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The Bush Doctrine
What it means

October 4, 2002 | Page 8

THE BUSH administration has produced a National Security Strategy document--nicknamed the "Bush Doctrine" by the media--for Congress that goes further than ever before in asserting U.S. military and economic power. LEE SUSTAR explains the implications of the Bush Doctrine--and its vision of a world in which Washington is the unchallenged super-cop.

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THE "BUSH Doctrine" aims to impose on the world a new set of "international relations"--power politics in which the U.S. will use free markets and military force to impose its will on "rogue states" and allies alike.

"The great struggles of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom--and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise," the new National Security Strategy document begins. "Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence."

As described in previous speeches and policy decisions as well as the new document itself, there are four main elements to the Bush Doctrine: the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power, including "regime change" and the use of nuclear weapons; the refusal of Washington to be bound by any international treaty or organization; the prevention of the emergence of any strategic rival; and the explicit linkage of U.S. economic and military policy.

The Bush Doctrine represents a qualitative leap in the championing of U.S. power--and has alarmed even mainstream commentators. "Disdainful arrogance is hardly the right posture of the leader of the free world," Business Week magazine wrote.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman added, "[T]he United States cannot defray the costs of war out of Iraqi oil revenue--not unless we are willing to confirm to the world that we're just old-fashioned imperialists, after all."

But openly justifying U.S. imperialism is precisely what the strategy document is designed to do. The Bush Doctrine is the latest version of a strategy drawn up by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz when he was a little-known Pentagon bureaucrat in the first Bush administration during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

At that time, the White House had to disown the report after loud criticism from Democrats and allies in Western Europe. Now, Bush believes he can use September 11 to remake the world.

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BUSH'S DOCTRINE breaks with "containment"--the Cold War strategy in which Washington and Moscow divided up the globe through a balance of nuclear terror. That carve-up of the world into rival empires was shaken in the mid-1970s by the defeat of the U.S. at the hands of the national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese.

After its defeat in Vietnam, the U.S. came to rely more on Israel and dictatorships in developing countries to do its dirty work--such as Nicaragua, Chile and Argentina in Latin America; Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the Middle East; and, until his overthrow in 1979, the Shah of Iran.

But continued domestic opposition in the 1980s to "another Vietnam" forced Ronald Reagan to limit U.S. military interventions to small deployments, such as the invasion of the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Washington therefore relied on proxy armies to do most of its fighting--for example, the right-wing contras in Nicaragua and the Islamic militants fighting the USSR in Afghanistan.

But the 1991 Gulf War and the collapse of the USSR made the U.S. the undisputed military champion of the world--and Washington wants to keep it that way. "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," Bush's strategy document states.

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THE NATIONAL Security Strategy also serves notice on Washington's allies that U.S. military might will be used to bolster its economic dominance as well.

From the end of the Second World War in 1945 until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. economy carried the enormous burden of nuclear arms spending--while Germany and Japan used their far lighter load to rebuild their economies and compete with the U.S. in key markets like auto, steel and computers.

Under Bill Clinton, U.S. capitalism used the collapse of its military rival in Moscow to squeeze economic rivals in Europe and Japan. The ideological justification was "globalization"--a supposedly peaceful process in which free markets would knit the world together and raise the living standards of all.

Wars would be conducted not to "contain Communism," but for supposedly humanitarian reasons--removing a military dictatorship in Haiti, feeding the starving in Somalia, rescuing Albanians in Kosovo from Serbian aggression.

In reality, the war over Kosovo was aimed at creating a post-Cold War justification for NATO's existence--and a dominant U.S. military role in Europe. "A strong European partnership," then-President Clinton told the Washington Post, "is what this Kosovo thing is all about."

Clinton and Al Gore may disagree with Bush's cowboy style and crude unilateralism. But they agree with the core proposition of the Bush Doctrine--a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

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THE BUSH Doctrine will lead to increasing friction among the U.S., Europe and Japan--not just about whether to attack Iraq, but over the shape and direction of the world economy.

That's why German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's re-election campaign didn't just oppose the Bush's war drive, but how the free-market policies in the U.S. have ravaged the lives of working people. Schröder's criticisms highlighted the international backlash against the "Washington consensus" of deregulation, privatization and flexible labor markets, known as "neoliberalism."

Argentina, claimed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank as the "star pupil" for its pursuit of free-market policies, has been in a 1930s-type depression for four years--and has seen ongoing mass struggles since a popular revolt ousted the government last December. In neighboring Brazil, the expected victory of the Workers' Party in presidential elections highlights the widespread rejection of neoliberalism in Latin America.

Confronted by the crisis of the free-market "Washington consensus," the Bush Doctrine aims to solve the problem--by dropping the pretence of consensus. "Free markets and free trade are key priorities of our national security strategy," the Bush Doctrine states.

This growing fusion of U.S. military and economic policy can also been seen in the supposedly independent IMF--which poured billions into Turkey and Pakistan to bolster U.S. war aims in Afghanistan and Iraq, while shutting out Argentina, where European capitalists hold the bigger share of the bill in that country's debt default.

Yet the precarious state of the U.S.--and the world--economy represent the Achilles' heel of the American giant. Washington is now facing opposition from mass movements that have taken shape across Latin America--while in Europe, unions are central to the fight against corporate globalization and free-market reforms. Moreover, the widespread opposition to war in Iraq in Europe has begun to link up with the global justice movement.

And in the U.S., patriotic support after September 11 has given way to new questioning around a possible war on Iraq--underpinned by deep anxiety over the economy.

The struggle against the U.S. war in Vietnam began with Washington's promise to provide both guns and butter. Today, workers are being told--as they have been for more than 20 years--that they must once again sacrifice, while the CEOs who looted the country get off lightly.

For all the triumphalism of the Bush Doctrine, it will meet resistance--not just abroad, but at home. In a July article titled "The American Empire," analysts for Stratfor consulting group asked: "How can a democratic republic and an empire coincide? Once, this was an interesting theoretical question. Now it is the burning--but undiscussed--question in American politics."

The Bush Doctrine has pushed that discussion into the open--and made it clear that we need to oppose not just a U.S. war against Iraq, but to challenge U.S. imperialism in all its forms.

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