Hardliners are tooting the horn of the Bush Doctrine louder than ever: recently Libya has agreed to end its weapons programs and Iran has welcomed inspectors into its borders. At first glance, it seems as if Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy outlining the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes is exactly the iron fist that the globe needs in order to ensure a safer tomorrow. In all reality, the rhetoric of an “axis of evil” and the cavalier “with us or against it” attitude of the Bush administration are not contributing to the warmer international climate.
Some claim that by carrying a “big stick” in Iraq, the United States has convinced rogue nations to acquiesce for fear of being next. However, it is important to realize that it is not the threat of force inherent in the doctrine that is persuading nations, but rather the diplomatic “carrots” that have been offered behind the scenes.
In the case of Libya, the country’s decision to abandon its weapons came to fruition due to nine months of secret negotiations between the governments of Libya, Great Britain and the United States. Furthermore, a strong case could be made that the decade-long multilateral sanctions imposed on the country played a part in its decision to make itself appear palatable to the globe.
Other factors played a key role in convincing Iran to allow surprise weapons inspections of its facilities. The European powers were essential in encouraging Iran’s decision (as well as the decision of Libya) because of their consistent pressure. Additionally, it is not surprising that Tehran has softened to the international community after the United States offered vital earthquake relief despite a moratorium on diplomatic communications.
Not only is the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war an ineffective tool in dissuading proliferation, but it is also dangerous. If the United States continues to disregard international alliances and law, it threatens to break apart the very coalitions that have empirically halted the spread of dangerous weapons. Like a schoolyard bully, the United States picks on smaller children and has its way on the global playground. But if there ever comes a time when the other children grow larger than the bully, is the United States prepared to reap the consequences of its pre-emptive actions? Furthermore, if the application of the Bush Doctrine ends, would our allies be willing to welcome us back into the coalitions that we broke? These scenarios would represent a disastrous situation, both for the United States and for the rest of the globe.
Another possibility is that the United States would not have to wait to lose its place as a dominating power in order to experience harm. By unilaterally asserting itself around the world, the United States has brewed up a storm of resentment that has ignited a new round of terrorism. The incursion into Iraq may have done more to hurt the war on terror by creating a new cauldron of animosity in the Middle East and inspiring new recruits for the battle. This is hardly a new argument, and it has been stated that U.S. arrogance and intervention was a major impetus for the Sept. 11 terrorist acts.
It is difficult to believe that President Bush would be willing to allow other nations to apply his doctrine against the United States. Essentially, the doctrine has three main planks: 1) the United States can work to pre-empt threats believed to exist, 2) it can do so despite objections from the international community, and 3) it can take actions in order to promote democracy. If, for example, Syria were to apply the very same doctrine, an attack on the United States would be justifiable.
For the first plank, Syria knows that it is on the “axis of evil” and therefore the United States could represent a future threat, especially considering what happened to its fellow “evil” nation — Iraq. Additionally, the Bush administration continues to defy global attempts at nuclear, biological and chemical weapons disarmament by pursuing new nuclear weapons and obstructing the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. The second plank is easily fulfilled: Syria would simply have to declare its intentions to attack, wait for international objection, then ignore it. For the third plank, the Syrian government could justify an invasion of the United States by claiming that President Bush must be removed in order to promote democracy in America — citing that the administration lied to its own people about the “imminent” threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Of course this example is only hypothetical, but there exists a real world case of the doctrine of pre-emptive war: the Japanese, fearing containment by the West, attacked Pearl Harbor — a date that Americans agree lives “in infamy.”
If the United States is unwilling to promote universal applicability of its own doctrine, then it truly views itself as an exceptional state. The recent concessions by Libya and Iran should not serve as a litmus test for the Bush Doctrine; they can not be interpreted as proof of its success. Doing so, and therefore continuing along a policy of unilateral bullying will only put the globe in peril. The United States needs to work toward a future more based on diplomacy, and less on force; a future predicated on carrots, and not sticks.