After the Bush administration unveiled its grand strategy for the post-September 11 world, many European commentators described it as a "departure," proclaiming that the United States was prepared to jettison the entire post-World War II system of multilateral institutions including the UN and NATO in favor of pre-emptive unilateralism.
A careful look reveals that the Bush Doctrine is as American as apple pie, however. The new doctrine and its presumptive application to Iraq marries America ¹s tradition of combating strategic threats and its long-standing determination to spread its values in the form of "free and open societies." In other words, its mix of unilateralism and idealism appeals to the "cowboy " and "missionary "personas within the American collective psyche.
George Washington¹s farewell warning to future generations to avoid "entangling alliances "has always resonated among American policymakers. The critics of the Bush administration are correct in noting that, in the recent past, the United States has preferred multilateral alliances and international legitimization of its policies. However, if such a consensus has not been forthcoming, Washington has always been prepared to act unilaterally in protection of its interests and projection of its values.
President Harry Truman avoided the United Nations, ostensibly set up to enhance collective security, in dealing with the crises facing Turkey and Greece in 1947,concluding that the "UN was not in a position to extend help of the kind that is required." The administration of John F. Kennedy assessed its options during the Cuban missile crisis, including that of an all-out nuclear exchange, without international consultationprovoking yet another angry Frenchman,
General Charles De Gaulle, to castigate Washington over the prospect of "annihilation without representation."(Only after being consulted did the French president assure Washington of his support.) President Lyndon Johnson waged a relentless and ultimately futile war in Vietnam despite sustained criticism from a range of foreign detractors. In defense of its interests the American political class has historically not recoiled from unilateral employment of force, even in defiance of international opinion.
On the other hand, America has always felt the urge to spread freedom. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson ¹s call for "empire of liberties," American statesmen have long propounded a vision of a global civilization predicated on liberal democracy and market economics. The U.S. waged war against fascism and communism not just because such aggressive ideologies threatened its national interests but also because they constituted an affront to its vision of proper governance. In contrast to the European focus on the external behavior of states as opposed to their internal composition, American internationalists have long argued that the domestic character of a state is the most predictable barometer of its external conduct. U.S.President George W. Bush¹s emphasis on regime change and the promotion of democracy as the primary means of ensuring American security, at the expense of deterrence, containment, and the balance of power,is well in keeping with that outlook.
European and American critics of the Bush Doctrine have immediately pointed out that a number of key American allies in the war on terror are themselves far from paragons of liberal democracy, raising the questions of "hypocrisy "and "double standards." To the unbiased observer, the regime of Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan America¹s new ally in the war on terror might not appear to be any less repressive or dictatorial than that of Iraq under Saddam Hussein or Syria under Bashar Assad. Mr. Karimov¹s willingness to assist the U.S. in coping with more egregious security threats, however, has earned him a reprieve but it is not limitless.
The thrust of the Bush Doctrine, however, makes it inevitable that Iraq and the Middle East would emerge as the primary targets of American power. America ¹s vision of an ideal global civilization is most challenged in a region that has produced genocidal tyrants like Saddam Hussein and fiery clerics sanctifying suicide bombings, who openly reject the values and outlook epitomized by the U.S. In the eyes of Washington, the replacement of Saddam¹s tyranny with a democratic, inclusive Iraq will not just constitute a Wilsonian liberation of a beleaguered populace, but further pressure the region ¹s princes and life-time presidents toward accommodation with the collective will. In an
ironic twist of events, the president that is routinely caricatured as indifferent to international sensibilities is demonstrating a unique faith in the Arab people as not only fit for self-governance but capable of propelling the Middle East into the age of modernity.
Whether the U.S. will invade Iraq or not will be debated in congressional committees and international parleys in the coming weeks. However, in its conduct the Bush administration is not so much establishing new precedents as reviving old principles. The Bush team, which two
years ago proclaimed itself to be "realist ", anxious to curtail deploying American forces to distant lands for undefined purposes, has transformed a struggle against a band of transnational terrorists into a general campaign that includes on its target list items such as illegitimate governments, poverty and weapons of mass destruction. The intriguing aspect of all this is to the extent to which President Bush is prepared to emulate another American president whose "idealism "and "naivete "about the world were similarly castigated in Europe Woodrow Wilson.