16 - 22 February 2006 Issue No. 782
Bush is unexceptional
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to George W Bush, though the future remains unwritten, writes Elie Nasrallah*
History is the mother of politics and foreign policy for any deep- rooted political entity, and especially for a major state that is the product of its nation's historical-civilisational lineage, such as the United States. Under the administration of George W Bush the United States has followed a historically traditional approach and not, as many believe, a revolutionary line that is new and unprecedented in America's history. How can this be claimed? Let us look at the issue with historical-political realism.
First, George W Bush's politics is neither revolutionary nor atypical -- not even to America. American history is full of moments of Americans believing they are exceptional. Thomas Jefferson's view was that America was an empire of freedom for the world. Woodrow Wilson promised to make the world safe for democracy. John F Kennedy said that he would confront every foe so that the principle of democracy would survive globally and in order to protect it and make it a success. Since the days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the war in Vietnam, the United States has been determined to follow -- and in fact has practiced -- unilateral policies to protect its interests globally, within NATO and beyond. The core of US foreign policy since the end of World War II has not changed except in style and presentation. The principles of maintaining the global financial order's core and spreading a free economic system that serves American interests -- as well as protecting friendly regimes and states that harbour important natural resources -- remain unaltered.
Second, the principle of pre- emptive war is not new or specific to Bush. President Andrew Jackson practiced the doctrine of pre- emptive war against the Native American Indians and against the Spanish who ruled Florida and other areas around 1818. Likewise, one cannot overlook the historic Monroe Doctrine that defined American policy towards Latin America, the influence of which continues until this day. South America was, and remains, under the influence of the Monroe Doctrine, whose historical precedents are innumerable. In 1904, for example, the American President Theodore Roosevelt announced that the United States had the right to intervene in the heart of South America in order to defend civilisation, freedom and humanity as well as the peoples' rights and elevated principles.
Some allege that Bush's foreign policy is the opposite of Bill Clinton's. This line of thinking is incongruent with historical fact. Foreign policy during the Clinton administration aimed at developing and strengthening a military force capable of dominating a large global arena; to have military power that is persuasive during times of peace, decisive in war, and prominent in and controlling of all global military disputes. In 1995, Clinton gave legal sanction to combating terrorism that opened the door to pre-emptive military strikes in Africa and the Middle East. Following the strike on Al-Qaeda bases in Sudan in 1998, the national security advisor at the time, Sandy Berger, said, "The stated bases must be struck now. What would we do later if the terrorists came and used toxic gases in New York? What would we tell them?" The only matter that has changed since 11 September is that Bush has taken the already existent choice of pre-emptive military strikes and transformed it into a national doctrine.
The American empire is not an exceptional chapter in contemporary history. Henry Kissinger stated a few days ago that he couldn't imagine the United States waging a political-military campaign against terrorism without toppling the former Iraqi regime. This is how major powers with force backing their many choices think. Empires have, do, and will wage campaigns similar to the war on Iraq because the global financial system remains under the canopy of the state of nature by which the strong act and the weak arm themselves with principles, morals and emotive values. The United Nations is simply a tool, no more and no less, in the hands of the big boys who use it when they need it under the pretext of time and place. Some political scientists believe that the United States is a light and insignificant empire in comparison to historical precedents.
Is it possible, practically speaking, to combat terrorism and make the spread of democracy and freedom a success at the same time? This is the point. Day after day it seems as though this two-goal strategy is a double-edged sword. Military tactics cancel diplomatic- humanitarian activity and erase all trace of the thinking required for development, change and reform. At the same time, the necessity of combating terrorism in order to battle reactionary, degenerate and violent thought is clear. This dilemma both gives American foreign policy a revolutionary flavour and makes it seem naïve, irresponsible and certain to fail. If only history, walking backwards and blind to the future, could turn for a moment and record for the present a road map of what is to come, the world would be blessed indeed.
* The writer is a Lebanese political analyst.