February 27, 2006
Bush's Grand Strategy
Three and a
half years ago, in September 2002, the Bush administration issued
its National Security Strategy. It was, as Yale historian John Lewis
Gaddis has written, "the most fundamental reassessment of American
grand strategy in over half a century," since Harry Truman
set America on its course in the Cold War.
consensus seems to be rising that the Bush administration is veering
off the course it set then. Gerard Baker in the Times of London
writes that the days of American military intervention are over.
Reporters write that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has shoved
aside neoconservatives and taken her stand with State Department
professionals. It's not a bad time, then, to look back at the
National Security Strategy, to see how it has fared.
NSS first appeared, news stories focused on its assertion that
America would act pre-emptively. This was just after George W.
Bush challenged the United Nations to take action on Iraq and
just as Bush was pressing Congress to vote on military action.
will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary," the strategy
read, "to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively
against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against
our people and our country."
was not the only doctrine in the document. The words just quoted
were preceded by a clause reading, "While the United States
will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international
community ..." Even while claiming the right to act pre-emptively,
Bush agreed to Tony Blair's plea for a second United Nations resolution
to justify military action in Iraq, even though it was justified
by previous resolutions and Saddam Hussein's defiance of them.
was more to the strategy of securing America than just dealing
with immediate threats. The NSS called for "global efforts
to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations." Bush critics
say that he has undercut that by continuing to reject the Kyoto
Protocol. But the agreement Bush concluded with India, China,
Japan and Australia to limit growth of greenhouse gases seems
likely to produce significant results, while the European countries,
for all their hauteur, are failing to meet their Kyoto targets.
also gone beyond the NSS by agreeing to joint military operations
with India and encouraging a Japanese military presence abroad
-- both counterweights to Chinese military power. Also going beyond
his proposals is his massive commitment to combat AIDS in Africa,
which is only hinted at in the document.
respects, Bush has not delivered on the promises of the NSS. The
Free Trade Area of the Americas, envisioned for 2005, is nowhere
in sight. And "an independent and democratic Palestine, living
beside Israel in peace and security," won't appear soon.
is much evidence that Bush has made good on the multilateral diplomacy
that the strategy called for. He has let Britain, France and Germany
carry on negotiations with Iran; urged China, the only country
with real leverage, to use it against North Korea; and worked
with France in supporting the "Cedar Revolution" in
Lebanon. And America is getting more cooperation from newly elected
governments in Germany and Canada.
It may be
argued that we aren't having much success stopping the nuclear
programs of Iran and North Korea. But the NSS didn't promise success
everywhere, any more than it promised military action everywhere.
It proposed instead to use American power where and when possible
to further "the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity."
followed the National Security Strategy pretty faithfully, if
not without mistakes -- just as Harry Truman made mistakes in
following his Cold War strategy. What about future administrations?
Truman's successors mostly followed the course he set in NSC-68
for four decades, as Gaddis shows in his new book, "The Cold
Bush's successors, for all their criticisms (John McCain wants
a larger military; Hillary Rodham Clinton says she wouldn't have
voted for military action in Iraq knowing what she knows now),
will find it hard to move outside the framework of the National
Security Strategy, as they take on Bush's burden of fighting what
we're starting to call the Long War.
2006 Creators Syndicate