Is There a “Bush Doctrine”?

Whether or not designated as "Bush Doctrine" (and the term refers to the name of the President ca. early 21st Century, not to the ideas inside this individual’s head), has it not long been understood that the ideas spelled out with some care in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (September, 2002), esp. Ch. V, "Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction," were intended to remind the world that as right and legitimacy are functions of power, at least in the human world (I won’t presume to speak for the ant-world or the bee-world, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that everything works pretty much the same), the United States therefore possesses the legal right to "[take] anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack"?


To quote this at some length (Ch. V): 


For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack….The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.


I think it fair of us, historically speaking, to regard this formulation over the course of 2002 and into early 2003 as the "Bush Doctrine."  Recall that in the 12 months prior to the official launching of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (and as we know, successive Washington regimes had been carrying out significant aerial attacks on Iraqi targets on-and-off since the start of the first war in January 1991, but especially since December 1998, when the Clinton regime forced the withdrawal of the UNSCOM inspectors, then attacked Iraqi territory savagely), the Bush regime sustained the argument that its coming war on Iraq would be legal under the UN Charter, on grounds that Iraq’s arsenal of WMDs and their potential use against the U.S. and its allies, either directly by the Iraqi Government itself or indirectly by "terrorists" such as Al Qaeda acting at the behest of the Iraqi Government, rendered any eventual war on Iraq within the bounds of legitimate "self-defense."


Indeed. This was what the whole 10,000-plus-word-long performance by Colin Powell before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 was all about ("Remarks to the United Nations Security Council"):


We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. Given Saddam Hussein’s history of aggression, given what we know of his grandiose plans, given what we know of his terrorist associations, and given his determination to exact revenge on those who oppose him, should we take the risk that he will not someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond?  The United States will not and cannot run that risk for the American people. Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world.


On the other hand, aside from the misguided focus on the phony "issues" that conform well with McCain campaign manager Rick Davis’ imperative that the 2008 presidential election ought not to be about issues, but about a "composite view of what people take away from these candidates" (i.e., marketing — how national elections are won and lost in the United States (see "McCain Praised as His Own Man," Washington Post, September 3)), and aside from the fact that when speaking to troops — her own son included — ready to depart for Iraq on Thursday, September 11, Sarah Palin told them that "[they’ll] be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans" (i.e., alluding to the events of seven years earlier, Alaska’s Governor still pinned the blame for 9/11 on the Iraqi Government!), it is not only clear that Palin at the time of her interview with ABC News’s Charlie Gibson didn’t know what the "Bush doctrine" is, but also that Gibson himself didn’t know, either, as was made clear when he tried to explain it to her.

Thus as Gibson formulated his question to Alaska’s Governor ("Excerpts: Charlie Gibson Interviews Sarah Palin," ABC News, September 11, then scroll down to the section titled "Sarah Palin on the ‘Bush Doctrine’"):

The Bush Doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us….Do we have a right to anticipatory self-defense?  Do we have a right to make a preemptive strike against another country if we feel that country might strike us?

In one sense, rights to "anticipatory self-defense" and "preemptive" strikes belong to every state in the world: What this means is that if State A is threatening to attack or in the process of attacking State B (e.g., massing troops near State B’s borders, dispatching aircraft carriers to the waters near State B’s shores, and complaining about how perfidious State B is before the "international community"), it is within State B’s rights to attack State A, in self-defense against State A’s unambiguous threats and imminent attack.  What this legal definition of "anticipatory self-defense" does not mean, on the other hand, is what Charlie Gibson defined it as for Alaska‘s Governor: The right of the U.S. Government to attack some other state, if the U.S. Government alleges that this other state might attack the United States or a U.S. ally at some time in the future.  


There is, however, a much more accurate term for Charles Gibson’s definition of "anticipatory self-defense" and "preemptive" strikes (i.e., if…): This term is aggression, the "supreme international crime" that is outlawed under the UN Charter, and what Chapter VII of the Charter was drafted to counter. 

Now.  In actual practice (i.e., all talk about "doctrine" aside), it is true that successive regimes in Washington have believed that the United States possesses the unique right in all the world to engage in threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.  Or as I said at the outset: That right and legitimacy are functions of power; and that as the United States is a Great Power, that the United States therefore possesses more rights and more legitimacy than any other state — no contest.

(Quick aside: I should add that other states posses comparable rights in the judgment of the U.S Government, depending on whether they act at the behest of the U.S. Government, or their actions benefit it in some other way — Israel being perhaps the best example of this principle. — About which, see "Principles of the Imperial New World Order," Electric Politics, May 1, 2008.)


But aggression most certainly is not "self-defense."  Rather, it is the states that are attacked by the United States and its allies that could rightly claim self-defense.  Nor let us forget that this was Osama bin Laden’s basic argument for Al Qaeda’s use of force against targets on U.S. territory beginning September 11, 2001. 


Moreover, this alleged right to threaten the peace, to breach the peace, and to wage wars of aggression did not enter the legal pantheon of the U.S. Government in September 2002 — that is to say, the "Bush Doctrine" does not constitute an innovation in U.S. or human history.  Rather, the actual principle is as old as the hills, dates back to the very beginning of the United States (and before then, to the British, French, and Spanish imperialists then slugging-it-out in the colonial backwaters of the age), and simply expresses in one form or another the core principle that truly enlightened people identify as barbarism.

To sum-it-up: The actual practice we witnessed in the U.S. invasion of Iraq (and everything this has entailed) is as old as the hills, though only very few states could execute something comparable, and only one state in the contemporary world on so monumental a scale.


The quote-unquote doctrine, on the other hand, must be understood as a designer doctrine — it was tailored specifically to fit the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and incorporated the alleged right of self-defense, articulated many times over the course of the 12 months leading up to March 19, 2003, using the fraudulent rhetoric about Iraqi WMDs and the risk that Iraq will "someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of [Saddam Hussein’s] choosing" (Powell before the Security Council). 


This doctrinal cover was extremely legalistic; the reality behind it, of course, was the naked power of the United States to commit the crime of aggression, without any other state or coalition being able to prevent the perpetrator’s attack, or to come to the defense of the victim, aside from the informal though substantial network of resistance to the invader-occupier that the American leadership has designated "Al Qaeda in Iraq." 


So: The "Bush Doctrine" is a case whereby the world’s peerless aggressor state asserts every state’s non-controversial right of self-defense, and, in turn,  establishes its fraudulent case for self-defense through the orchestrated campaign of lies about Iraqi WMDs and the need to "[take] anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack" (Bush’s September 2002 National Security Strategy).  Or in British stenographer Matthew Rycroft’s famous words, scribbled down on July 23, 2002: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." ("The Secret Downing Street Memo," Sunday Times, May 1, 2005.)


No doubt we can clarify this even further.  But I believe this is the "Bush Doctrine."  Particularly the way that the doctrine (quote-unquote) was tailored on the nonce to fit the U.S. invasion of Iraq like a glove — violence, lies, and all.


"What Is the Bush Doctrine?" Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, September 12, 2008

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