Immoral and impractical doctrine

The crucial problem with pre-emptive defensive war is identifying when it is really an unjustified attack.

The present U.S. national security strategy, the Bush doctrine, is synonymous with unilateral interventionist pre-emptive war and the maintenance of military “strength beyond challenge.” This doctrine propelled the nation headlong into Baghdad, Iraq.

While this neo-con policy has always been morally questionable, recent announcements from Pyongyang, North Korea, and Tehran, Iran, coupled with the human, political and financial costs of occupying Iraq, confirm the doctrine is as impracticable as it is dangerous.

This policy cannot be divorced from Sept. 11, 2001, when the collective U.S. experience changed. While the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers smoldered, we discovered we are not as safe as once supposed and awoke to a new unforeseen evil. But in retrospect, Sept. 11, 2001, did much more than alert the nation to a new threat. It fundamentally altered the foreign policy priorities of the nation.

In an odd twist, Republican leadership now trumpets Wilsonian interventionism in the name of security, freedom and liberty while Democrats decry U.S. intervention in Iraq and support a more isolationist foreign policy. President George W. Bush’s 2000 pledge to avoid “nation building” is particularly ironic.

Shortly after the attacks, the administration persuaded Congress to pass the most sweeping, deferential and pro-executive war authorization bill in the nation’s history. Only a year later, the Bush doctrine was put into practice, and the authorization for Iraq easily sailed through Congress. U.S. soldiers are on the ground in Baghdad as a consequence. What is more, a majority of the public whole-heartedly supported both authorizations and seemingly the Bush doctrine generally. Sept. 11, 2001, ushered in a new era of foreign policy. Almost four years later, the question is whether the Bush doctrine is moral and/or workable.

The concept of pre-emptive war is theoretically sound. The crucial problem is, of course, identifying at which point pre-emptive defensive war is really unjustified offensive attack. Unfortunately, the neo-cons in Bush’s cabinet have extended the concept past its legitimate scope. The Bush “pre-emption” doctrine has been melded with a hard-line foreign policy designed to deter speculative security threats rather than defend.

A foreign policy based on deterrence should not be sustained on moral grounds. Utilitarian at its root, the hard-line deterrence rationale is fundamentally unjust. It allows the ends, security, to justify the means: forceful attack of a remote security threat, no matter how speculative the evidence. As such, an adversary’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capacity makes no difference, nor does the threat’s imminence; deterrence rules the day and justifies any and all means.

In addition to its questionable morality, the neo-con philosophy is impracticable. This month’s news out of Pyongyang and Tehran confirms so much. Unsurprisingly, on Wednesday, Iran reasserted its intent to resume enrichment of uranium, and earlier this month North Korea severed multiparty disarmament talks, boasting of perfected nuclear capability for the first time. CIA sources indicate North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability has only grown since 2002. Making matters worse, the occupation of Iraq stretches the U.S. military to its breaking point. Finally, the economic cost of invasion, occupation and rebuilding is astronomical.

The current state of affairs with respect to North Korea and Iran illustrates that the Bush doctrine promises little hope for dealing effectively with antagonists, especially in our overextended state. The neo-con strategy assumes the financial and military capability to tackle multiple threats simultaneously, a presumption that has zero basis in reality, contrary to the two-front fantasies of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Because of its prolonged engagement in Iraq, the United States has no arrows left in its quiver. If anything, the hot air blowing from Washington neo-cons is more hurtful than helpful. Our overextension encourages countries such as North Korea and Iran to take advantage of our political weakness. Can neo-cons honestly argue Kim Jong Il considers scuttling his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs as a result of the Bush doctrine, given our current military circumstances?

It is painful to say, but the left’s criticism of the Iraq war is sound on one predominate ground. The left is right not because Bush is a liar, not because the war was really about oil and not because interventionism is sound policy in most other circumstances.

The left is correct because the Bush doctrine is dangerous, immoral and unworkable in practice. Fortunately for the country and administration, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and citizens are making the best of an unfortunate foreign policy agenda. We can only hope neo-cons in Bush’s cabinet will do the same: realize the futility of the Bush doctrine and look back to the traditional political right as a source of direction.

Bryan Freeman welcomes comments at [email protected]