|June 7, 2002||atimes.com|
Muddles and modalities of the 'Bush Doctrine'
By Ehsan Ahrari
"Bush thinks he is still living in the age of cowboys, and that the world is like Texas with him as sheriff."
- Iranian Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani on President George W Bush's attempts to deter nations from helping others acquire weapons of mass destruction. Reported in Newsweek, June 10, 2002.
The exercise of phrasemaking has become a full-time preoccupation of the US mass media. It indulges in it so frequently that at times it seems that news stories and analyses are written around cute cliches and phrases. One such phrase, "doctrine", is attached to the names of numerous US presidents. There are, to be sure, some such doctrines that are meaningful statements and policies, while others need a lot more than one's imagination to make much sense.
There was that famous Monroe Doctrine of 1823, when president James Monroe admonished European powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere. It stated that "the United States would regard as a threat to its own peace and safety any attempt by European powers to impose their system on any independent state in the Western Hemisphere".
Historians tell us that from the perspective of "hard power" (ie, hardcore military strength that is usually studied through "order of the battle" descriptions), the United States was in no position to admonish the European powers of that era. We also read about the Roosevelt Doctrine (Teddy Roosevelt, that is) of 1904, as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine. The Roosevelt Doctrine declared that "the US would prohibit any non-American intervention in Latin-American affairs and also police the area in order to guarantee that these countries met their international obligations".
More recently, the US media made a big deal about the Carter Doctrine, whereby president Jimmy Carter declared the Persian Gulf as part of the United States' vital interests. That was a warning (mind the word "warning" as opposed to the "admonishment" of the Monroe Doctrine) to the Soviet Union not to go beyond Afghanistan, which, by then, was already enslaved by the Soviet Bear.
The United States was only one of the two superpowers, but, by all indications, had a discernible qualitative edge over the Soviet Union in military and economic realms. Then came the Reagan Doctrine, which was aimed at backing anti-Soviet guerrillas, never mind the cost. Ironically, the country where that doctrine created a shining success of American resolve was also Afghanistan. Then there was limited murmuring about a so-called Clinton Doctrine, which was pejoratively described by one source as, "We only intervene when there is no vital national-security interest, particularly if a domestic special-interest group supports it and the risk of casualty is low."
The proverbial old habits die hard. Now we hear of another doctrine named after George W Bush. As a dispatch in the New York Times describes it, the "Bush Doctrine" "calls for the ouster of any world leader who sponsors terrorism or harbors terrorism". Defined that way, the Bush Doctrine immediately runs into problems. About the only regime that was an unequivocal candidate for ousting under that doctrine was the Taliban regime, since it was openly allied with the al-Qaeda terrorist group. That regime no longer exists.
However, when the preceding description of the Bush Doctrine is applied to one of Bush's brilliant phrases, the so-called axis of evil, one comes up empty. Of the three countries that were lumped under that silly phrase, neither North Korea nor Iraq has been linked with terrorism. That only leaves Iran, which has long been accused of sponsoring the Lebanese Hezbollah. In addition, Israel has recently accused Iran of sending a shipload of arms to the occupied territories, a charge the latter has vehemently denied. In both instances, an argument has been made in several quarters for placing freedom struggles in a different category. The US government has been very selective in agreeing or disagreeing with such an argument. For instance, it is an open secret that the Kosovo Liberation Army - which was described by supporters of Slobodan Milosevic as a "terrorist" group - had the tacit support of the United States during the Yugoslav crisis.
Even if one were to ignore the Iranian denials, the Bush Doctrine runs into trouble that is largely of its own making. In his own application of that doctrine, Bush has made an exception for Yasser Arafat by refusing to brand him a terrorist, while Ariel Sharon regularly accuses Arafat, if not of openly sponsoring terrorist acts, of at least conniving in them. Bush's position is that Arafat has not only renounced terrorism, but that he has also agreed to the Tenet and Mitchell Plans - two major US-sponsored arrangements - as bases for further negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The recently issued State Department document on global terrorism has absolved Arafat of any personal involvement in terrorist acts, thereby taking the steam out of Sharon's accusations.
But Bush was not alone in his confusion about how to categorize Arafat. The problem goes to the root of the word "terrorism" itself. The special session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), meeting in Malaysia for three days in March-April, also failed to define that phrase. Considering the fact that the Muslim countries wanted to come up with their own definition in the aftermath of September 11, their inability to define terrorism was nearly astounding. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's suggestion that "all attacks on civilians, including those by Palestinian suicide bombers, constituted terrorism" received little support.
It is interesting that Muslim countries rejected that definition. By accepting Mahathir's suggestion, they would have created a real quandary for Bush because they could have handily applied it to Ariel Sharon for his atrocities perpetrated daily against the Palestinian civilians.
Remaining consistent with its pursuit of the evolution of the so-called Bush Doctrine, this time the Washington Post elaborated on its additional new wrinkles. It reported a speech that Bush quite appropriately delivered at the United States Military Academy. Obviously referring to the post-September 11 global environment, he said, "The United States can no longer deter attacks from other nations by threatening massive retaliation ..." Instead, he argued, "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive." He added, "We must strike first, we must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge." Come to think of it, through that statement Bush adds primacy to the element of "pre-emption", that, though it was not explicitly ruled out, was never used by the United States. Two well-known international examples of pre-emption were the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 1981 Israeli attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.
More important than raising commitment to the doctrine of pre-emption is the fact that the Bush administration is about to release its own version of the national-security strategy this summer. This is an important document required by the US Congress since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Even though a sitting president is required to prepare his own national-security strategy each year, the process of developing it is so cumbersome that it has not been consistently produced annually. In the national-security strategy, a president outlines his broad strategic framework, which, in turn, is used by the US military to develop its own document, the national military strategy. This last mentioned document is the basis for developing war plans.
Bush's strategy is said to rely on "three silos". First, the United States intends to "defend the peace against the terrorists and tyrants". Second, the Bush administration is determined to "defend the peace by building good relations among the great powers". Through the third silo, the Bush administration has expressed its resolve to "extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent". It should be pointed out that the first two silos are specific to the Bush presidency. The first one is clearly in response to the rising specter of global terrorism. Through the second silo, Bush is attempting to institutionalize the coalition-building process, but with special attention on great powers. It is possible that through this declaration, Bush is also attempting to defuse the frequently heard European criticism of his predilections for unilateralism. Moreover, this is an attempt to signal to Russia, and to a lesser extent the People's Republic of China, the US intention to consult with them on heady global issues. The revised sanctions that were passed by the United Nations Security Council in May were the product of precisely this type of consensus-building assiduously pursued by US officials.
The seeming institutionalization of the doctrine of pre-emption is also directly linked to Bush's "axis of evil" speech, since, in his speech at the US Military Academy, he talked about the limitations of the Cold War doctrine of deterrence, which deterred potential aggressors through the fear of overwhelming retaliation. Today's terrorists and "unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction", he said, would not be deterred. In an attempt to minimize confusion regarding what the president intended, his aides pointed out that he was referring to North Korea and Iraq.
But as his administration is orchestrating a campaign to demonstrate his arguable command of world affairs, Bush's newest version of unilateralism - that is, the doctrine of pre-emption - is still worrying European allies and friendly Arab states. Leaders in both these regions might be correctly interpreting that newest wrinkle of Bush's foreign policy as yet another manifestation of his reported undeterred resolve to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in the coming months. Their major concern is that their respective regions - Europe and Middle East - are likely to suffer the deleterious spillover effects of such US adventurism.
Ehsan Ahrari is a Norfolk, Virginia-based strategic analyst.
(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Front | China | Southeast Asia | Japan | Koreas | India/Pakistan | Central Asia/Russia | Oceania
Business Briefs | Global Economy | Asian Crisis | Media/IT | Editorials | Letters | Search/Archive
back to the top
©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.
Building B - 5th Floor, 102/1 Phra Arthit Road, Chanasangkhram, Bangkok 10200, Thailand