What Is – Was – the Bush Doctrine?

What Is – Was – the Bush Doctrine?

I don’t watch television, so I wouldn’t actually know, but I take it there was some sort of dustup in a Sarah Palin ABC interview in which Governor Palin was asked about the so-called Bush Doctrine.  I don’t know exactly what the discussion was about, but I did get an email from a friend a little while ago that said, “You’re the only person I know who has ever defended the Bush doctrine.  What did you think it was?”  Well.  The fact that my academic friend, whom I adore, wouldn’t know anyone who ever defended the Bush doctrine might perhaps be taken mostly as statement about the bubble of academia, but, sure, I would count myself as something of an expert on it.  In my mind, it has meant all or some of the following propositions:

  • The Bush post 9-11 statement that you are either for us or against us when it comes to terrorism and harboring terrorists; 
  • the doctrine of preventative war that was used to justify the Iraq war;
  • the doctrine that America should spread democracy, including by removing dictatorial regimes, and that this is both right per se and conducive to American national security; 
  • the proposition that freedom, as expressed through democracy, is a fundamental human desire; and 
  • the general agglomeration of positions found in the Bush administration’s 2002 national security strategy, including all of the above plus some new things, such as the resolve of the United States to maintain global military predominance.

Maybe there are some other things that I’m not thinking of offhand.  And I see, looking at Wikipedia, that it largely agrees that these positions describe the shifting contours of what has generally been called the Bush doctrine.  And here’s what AEI’s Thomas Donnelly had to say about it in a short position paper in 2003.  Here’s Charles Krauthammer, who coined the term, and here’s a decent news story in the Washington Post on what “experts” think.  I suppose the larger point is that the Bush doctrine seeks to marry, successfully or not, consistently or not, certain realist positions with certain idealist ones.

(Update:  I added a couple of links; it occurs to me reading the news coverage afterwards that perhaps we would be better informed if the press skipped the ‘gotcha’ questions and went with the rather sensible list of questions that Bobbitt and Danforth offered in the NYT, noted in my earlier post.  I, at least, would really like to see the questions cleared up by both campaigns before election day.  Though I’m not holding my breath.)

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Charles Gittings


1) You’ll find ABC’s text excerpts of the interviews here:

* first interview

* second interview

2) Your list just gives the Bush excuses. The actual Bush doctrine, or more accurately, the Cheney-Addington Doctrine (which is merely the Nazi Fuhrer Principle recast in terms of (ahem) ‘constitutional law’), was stated very concisely by John Yoo in an OLC memo dated 2008.09.25:

“In both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution, Congress has recognized the President’s authority to use force in circumstances such as those created by the September 11 incidents. Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.”

Even the excuses beg a question: what do you suppose they mean by the word ‘democracy’?

3) I’d still like to know how a reasonable guy like you can support these degenerate gangsters in anything. They are a disgrace to everything this nation claims to believe in, especially the rule of law. They are nothing but murderous war criminals.

Charles Gittings

Yes, well it happens I share your detachment from the hurly burly: mostly, I just want it over so I can see where things stand and figure out where to go from there, not that I don’t care about the outcome mind you. But policy does matter, and bad habits and delusions are not exactly policies. Charles Krauthammer took the topic  for a spin in his column today, and my only thought was bad rhetoric is even less a policy than a bad habit is. I mean, seriously — what policy?? Excuses and fraudulent pretexts are not polices. “It’s good for us to be powerful and whatever we think, do, or say is always right” isn’t anything but self-delusion.  I don’t so much feel anger about this stuff as worry and dispair, which is not to deny that the malicious dishonesty of folks like Dick Cheney, David Addington, and John Yoo makes me very angry indeed — and the quotation I gave from Yoo’s 2001.09.25 OLC memo is a good example. Indeed, it’s exhibit 1, everything that anyone needs to know about the Bush administration in order to simply condemn them as enemies of both the United States and humanity… Read more »

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

Alas, “war crimes, torture, murderous criminal aggression, and the worst sort of political and legal subversion and corruption” are discovered in other countries and regimes that are, allegedly, not at all “like us,” hence the value of Freud’s “narcissism of little differences” (or something like that) and socio-psychological phenomena like projection (I’m not claiming others are innocent, only that ‘we’ are constitutionally innocent [pun intended], i.e., innocent by definition, because it’s all done in the name of ideals like freedom and democracy), and the predilection for Manichaen battles between good and evil, light and darkness. We’re rich, and powerful, technologically sophisticated, democratic, a “city on a hill,” etc., while “they” are corrupt, poor, authoritarian, “developing” (‘failed states’ and the like all on the outside looking it as it were), etc. Our idealized and blinding sense of goodness allows all the “bad” to be exemplified by others, hence the self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and hubris, the collective incarnation of the grandiose self: “The narcissist displays a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; recurrent fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, brilliance, or ideal love; a craving for constant attention and admiration; and lack of empathy” (Ernest Wallwork).

M. Gross
M. Gross

The War Powers Resolution will probably slog on, essentially ignored, for another decade or so.  No one seems to be willing to force the issue.