DOES THE BUSH FOREIGN POLICY REVOLUTION HAVE A FUTURE?: In Search of Monsters

By Daalder, Ivo H.; Lindsay, James M. | The World Today, January 2004 | Go to article overview

DOES THE BUSH FOREIGN POLICY REVOLUTION HAVE A FUTURE?: In Search of Monsters


Daalder, Ivo H., Lindsay, James M., The World Today


For the past three years, and especially since the September 11 2001 attacks, a common critique of American foreign policy under President George Bush has run as follows. The administration's foreign policy is all brawn and no brain; military force has replaced diplomacy and negotiations as Washington's main foreign policy instrument The president is a foreign policy lightweight who knows little about the world. Therefore, foreign policy is run by Bush's advisers, especially Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. For all intents and purposes, Bush has been the puppet of darker forces in his administration, above all the neo-conservatives, who in Senator Joe Biden's words 'captured the heart and mind' of the president.

While we share many of these criticisms and very much fear the chosen direction, we believe that this caricature of Bush's foreign policy is profoundly mistaken. The problem is not with the people the president has chosen to have around him, but with the president himself. Bush has launched a revolution in foreign policy and it is he, rather than his advisers, who is the true revolutionary. A complete understanding of this revolution, its impact and likely future requires a thorough examination of the conventional view to see where it is right and where it is off-base.

IT IS TRUE THAT BUSH HAS ELEVATED MILITARY POWER to an unprecedented degree in foreign policy. But that is not the whole story. His decision to rely on military power reflects a broader revolution. This, to be sure, is a revolution in means, not ends. Like most of his predecessors, Bush aims to make America more secure, prosperous and free by helping to create a world in which peace, democracy and free enterprise flourish. It is in how to create such a world, in the way Bush's America engages with it, that this president bucks the norm.

Bush's revolution departs from an earlier one launched by President Woodrow Wilson nearly a century ago. Wilson argued that the best way to deal with a dangerous world was for America to engage proactively abroad. He rejected the admonition of John Quincy Adams, the only other son of a president to have served in the White House, who warned against going abroad 'in search of monsters to destroy.' Instead, Wilson believed America's security demanded that the United States do just that. And so does Bush, who has made the need to go on the offensive - to destroy the terrorists and tyrants before they destroy us - his central foreign policy platform.

Yet, even as he has embraced the activist pillar of Wilson's revolution, Bush has rejected the second, more important pillar, which is that the US should engage abroad in partnership with friends and allies, through international institutions, and on the basis of international law. Bush has rejected these partnerships, institutions and the rule of law as critical means for securing American interests. The essence of the revolution is that an America unbound is a more secure America - that the best way to maximise America's security is to minimise constraints on Washington's freedom of action.

This has meant that Bush has abandoned a sixty-year consensus on how the US should engage abroad - a consensus that encompassed Democratic and Republican presidents alike; not just Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, but also Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and, of course, Bush's own father.

Instead of relying on international institutions, Bush has divided the world into those who are with America and those who are against it. Instead of embracing alliances, he has trumpeted the creation of coalitions of the willing, formed for particular purposes and disbanded once the mission has been accomplished. Instead of engaging in diplomacy and negotiations with America's enemies, he has pushed for regime change. Instead of addressing threats with the time-tested strategies of deterrence and containment, he has focused on pre-emption. …

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