The War on Terror and Tyranny itself was once considered what Donald Rumsfeld might term an “unknown unknown”; though terrorism has always existed and some may have expected something like 9/11 to occur, many only learned the extent to which terrorism has evolved into a global threat when a small group of men inflicted a heavy blow on the world’s most powerful state.[i] Yet five years later, many of America’s allies have largely drawn down their commitments to actively pursue victory, fulfilling Bush’s 2002 prophecy that at some point Americans may be the ones left fighting the Islamist threat. Is it plausible to expect that after Bush leaves office, America too will see its commitment wane?
There is some reason to expect that a post-Bush United States may claw back on some of its anti-terrorist and -tyranny activities. Many Americans believe that Washington should “mind its own business” in the international arena, and divisions in both parties create “debate about what elements of President Bush’s approach to the world should be continued after he leaves office in 2009.”[ii] It is interesting to note that looking beyond the first presidency in the new era, Americans are looking at taking a softer approach to their conduct of foreign affairs, whereas after the Truman presidency Americans were looking at ways in which to get tougher with the Soviet Union.
It is my belief that this is partly due to the changing nature of power and the perception of the legitimacy of the use of force today vis-à-vis what was considered acceptable only fifty years ago. Yet the impact of the Cold War on America left it with the lesson that military power serves as the backbone for other expressions of power. The Iraq debate made plain the reality that “the United States…had been hardened by fifty years of Cold War confrontation to settle for nothing less than bringing transgressors of international order to compliance by military action.”[iii] Nowhere is the contrast in perceptions of power starker than in the chasm between America and Europe. While the British remain as dependable as ever, the fair-weather relations between the United States and the rest of Europe are indicative of their post-modern approach to international diplomacy. America, meanwhile, remains firmly rooted in modernity, and is committed to achieving its interests through all traditional means, including hard applications of its power. The virulent anti-Americanism of European leaders is not, as some suggest, confined to hatred to Bush, and it will likely endure beyond his final term. It is unrealistic to expect that the departure of one man will magically end hostilities towards America and its foreign policy, making consensus-building in multilateral organizations a difficult challenge for the foreseeable future. Because alliances can be interpreted as compromises of national interests, there will be divergences between America and most of Europe throughout this global conflict unless there are more stringent efforts by Washington to soothe the concerns of allies, who in turn may be required to step up their own interests to dissuade America from believing that it has to act alone to achieve its goals.
No president will subject American foreign policy to the UN veto. Future deliberations on collective action—be it economic sanctions or military action—will necessarily require future American leaders to heed international concerns in order to offset potential costs to the United States. This may have a deterrent effect on pursuing military solutions to future crises, thereby reducing the “war” aspect of the global conflict. But the fact remains that the United States will pursue victory in this conflict for as long as necessary, using all the means at its disposal. Moreover, Bush’s successor will inherit Iraq and be required to continue the policy of democratizing that state. This will leave the still-open wound in the Atlantic alliance as such for some time to come. No responsible American president would precipitously withdraw American forces or announce a hard timeline for standing down. The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq makes clear that conditions within Iraq will determine the timeline, and it is necessary that this formula for pursuing victory continues to be followed. It is possible that as time passes, the other states in the international system will assist America in the hard work required to remake Iraq. The passage of UNSC Resolution 1637 marks an important benchmark for the international community in its recognition of America’s presence in Iraq, and it is thus now a collective responsibility to ensure that Iraq succeeds and does not backslide into a haven for terrorists or allows a new tyranny to emerge.
The Grand Wilsonian Tradition Continues
The United States is laying a foundation for victory in the global effort to rid the world of tyranny and terrorism, and the ideologies which facilitate and perpetuate them. Victory will not be achieved during the course of the Bush Administration. That is no fault of his own, nor is it an indicator of the success or failure of the Bush Doctrine. Liberal grand strategies are measured in the course of generations, not two presidential terms. The extent to which the main themes of the Bush Doctrine are followed by his successors, immediate and in the longer term, will mark the measure of his vision and blueprint for a more democratic world. The much-maligned and misunderstood intentions of the United States are not a revolutionary departure from its traditional approach to foreign policy and international relations. There have been controversial methods utilized by Bush in order to achieve his high-minded agenda—preemptive war chief among them—but they are controversial only because of a lack of understanding of American history and its mission. The following statement from Joseph Nye deserves evaluation:
Wilson’s League of Nations was to protect any state against aggression, democratic or not. Although Truman’s doctrine spoke of defending free people everywhere, his policy was containment of communism, not rollback or short-run regime change.[iv]
The continued growth of American power and the experience of sixty years since the announcement of the Truman Doctrine are key in considering this statement. The concept of collective security is meaningless without American participation, and the failure of the League’s successor to avoid repeating its mistakes has left it discredited and in need of being replaced with an entirely democratic union to protect citizens without seeking permission from illegitimate regimes that are more often the source of aggression and conflict than democracies. Nye’s assessment of the Truman Doctrine is accurate to a point. Truman had considered rolling back the North Korea regime and establishing a unified democratic Korea as an ally in the Cold War, but he was forced by circumstances and a fluid military situation to abandon that strategy. Moreover, any efforts to trigger regime change and overthrow non-democratic governments would have been met with a Soviet military response that would almost certainly have spiraled into a nuclear war.
In the absence of such circumstances and the failure of collective security, the United States is left with few other legitimate options to achieve its grand strategic objectives. Withdrawing from the world is simply not an option, as it would create a power vacuum in the international order and leave it in a state of anarchy largely unseen during most of the 20th century. Remaining on the defensive and hoping to contain tyranny within its existing borders condemns disempowered citizens to live under the heel of despotism and hope for such regimes to change themselves. This is unrealistic to the extreme: there is no Cincinnatus holding power in the Middle East that will voluntarily give up his total authority. Thus, seeking to undermine these regimes and promote a better alternative is the right policy for the United States. Bush has little more than two years to prove his case that American grand strategy will make the world safer, more secure, and more democratic. With the suggestions provided in the previous chapter and a clear-minded purpose to demonstrate the superior virtues and compelling values of the American ideology, the Bush Administration can go a long way to fulfilling its strong desire to measure up to the Truman standard that it emulates. It is not inevitable that things turn out right, but the proper determination and application can ensure that they do.
[i] Ian Bremmer, “Thinking Beyond States,” The National Interest 83 (2006), 66.
[ii] Derek Chollet, “A Consensus Shattered,” The National Interest 83 (2006), 74, 75.
[iii] John Keegan, The Iraq War, (Toronto: Key Porter, 2004), 104. Keegan also notes that it was Reagan’s military build-up that forced the Soviet Union into bankruptcy and demonstrated the failure of communism.
[iv] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “The Freedom Crusade Revisited: A Symposium,” The National Interest 82 (2006), 15.