HistoricalMullet: Bush get’s his own doctrine!

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Shortly after Putin declared a doctrine of limited preemption Bush responded with an expanded view of preemption. The implications of this doctrine, including both preemption against state and non-state actors as well as targeted killing outside of designated battlefields would constitute a radical shift in national security doctrine that would come to define the Global War on Terror. 

A few days ago I jotted down some notes on the Putin Doctrine as a new development in international politics. In summary the doctrine states:

  1. A sovereign nation has a right to defend itself from terrorist activities.
  2. If another nation is harboring terrorists the injured country should ask for assistance from the harboring nation to dismantle terrorist operations.
  3. If the assistance is neither effective nor forthcoming the injured nation can, with notification to international parties such as the UN, take unilateral action inside another sovereign nation with the expressed intention of dismantling terrorist operations but NOT overthrowing the other nation or changing the regime.

At the time I mentioned how this was a pretty radical development striking a middle ground between Westphalian/UN concerns of not meddling in internal affairs and the need of a nation to unilaterally protect itself. Bush has responded with his own new doctrine which falls to the right of Putin’s and further erodes the Westphalian/UN protections. The document itself can be located at the following address and I strongly recommend it as a good read for those who have trouble getting to sleep at night.(1) 

I haven’t had time to read it fully but a few points came out which seem to summarize the main tenets:

  1. “As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed,”
  2. “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 preemptively against such terrorists to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.”

This actually adds steps before Putin’s approach, preemptively attacking a terrorist threat prior to them being “fully formed” meaning, as I interpret it, prior to a group actually capable of launching a terrorist attack. This preemptive action may be with, or without UN backing. In essence a big ol’ “screw you” to the UN, we’ll go to them for approval but if they don’t give it (shrugs) onwards and forwards with the bombs. This, like Putin’s move, is a strong departure from the politics of the last three hundred years.

In the Cold War deterrence matched with Westphalian disregard of internal affairs was the keystone approach in international politics. With the nifty catch phrase of MAD it stated:

  • A) Attack us within our own borders and there will be Mutually Assured Destruction,
  • B) We don’t really care what you do inside your own borders.

Because direct conflict was out of the question proxy-fighting in third world countries became the main method of confrontation. On one side were the US/NATO backed nations and on the other were the three main axis’s of communist activity: USSR/WARSAW backed, Chinese backed, and/or local insurgency. (2)

If this seems like an academic discussion and it’s all ancient history (the Cold War was “so last millennium” after all) keep in mind this proxy fighting, compounded by colonial holdover conflicts, formed the basis for nearly every modern major conflict since the Second World War on nearly every continent excepting North America, Europe, and Australia continuing to this day. In this system the violence never diminished from world affairs, it was just pushed off the first and second tier countries and carried out in third world countries. It’s impact still resonates today because proxy-fighting in Afghanistan is what led to the Taliban. The US supported Northern Alliance faction helped end the Soviet occupation. India, backed by the Soviet Union and later Russia, supported the Pashtun faction which took the place of the occupying forces while Pakistan (backed by China) backed the Taliban which came in and replaced the Pashtun’s with a reactionary backlash of fundamentalism. Now the Northern Alliance shares power with the Pashtun’s meaning US, India, and Russian interests are protected while Pakistan/China still look for their new partners. (3)

Personally I don’t mind the approach of the Bush first-strike doctrine even though in the same breath I can say I’m not crazy about this particular President’s potential method of applying it. As a sovereign nation we have to be able to protect our interests, and no nation has ever acquiesced to a UN resolution when they perceive their own survival is at stake or jeopardized. The doctrine regulates the UN to a sounding board more so than a governing body. The doctrine carries some risks obviously, what the capacity of a terrorist group will be when it is “fully formed” is entirely a subjective opinion. How does one define emerging threats? Is it when bombs are being strapped on, the training camp tents are being raised, or a radical preaches in a mosque or a church that the fight must be taken to the infidel? That’s a tricky question. It’s like asking whether you would assassinate Hitler as a young man because he had the potential to do what he did? What gets interesting is that combined with an erosion of the assassination policy that Rumsfield quietly slipped under the radar during the dog days of summer.

The US Policy can effectively be summarized as:

  1. As a nation we will protect ourselves from threats, real or perceived
  2. We will use a full range of covert and overt capabilities to protect ourselves (assassin’s to cruise missiles)
  3. Our capabilities may, when possible and justified, be deployed proactively
  4. If necessary we may take unilateral action without permission or consultation of the UN or other international bodies though we’ll try when we think it’s appropriate

On it’s surface not to scary until you realize this could be used as justification to assassinate, secretly, a political instigator in say Mongolia who might believed to be raising fundamentalist militants there who may embark on terrorism. As with most doctrines its not what is said, but how it’s used. This is where the US’s unique application of precedent based government comes into play. Most of the conservative hawks might trumpet this policy and say “it’s about time we stopped being mamby-pamby’s about these things”. The only question I usually have in response to this would be to ask: “So you’re comfortable with President Clinton having the ability to secretly assassinate figures who might represent a terrorist threat.” To which I’ve always received blank looks. Because in the US the doctrine doesn’t stop with the President who penned it. The Monroe Doctrine held on from…um…1824 I think until right up through the cold war when it was generally disregarded in the 80’s as no longer valid by active US intervention around the world. (4)

Of additional concern is another phrase: “We do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom.” This phrase, if applied in practice, I have a problem with. Favoring human freedom and protection from terrorist threats are often totally opposite goals. Self-determination is the purest expression of freedom and self-determination has no inherent good or evil morality assigned to it. If Palestinians could hold a “truly free” democratic election tomorrow there’s a good chance Hamas would be the new party of power in that state. If Pakistan “favored human freedom” it might shut its doors to US cooperation. Even beyond the fact that human freedom can’t be trusted to do anything other than represent the will of the people (a will which at times might include a good deal of bloodshed, hatred, and bigotry to other nations perceived as enemies), there is a serious erosion of the Westphalian concepts in this doctrine.

I’m fine going to war if our security is at stake, or even perceived to be at stake (but be sure you can convince me and my 250million voting buddies it was justified after that fact otherwise I’m overthrowing you next election!). I’m somewhat leery of secret actions with no oversight, those tend to be corrupted over time but I also recognize that the utility of such an operation at times far outweighs my squeamishness.

What I don’t want is going to war to promote a concept of human freedoms that is neither embraced nor accepted in the part of the world we are fighting in. Nor do I wish to establish the precedent that a perception of human freedom is justification for the European Union to start rattling sticks at the US because they don’t approve of how we execute our prisoners. This to me is to far an erosion of the Westphalian system, it reeks to much of the old argument: You’re treating Protestants how we wouldn’t want them treated so we’re going to war. The problem is that justification for war never ends, there’s always something out there to disagree with. Other nations have learned the hard way.

Commentators can mock at the timidity of France, Germany and even challenge England but they forget that each of these countries has “been there done that” as far as being the sole superpower in a world goes. Each nation also paid a very heavy price at the end of the day for thinking the world was their playtoy. I’m not saying that I agree with the hesitancy displayed but let’s just leave it as that when they caution about the risks of military adventurism they have a good pedigree of painful personal experience to draw from. Using freedom as a pretext for conflict is an increase in warfare rather than an increase in peace, and its a bloody price to pay to force freedom on parts of the world that aren’t ready yet. (5)

So where do I stand (for those who have managed to continue reading to the end)? I’m in favor of a first-strike doctrine in the realm of power politics only if it is used in a public declaratory manner, much as I envision it being used against Iraq who it was obviously written for in mind. The President can make his case, declare his war, and still (thanks to stealth and cruise technology) strike with relative impunity and surprise. As the only remaining superpower we have an obligation, if for pragmatic considerations if nothing else, to play “above-board” and not give the rest of the world additional reasons to fear us by acting unilaterally or in secrecy. It also weakens the UN which, because I think any coalition will ultimately fail to self-interests, is an organization which can never live to its promises. With Russia following Putin’s approach and the US (until Nov ’04 at the earliest) following Bush it would take a strong and unified coallition of nearly every other mid-tier power to restore relevance to the UN as anything more than a sounding board.

Which they may still, Germany and France are against an Iraqi action as is China, though China is more easily bribed with concessions to gain its vote than the other two (Tawain anyone?). My concerns lie, as they always do in a free country, in shrouding activities in secrecy that have far reaching consequences past the 15minute attention span of my fellow citizen. Right or wrong good or bad the US only became a target for terrorism because of the actions, avowed and disavowed, that we are perceived to have taken in the world in the last twenty to thirty years many of which were secretly devised and implemented without public debate. I’m not an apologist, but I am a realist. When we act we create consequences not just in the here and now, but twenty years from now when the son of the man we accidentally killed in an misguided bomb-strike grows up to be a radical leader bred on hatred. To me the cost in human life is acceptable if the protection of national security or national interests justifies it, but I want to be in on that debate and not kept in the dark. I also don’t like how this doctrine will be used by the next President, or the one after that, or the one (hopefully) many many years from now when I’m old and dying who uses it in a way we never envisioned possible and those of us who do remember what it was originally for are a fading bunch. As always commentary, questions, arguments, and rebuttals welcomed.

(1)  http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf

(2) Unfortunately the US remained naively unaware of the split between communist China and the USSR until it was far too late to take advantage of it during the Cold War. As a student of history who grew up in the Cold War I was shocked to learn in my 20’s that China and the USSR actually went to war several times over their shared border and were on constant military alert against one another right up until the late 80’s. The basis of this conflict is the philosophical differences of communism which each believed to be the “purer” form: the USSR’s heavy industrialization serving the common needs of the proletariat approach of Lenin/Stalin vs. China’s Maoist approach of a pure agrarian society of simple farmers. Look at Eastern Europe and you see the Soviet approach in Poland, Hungary etc. The Chinese approach visibly influenced Vietnam, Cambodia etc. This tension faded in the late 80’s and relationships have warmed considerably between post-USSR Russia and China as there was no longer a philosophical argument as to who propagated the “purer” form of communism. Also as Russia backed out of world affairs to focus internally it left China as the only real power in Southeast Asia to balance the US.

(3) I may have this backwards, I can never remember if the Pashtuns are the Indian backed faction in Afghanistan or the Northern Alliance warlords are. My gut tells me Northern Alliance is the US backed faction and the southern Pashtun tribes are from Indian but I could be wrong. But no one should mistake that the US presence in Afghanistan is a “new” one or that our current allies in Pakistan can be said to be entirely bloodless.

(4) I’ve often heard others describe the Monroe doctrine as an isolationist doctrine which I disagree with. Though it did spell out that European powers should not interfere in North/South American politics it said nothing about tinkering in your own backyard. The Monroe doctrine has been used for interventions many times in the past hundred and eighty years: Teddy Roosevelt as justification for his actions in Panama up to the modern day justification of countering communist influences in Chile and Cuba, because those influences were sponsored and came from abroad.

(5) I’m always amazed people forget how long freedom takes to cement itself. The US has been working at it for over 200 years and only after the first century, a bloody civil war, and decades of civil segregation did we even get around to giving everyone the vote. Modern communication has shortened the transmission time of ideas, but ideas themselves still take time to take route. We can’t occupy a country for a few years, wave a wand, and declare it a free democracy. Each path to freedom is paved with bloodletting, sacrafices, hardships, setbacks, and sometimes outright collapse. It’s what makes the commodity of freedom in the US such a precious, and difficult, international export. Postscript: My entries on the progress on my book have not been deleted rather made private to everyone besides myself. I’m still posting my progress at regular intervals but for now that’s a private progress and I’ll share more when I’m ready too. Those posts are the most boring/uneventful anyways.


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