In October, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion and “put the Bush administration in a historical context.”
This pre-election forum asked me to look deep into the administration’s record and come to terms with its place in the grand scope of U.S. history.
What I argued then and what I will argue now is that a Bush victory in November would have drastic implications for the administration’s legacy and even more importantly for the future of U.S. foreign policy.
That victory is history and we are now embarking on what could be the age of “the Bush Doctrine.”
U.S. history has witnessed several presidents gain notoriety for the doctrines associated with their names.
The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 stated that the United States would not tolerate the Europeans colonizing any part of the Americas, nor would the United States meddle in European affairs.
Eight decades later, Theodore Roosevelt issued his famous corollary to the rather passive Monroe Doctrine.
This addendum, part of Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” approach to foreign policy, stated that the United States would intervene as a last resort to ensure that nations in the Western Hemisphere paid their debts and did not infringe on the rights of the United States.
A third creed familiar to Americans is the Truman Doctrine of 1947.
In a speech to Congress that year, Harry Truman announced that the United States would support “free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”
This doctrine eventually gave way to “containment theory” in the Cold War battle against Communism.
What each of these dogmas has in common are the simultaneous assertions by the president that the United States was set on defending freedom and exercising hegemony, or preponderant power and influence.
The most recent attempt by an American president to ensure his legacy as defender of American liberty and prestige occurred just three years ago, with the declaration of the Bush Doctrine.
This doctrine, stating that the United States will pre-empt any and all attacks on its national security and the safety of its citizens, was the result of Sept. 11 and the renewed focus on international threats to the American way of life.
However, the Bush administration floundered when it put the doctrine into action.
More importantly, the president’s decision to go to war with Iraq permanently tarnished international respect for American foreign policy, since the doctrine’s maiden voyage resulted in “pre-empting” an attack that billions of people now know could never have been mounted against the United States.
The result? A supremely illegitimate quagmire costing well over the already astronomical White House estimates of one billion dollars per week.
The failure to properly implement the Bush Doctrine should take precedence over Bush’s more popular proclivity to steal from the poor and give to the rich or his loathsome attempt to dismantle Social Security, which now dominates headlines.
After all, the hundreds of billions of dollars squandered by this administration, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, crusades against the Muslim world and loss of credibility all directly result from the invasion of Iraq, a country which proved to be about as much of a threat to U.S. national security – or any country’s for that matter – as Canada or Switzerland.
Because all the original reasons for invading Iraq were proved false, our beloved government was faced with two options.
It could either admit its mistakes and take accountability for the hundreds of thousands who have died for no good reason or formulate new lies about spreading democracy and protecting freedom (the neo-conservatives’ Wilsonian approach to justifying blatantly illegitimate foreign policy).
Fortunately, Bush governs at a time much unlike his predecessors, where transparency abounds and legitimacy is actually tested.
This administration has failed the test time after time. The Republican monopoly on all three branches of government should therefore disturb Americans.
Our greatest apprehension about the next four years should surround where Bush test drives his pre-emptive war doctrine next, and where he will ultimately crash and burn like he did in his invasion and occupation of Iraq.