The Bush Doctrine: A new national security strategy that abandons moral relativism

by J Michael Waller, Insight magazine, October 15-18, 2002

Here at last is a new White House document that doesn’t mince words: friends and enemies; good and evil; right and wrong. It’s all inThe National Security Strategy of the United States of America — the essence of what is becoming the Bush Doctrine — and it’s turning the establishment diplomatic and international-security communities on their heads.

In his first formal strategic paper on how he intends to secure the country’s security, President George W. Bush declares, like a modern Abraham Lincoln or an Old Testament prophet, that it is this nation’s responsibility to “rid the world of evil.”

The evils he wants to destroy are terrorism, governments that sponsor terrorism and rogue regimes that threaten the civilized world with weapons of mass destruction. To do so, according to the strategy, the United States must: completely rethink its entire military, foreign-policy and national-security machinery; dramatically redesign its armed forces from the ground up; slash bureaucracies; streamline intelligence collection and analysis; speed the systems needed for decisionmaking; employ new technologies; and make it possible for the United States to identify and destroy threats before they can strike the country and its interests.

The White House reasons, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few. We must defeat these threats to our nation, allies and friends.”

At the same time, the president believes the United States cannot simply destroy the evildoers without helping lift up and rebuild areas of decay and strife. He sees the country shouldering an enormous international responsibility to encourage political, religious and economic freedom around the world. The theme builds on former president Ronald Reagan’s crusade to defeat and dismantle the evil empire of the Soviet Union by confronting aggression and promoting freedom. The strategy is rich in Reaganesque simplicity and sincerity in both its words and its reasoning: “In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: The United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere.”

Gone is the values-free, relativist realpolitik of the 1960s that justified coexistence and even collaboration with despots and tyrants while ushering in Strangeloveian concepts such as “balance of terror” and “mutually assured destruction.” The new strategy is to “promote a balance of power that favors freedom.” Little if anything in the decidedly free-trade document smacks of establishment cynicism: “Embodying lessons from our past and using the opportunity we have today, the national-security strategy of the United States must start from these core beliefs and look outward for possibilities to expand liberty.”

It’s an idealistic document, to be sure, but an idealism laced with hard-nosed realism about both the limits of U.S. power and the limits of working with the consent of the rest of the world. Bush has dumped the discredited notion, embraced by establishment policy wonks for generations, that the United States must wait until its people are slaughtered before striking an enemy. The Bush strategy is to defend the United States, the American people and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders.

“While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.” The United States will deny further foreign sponsorship, support or sanctuary to terrorists “by convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities.” In the president’s own words, repeated in the document, “We cannot let our enemies strike first.”

National Security Strategy is a document which Congress requires annually under a law designed to force the Clinton administration to think strategically. It is especially important because it represents not just a view of the State Department or Pentagon or an administration faction, but accurately reflects the thinking of the president, senior administration officials who worked on the strategy tell Insight.

“It is very definitely a White House document,” says a senior presidential aide. Drafts of the strategy underwent rigorous interagency review before being signed by the president.

That consensus and the personal presidential approval, administration sources say, are what make the National Security Strategy so strong. President Bush has scrapped 50 years of values-neutral, relativist national-security doctrine and replaced it with a moral crusade to free the world not only from terrorist regimes and weapons of mass destruction, but of all forms of tyranny. The document picks up where Ronald Reagan left off.

“The U.S. national-security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests,” the president writes in the introduction. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is credited with coining the term “distinctly American internationalism” in 1999 early in the Bush presidential campaign. The strategy reflects this distinction, as well as her own personal cachet, backing an assertive global approach promoted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his team.

Quite to the contrary of the administration’s foreign and domestic critics, who accuse Bush of cowboy-like unilateralism, National Security Strategy notes that U.S. resources are finite and calls for active participation by the rest of the world. The strategy seeks to strengthen, not retreat from, the successful system of alliances that has included NATO, the Organization of American States and the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. (ANZUS) pact.

“There is little of lasting consequence that the United States can accomplish in the world without the sustained cooperation of its allies and friends in Canada and Europe,” according to the strategy, which also encourages regional allies such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore to lead in their respective regions and areas of concern. It hails partnerships with countries such as Indonesia and Colombia with the will, but without sufficient resources, to defend their embattled democracies against terrorists.

It also expands cooperation to heretofore out-of-bounds countries. “U.S. interests require a strong relationship with India,” it says, adding, “Today we start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests.”

The idea of a strong India horrifies the sino-apologists at the State Department and elsewhere in the administration who favor the realpolitik tilt toward the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But the Bush strategy further calls on the United States to continue working with “coalitions of the willing” — unofficial, often-shifting coalitions of nations focused on a relatively narrow problem area.

The strategy underscores a “new strategic relationship” with Russia, based on the administration’s view that “the United States and Russia are no longer strategic adversaries.” Some Bush loyalists may take issue here, noting Moscow’s continued development and deployment of next-generation strategic nuclear missiles and its ongoing illegal biological- and chemical-weapons programs.

And so the White House cautions, “We are realistic about the differences that still divide us from Russia and about the time and effort it will take to build an enduring and lasting partnership. Lingering distrust of our motives and policies by key Russian elites slows improvement in our relations. Russia’s uneven commitment to the basic values of free-market democracy and dubious record in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remain matters of great concern. Russia’s very weakness limits the opportunities for cooperation.”

Ideas will remain important weapons in the U.S. arsenal, even though insiders acknowledge that the administration has conducted its strategic-information campaigns poorly and squandered valuable time. “We will also wage a war of ideas to win the battle against international terrorism,” the strategy paper says, though there appears to be no effective coordination coming from the National Security Council as occurred in the Reagan administration.

U.S. strategy now is to anathematize all forms of terrorism and terrorist sponsorship “so that terrorism will be viewed in the same light as slavery, piracy or genocide: behavior that no respectable government can condone or support and all must oppose.” The United States will support “moderate and modern government, especially in the Muslim world,” to dry up conditions that fertilize terrorism, while enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on areas most at risk. It also will deploy “effective public diplomacy to promote the free flow of information and ideas to kindle the hopes and aspirations of freedom of those societies ruled by the sponsors of global terrorism.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, the Bush Doctrine envisions regime change not only in states ruled by terrorists and tyrants, but wherever freedom is repressed. This raises the touchy, but pressing problems of what to do about places such as totalitarian Saudi Arabia and communist China, whose political-influence operations in Washington had until now impeded U.S. public diplomacy to promote freedom as American policy.

National Security Strategy says nothing of the Saudis, but states flatly that Sino-U.S. relations are crucial to promote peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States welcomes “the emergence of a strong, peaceful and prosperous China.”

Having said that, the White House adds a catch: “The democratic development of China is crucial to that future. Yet, a quarter-century after beginning the process of shedding the worst features of the communist legacy, China’s leaders have not yet made the next series of fundamental choices about the character of their state. In pursuing advanced military capabilities that can threaten its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, China is following an outdated path that, in the end, will hamper its own pursuit of national greatness. In time, China will find that social and political freedom is the only source of that greatness.”

Diplomatically speaking, that language is significant. It clearly states that communist China’s military modernization poses a future threat, that it is a repressive regime, directly implying that both the threatening and repressive natures of the Chinese government system — the Communist Party and its People’s Liberation Army — must be dislodged before China can play its part in the civilized world.

The document adds that although Beijing permits more personal freedoms and allows some village-level elections, the regime “remains strongly committed to national one-party rule by the Communist Party.” Much work remains to be done to grant the Chinese people real freedom and, the strategy implies, to remove the regime as an international threat. Significantly, the Bush strategy reiterates “our commitment to the self-defense of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.”

But, curiously, National Security Strategy all but papers over the U.S.-Israel relationship, which receives but a passing mention, while the document portrays a “democratic Palestine” as essential to Israeli security. Administration sources close to Israel say they are not troubled by the omission, given the diplomatic need at present to cultivate Arab and Islamic forces for larger U.S. security needs.

Economic and social reconstruction in much of the world, deployment of missile-defense systems, development of a new homeland-security structure, aggressive strategies to prevent and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the total restructuring and transformation of the nation’s defense, intelligence, security and law-enforcement communities also are laid out in the president’s new strategic vision. “The major institutions of American national security were designed in a different era to meet different requirements,” the document says. “All of them must be transformed.”

National Security Strategy envisions the continued development of newer and ever more-dangerous threats to the United States and is designed to support pre-emptive options: “As time passes, individuals may gain access to means of destruction that until now could be wielded only by armies, fleets and squadrons. This is a new condition of life. We will adjust to it and thrive — in spite of it.” It warns, “Freedom and fear are at war, and there will be no quick or easy end to this conflict.”