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Bush military doctrine betrays U.S. ideals

George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy, submitted to the U.S. Congress last month, confirms that U.S. foreign policy is on an increasingly overt imperialistic course. A careful reading of the document reveals that some of the nobler ideals with which we have traditionally associated our nation -- the pursuit of justice and international cooperation, for example -- have waned considerably.

Even the cherished American ideal of freedom now comes coated in a particular economic language. Where we were once a nation among a family of nations, now we are the self-designated police force of the world -- and only we get to define who is good and who is bad. Not coincidentally, the “good” nations are those that follow the U.S. lead; the “bad” are those who question it. Also not coincidentally, the word freedom appears 47 times in the 12,600-word national security document; the word justice four times.

The new Bush doctrine dashes the aspirations of those who had hoped that the world was moving toward a system of international law that would allow for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, through covenants and courts.

It is an outright bellicose statement of purpose. At one point it states flatly: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” One pundit describes the new Bush doctrine as “a jaw-dropping vision of a globalized corporate Pax Americana, enforced by the mightiest killing machine in the history of the world.”

Where once we might have viewed ourselves as the Athens of the New World, we are on the road to becoming a modern day Sparta, feared and not respected by the rest of the nation-states. It must not be forgotten that the United States now spends as much on its military as all the other countries in the world combined.

The fundamental premise of the Bush document is that the world has entered a particularly dark time and that the U.S. military must seek out and destroy all evildoers.

According to the Bush policy, you cannot be free unless you practice unfettered capitalism. “People everywhere want to … own property and enjoy the benefits of their labor.” “Policies that further strengthen market incentives and market institutions are relevant for all economies.” Free trade is “real freedom.” “International flows of investment capital are needed.” If you want to be free, you must have “pro-growth legal and regulatory policies” and “lower marginal tax rates.” Bush, as economist, states: “If you can make something that others value, you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something that you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom, the freedom for a person -- or a nation -- to make a living.” The document reflects the classical neoliberal notion that all commerce should be treated as simply a private affair, without regard to any larger national or international consequences.

After the defeat of communism and fascism, the United States represents the “single sustainable model for national success,” declares the self-assured president. No solutions, other than the opening of more markets, are offered to the immediate plight of half the world’s population that lives on $2 a day or less.

Missing, too, are any assessments of the relationship between widespread despair and violence that exists in poor nations, or the significance of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The Bush doctrine is untroubled by self-reflection, self-awareness or nuance.

As it champions global free trade, the Bush doctrine speaks of environmental protection, unabashed by the contradictions of current U.S. policies. For example, it promotes the creation of global standards and rights yet pointedly rejects the International Criminal Court. Ironically, presidential candidate George W. Bush two years ago called for a degree of humility in our dealings with other nations. Since he took office, he sounds and struts like a 21st-century Napoleon.

There has always been a tension between idealism and realism in U.S. foreign policy, but that tension has crumbled under the threat of worldwide terrorism and the U.S. burden to keep the world free for corporate enterprise.

The most reckless element in the new policy is Bush’s justification of “first strike” or preemptive military action as a national policy. However appealing the notion might appear on the surface as a quick fix against terrorism, it undermines the civilized world’s consensus against unprovoked transborder aggression, a principle central to international law (and to his father’s rationale for the Persian Gulf war).

Strong, confident leaders need not be arrogant leaders. The National Security Strategy smacks of a frightening new U.S. arrogance. Bush comes across as the little guy on the playground now walking the grounds with large bodyguards and enjoying his new and threatening power.

The probable U.S. assault on Iraq would be the first case in which the new U.S. doctrine would be acted on. Bush has made the case that a very particular set of circumstances is forcing the United States to attack Iraq, that it is a unique situation, having to do with the unique evil of Saddam Hussein. A careful reading of the new Bush doctrine leads one to a different interpretation.

If Bush’s take on the world holds as national policy, expect many more Iraqs in the months and years ahead.

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002