consortiumnews.com

Bush's Floundering Doctrine
By Nat Parry
September 3, 2003

George W. Bush has declared "no retreat" on Iraq even as that country descends into bloody anarchy and as Iraqi fighters pick off American soldiers by ones and twos almost daily. Instead, Bush is raising the stakes by refusing to rethink his Bush Doctrine of preemptive wars.

"Our only goal, our only option, is total victory in the war on terror, and this nation will press on to victory," Bush told the American Legion convention in St. Louis on Aug. 26, reiterating his strategy of waging war against any country or group that he says supports – or is likely to support – terrorism.

Bush's intransigence in the face of the Iraqi chaos also is transforming Election 2004 into a history-turning referendum that could define what kind of nation the United States will be and what the future of the world will look like. Bush is leaving little doubt that his vision is one of endless warfare in which Washington will pick out nations that are judged threats to U.S. security and attack them.

With Churchillian rhetorical flourishes, Bush's speech painted the world in black and white, with no sense of the gray that comes with indiscriminate killing whether from suicide bombers or from high-explosive rockets fired from the sky. In Bush's view, his side is all good, the other side is all bad, and there is no ambiguity.

Bush’s reference to "total victory" over terrorism also suggests that he is still not listening to many national security analysts who warn that it is no more possible to eradicate "terrorism" – an ill-defined concept throughout history – than it is to eliminate crime or drug use. To even approach "total victory" would require draconian actions carried out by something akin to a permanent worldwide police state, which might only generate more desperation and more terrorism.

An alternate approach, some analysts say, would stress a combination of effective police action, recognition that some legitimate grievances are driving young people to violent action, and a thoughtful strategy to address root causes of terrorism, from poverty to political injustice. There also is a need for straight talk to the American people about how U.S. sacrifice, including cutting energy consumption, could help.

The Primary Option

But Bush made clear in his Aug. 26 speech that he sees war as the primary option. His language was intentionally bellicose, almost defiant in the face of critics who have called for a mid-course correction in U.S. policy in Iraq.

"The terrorists have not seen America running," Bush told the American Legion convention. "They’ve seen America marching. They have seen the armies of liberation marching into Kabul and Baghdad. The terrorists have seen speeding tank convoys and roaring jets and Special Forces arriving in midnight raids – and sometimes justice has found them before they could see anything coming at all."

Bush also left little doubt that his strategy will go beyond preemptive war (when a country hits first against an enemy that is poised to strike) to predictive war (when the potential threat is speculative or far off in the future). Predictive war not only dramatically lowers the threshold to a conflict but often leads the attacking nation to justify an invasion by inventing or inflating dangers from the country that is to be invaded.

With the continued failure of U.S. forces to find trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and U.S. admissions that some WMD intelligence was exaggerated or bogus, it is becoming evident that the invasion of Iraq was a case of predictive, not preemptive, war.

Despite the WMD embarrassments and the worsening violence, Bush offered no self-criticism of his Iraq decisions nor is he yet paying any heed to warning from world leaders, such as former South African President Nelson Mandela, that the Bush Doctrine is a prescription for worldwide chaos. Instead, Bush boasted about the doctrine that bears his name.

"We’ve adopted a new strategy for a new kind of war," Bush said. "We will not wait for known enemies to strike us again. We will strike them in their camps or caves or wherever they hide, before they can hit more of our cities and kill more of our citizens. … No matter how long it takes, we will bring to justice those who plot against America."

Bush also repeated his vow to destroy not only those who "plot" against the United States but also those who help those who plot. "We’ve sent a message that is understood throughout the world: If you harbor a terrorist, if you support a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as a terrorist," Bush said.

Hypocrisy

Beyond the danger to world order implicit in the Bush Doctrine, some critics have noted the hypocrisy of Bush vowing to kill terrorists and those who assist them when key members of his administration, including White House adviser Elliot Abrams, aided groups such as the Nicaraguan contras who were widely condemned for terrorist tactics in the 1980s . During the Cold War, U.S. officials also backed death-squad regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile and many other countries.

In those cases, U.S. officials, including Bush's father George H.W. Bush, found geopolitical excuses to justify the slaughter of tens of the thousands of civilians. In the 1980s, the senior Bush also joined in secret policies to provide military assistance to Iran and Iraq, two countries that were identified by U.S. officials as supporters of terrorism. [For details, see Robert Parry's Lost History.]

Unintentionally, the junior Bush’s Aug. 26 speech also underscored the bind that his administration has put itself in as it presses the United Nations to fully endorse the U.S. occupation of Iraq so more countries will send troops.

On one hand, the Bush administration refuses to admit that it was wrong to brush aside U.N. objections to the Iraq War earlier this year. On the other, by seeking the U.N. resolution, the administration is tacitly acknowledging not only that Bush's strategy in Iraq had erred in underestimating the task of pacifying the country but that the Bush Doctrine is floundering.

Bush's tough talk to the American Legion may indicate that Bush is unwilling to swallow his pride and compromise with the international community regardless of the growing need for troop reinforcements. There also may be a lingering belief among Bush loyalists that if the administration keeps demanding that it get its way, the rest of the world finally will bend to Bush's will.

Crumbling Support

But that seems less and less likely. The world's political landscape has shifted since the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nearly two years ago when the international community demonstrated widespread solidarity with the United States and lent unconditional support to U.S. efforts to punish those responsible for the murders in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.

That support held even as Bush clumsily described the U.S. strategy as a "crusade" to "rid the world of evil." Over the last two years, however, Bush has lost much of that sympathy by demanding blind obedience from other nations rather than building on the post-Sept. 11 solidarity. "You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists," Bush announced.

Bush also implemented a National Security Strategy that asserted U.S. military and economic dominance of the world forever. He withdrew from arms control treaties, rebuffed international environmental plans and fought the creation of a world human rights court.

U.N. officials who didn't accept U.S. edicts on issues such as human rights, global climate change or arms control issues soon found themselves out of a job. Among those meeting that fate were Mary Robinson, human rights commissioner; Jose Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons; and Robert Watson, the chairman of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Before being dismissed, Bustani said that at stake was "whether genuine multilateralism will survive or whether it will be replaced by unilateralism in a multilateral disguise." [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush’s Grim Vision"]

After U.S. forces ousted Osama bin Laden's Taliban allies in Afghanistan, Bush further alienated world opinion by disregarding the Geneva Convention's protections for prisoners of war. Many of Afghanistan's prisoners were stashed in open-air cages at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and were denied rights afforded combatants in war time.

Last year, as Bush began preparing for the invasion of Iraq, he also enunciated his doctrine of preemptive war during a speech at West Point. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," Bush said. "We must confront the worst threats before they emerge."

Drumbeats to War

By fall 2002, the Bush administration was touting supposed evidence proving that Iraq possessed WMD and was likely to share it with terrorist groups. When France and Germany questioned that evidence and suggested that U.N. inspectors be given time to investigate, the two longtime allies earned Bush's enmity.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld derided Germany and France as "old Europe," suggesting that they had little relevance to the world's future. Bush's political allies fanned an anti-French hysteria by organizing boycotts of French products, pouring French wine into gutters and renaming French fries "freedom fries." Bush did nothing to restrain this public vilification.

The Bush administration also ridiculed the United Nations as a "debating society" when it balked at taking immediate action against Iraq's alleged WMD arsenal. Bush warned that if the U.N. didn't endorse his war plans, it would "go the way of the League of Nations" by fading into obscurity and irrelevance.

To gain support for a war resolution on the U.N. Security Council, the Bush administration browbeat and bribed countries. Still, even impoverished African nations, like Angola, held firm in favoring more time for U.N. inspectors to search for the elusive WMD.

Bush failed to win a majority of the U.N. Security Council in a stunning defeat for U.S. diplomacy. Bush was left with Tony Blair's Great Britain and a few other members of "the coalition of the willing" to lead into war against Iraq in March. Bush justified the attack as the only way to prevent Iraq's WMD from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Fruitless Search

In the five months since, despite unfettered access, U.S. forces have discovered no stockpiles of WMD. The Iraqis apparently were telling the truth when they said they had destroyed their WMD stockpiles.

The Bush administration is now promising only proof that Iraq had the capability to produce chemical and biological weapons sometime in the future. The administration also has dropped its allegations of an Iraqi nuclear program, which had scared many Americans into supporting the invasion.

Without apologizing to France or the U.N., Bush now wants the U.N. to fully endorse the U.S. occupation of Iraq, so member nations will commit troops while leaving U.S. commanders in total control. Nations – including India, Germany and Turkey – say they won't consider sending troops to Iraq without a U.N. mandate.

France and other countries have countered Bush's plan with proposals for the international community to share authority over Iraq and to move the country as quickly as possible to self-government. Though Bush may not be listening, much of the world is saying that his dictates will not reign supreme. Rather than submitting to U.S. domination, many nations are insisting that multilateral cooperation be the driving force in international relations.

The U.N. is suddenly relevant again – and the go-it-alone style of the Bush Doctrine is in jeopardy.

The Bush Doctrine is in danger on another front, too. The strategy of ousting Saddam Hussein over his alleged WMD was supposed to serve as a warning to other "rogue" states, such as Iran and North Korea. But the Iraq example seems to be having the opposite result.

After watching Iraq be invaded even as it was cooperating with the U.N. and destroying its own weapons, North Korea especially seems to have concluded that disarmament is a losing game. It just invites an attack, while the international community lacks enough power to stop a U.S. invasion.

U.S. hesitancy in the face of North Korea's own tough rhetoric reinforces that point. While Iraq's submission to U.N. inspections didn't spare it from "regime change," North Korea's defiance over its nuclear program has led Bush to call the standoff with Pyongyang "not a military showdown," but a "diplomatic showdown."

Bush, of course, may just be buying time before opting for a military solution. U.S. News reported that Rumsfeld has told U.S. military commanders to prepare a war plan for possible conflict with North Korea. "The plan would give commanders in the region authority to conduct maneuvers – before a war has started – to drain North Korea’s limited resources, strain its military, and perhaps sow enough confusion that North Korean generals might turn against the country’s leader," the newsmagazine reported.

But in the short term, the message from Bush's inconsistent policy is that nuclear deterrence may be the best way to keep the U.S. at bay.

High Cost

What is becoming clear is that Bush's designs for unparalleled global domination may be unworkable. The cost of imposing Bush's will on the world is so staggering – both in money and manpower – that even the world's strongest economy is sagging under the weight.

U.S. military forces are being stretched so thin that there might not be enough soldiers to respond to another crisis. More than half the active duty Army is stationed in Iraq and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region. Many have been on duty much longer than they expected, causing morale to suffer.

In short, Bush's ideological vision of a world submitting to his desires is colliding with the reality that other countries will resist U.S. domination either politically – as the setbacks at the U.N. have shown – or militarily. That is most evident in Iraq where resistance to U.S. forces has been heavier than expected both during the three-week march to Baghdad and through almost five months of occupation.

Though many war critics had predicted the likelihood of a nationalist resistance to an invading army, Bush and his advisers apparently sold themselves on their own propaganda about a "cakewalk" victory followed by Iraqis giving U.S. troops a rose-petal-strewn reception.

"The small circle of senior civilians in the Defense Department who dominated planning for postwar Iraq failed to prepare for the setbacks that have erupted," according to a report by the Knight Ridder newspapers. "The officials didn’t develop any real postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country’s leader."

It should have occurred to Bush's war planners that the invasion would inevitably kill thousands of Iraqis, destroy homes and businesses, and severely disrupt day-to-day life – leading many Iraqis to resent U.S. forces. That possibility apparently was either missed or was handled with the selective judgment that the administration applied to the WMD intelligence.

One early indication that the wishful thinking might not bear out was a mass demonstration in Baghdad on April 15, only days after the fall of Hussein’s government. Thousands of Iraqis protested the U.S. occupation with signs telling U.S. Marines to go home. "No to Saddam, and no to America," Iraqis chanted.

Since then, anti-occupation protests have become a common occurrence in Iraq. Some demonstrations have been met with lethal force by U.S. troops, further enflaming the Iraqi people. In recent weeks, violent attacks on U.S. troops and the economic infrastructure have become more audacious and sophisticated. Terrorist groups have spread disorder, too, with bombings against civilian targets, such as the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

No Victory

Increasingly, it looks like the fall of Saddam’s government was not a victory after all, but only the start of a new phase of the war. In an interview with Newsday.com, an Iraqi militia fighter said, "We have many more people and we’re a lot better organized than the Americans realize. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we’re much more patient than the Americans. We have nowhere else to go."

As the U.S. death toll mounted this summer, Bush kept up the macho rhetoric. American forces are "plenty tough" to handle the situation, he said, as he taunted Iraqi fighters to "bring ‘em on."

Meanwhile, U.S. troop morale was hitting "rock bottom," according to an officer from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Some troops called on Rumsfeld to "get our sorry asses out of here." [For details, see The Christian Science Monitor's "Troop morale in Iraq hits 'rock bottom'" ]

The troops endured 120 degree heat on a daily basis, wearing flak jackets and Kevlar helmets in a country where they do not speak the language, do not understand the culture, and have to endure Iraqis shooting at them. There are at least a dozen attacks on troops a day. One Staff Sergeant told the Washington Post, "we have no business being here."

A recent Newsweek poll found that 70 percent of the American public feels that the United States will be bogged down in Iraq for years without achieving its goals. An equal number of Americans are concerned that the costs of war (about $1 billion a week) will increase the deficit and hurt the economy. Nearly 60 percent are concerned that the military will be overextended should another security threat arise outside Iraq, and 72 percent indicate that they support turning over authority for rebuilding Iraq to the United Nations.

There is also reason to believe that anti-Bush demonstrations will pick up as Election 2004 nears. Many anti-war activists were discouraged when they failed to prevent the war, despite massive demonstrations in U.S. cities and around the world. They also had to endure baiting from Bush's supporters who freely called war critics fools and traitors after the ouster of Saddam Hussein on April 9.

But the controversy over Bush's WMD lies and the recognition that many of the pre-war "quagmire" warnings were right on target have reinvigorated the anti-war movement. There are national mobilizations planned for September and October, which could draw the kinds of crowds that were seen in the build-up to war with Iraq. Already, groups are mobilizing to protest the Republican National Convention being held in New York City to coincide with the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. [For more information, see http://www.counterconvention.org and http://www.rncnotwelcome.org.]

Key Election

In many ways, the future of the Bush Doctrine will depend on the outcome of next year's presidential election, which will turn in part over Bush's management of national security policy. The Democratic presidential candidates have all to one degree or another criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq War.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean catapulted to front-runner status largely because he challenged Bush's case for war early this year and withstood abuse from the Bush triumphalists after April 9. Many Democratic activists believe the party needs a nominee who will take on Bush and the powerful conservative media apparatus if Democrats want to avoid repeats of the debacles of 2000 and 2002.

A Democratic victory in 2004 would certainly mean a shift in direction on the Bush Doctrine, if not its outright repudiation. The Democrats are more likely to seek a more multilateral strategy for waging war on terrorism. If Bush wins a second term, however, he will almost certainly push the Bush Doctrine as aggressively as he can. Likely more wars will follow.

But the lesson of the past several months is that whatever Bush's wishes, other governments and the people of the world will contest the notion of an all-dominant United States. Bush may want to pick and choose which countries must be invaded and which ones spared, but the world community is certain to organize a determined opposition to the Bush Doctrine.

The choice for the American voters in November 2004, therefore, will be whether they want the United States to be more a part of the world community or increasingly a pariah.

Back to Front