Going Rogue: The Bush Doctrine and American Exceptionalism

Fruits of the Bush Doctrine

What is a pre-emptive or preventative war? A pre-emptive war is one you initiate if you think somebody is going to attack you, and you want to get the first blow in; in other words, pre-empt their attack. Obviously, having the initiative is a good thing in warfare, something you never want to lose. In the First World War, Germany adopted a pre-emptive strategy to attack France. Everybody in Europe was upset about Austria going after Serbia; Russia was mobilizing. France was not. No one but Austria and Serbia were actively at war. But the German plan called for taking France out first and then focusing on Russia. Russia was a potential threat. France was a potential threat.

The German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg asked General Moltke:  “Is the Fatherland in danger?”

Moltke said, “Yes”.

It was as easy as that. Germany declared war on Russia on August 1 and France on August 3, 1914. But it wasn’t as simple or quick as anyone thought; it guided the history of Europe for half a century. There might still be a few people who do not realize that the Second World War was a continuation of the First.

Many excuses have been used to declare war over the many centuries of human existence. Humans love to make excuses; it makes them feel better about things, even when there is no real excuse.

Rome, for example, used a flimsy pretext to take out what was left of hated Carthage in 146 B.C.E. Of course, Carthage after losing the first two wars was no threat at all to Rome. It had been disarmed and in the words of Senator Lindsey Graham, “neutered.” But Carthage had grain. Rome needed grain. This excuse would come up less than a century later when Rome began to become involved with Ptolemaic Egypt. Keep that excuse in the back of your mind as we go along here.

Great Britain felt it had the right to interfere in European affairs and build coalition after coalition to defeat Napoleon, not because Napoleon, becoming emperor had attacked Britain (he had fought them as a general of the First Republic) but because they saw Napoleon as a threat. His rise to the rule of France had upset the Old Order of kings. It did not matter in the end if Napoleon wanted peace or not (and he has shouldered an unfair proportion of blame since 1815 since the victors wrote the history books), Britain was going to take him out. And they did.

Iraq: The Bush Doctrine at Work

There is a parallel here with Saddam Hussein. It didn’t matter if Saddam behaved or not. George W. Bush was going to take him out. He was talking about it as early as 1999, whatever lies he is telling in his recent autobiography. And it was really just an excuse. Bush knew as well as anyone that Saddam was no threat to the U.S. Bush’s father had stomped him (can we say “neutered”?) in the first Gulf War and the Iraqi dictator had been more or less behaving since then.

Bush said, “He has weapons of mass destruction!”

Of course, this was not true, and Bush knew it was not true. But it was a handy excuse.

Bush said, “Saddam was behind 9/11!”

Of course, this was not true, and Bush knew it was not true. Saddam didn’t let al Qaeda operate in Iraq. He knew that al Qaeda was at war with the rest of Islam and that it was a threat to his regime.

But it was a handy excuse.

Besides, and shades of Rome and Carthage here, America needed oil and Iraq had oil.

Excuses, it is important to remember, are not the same thing as reasons. The United States had an excuse to attack Iraq, albeit, a manufactured excuse, but it had no legitimate reason. Iraq had no WMDs, it had no way to effectively attack the U.S.  even if it had wanted.

In the end, Bush got his war, took our eyes off his inept handling of domestic issues, and profited hugely in economic terms while thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, many of them innocent civilians. Iraq was literally ruined and is still recovering. Fifty-thousand American troops will remain there probably for years to come to bolster the new democratic regime.

None of this would be as relevant today if Republicans (and America’s belligerent ally, Israel) were not advocating attacking Iran, which, they claim, is a threat.

But it could equally and justly be argued that Israel and the U.S. are threats to Iran, couldn’t it? By this rationale doesn’t Iran have the right to attack us now, before we can attack them? And if they do, would we have a right to complain?

Who isn’t a threat to somebody else? If we all acted on potential threats the world be in a state of perpetual war. Does this line of reasoning make any sense at all?

The real problem lay in the assumption that if somebody is a threat to you that you have to attack them first. But you don’t. There is a thing called diplomacy. Clausewitz understood this if Bush did not: “War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

Bush skipped the first part as irrelevant – political actions – diplomacy. For Bush, war became THE political instrument. No longer does war pick up where politics leave off; war becomes a substitution for politics.

Sarah Palin infamously did not know what the Bush Doctrine was, but we do, don’t we?

It was Dick Cheney who said it, of course:

“If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

This is, in a nutshell, the Bush Doctrine, also known as the One Percent Doctrine. But of course, the Bush Doctrine also enshrined such concepts as,

  1. Preventative (pre-emptive) war
  2. Deposing foreign regimes who might be a potential or perceived threat to U.S.  security
  3. Spreading democracy, especially in Middle East
  4. Unilateral pursuit of U.S. military interests

And all this packaged with an unhealthy dose of American Exceptionalism, the new term for extreme nationalism, the evils of which led to WWI and thus to WWII and thus to the Cold War.

In the end, it all boils down to “Might makes right.”

We modern folks look back on Empires like Rome and shake our heads at their naked imperialist ambitions (all too often not realizing or understanding the complexities of Rome’s relations with its neighbors) but apparently are willing to re-elect a political party in our own supposedly enlightened time that embraces a species of naked imperialism even Rome never suffered from. For example, Rome attacked Macedonia because Macedonia had sided with Hannibal and Carthage. But Saddam had not sided with al Qaeda and it was al Qaeda which attacked the United States, not Iraq.

The Roman Republic, with no court of world opinion, moved more reluctantly to war than the United States.

Essentially, Bush and Republicans like Lindsey Graham today seem to think that the One Percent Doctrine should be a permanent  part of substitute for American diplomacy. Anyone is a threat, might be a threat, or might be perceived as a threat: attack and destroy.

No, even empires like Rome did not operate like that. And no empire, including Rome, enjoyed the preponderance of force enjoyed by the United States today.

It is time to consider what would come of Republican victories in 2012. We can be reasonably certain that President Obama will not attack Iran. But a Republican president, like Bush fully backed (one might say owned by) profiteers and oil companies? It is time to be reducing an appeal to war, to making war less an instrument of policy and understand that for war should be a last, not a first resort.

11 Replies to “Going Rogue: The Bush Doctrine and American Exceptionalism”

  1. I knew this was going to make me cry and it did. Excellent job, Hraf. If there is one thing a clean conscience can’t abide it’s preemptive war. I couldn’t bear the invasion of Iraq and this is simply unthinkable. If for no other reason, this is the reason to keep Republicans out of office. But when they do these ungodly, sinful things, let them send their sons and daughters to war first. Force them to look at the bloodshed and live with it before they so cavalierly chose to go to war for political purposes. If they have no conscience at all, they shouldn’t be leaders of this great country. Period.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. This is what upset me most about Iraq: Bush the war-dodger being commander-in-chief and sending our young men and women to die while he himself did everything he could to avoid going to war, and even avoid the substitute for war his family connections granted him. He was an absolute disgrace. And it’s not like our wars are in the past. We have a daily reminder of one and what, now they want to attack Iran?

  3. Yes, exactly. From their ivory towers they send other people’s children and husbands and wives off to war. You know, our troops are strong and brave, and they are here for when we really need them, but to use them to pre-emptively attack another sovereign nation over a lie, there is no excuse. The only reason Sarah Palin’s son was in the military was because it was jail or the military, and he mysteriously only served one year – talk about privilege. Only Joe Biden’s son is serving in the military out of duty and honor, but Joe’s always been that kind of man so it doesn’t surprise me that his son is so.

    Hraf, I can’t bear this path. I simply can’t. When we invaded Iraq, I felt as if I were a part of something evil. I wanted to protest via not paying taxes, until I found out Bush left the war off of the budget anyway so it would be utterly irrelevant. But we had no say- we were dragged into a war of aggression based on a lie and it took ten years to get out. Let us save war for the times we have no choice. My god, these people are monsters with no conscience. They are sick. I can’t understand what the American public sees in them, except that they’ve been sold on the Military Industrial Media Complex with every phony nationalistic flag waving lie the Republicans have been selling. I”m surprised these folks don’t remember the simple lessons from the bible and other moral fables: if it looks too good to be true, it is.

    There is no flag waving apple pie eating wonder daddy who loves us all who will guide us with a firm but gentle hand. That man is a war-monger, an abuser of humanity, pretending to be a mama grizzly or a kind daddy, but he is Dick Cheney. Every last one of them.

    Sorry to go on. This is the thing that changed my life forever. I will never forget Bush doing this. Ever. Or my fellow country men (liberals too) accusing me of being anti American because I would not support it, because I wanted evidence, because I wanted to wait. I have learned that we can’t trust the general pubic. They are sold lies and they believe them, over and over again. And the media did Bush’s bidding. Not much good in that. And these same people can’t understand my deep relief in Obama. Is he invading sovereign nations? Is he a war-monger? Is he crazy? No. He is a good, decent man with an even temperament and great diplomacy skills. Not perfect, but as damn close to perfect as this country will see and a sight better than we deserve, I’m afraid.

  4. Sarah, I feel the same way. And like I said in a previous post, I think it comes down to a choice between

    1) attacking other countries for profit and glory


    2) apologizing for America

    These people seem to recognize no other alternatives. It’s the twisted, warped form of “nationalism” ever foisted upon humankind.

  5. I suppose they also think Germany should not have made apologies for Hilter, who also thought he was in the right and was carrying on the great exceptionalism of his vision. America is made up of humans, and we are mortals. We make mistakes. These people need to grow up and get right with the God they claim to believe in. How do they sit in church and condone such moral wrong while condemning abortion? It blows my mind.

  6. it was my understanding at least in part that we attacked Iraq because Saddam Hussein was going to switch to the euro as a form of payment. This absolutely would not have been in our favor. If you couple that with Gen. Bush and Pres. Cheney’s desires to attack Iraq you’ve got probable cause. Also my understanding that Pres. Cheney wanted to redo the map of the Middle East in his own image.

    Unfortunately once we got to Iraq and took a few days to beat them we never got any oil. It was so obvious that the United States went there for oil that they couldn’t actually take any of it.

    The Republican Party is gung ho on war and preemptive actions. Unfortunately that theory is kind of shot up because Gen. Bush did not attack Iran. I think the People’s mood on that subject prevented him from doing so. I think Lindsey Graham and other conservatives are misreading their new power, no one is going to take them taking us to war kindly. They can banter all they want to but I’m hoping Obama just looks at them and tell them to shut up. How on earth these idiots do not understand that we are in political and financial turmoil is totally beyond me. I have to wonder about Iran nuking anyone. They know as well as we do that 15 minutes after launching a nuke they will not exist as a country. They also know that nuking Israel will bring the prevailing winds of radioactivity right over them. So no matter what they do, they are screwed. All I can do is get the nuke and wave their arms around. I think the US is far more dangerous with people like Bush and Cheney in office than Iran is with a nuke.

    Sarah what’s with these long responses? That’s just so not you!

  7. Anyone else remember a book about the end of American Empire? The thesis was that America no longer produces anything the rest of the world wants, except weapons.
    So the American economy depends on war. We love to hand out weapons, then sell them more. So, if America had not armed Israel, Iran, etc., to the teeth, the problem would have to be resolved through other means – like talking. Or sticks. Or name -calling.

    It is in the American corporate interest to sell as many weapons as possible. Not just to militaries, either. Handguns are very profitable, and gun manufacturers would love everyone to have at least one. Tea Partiers get several. The more fear, the more violence, the more profit.

    Bottom line – not only was the ‘war’ pre- emptive, it helps sustain wealthy people and businesses while we all rot.

    I suspect the hawks are in a real looney bin minority. However, I look forward to the Republicans chasing their newly elected majority around with butterfly nets.

  8. Im listening to fox news right now because its playing where I am. They’re selling fear and paranoia right now saying we are under attack but no one will tell us. They act like the government is lying because they wont confirm fox’s idea that we are under attack.

  9. It’s the same spew 24/7 isn’t it? Same thing I hear every time I see it on. Fair and Balanced…yeah ::ahem::

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