John Bolton once declared “I don’t do carrots.” To the extent that this is a quite concise distillation of the Bush Doctrine, it should surprise no one that Bolton was on Bush’s short-list of people to serve as UN ambassador.
The Bush Doctrine actually goes beyond “all sticks, no carrots”; it includes at least three core prepositions: preemption, democratization, and dominance.
As nicely encapsulated in Robert W. Merry’s new book The Sands of Empire, preemption entails “America’s declared right to start a war to thwart a suspected attack.” But preemption, as practiced by the Bush administration, is more accurately understood as “preventive war.” And while preemption of an imminent attack has long been accepted under international law (indeed, the UN high level report reaffirmed the right of preemption as fundamental and authorized under the UN Charter), preventive war, whereby a government chooses to take action before a threat materializes, has typically been shunned. And when leaders have gone that route, it often ends badly.
Preventive war as advocated by the Bush administration ties into the second premise of the Bush doctrine, namely that of spreading democratic values. The decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power went beyond simply eliminating a nuisance or a potential threat. Even more important was the demonstration effect, the shock and awe, that was expected to carry over to other odious regimes: “Do you want this to happen to you?”
The Bush Doctrine is an outright rejection of deterrence. It goes beyond merely discouraging nation-states from attacking the United States. Instead, this is a coercive posture, whereby we deign to convince autocratic rulers to alter their domestic politics, or else they will suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein.
But there’s a problem: it doesn’t work.
The president continues to make the case that the war waged to remove Hussein from power was instrumental in convincing Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear schemes. That may have played a role, but Qaddafi was anxious to escape economic sanctions well before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and even before 9/11. Bush has not, and I would argue he cannot, account for why the leaders in Iran and North Korea have failed to respond as the Bush Doctrine suggests that they would: by capitulating.
A year ago, Justin Logan and I predicted that the neo-conservatives would soon be forced to face reality. Soon has proved not soon enough, as Americans continue to die in Iraq every day with no meaningful exit strategy in sight. More troubling, the continued fighting in Iraq is undermining U.S. security because it has pierced the veil of American dominance.
Another Cato colleague Stanley Kober quoted Machiavelli to make this point:
In his classic work, The Prince, Machiavelli wrote “a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated.” In other words, the best position to be in is to be feared and loved; the next best is to be feared and not hated; and the prince should avoid being hated and feared. Tellingly, Machiavelli did not even consider the possibility of being hated and not feared — presumably because a prince in that position would not be a prince for very long.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the situation in which the United States now finds itself. Fear of American power is diminishing, while animosity toward U.S. policy is increasing. We are, in short, in the worst situation possible, and as a consequence we can expect further grim challenges ahead.
To be clear, many people still love the United States, and many others still fear us. However, in so far as we are increasingly hated, yet not feared, the Bush Doctrine makes us all less secure chiefly because the third element — the presumption of America’s unchallenged dominance — cannot be sustained indefinitely. And our enemies know that.
What is the alternative? A better sense of our limitations, and a willingness to abide by them. In other words, humility.
National security policy entails making choices, virtually all of them difficult. I contend that when policy strays from the defense of vital national interests, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate those interventions that are necessary and warranted, from those that are unnecessary and unwise.
One of my favorite American presidents is Dwight David Eisenhower. He was hardly perfect (his views on civil rights were even less enlightened than those of many of his contemporaries), but he had a vision of national security that was shaped by his perception of national interests, interests that were, in turn, shaped by his sense that American power was limited. These limitations necessarily forced policymakers to pick and choose where and when to intervene, and in what fashion. This was particularly the case during the Cold War, when miscalculation risked provoking a global thermonuclear war.
Neoconservatives enamored of America’s unipolar moment in the aftermath of the Cold War believed that the constraints were essentially gone. The United States could aspire to global dominance, something it never sought to do during the Cold War, because none could challenge her.
But there are constraints. While some might scorn the American public’s reluctance to play the world’s policeman, I believe that these attitudes reflect an accurate assessment of the high costs and dubious benefits of military operations that are not directly tied to the protection of U.S. vital interests. Few politicians will be willing to buck the trend if support for a particular overseas mission wanes.
An even more tangible limitation is the U.S. military itself. While our troops are eminently capable of defeating any force foolish enough to engage them on the battlefield, they cannot be everywhere, and they cannot do everything. We should be extremely careful about deploying our forces abroad, and we should be particularly wary of a long-term military presence in foreign lands.
Rather than rush to deploy U.S. forces around the world (and rather than leave in place those from the Cold War-era that were dedicated to fighting a foe that has long since disappeared) we should focus instead on applying all of the means at our disposal –diplomatic, cultural, economic — that enhance our security. When peaceful measures fail, we must also be prepared to apply military force in an intelligent and judicious manner, at times, and places, of our own choosing. And we must always do so with a clear understanding of the costs and risks of such operations.
If this sounds familiar, it should: that was Eisenhower’s preferred approach for dealing with the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Scorned at the time for allowing the Soviets to open a “missile gap” most scholars now credit Eisenhower with resisting the urge to engage in a crash program to match the Soviets. Eisenhower knew that American security could not be measured simply by numbers of missiles; the real strength of our nation, and the source of our long-term prosperity and safety, resides in the entrepreneurial spirit that is often stifled when military spending crowds out private investment. The same reasoning applies today, even as the threat has changed dramatically.
Let me close with one more plug for the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and with a word of thanks to Steve, whom I have come to know through the Coalition, a group of scholars and interested citizens that I helped to organize over two years ago.
The lively debate at TWN accords very well with the spirit of the Coalition. Other guest bloggers who have signed the Coalition’s statement of principles (“The Perils of Empire“) include Charlie Kupchan, Leon Hadar and Doug Bandow.
We are an eclectic group, to be sure, but while we disagree on many things, we agree that a foreign policy predicated on empire is not in America’s interest, and is not consistent with American traditions and values. We seek to explore alternative foreign policy frameworks in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect. Thanks and congrats to Steve for facilitating this discussion (now if I could only get him to write something for the Coalition web site…).
— Chris Preble