instead of deterrence by punishment), and this was reflected in the search for escalation dominance, multiple nuclear options, and defense against ballistic missiles. [my emphasis]
More specifically, the Bush Doctrine of preventive war was heavily rooted in the theories of those who looked favorably on a first-strike nuclear strategy. Jervis mentions this in passing in a footnote saying, "It is no accident that the leading theorist of this school of thought, Albert Wohlstetter, trained and sponsored many of the driving figures of the Bush administration, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle."

(This is an aside. But that quote reminds me: Someone who used to work for Doug Feith at the Pentagon once suggested in an e-mail to me that my using the formulation "it is no accident that ..." meant I might be some kind of Commie sympathizer. Go figure.)

Jervis walks through several problems with preventive wars, such as the fact that launching them requires an extremely have level of competence in the gathering intelligence information and an extremely high level of confidence in it on the part of decision makers in the aggressor country. With all we know now about cooked intelligence, bad assumptions, and deliberate manipulation of intelligence for war propaganda that this administration used in the lead-up to the Iraq War and in hyping their "global war on terror", those cautions seem almost "quaint", to use a word that this administration may have permanently tainted because of its infamous use to justify disregarding the laws against torture.

But it's disappointed to see that Jervis does mention that preventive war is by definition illegal in international law. That's why the administration's official statements like the National Security Strategy were careful to use the word "pre-emption" even when prevention was clearly meant. Pre-emption has a specific legal meaning referring to clear, imminent threats, in which case launching a pre-emptive war is legal. (Though whether that's advisable in all cases is another question.) Launching a war on more distant threats, which is what this administration did with the Iraq War, is preventive war.

Jervis was much more sympathetic to the third element of the Bush Doctrine, unilateralism, saying, "what critics call unilateralism often is effective leadership".

And sometimes it's arrogant, overconfident, and reckless. All of which applies to a great deal of this administration's foreign policy, from the Iraq War to nuclear proliferation.

And while Jervis clearly sees problems with the US hegemony over the rest of the world assumed by the fourth element of the Bush Doctrine, he notes soberly, "it is the exception rather than the rule for states to stay on the path of moderation when others do not force them to do so."

While that's true, the current level of military spending is absurd when compared to that the rest of the world. And, as he explains in the article, a nation's definition of its interests also have a tendency to expand with its capabilities. At the same time, "increased relative power brings with it new fears". Or, to put it another way, if a country has a less expansive definition of its interests, it has less to worry about. Britain generally wasn't happy about leaving what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But imagine the vastly larger field of problems they would have if they still held those areas as colonies!

Jervis had some perceptive observation about expanding definitions of vital interests. And, more particularly, how the Cheney-Bush administration's believing its own propaganda about how brilliantly successful the Afghanistan War had been - in 2003 most Americans thought it was essentially finished! - encouraged them to overestimate the limits of American power:

... states’ definitions of their interests tend to expand as their power does. It then becomes worth pursuing a whole host of objectives that were out of reach when the state’s security was in doubt and all efforts had to be directed to primary objectives. Under the new circumstances, states seek what Arnold Wolfers called "milieu goals." The hope of spreading democracy and liberalism throughout the world has always been an American goal, but the lack of a peer competitor now makes it more realistic - although perhaps not very realistic — to actively strive for it. Seen in this light, the administration’s perception that this is a time of great opportunity in the Middle East is the product, not so much of the special circumstances in the region, but of the enormous resources at America’s disposal.

More specifically, the quick American victory in Afghanistan probably contributed to the expansion of American goals. Likewise, the easy military victory in Iraq, providing the occupation can be brought to a successful conclusion, will encourage the pursuit of a wider agenda, if not threatening force against other tyrants (“moving down the list,” in the current phrase). Bush’s initial speech after September 11 declared war on terrorists “with a global reach.” This was ambitious, but at least the restriction to these kinds of terrorists meant that many others were not of concern. The modifier was dropped in the wake of Afghanistan, however. Not only did rhetoric shift to seeing terrorism in general as a menace to civilization and “the new totalitarian threat,” but the United States sent first military trainers and then a combat unit to the Philippines to attack guerrillas who posed only a minimal threat to Americans and who have no significant links to al Qaeda. Furthermore, at least up until a point, the exercise of power can increase power as well as interests. I do not think that the desire to control a large supply of oil was significant motivation for the Iraqi war, but it will give the United States an additional instrument of influence. [my emphasis]
I have a lot of confidence at this point that President Obama will bury the Bush Doctrine, or rather the shattered remnants of it. But Americans need to remember for the rest of our lives what a genuine disaster it was, and what horrible things to which it led.

One question which still remains unanswered is what were the main motives of the key decision-makers in initiating the Iraq War. While I'm not as inclined as Jervis was in 2003 to dismiss the cynical goal of controlling Iraq's oil supplies, I'm inclined to think it actually played a subordinate role, though nothing about US Middle Eastern policy can be said to be completely separate from our oil addiction. I think Jervis will turn out to be right in his speculation that Iraq was an inviting target because it was seen as the first step in a much broader sweep of "regime change" by the United States, even if the democratic rhetoric was more Ulbrichtian than Wilsonian:

The war is hard to understand if the only objective was to disarm Saddam or even to remove him from power. Even had the inflated estimates of his WMD capability been accurate, the danger was simply too remote to justify the effort. But if changing the Iraqi regime was expected to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East, discourage tyrants and energize reformers throughout the world, and demonstrate the American willingness to provide a high degree of what it considers world order whether others like it or not, then as part of a larger project, the war makes sense. Those who find both the hopes and the fears excessive if not delusional agree with the great British statesman Lord Salisbury when he tried to bring some perspective to the Eastern Crisis of 1877–1878: "It has generally been acknowledged to be madness to go to war for an idea, but if anything is more unsatisfactory, it is to go to war against a nightmare." [my emphasis]
The fears of Saddam's non-existent WMDs and his non-existent links to Al Qa'ida and the 9/11 attacks were manufactured nightmares. But now it's the Iraq War that has long since become our own real-life nightmare.

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