Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Bush Doctrine, properly understood

George Weigel likes this book. It will make its way to my nightstand.

Discussions - 9 Comments

It's a good book. I reviewed it not too long ago for the dead tree version of National Review. Here is my penultimate observation:

According to Kaufman, the Bush Doctrine is well within the mainstream of a rich, deep tradition of American foreign policy. This tradition Kaufman calls moral democratic realism, which is based on two fundamental premises. The first is that the goal of American foreign policy, a purpose that has remained fixed since the Founding of the Republic, is “to assure the integrity and vitality of a free society, ‘which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.’”


The second premise of moral democratic realism is the cardinal virtue of prudence. Kaufman uses the definition of prudence supplied by St. Thomas Aquinas. I prefer that of “the Philosopher” himself who described prudence as deliberating well about those things that can be other than they are (means). According to Aristotle, prudence is the virtue most characteristic of the statesman. In foreign affairs, prudence requires the statesman to adapt universal principles to particular circumstances in order to arrive at the means that are best given existing circumstances.

Here's my criticism of the above. The president's role in foreign affairs is to preserve what Mac said in his first paragraph for American society, not other people's societies. At least, that's what GW said in his Farewell Address.

An argument can been made that our affairs in Iraq have everything to do with preserving 'the integrity and vitality of a free society', in particular, ours. Especially in light of the intelligence of the day, that is, Saddam was a threat to the United States.

That is not revisionist history. The question was not whether Saddam was a threat, he was, but what to do about him.

That salient fact has been lost in the politics and the politics has done not one thing to protect Americans, home or abroad. All the political posturing has done is make hay for the jihadists and score cheap points for the rabid partisans, in particular, the liberal, Democrat kind!

Dale, yes, I do agree with you that if it were in the interest of the United States (for whatever reason, security, terrorism, oil, etc.) to invade Iraq, I would think it justified by Founding principles. However, I do think that your point about Saddam actually being such a threat to American national security and vital interests was/is more debatable than you say. But, I'm not interested in a drawn-out debate, since I think a reasonable case can be made either way. I just think it is important to base American foreign policy on American interest, not global interests or other peoples' interests (because they can be very malleable and your enemy can become your friend and vice versa).

Sigh! As anyone who has looked a Washington's Farewell Address should know, the American conception of "interest" is far different from that pushed by today's "Realists." Without knowing it, the academic IR realist writers are the heirs of Machiavelli. They refuse to recognize that the American understanding of interest has always included regard for American principles.

That said, there is a also a strong security reason for the United States to help spread liberal, republican principles. To quote a talk i delivered at last year's Philadelphia Society annual meeting:

Both the realists and the traditionalists reject the Bush Doctrine’s emphasis on expanding liberal democracy, mocking this enterprise as "muscular Wilsonianism." But the expansion of like regimes can be found in Thucydides, who noted that an important goal of both Athens and Sparta was to establish and support regimes similar to their own, democracies in the case of Athens and oligarchies for Sparta.

Indeed, the Bush Doctrine endorses this very Thucydidean perspective. As the president declared during a June 2004 speech at the Air Force Academy:

Some who call themselves "realists" question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be of any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality. American has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat and more secure when freedom is on the march.

Like Thucydides, Bush understands that the security of a state is enhanced when it is surrounded by others that share its principles and interests.

Principle is simply interest that can be justified to a wider audience. The capacity for interest to be justified as Principle depends upon the codified set of laws, manners and mores that the wise law givers have established and nurtured, these make up the arms of our Executive as surely as the United States Army does. Basic Machiavelli: gain control of principle, and you gain control of that which determines what is ascribed praise and blame. It is in the interest of Sparta and Athens to nurture regimes which share or are sympathetic with the Ontological structures that they each had. In other words Machiavelli doesn't disagree with Thucydides.

If anything Bush's failure is a failure of mobilizing interest in the name of Principle. The American Executive has almost no control in the Machiavellian sense, because he is not also law giver, he is not the framer of public perception, and as such he must rely upon Fortune or the New York Times.

The capacity to turn interest into principle is really the hallmark of the Machiavellian prince.

Like Thucydides Bush understands that the security of a state is enhanced when it is surrounded by others that share its principles(principles=shared interests) this is why Bush speaks more freely to the Air Force Academy than he does to the New York Times. The first group sees his actions as Principle, a common goal, a shared interest, the other as just naked interest, hunger for Power, grasping...

REGARDLESS of where the Bush Doctrine fits withing the larger framework of American foreign policy, as a practical matter, the doctrine has collapsed into incoherency. And Bush and Condi's mad scramble to get the Iranians "involved" spells the end of the doctrine.

Establishing a workable democracy in Iraq was intended to destabilize the nightmarish regimes adjacent to Iraq, such as the Iranians for instance, and the house of al saud too, although that wasn't never overtly stated.

Now we see the terror sponsors invited into a process whereby they "help" to pacify Iraq.

It's a policy volte face. And everybody in the region knows it. It's rather disgraceful.

Of course, Washington and the Founders supported a principled foreign policy of interest, but the new nation hardly started invading nations that were not freedom-loving republics - that was left to the French Revolutionaries who tore down regimes to spread the fires of liberty and forced everyone in Europe to be free. Where does it stop? What nations are we not going to invade who are not democracies? How many American deaths are we willing to endure? Throw Aristotle and the idea of prudence at me. Well, thus the idea of spreading democracy to make ourselves safer is negated when we fail to do it in some really important instances like Iran and North Korea.

The world would be a better place if we took out every despot, thug, and totalitarian. The problem is that we can not do that by ourselves, and the world, in general, appears not to be inclined to be free.

Moreover, what we, the United States, spread, is not American Democracy, but European Democracy, something that prone to totalitarianism and that is the major defect of our foreign policy.

Then again, with all those in power in the U.S. with 'woodies' with European style of government, why should I be mystified with the export of their lusts?

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