America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay

Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2003. viii, 246pp, US$22.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8157-1688-5)

Few presidents in recent American history have conducted a foreign policy that has provoked as much controversy as George W. Bush. Not coincidentally, few presidents have been as misunderstood or as underestimated as Bush has been these past three years. Is he a captive, hapless and helpless chief executive beholden to corporate interests and ultimately controlled by his vice president, Dick Cheney? Is he a bumbling, unimaginative fool who is ultimately controlled by sharper wits in the administration, such as Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and the neo-conservative cabal at the Pentagon? Neither, argue former Clinton administration officials Ivo Daalder and James H. Lindsay. The answer is much simpler: the President "was the puppeteer, not the puppet....George W. Bush led his own revolution" (p. 16).

In America Unbound, Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Lindsay, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, set out to provide a political and ideological blueprint of the Bush administration. While Bush may be a conservative, they argue, his foreign policy has been nothing short of revolutionary. For the past century, US leaders have struggled with the dilemma of how best to wield America's awesome, and perennially growing, power. Two basic schools of thought--isolationism and interventionism--have sought to provide an answer. After an isolationist false start following the First World War, US participation in the Grand Alliance during the Second World War and leadership of the western Alliance during the Cold War offered confirmation of America as an interventionist power. What Bush has done is to turn both of these traditions upside down. While he has rejected isolationism, he has also discarded the multilateralism that served as the lodestar of previous American foreign policy. Bush, then, is a unilateralist--or, to use the term that Daalder and Lindsay prefer, an "assertive nationalist" (p. 15). Girding Bush's worldview, and thus his foreign policy, is a belief that America's unrivalled economic, political, cultural and especially military power enables the US to act freely, without the need to rely on permanent alliances. According to Daalder and Lindsay, this makes Bush--and nearly every member of his administration save Secretary of State Colin Powell--a "hegemonist" (p. 40).

As the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and the lonely pursuit of missile defence demonstrate, the unilateralist tendency was present, and prevalent, in the Bush administration's foreign policy before the attacks of 11 September 2001. What 9/11 did was to galvanize and radicalize the Bush administration's approach. The realism of the assertive nationalists, who had disdained nation-building, peacekeeping and democracy promotion, was quickly co-opted by the militant idealism of the neo-conservatives--the infamous "neocons." In a long overdue clarification to a common misperception, Daalder and Lindsay rightly point out that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are not neocons, but traditional, conservative Republicans. Neocons, on the other hand, are former liberals, even Democrats, who became disenchanted first with the anti-war and anti-Israeli sentiment that emerged in full force after 1967, and later with detente. In this context, "neo" does not necessarily mean "radical," as many continue mistakenly to infer, but "new." Influential neocons include Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, Elliot Abrams at the National Security Council and Richard Perle, formerly of the semi-official Defense Policy Board, all of whom once worked for that fierce opponent of detente, Democratic Senator Henry Jackson. What continues to distinguish the neocons from old-line Republicans is their purified, idealistic belief in the ability of American power to remake the world in a liberal-capitalist, democratic and above all American image. …