On September 20, 2002, President George W. Bush announced a new U.S. foreign policy doctrine, officially titled, "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." Many in the press, distilling the document to its essence, called it "preemption," while others, relishing the possibility of a lasting legacy for their newly-minted war president, referred to it enthusiastically as "the Bush Doctrine." Going far beyond Bush's post-9/11 statement that the U.S. would "make no distinction between the terrorists ... and those who harbor them," the Bush Doctrine called for a new world order where the U.S. would be more a leader than a collaborator, where other nations would be judged on their adherence to American ideals, and where military muscle would be used not only against those nations and groups who committed acts of aggression, but against any nation who was thought to pose a potential threat to U.S. security, whether or not we had the support of the rest of the world. Simply put, the Bush Doctrine discarded the post-WWII ideal of international cooperation and replaced it with an America-first, might-makes-right unilateralism founded on the black and white premise that every argument has two sides: the American side (the right side) and the Enemy's side. The idea was that, faced with a newly resolved, awesomely powerful America, rogue nations would get in line, liberty and democracy would spread across the world, and terrorists would no longer have any place to hide. Bush christened his policy (thought by most to have been dreamed up by Cheney, Rumsfeld and their neocon posse) with these words: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
We kicked-off our new policy in March of 2003, when we abandoned the newly liberated Afghanistan and the top-prioritization of our hunt for Osama bin Laden in order to invade Iraq. Iraq, it was thought, would be shining example of why preemption was the right model in this new post-9/11 world: a dangerous country with an oppressive regime led by a mad dictator who (we were told) had hoarded weapons of mass destruction and harbored terrorists would be converted, in short order, to a peaceful, democratic country where markets reigned, people were free from terror, and America was welcomed as an ally and mentor. Iraq would be the example which would set the rest of the world's rogue nations on the path to democratic westernization.
It turned out, as many of us suspected from the beginning, that it would not be that simple. While Iraq's army quickly fell and Saddam was captured shortly thereafter, it soon became clear that Iraq had no WMD and had not been harboring terrorists; Iraq, while clearly a bloody, oppressive dictatorship, had not actually been a threat to the U.S. at all. What's more, even after democratic elections, the U.S. was now entangled in a bloody multi-party insurgency and civil war. Our military might did not lead to clear victory. Instead, more than three years later our troops are killed at a rate which continues to escalate month after month; the number of dead coalition troops, killed by the gunfire and improvised bombs of the last few underground supporters of the old regime, by religious and/or nationalist fanatics, by Iran-backed militias and by international terrorists who found a new home, and a new cause, in U.S.-occupied Iraq, recently surpassed the number of Americans killed on 9/11. Our allies at the beginning of the war have all but abandoned us, and the peace and prosperity which were meant to be a beacon to the rest of the world are nowhere to be seen, in the capital or in the countryside. Ethnic cleansing is rampant as a once largely-integrated nation divides itself along racial and religious lines. Infrastructure, neglected under Saddam and further decimated during war, is, depending upon the source, either minimally or not at all better than it was after the invasion. Crowds of people starve to death or die of treatable illness each day. The Baghdad morgue processes thousands of bodies per month, well beyond its capacity -- bodies made lifeless by disease or starvation or shrapnel or execution-style bullets to the head.
Beyond the ongoing violence, our long, full-capacity military engagement has stretched our armed forces as thin as they have ever been, making it impossible to credibly even threaten force against potential aggressors such as North Korea (who, by all reports, has nuclear weapons, and is actively testing missiles which could one day deliver them to its neighbors or even to to the lower 48 states) and Iran (which continues to develop its nuclear capacity, regardless of western ire). Terrorism has not been curbed by our nearly four-year-old doctrine either: this spring a State Department report cited significant rises in terrorism worldwide for 2005 as compared to 2003 and 2004, with nearly a third of the increase inside Iraq itself. According to Oxford Analytica, the report states that "Iraq has clearly become the primary locus, breeding ground and potential exporter of terrorism." The report also lists Iran as the world's chief state sponsor of terror. Other nations on the list include North Korea and Cuba, as well as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- even our own allies' support of terrorism has not been curbed by the Bush Doctrine. And, because we have no troops to spare, our war in Iraq has crippled our ability to support the fragile administration in Afghanistan, which is steadily sinking into violence and chaos, thanks to a resurgence of the Taliban and violent drug-funded (and formerly U.S.-funded) warlords who hold themselves beyond the reach of the central government.
Iraq has not become the model for preemption the Bush administration hoped. Rather, it has become a symbol to the world of our arrogance and inability to recognize and correct our own mistakes. The esteem in which the U.S. is held by the rest of the world, which was at its modern zenith after 9/11, sunk to its arguably lowest point since such things have been measured in 2003 and 2004, thanks in large part to the Bush Doctrine. A Pew poll of attitudes toward America conducted in June of this year showed that, of 16 countries polled, only five had an overall more positive than negative view of the United States (as opposed to nine in 2000, when two of our biggest current supporters, India and Poland, were not even included in the poll), and only one country (India) currently shows the U.S. a greater than 70% favorable rating (as opposed to five countries in 2000). This is a slight recovery over 2003 and 2004, but, according to Pew, "the United States remains broadly disliked in most countries surveyed, and the opinion of the American people is not as positive as it once was." Current allegations of rape and murder perpetrated against Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers, a predictable side-effect of the occupation which has resulted from the Bush Doctrine of preemption, is likely to make things worse, at least in the near future.
Finally, because of our eroded support on the world stage and because all available resources are needed to keep a lid on our war in Iraq, Bush announced this week that the special CIA task force charged with tracking down Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks which supposedly were the catalyst for this new American doctrine, has been officially disbanded.
The Bush Doctrine has failed spectacularly in almost every area it claimed to promote. America has not become the leader of a new world order; rather, we have weakened, or perhaps even lost, our position as de-facto world leader, a position we'd held since the collapse of the USSR. Liberty and democracy have not spread through the world; rather, our own liberty has been compromised, fanatic regimes like those in Iran and North Korea have tightened their grip on their citizens, and, even in the countries we've invaded and where we've forcibly installed democracy, one could well argue that those democratically elected governments wield little or no power. And we have not crushed or even curbed terrorism; rather, terrorism is on the rise all over the world, especially inside the country whose invasion was meant to frighten the terrorists into inaction, and we've stopped even looking for perhaps the most notorious terrorist of all time, at whose command so many Americans were murdered in the fall of 2001.
The September 20, 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, the Bush Doctrine, has become a lasting legacy for president George W. Bush, but not exactly as so many of his supporters had hoped. Instead, it has become a legacy of failure. Let us wake up and change our course before this wrong-headed administration further erodes America's place in the world.