Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Bush Doctrine

President Bush has never been a great defender of his own radical doctrine and now seems to be on the point of giving it up, in deference to the "realism" of his father's generation. One of the most sophisticated defenders of the Bush Doctrine renews his arguments in a post here.

While the obituaries are being written, Scenic Politics, formerly known to some of us as Prosperoicon, provides a lucid analysis of why the alternatives of quarantining or destroying the Islamic world and the violence it projects are likely to be impossible, and why a renewed Bush Doctrine is likely to emerge in future.


terrye said...


Not to be harsh, but we know nothing of the kind. Dafydd did a good post on this tonight and I agree with it. People need to get a grip. This is something that conservatives do and it is unfair.

When the Dubai ports deal came up we heard that Bush was going to sell our ports to terrorists. Wrong. We heard that the Miers nomination meant Bush was never ever ever ever going to put a conservative on the court again. Wrong. We heard that Bush was actually in some secret deal with Vincente Fox to cede the southwest to Mexico. Well golly gee, New Mexico and Arizona are still part of the Union.

We do not know what is in Baker's report. We do not know if Gates is going to follow some, part or none of it. We do not know if Gates will be good at his job, but it would be nice if people at least let the man get to the confirmation hearings without deciding he is a cheese eating surrender monkey or something. Give him a chance. People say he is a insider, well so was Rumsfeld, the man had been around forever. You could trace him all the way back to Nixon.

Rumsfeld is an old man and for all we know it was his decision to go once he knew for sure who would be in charge of Congress. More and more conservatives were turning on him and while Bush said he had confidence in him, he never said that Rumsfeld would always be there. People just assumed that he felt that way because he did not tell the all important press corps and pundits what his plans were. And he does not have to. Maybe he waited to say anything until right after the election because he wanted to take the wind out of Pelosi's sails.

This is exactly the kind of jumping the gun and going off the deep end that helped discourage so many for no good reason on so many other occasions. So rather than assume that George Bush is suddenly going to turn into someone else because the guys are powerline are in a funk, maybe we ought to wait and see what happens.

truepeers said...

I hope you're right Terrye, but it's hard to see where the wider political will or legitimacy will come from now to continue. Still, you're right that there is much to keep fighting for. Sometimes a little despair is prelude to a needed renewal. I still think reason favors the Bush Doctrine as a long-term project; let's help build the faith without ignoring that its waning.

Rick Ballard said...


How can you call that a sophisticated argument? It presumes "liberty" as a default "desired end" that muslims must pursue. Liberty is a construct, not an inherent norm. There is no "liberty" gene and Islam does an excellent job of indoctrinating its followers to precisely the opposite construct, that of "submission". It also denigrates the possibility that the 'other' has any but a truly inferior status.

There are other religions and philosophies that are amenable to democracy - certainly Buddhism - Hinduism, Shinto and Confucianism to a lesser extent - but not and never Islam. It's not the 1400 years of its miserable existence that provides the proof - the proof is written all over the Koran.

I have no Idea what policy the President will pursue in Iraq. If he follows his dismissal of Rumsfeld with a replacement of Casey and Abizaid in the field then I will speculate that there will be one more military push to crush the militias around Baghdad. The 'hearts and minds' crew needs to take a little break. Gen. Zebari is quite capable of selecting Iraqi units competent for the mission. If President Bush will allow him to do the job.

terrye said...

From what I hear there were some Generals who want to be more aggressive than Rumsfeld was willing to be. So for all we know, this could go the other way.

Rick Ballard said...


I'm out of the betting business for the moment but there certainly are a number of Lt. Colonels, Colonels, Brigadier and Major Genrals who have very clear ideas that are very different than Casey and Abizaid's.

Casey and Abizaid have had their run, they can retire now.

loner said...

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from
liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[ America's] glory is not
dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

—John Quincy Adams, Monsters To Destroy, 1821

That's who we were; that's who we are. We are not imperialists and the neo-con dream, in my view, requires that we be. It isn't that the neo-con dream (lately reworked into the "Bush Doctrine") won't work; it's that it can't work.

Two and a half years ago on Roger's blog I wrote that I would consider the intervention in Iraq to have been worth the price in blood and treasure if Iraq was governed more like Japan than like Cuba two years after we withdrew our troops. I'm more patient than many of my fellow citizens and if the President persists in his present course for another two years I'll think that foolish, but I'll also acknowledge that it's his call. He's the President and, hopefully, it's still true that God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.

terrye said...


The only reason the people of Iraq even have a chance of having a government of their choosing is because America went there.

In the 19th century Americans were called imperialists because they tried to secure their continent the against Europeans.

loner said...


The only reason the people of Iraq even have a chance of having a government of their choosing is because America went there.

Yes, and if we were somehow able to pre-emptively overcome the fundamental maxim of our policy we could force them to have a government of our choosing, which is what the "Bush Doctrine" really calls for.

terrye said...


No it does not. The Bush doctrine calls for the establishment of representative government and millions of Iraqis risked their lives to vote for that. Obviously we did not tell them who to vote for, if we had there would be different people running the place right now.

The truth is what we are doing here is not so different from what we did in Japan. The difference was one of the two major political parties did not base its foreign policy on failure in Japan.

loner said...


No. The difference is that we were attacked by Japan, we declared war on Japan, we fought a war with Japan, we forced Japan to surrender unconditionally and we imposed a form of government more to our liking upon Japan. No pre-emption and then no choice. Force, not liberty. Liberty later.

truepeers said...

It presumes "liberty" as a default "desired end" that muslims must pursue. Liberty is a construct, not an inherent norm. There is no "liberty" gene and Islam does an excellent job of indoctrinating its followers to precisely the opposite construct, that of "submission".

Rick, I am inclined to agree with you that Islam is a dead end that is fully capable of remaining such for centuries on end; but I don't pretend to know for sure; in any case, the question then is how will we help people see and move beyond a dead end (whether it requires the total or partial rejection of Islamic practices).

But I don't share your understanding of "liberty". Liberty may be a construct in the sense that any particular social order is a construct, but there is no social order, even Islam, that is not constructed and practiced without some degree of freedom, however limited that degree may be in comparison with another society's. Some degree of freedom is inherent to the human condition, because it is inherent in the first articulation of any and all language and institutions. That's not to say that social orders cannot evolve into norms that are very resistant to change, as is Islam and the system of "big man" rule. But the very freedom that was necessary to go from primitive man to Islam remains part of Muslims' humanity.

THis capacity for freedom is inherent to humanity and what brings it to the fore is necessity. When everything you know and try points towards nightmares of destruction and death, time after time, that's when you find the courage to try something new. What is being argued in the article is that the Bush Doctrine proposes to force on the various dictatorships of the world consequences for directing the violence and resentment inherent to their societies outwards onto the West and the USA. When a country is not appeased by "the realists" or by the left, but if it gets treated something like Iraq by the US, time after time (if we had the patience and will), will it create the sense of necessity for change - will it spark some greater degree of freedom in that country's system? We're not talking liberal democracy overnight - can we, however, introduce a wedge from which change can evolve over time?

I think so. Total self-destruction is an alternative possibility, but less likely in my view for it is contrary to the natural instinct to survive. Yes, there is no "liberty gene". Rather, liberty is inherent in humanity's break from nature, i.e. in our capacity for language. The start of freedom is the freedom to sign, precisely because we are not made by the creation to be either talkers or listeners, rulers or slaves. We all have an inherent capacity to be both and so it is a question of what will it take for the slaves to revolt. Instead of deferring to the threats of the slave masters, why not put the fire to the feet of the slaves that they might produce/help set the scene for an Ataturk?

The other side to the article is a critique of the alternatives to the Bush doctrine and I share the view that there are not any obviously viable alternatives in the long run.

truepeers said...


I share your general sentiment that imperialism can only fail and that what the world needs are self-ruling nations. I don't see the Bush doctrine as imperialism. Whatever the difference between practice and theory these last few years, I see it is as a vision that asserts the need for norms of reciprocity between nations that only responsible self-rule can guarantee. The consequences of tyranny are today global, not simply internal to a society that you might think prefers big man rule; this requires that everyone in a tyranny feel the backlash of those threatened by the inevitable violence that tyrannies direct outwards - as a safety valve for their own internally generated resentments - that they may be made accountable through interaction with outside forces ensuring they can be made more accountable.

The doctrine of pre-emption assumes that the US and international order was genuinely threatened by the likes of Saddam. Shall we rehash this debate? Surely you don't think it was just a grab for oil. In our small world, an imperative for survival for any and all nations is that all nations or states live up to some norms of responsibility and ethical conduct in an ongoing global exchange. That's what I see the Bush doctrine being about. I don't think Americans know much about imperialism, thanks to founding figures like Adams. It's not what you are about or what you are doing in Iraq. An imperialist would have acted with an altogether different logic, e.g. changing little but insuring there was a gun to Saddam II's head that he would obey.

loner said...


I don't see the "Bush Doctrine" as imperialism either. I see it as utopian nonsense in the context of a non-imperialist power trying to make it work. I supported the pre-emptive intervention in Iraq because I thought my leaders knew what they were talking about regarding weapons of mass destruction and I don't doubt that they thought they knew what they were talking about, too. So now we have some sort of dysfunctional, but duly elected, government in Iraq and plenty of growing threats to our security and to that of countries for whom we have security commitments from governments not duly elected and, in some cases, entirely dysfunctional and our leaders have a credibility problem both here and abroad. How are we safer?

truepeers said...


There is nothing utopian about trying to enforce accountability on people, though admittedly making a fetish of any method to that end is utopian. Trying to make it work is thus a question of learning and adapting, not trying to push through some supposedly essential vision or process. If the Bush doctrine entailed the latter, I'd agree with you, but that's not my understanding. I just see a general realization that engagement is generally preferable to building walls which will always leak or be overflown.

I don't know if you are any safer today - anyway, it is a short term/long term question. I'm more sure however that no one has a sure means to guarantee your safety in a world full of resentment towards you. I see no reason to think that the Iraq war has done anything to increase the already intense anti-Americanism over the long term or the means by which the resentful can hurt you, other than obviously the soldiers you send to the ME.

The question is what causes the resentment and what is a viable long-term strategy for diminishing it. Most simply, we resent those whom we feel alienate us from the sacred as we would avow it. America is resented as the leader of a global economy whose many representations of sacred and profane attractions roil those in the many societies that cannot effectively participate in this economy and cannot yet effectively detach themselves from it either. It is the humiliation of this unavoidable impotence that fuels anti-Americanism, whatever particular policy America takes at the moment. This resentment is not a rational response to a specific action or policy; it is the product of
competing, somewhat irrational, visions of the sacred and a world in which one vision simply cannot compete with the other. The failure is fundamental to the lives of billions and
cannot be effectively appeased; and attempts to do so will only win more disdain because it won't change the fundamental equation. The losers must somehow be liberated to join the market in which they can begin to play the game of representing the sacred as free individuals belonging to self-ruling nations can. That's a long-term project which nothing could have effected in the last few years.

One can only attempt to control the resentful through brute force - though the Western left will not allow it and our societies would rip apart if anyone tried to get seriously genocidal - or to encourage them to take steps to one day be more involved in this global economy. That's a messy, uncertain, risky, business because the very survival of billions presently depends on following the dictates of ritualistic big man social and economic systems that are antithetical to success in the global economy. It's foolish to deny the impasse as if there were some obvious solution. And it's an impasse that is adding nukes and other nasty things to the field of play, day by day.

But what other choice is there but an attempt to engage and create new forms of reciprocity between us and them? If you don't believe Saddam ever had the means to deliver WMD, are you willing to bet that the Iranians or Norks won't either in the coming years? Yes, it is a paradox that we have to use force to attempt to create a constructive engagement with people. If they didn't deeply hate us, we need not win their respect through force. But they do hate us, all the more when we act like rich doting uncles playing one nephew against another.

In one practical sense, the US surely knows a lot more about what is going on in the ME, thanks to its engagement, than it did pre-invasion. No doubt intelligence is much less thatn what it could be, but it is surely better than it was. Maybe this makes you a little safer. If the US showed the will to carry out the Bush doctrine - not as a utopian method but as an ongoing engagement and continual experiment in refining the rules of the game - I would say that would garner some respect. The credibility problem stems from a lack of national will which stems from a guilt and fear of the exercise of power which your enemies exploit.

So how far would you go in allowing tyrants-terrorists to play your guilt/fear and threaten you, without responding by encouraing your fellow Americans to exercise power? Is there really some safe equilibrium to be found in such games? I doubt it. You could keep beheading the Saddams and then leave town, but sooner or later someone would figure out how to fool you at this game. Your only real possibility of some security guarantee can come from the people who risk being nuked when the terror game gets out of control. Step by step they have to gain power and accountability, or their alienation will continue to fuel the hatred that will find ways to destroy us.

terrye said...


The Iraqis fired at out planes just like the Jpanese did, the difference was the Japanese were better shots.

And the Iraqis tried to kill a president.

And the Iraqi government could be tied to the first attack on the WTC.

And the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was our national policy, there was no such policy in regards to Japan until after Pearl Harbor.

There was a time when anyone one of those would have been enough to enrage Americans. Now unless they actually bomb Baltimore, it is not real.

Rick Ballard said...


"This capacity for freedom is inherent to humanity and what brings it to the fore is necessity."

I would argue that the only thing that ever brings it to the fore is control over personal surplus. The potential for liberty and freedom is indeed inherent. What is also inherent is desire to survive the moment and the personal survival instinct must be overcome (or threat to survival must not be perceived) in order to enjoy the luxury good of liberty.

Islam recapitulates the dog or chimpanzee pack in terms of spoils going to the alpha male. In that sense it is much more 'natural' than any rights based system will ever be. It deals with the surplus male population by promising that paradise will be a huge whorehouse - and if you just can't wait, why infidel women are not quite human sluts anyway, so have at it.

Islam has been bottled up in the past and it will probably be bottled up again this time. What it won't be is reformed from within. It's a perfect tool designed by a thieving murderous rapist and plunderer to justify actions which his descendants now consider to be normal behavior. Why should they change?

truepeers said...

Rick, I'm not saying change will come easily, especially not from within - it has to be "forced" from outside by us making friends and enemies, dividing and conquering; I'm just saying it seems to me somewhat more likely our succeeding at this than safely bottling up a billion people who hate their societies' impotence and blame us.

Freedom is indeed control over surplus, to some extent. But as you know, primitive human societies don't have any bankable surplus and they are rather equalitarian. In that situation, people are essentially ruled by the ritual order in which the mask one wears is more important than the "person", a concept they don't yet have in the way we do. Thus, human freedom in the primitive world is influence at the margins of a slowly changing myth and ritual, and in the quite limited room that exists for the expression of profane desires.

The rise of big men first requires a surplus that can be controlled. But the first big men do not control it to get rich but rather to give away the wealth, potlatch style. They work harder (and they sweat their kin) in order to control the ritual that is, in effect, the redistribution of the wealth. They want to be "big" in terms of the ritual order than gives meaning to their existence as symbols, and if that means individually consuming less to give away more, that's what they do.

When next evolve big men who not only want to control the ritual but also enjoy consuming the wealth, they create a lot of resentment that they must continually develop strategies to mediate - e.g. prove themselves as military leaders in wars of conquest - because people remain in touch with the egalitarian moral intuition of primitive man. Islamic history, according to Ibn Khaldun, is in large part a story of tribal leaders in the hills getting pissed off at the decadent and corrupt big men of the town and every few generations riding down and replacing them, until their progeny in turn become the corrupt.

This is to suggest that Islam, like any hierarchy, is not just about maximizing wealth, but it is also a contest for ritual and mythic significance. Countless Muslims have fought Muslims for "the true faith", not firstly for wealth though who is to say how much attraction that might also hold for most warriors, if not for all. Freedom to control surplus begins with the freedom to control or influence/shape ritual and its mythic interpretation. One should not say freedom is only one or the other. The difference between an Audi and a Vokswagen is largely a creation of our symbol makers - it is not very inherent in the things themselves. It is our freedom to say some particular material thing is desirable that makes it desirable, once our basic appetitive and sexual needs are taken care of.

If there is some way to convince a critical mass of resentful would-be leaders that "the true faith", the desirable symbols, are now to be things that involve coming to terms with modernity, with dealing (whether with guns or dollars to the head) with Westerners and their self-interest, then there could be forces for change, especially where Kemalist types of nationalism can act as a counter to Sharia.

We must remember that there is a primitive or minimal kind of freedom that pre-dates the emergence of surplus wealth and it is the seed that the truly committed to renewing/transforming transcendent values can use against worldly corrupt big men who may indeed act like animals, which is to say not quite human. If Muslims can be put in touch with that part of their fundamental humanity that Islam poorly develops, they can change - as any apostate will tell us. We need to find a way to make it possible for apostates to save their heads, then things will change. Tough job, I know.

truepeers said...

I might add, that while the big man who controls the surplus is resented, the big man social system can still evolve and stabilize itself with this resentment because it is also an increase of freedom in the system as a whole. Once a new kind of desire is put into circulation - even if only a few enjoy it - it nonetheless expands the network of exchange in comparison to the primitive, more equalitarian order. Everyone gets a little freer, if less equal.

Modern western society wants to believe that every man can live like a king, and in consumer society this is true to some extent. It should not be impossible to convince individual Muslims that they too can be "big" men, even interpreting the Koran, to some degree, for themselves, if we can give them some security guarantees and some access to surplus wealth. It is natural, i.e. human, for them to resent the big men who act like animals and if it is not a sure thing they lose their heads they will seek the freedom to integrate their own resentment and desire into an expanded, freer, network of exchange if only to influence the terms of the ritual to which they will submit.