The Bush Foreign Policy, Take Two: A Symposium

The National Interest, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The Bush Foreign Policy, Take Two: A Symposium


What direction will U.S. foreign policy take in the last two years of the Bush Administration? The 2006 National Security Strategy may provide some guidance. Does it provide a useful framework for the formation of policy and in addressing the challenges the United States will face in the upcoming months? Two distinguished practitioners--and former members of the Bush Administration--join with one of America's leading conservative intellectuals to offer their thoughts.

Robert D. Blackwill:

NATIONAL SECURITY strategies of U.S. administrations are usually around about as long as last week's Chinese takeout. They are methodically prepared and debated over many months by midlevel officials, make a brief flyby past senior policymakers, are released and then head briskly for the nearest filing cabinets. In no case in my experience does a president during a crisis ask to see his National Security Strategy (NSS) in order to decide how best to proceed.

Until recently, there was only one striking exception over the decades. In the immediate aftermath of the communist conquest of China and the detonation of the first Soviet nuclear weapon, the Truman Administration in April 1950 issued NSC-68. A classified document largely written by Paul Nitze that became America's guiding conceptual light for more than twenty years in dealing with the Soviet global threat, it characterized the confrontation with Moscow as an uncompromising battle between good and evil. Comprehensive in design and formulation, NSC-68 dealt with the military, economic, political and physiological dimensions of the USSR's danger to vital American national interests and democratic values. This study, too, was headed for oblivion, until June 25, 1950, when North Korea attacked across the 38th parallel. As Dean Acheson said later, "Korea ... created the stimulus which made action." That action was a massive U.S. military buildup and a dramatic intensification of American foreign policy.

The Nitze study comes to mind because the administration of President George W. Bush, in the terrible shadow of 9/11, in September 2002 and again in March 2006, published The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In conception, description and analysis, these two studies are every bit as far-reaching and comprehensive as NSC-68. As the distinguished diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis has written, after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon "the Bush Administration would then, over the next few months, undertake the most fundamental reassessment of American grand strategy in over half a century, and ... it would publish the results of this rethinking, for all to read, discuss and dissent from." President Bush himself has been intimately involved in this exercise, again a significant departure from past practice. In a strategic and policy sense, these are his documents.

The first sentence of the president's covering letter to the 2006 report, which updates the 2002 text and defends ensuing administration policies, captures the profound essence of the current era: "America is at war." It continues, "a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion." As Gaddis points out, "What is new is Bush's elevation of the terrorist threat to the level of that posed by tyrants."

The 2006 NSS begins with an encompassing prescription to deal strategically with the long struggle against terrorism that America now faces. "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. ... This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people." And from the 2002 NSS, "We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom...." This is not a new theme for the president. In November 1999, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library during his first campaign for the presidency, he emphasized that "American foreign policy must be more than the management of crisis.

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