The Bush Doctrine

This is taken from a talk I gave at the Hunter ISO branch meeting on October 17th. It was an outline, so its not a word-for-word transcript, but the ideas are the same.

Why is it important to talk about and analyze the Bush doctrine's meaning and significance?

Today, there is a large and growing anti-war movement. But its very breadth means that there are all sorts of ideas out there about why the Bush administration is pushing for war on Iraq - everything from "Bush is a crazy" to "the administration has been hijacked by oil companies". And while there are important elements of truth to those explanations - the administration is a bit off its rocker, and they are up to their eyeballs in the oil business - they don't really explain the whole picture about why the American ruling class is pushing for war so hard and is being so aggressive.

The "Bush Doctrine" is a 35 page "National Security Strategy" foreign policy paper that each administration is required by law to publish. Congress will vote on it soon (and probably approve it).

The starting point of the document is that U.S. is the number one power in the world. As the document states, “Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence” (para 2, intro); “The United States possess unprecedented – and unequaled – strength and influence in the world” (p. 1).

The document is unique in its bluntness; it asserts the U.S. government's rights strike any country before a threat to U.S. power emerges (this is the theory of "pre-emptive strikes". There is veiled threat after veiled threat to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and the European Union. “It is time to reaffirm the essential role of military strength. … Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States” (p. 29-30). Today’s allies are tomorrow’s "axis of evil".

The goal of U.S. foreign policy is to keep it that way, using both the U.S.'s economic and military power. As the document makes clear: “We will promote economic growth and economic freedom beyond our shores” (p. 17). The doctrine promises to help countries facing economic crisis and to help countries prevent them, but the administration's actions show that it will use economic crises to push the interests of American capitalism. For example, Argentina's economy was allowed to go to the wall, while the International Monetary Fund and World Bank promised new loans to neighboring Brazil. The difference between these two countries? European banks have more money invested in Argentina, and American bankers have more money invested in Brazil. The U.S. uses institutions like the IMF/WB as a battering ram - to pry open closed markets, and to smash its competitors.

The close connection between military and economic power is no secret. Mainstream commentators openly admit it, once in a while, like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who said:
		The hidden hand of the market will never work 
		without the hidden fist of McDonnell Douglas, the 
		designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that 
		keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s 
		technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, 
		Navy, and Marine Corps. 
The Bush Doctrine is a striking vindication of the Marxist theory of imperialism - a theory first developed by Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin - which is that economic competition between rival groups of capitalists spills over into military competition.

The insanity of the Bush Doctrine is an expression of the insane priorities of capitalism. As Paul D'amato explained:
		… like economic competition, military competition 
		imposes itself upon rivals as an external compulsion. 
		Each capitalist must grow or die, must therefore try 
		to drive its competitors from the field. The same 
		logic (however irrational) is at work in military 
		competition. The same conditions which give rise to 
		economic competition in the world market also give 
		rise to military competition. If "rationality" were 
		the criterion, capitalism should have been abandoned 
		some time ago, when it became clear that people starved 
		in spite of an abundance of food, were unemployed in 
		spite of an abundance of machinery and materials, and 
		that world war would devastate entire nations and 
		lead to mass extermination of entire peoples.
While the Bush Doctrine's insanity is an expression of the insane priorities of capitalism, it is also cold, calculated policy; while it is a qualitative leap in how the U.S. intends to assert its power, there is an underlying continuity in U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The USSR's collapse left the U.S. as the "lone superpower" - and the number one goal of U.S. policy since then has been to maintain this state of affairs. The continuity between Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II is most clear when we look at Iraq.

With the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. wanted to show the world that "what we say goes", as Bush I himself put it; as the USSR disintegrated, the U.S. felt much less restrained, and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was an opportunity to extend U.S. power throughout the Middle East. To achieve these ends, the U.S. unleashed the most lethal air war in history, murdering 200,000 civilians in a period of 47 days. At that time, Washington didn't feel confident (or arrogant) enough to invade Iraq itself and overthrow the government and replace it with its own puppet - so it opted instead for sanctions. As Lance Selfa and Paul D'amato explained:
		For years, U.S. policymakers have made it clear 
		that they want Saddam Hussein out and a more pliant 
		pro-U.S. regime in. They have also made it perfectly 
		clear that they want sections of the Iraqi military 
		staff to replace Saddam Hussein rather than a popular 
		uprising. The problem is that since the 1991… the U.S. 
		has had no effective strategy for achieving its goals. 
		… The sanctions – and the periodic bombings – are, 
		in a way, a substitute for an invasion that the U.S. 
		can’t launch.
The sanctions were started by Bush I, continued under Clinton (accompanied by periodic bombing), and now Bush II wants to "finish the job".

But why Iraq? Why now? And what will the "Bush Doctrine" mean for the future?

Much of the reason as the why the U.S. wants a "regime change" in Iraq now is because Russia and France were developing closer economic ties to the Iraqi regime. To put it bluntly, the U.S. wants to get its hands on Iraq and its oil before the Russian or French governments do. '

Another major factor is - of course - September 11th, which the Bush administration shamelessly exploited to advance its right-wing agenda under the smokescreen of "fighting terrorism". After the relatively easy "regime change" and U.S. victory in Afghanistan, the American ruling class is flushed with victory, overconfident. Every government they succeed in overthrowing them will make them more overconfident.

But most importantly, this war is about this war is about locking-in the U.S.'s dominant position for decades to come. If the U.S. wins the war, this goal will be achieved in two ways. 1: the U.S. will have control of Iraq's oil, which is 10% of the world's oil. While the U.S. gets most of the oil it consumes from Latin America, the economies of its major military and economic rivals, France - Japan, Russia, China - depend on Middle East oil to function. Iraqi oil is a huge club in the hands of American capitalism to wield against its rivals - "oil diplomacy", if you will. And 2: this war is not just about "regime change" in Iraq. Read for Iraq, "North Korea," or Iran, or Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Libya, any country that bucks the U.S. in any way, shape, or form. As Bush put it, "You are either with us, or against us."

The U.S. needs this war in order to maintain its dominance today, tomorrow, and far into the future. Victory in Iraq will legitimize "pre-emptive strikes," "regime change," and lay the groundwork for future unilateral wars - not against "rogue states" like Iraq, but regional competitors like India, China or Russia. They hope to bury Vietnam syndrome - the domestic opposition to sending ground troops abroad for imperial adventures - in the sands of Iraq, and replace it with the Bush Doctrine as the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy.

But every empire which has tried to extend its influence has met with opposition. The world's other powers, China, Russia, France, Germany, Japan, all have the interests of their ruling classes at heart, and those interests will not always line up with the U.S. ruling class's interests nicely and neatly. This is partly why the Bush administration has a "unilaterialist streak" - they want to get people used to the idea that the U.S. government will wage war without allies, and possibly someday against allies. The prospect of an inter-imperialist war, like that of the First or Second World War's is still far away; the U.S. spends $400 billion on its military machine, and the second highest spender is Russia at $60 billion. But that prospect is closer today than it has been in decades, and it grows closer still.

More importantly, I would argue, is the resistance that the U.S. will meet from below. Latin America has rejected the Washington-model of free markets, deregulation, privitization, and "free trade" - Argentina is in flames with numerous Presidents toppled in a matter of months for pushing those policies, and in neighboring Brazil, Lula has been elected President by millions of workers who look to him to change the status quo, fight poverty, and reverse the attacks on their living standards of the last few decades.

In Europe, there have been truly massive anti-war demonstrations: 400,000 in London, 500,000 in Italy. In the U.S., over 200,000 marched in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and cities all over the country. Dozens of campus anti-war committees have sprung up to organize grassroots opposition. Many labor unions have passed resolutions condemning the war in no uncertain terms; the Duluth Labor Council even went so far to call Bush a "trigger-happy Texan". Polls show that 49% of Americans are opposed to the war if it means significant Iraqi casualties. All this adds up to MASSIVE OPPOSITION in Bush's own house.

This opposition, combined with the fact that the war will likely cost $200 billion, therefore meaning massive budget cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and schools, points to the importance of rebuilding an anti-imperialist left within the emerging mass anti-war movement. Anti-imperialist left meaning a current within the broader left that is against U.S. intervention, no matter where it goes, or what form it takes, or how “humanitarian” or “democratic” it claims to be. When the U.S. was defeated in Viet Nam, by the Vietnamese peasants, rebellious American soldiers, and massive social upheaval at home, a strong anti-imperialist left developed and helped prevent further U.S interventions throughout the 70s and 80s, saving the lives of thousands of people abroad and at home.

Socialists - as one of the very few forces on the left who have consistent anti-imperialist politics - have a crucial role in organizing the biggest, broadest movement against the war and at the same timebeing the principled anti-imperialist wing of that movement. And not only do we have to be against U.S. imperialism, but we have to be able to connect the war with attacks on working class people here at home, and to build a socialist organization that can overthrow the system which has produced a world of endless war and misery.

Click here the International Socialist Review's analysis of the Bush doctrine.
Click here for an analysis of the new anti-war movement and the tasks ahead. Click here for the text of the Bush Doctrine (its a PDF file). 1