Bush Doctrine

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America's Age of Empire: The Bush Doctrine

With barely a debate, the Bush doctrine has set out a radically new -- and dangerous -- role for the United States.

On September 20, the Bush administration published a national security manifesto overturning the established order. Not because it commits the United States to global intervention: We've been there before. Not because it targets terrorism and rogue states: Nothing new there either. No, what's new in this document is that it makes a long-building imperial tendency explicit and permanent. The policy paper, titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" -- call it the Bush doctrine -- is a romantic justification for easy recourse to war whenever and wherever an American president chooses.

This document truly deserves the overused term "revolutionary," but its release was eclipsed by the Iraq debate. Recall the moment. Bush, having just backed away from unilateralism long enough to deliver a speech to the United Nations, was now telling Congress to give him the power to go to war with Iraq whenever and however he liked. Congress, with selective reluctance, was skating sideways toward a qualified endorsement. The administration had fended off doubts from the likes of George Bush Sr.'s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and retreated from its maximal designs (at least on Tuesdays and Thursdays), giving doubters, and politicians preoccupied with their reelection, reasons to overcome their doubts and sign on. The Bush White House chose this moment to put down in black and white its grand strategy -- to doctrinize, as it were, its impulse to act alone with the instruments of war. Hitching a ride on Al Qaeda's indisputable threat, the doctrine generalizes. It is limitless in time and space. It not only commits the United States to dominating the world from now into the distant future, but also advocates what it calls the preemptive use of force: "America will act...
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