T Nation

Bush's Coherent World View


#1

Apparently some liberal journalists are coming to the realization that the Bush Administration actually has a coherent world view that drives its foreign policy. Here's an essay by Michael Kinsley in which the realization that Bush may be more than a bumbling moron seems to have left him with nothing to add but a few snarky comments.

Do people think Kinsley captures the Bush world view well?

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-kinsley6feb06,0,3915019.column?coll=la-util-op-ed

The Thinker
President Bush's thought appears to be evolving. Who knows where this may lead?

The strangest aspect of President Bush's new War on Tyranny is the connection he draws between tyranny and terrorism. It's not the connection you would suspect, or the one Bush was making during his first term. When Saddam Hussein was still in charge of Iraq, it was enough to say that bad guys are bad guys. A sadistic dictator is just the type of person who would also harbor terrorists and stockpile weapons of mass destruction.

But now Bush says that terrorists are actually the victims of tyranny. In his inaugural, this seemed like a bit of transitory, use-once-and-discard hifalutinism. But Bush returned to the theme in his State of the Union on Wednesday. "In the long term," he said, "the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America."

The anarchist Emma Goldman said much the same thing in a 1917 essay, "The Psychology of Political Violence." It is "the despair millions of people are daily made to endure" that drives some of them to acts of terror. "Can one question the tremendous, revolutionizing effect on human character exerted by great social iniquities?" She quotes a pamphlet from British-ruled India: "Terrorism ? is inevitable as long as tyranny continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible for it."

Bush does not say that tyranny excuses terrorism. But he does say that tyranny explains terrorism. This is new. One of Bush's big themes in the months after Sept. 11 was that terrorism is "evil," pure and simple. Former Commissioner of Virtue William Bennett ground out a quickie bestseller on this theme, criticizing efforts to understand why someone might become a suicide bomber as a refusal to look evil in the face.

Conservative thought has long rated the notion of "root causes" ? explaining antisocial behavior as a consequence of social conditions ? as a major heresy. Neoconservatives have especially enjoyed burning witches over this doctrinal deviation. This makes it especially remarkable that a president thought to be in the thrall of neocons should sink so eloquently into doctrinal error.

Not only does he blame terrorism on social conditions ? he says point-blank that "only ? by eliminating [these] conditions" can the terrorist threat be eliminated. He sounds less like a Republican than a dorm-room Marxist. And good for him. Who says the 1960s passed this fellow by?

Our president appears to be on some kind of intellectual journey. The idea of an evolution in George W. Bush's thinking is about as hard to accept for Bush's opponents as evolution itself is for some of his supporters. Nevertheless, there is evidence. I thought I had our president pegged as a man who made the great leap of faith at age 40 and has used that as his intellectual model ever since. Decide what you want to believe, believe it, and cross it off your to-do list. But this assessment may have been an injustice.

Bush may come to regret his descent from the heights of certitude to the swamps of doubt. The old George W. wasn't expected to have thought through his policies and pronouncements. Now he will lie awake at night pondering questions like these, raised by his State of the Union address:

What does it mean that "one of the main differences between us and our enemies" is that we have "no desire and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else"? Bush talks more about "freedom" than "democracy," but can there even be freedom in a totalitarian theocracy? Can people freely choose a society where freedom is severely limited, and if so, what does the Bush Doctrine say about that? Approving words on Wednesday about "governments that ? reflect their own cultures" were probably intended to allow for religious states in the Middle East. If so, what is left of the War on Tyranny? If not, what is left of the idea that we don't wish to impose our form of government on anyone else?

If his Social Security reform is going to be so delightful, why should older workers be so thrilled to be left out? "Do not let anyone mislead you," Bush told folks who are 55 or older. "For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way." As someone who will miss the cutoff by just a few months, am I supposed to be overjoyed at being able to surf this tsunami to riches, or disappointed that thoughtless procrastination by my parents 54 years ago will deny me protection from it?

Bush said Wednesday he "will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts." This sounds like a welcome willingness to compromise a little bit his stringent restrictions on stem cell research. But what about fertility clinics? They routinely create embryos, and discard most of them, to help people conceive children. Why is using embryos for this purpose OK if using them to save lives is not?

Thinking. It's enough to drive a fellow back to drinking.


#2

I want to give my own impressions as well.

I think this is a fairly accurate summary of the thinking: create more free governments and have fewer risks from terrorists. This is because of the underlying "rogue regime" outlook in which the main fear is that a rogue government like Iran or North Korea would provide WMD to terrorists. I think that is the nightmare on which the Bush Administration is focusing, rather than on car bombings and whatnot.

I don't think there is inconsistency, and I think Kinsley misidentifies the root causes that are being dealt with because he is thinking of terrorism in terms of car bombers -- or even plane hijackers -- and that's not in the same ballpark as WMD in terrorist hands.

I also think Bush, in focusing on tyranny and rogue regimes, is focusing on the fact that only tyrannical regimes would provide funding and hiding places for terrorist groups -- and without those, the groups would be easier to destroy.

They definitely didn't pass Kinsley by -- in fact, he still lives there, at least mentally. Thus the focus on his own interpretations. Bush didn't say "fight poverty to stop terrorism," he said attack tyranny to combat terrorism. There's a huge difference between the two, even if a desired side effect would be improved living conditions and economic prospects in countries in which tyranny is destroyed (How could North Korea do any worse in that regard?).

Underestimate your oppponents at your own risk, Mr. Kinsley -- especially when it comes to dismissing them as stupid or myopic.

I think Kinsley recognizes the embedded assumption that deposing a tyranny so that people can establish their own government is not viewed as "imposing our government" under Bush's formulation.

As for the other questions, I think the Bush Doctrine will allow for religious, theocratically based democracy -- in fact, I think that they know they are going to get that in Iraq, have known that for some time, and still pushed forward with the elections.

Bush won't let the perfect become the enemy of the good in these situations, especially when the ultimate driver is still the idea that these regimes -- even theocratically based democracies -- will not be havens for terrorists.

Kinlsey ran out of things to say about the ever-more-successful foreign policy, so he moved on to the next political battleground.

And the answer is pure political calculation -- old people get extremely fidgety when anyone talks about any change whatsoever in Social Security. Not many understand it, and not many want to.

I'm not stepping into this debate right now -- suffice it to say Bush's current position is a compromise that satisfies neither side of the debate.


#3

I wonder how much $$$ that article cost the administration?

He is correct in agreeing with Bush that tyranny breeds terrorism. America is becoming the biggest "breeder" of terrorism ever.

EVERYBODY in the WORLD is fed up with what we are doing, including our allies. Rumsfeld can't even go to Germany because they might arrest him for war crimes and our war machine is becoming a bottomless money pit.

We're also creating brand new classes of nuclear weapons at the same time we're telling other countries they can't have them.... but it's alright if Israel does.

For all the people who think we're doing such a great job on the war on terrorism, you should be glad you'll get to do your part eventually. Of course no one ever takes these guys seriously.

Project for A New American Century

Letter to Congress on Increasing U.S. Ground Forces
January 28, 2005

Dear Senator Frist, Senator Reid, Speaker Hastert, and Representative Pelosi:

The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

There is abundant evidence that the demands of the ongoing missions in the greater Middle East, along with our continuing defense and alliance commitments elsewhere in the world, are close to exhausting current U.S. ground forces. For example, just late last month, Lieutenant General James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, reported that "overuse" in Iraq and Afghanistan could be leading to a "broken force." Yet after almost two years in Iraq and almost three years in Afghanistan, it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly, in Condoleezza Rice's term, a "generational commitment." The only way to fulfill the military aspect of this commitment is by increasing the size of the force available to our civilian leadership.

The administration has been reluctant to adapt to this new reality. We understand the dangers of continued federal deficits, and the fiscal difficulty of increasing the number of troops. But the defense of the United States is the first priority of the government. This nation can afford a robust defense posture along with a strong fiscal posture. And we can afford both the necessary number of ground troops and what is needed for transformation of the military.

In sum: We can afford the military we need. As a nation, we are spending a smaller percentage of our GDP on the military than at any time during the Cold War. We do not propose returning to a Cold War-size or shape force structure. We do insist that we act responsibly to create the military we need to fight the war on terror and fulfill our other responsibilities around the world.

The men and women of our military have performed magnificently over the last few years. We are more proud of them than we can say. But many of them would be the first to say that the armed forces are too small. And we would say that surely we should be doing more to honor the contract between America and those who serve her in war. Reserves were meant to be reserves, not regulars. Our regulars and reserves are not only proving themselves as warriors, but as humanitarians and builders of emerging democracies. Our armed forces, active and reserve, are once again proving their value to the nation. We can honor their sacrifices by giving them the manpower and the material they need.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world.

http://newamericancentury.org/defense-20050128.htm


#4

That's pretty funny -- implying Michael Kinsley is on the White House payroll requires quite a sense of the absurd.

Actually, our numbers have been improving lately, at least in France and Germany:

http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/001877.html

The state of transatlantic public opinion

Today the German Marshall Fund of the United States released a survey of American, German, and French public opinion that was conducted in late November ( http://www.gmfus.org/apps/gmf/gmfwebfinal.nsf/$UNIDviewAll/3B832E4C4B3BB77685256F9F00700669?opendocument&K1E73ABE2 ). The results suggest that public attitudes towards the countries across the Atlantic are not great -- but at least they're improving:

http://www.gmfus.org/apps/gmf/gmfwebfinal.nsf/F344AE0CE00FD46185256F9F00705AE0/$File/PostElectionSurveyReport.pdf

[i]While disapproval of President Bush?s foreign policy decisions remains quite high in Europe, attitudes toward the United States are not as clear-cut. When asked how they felt about the U.S. taking a strong role in world affairs, majorities in France and Germany said that it was undesirable ? 65% and 57%, respectively. While these figures would appear quite negative, they actually represent an improvement of 8 and 3 percentage points in France and Germany, since June, 2004.

Continued discontent with American leadership in France and Germany has kept support for a more independent Europe high. When asked whether the United States and the European Union should become closer or take more independent approaches to foreign and security policy 66% of French and 54% of German respondents said the European Union should take a more independent approach. On the face of it, this may seem to be a bad sign for U.S.-European relations, but the trends on this data are positive. In this last round of polling we found that the number of French and German respondents who said that the U.S. and the EU should become closer actually increased by 5 and 4 percentage points, respectively, since June. Additionally, the number of German respondents who said that the EU should take a more independent approach dropped by 10 percentage points over the same period....

There can be little doubt that the transatlantic rift that developed during the lead-up to the war in Iraq is still present. Yet, the reelection of President George W. Bush, whose decisions are often viewed as the primary reason for this rift, does not seem to have put any further strain on U.S.-European relations, at least not at the level of public opinion. If anything, damage to the transatlantic relationship appears to be showing the first signs of recovery as evidenced by a modest increase among French and German respondents in their desire to work more closely with the United States, as well as a decrease in their opposition to American leadership in world affairs. In addition, given the level of agreement in terms of American attitudes about what France and Germany can do to heal the transatlantic divide, and French and German attitudes about what the U.S. can do to mend the rift, there seems to be ample room to begin a U.S.-European rapprochement. Increased diplomacy and efforts to strengthen the EU?s military capabilities would most likely lie at the heart of any thaw Also promising for U.S.-European relations are the high favorability ratings of both the U.S. and NATO by citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. As the survey details, American, French, and German respondents not only agree on the benefits of these institutions, but they also agree in large part on their problems. This fact alone is good news as these organizations have traditionally helped to buttress the U.S.-European relationship. Revamping and refining these institutions to meet the needs of the 21st century could offer a possible avenue for rebuilding transatlantic ties.[/i]

The most interesting finding in the survey is the congruence between American and European attitudes about how to deal with Iran:

Respondents were asked to choose between two courses of action for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. One choice, described as supported by many American policymakers, included the threat of military action. The other, ?European? choice emphasized diplomacy and soft power. Despite the identification of the first option as the ?American? choice, only 30% of American respondents selected this course. Fifty-five percent of Americans supported the ?European? approach, as did 82% of French and 91% of the German respondents. American support for a ?soft power? strategy vis-?-vis Iran went up even further when the supporters of military action were offered a chance to change their position in return for European support on keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Over 39% of Americans who initially chose the ?American? position were willing to change their approach in order to gain the support of European allies.

You can read the summary essay by clicking here ( http://www.gmfus.org/apps/gmf/gmfwebfinal.nsf/F344AE0CE00FD46185256F9F00705AE0/$File/PostElectionSurveyReport.pdf ) -- and here's a link to the topline survey results ( http://www.gmfus.org/apps/gmf/gmfwebfinal.nsf/A83E5672A0DAACE985256F9F007045C7/$File/Post%20Election%20Study%202004_%20Final%20Topline%20Data.pdf ).

[FULL DISCLOSURE: This seems an appropriate moment to mention that I [Note: This is Dan Drezner, the post's author, not BostonBarrister, making this disclosure] was recently named a non-resident transatlantic fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Furthermore, "During his time with GMF, he will advise on the design and analysis of public opinion surveys on foreign policy and collaborate with the Trade and Development program on the transatlantic trade relationship." Which means that one of my responsibilities was offering my (minor) input to this survey instrument.]


#5

Forgot to mention: You're right, no one takes that seriously. WHy do you suppose that is?


#6

You know what pisses me off? Every time the president or administration comes around and recognizes something one of us has said here, in criticism, nobody recognizes it.

I don't know how many times I've gotten bashed for trying to look into "reasons". Of course, now that the president might be heading down this path, it's obviously the right thing to do, right?

Assholes.


#7

Of course the Europeans dislike the actions of the US. They are no longer Eurocentric.

France fights everyday to contain the power of the US. They feel they can rely on past glories to sustain them on the world stage. They can't. France is disliked by more nations around the world then the US. We shouldn't feel slighted.

Of course because they are currently anti-Bush and anti-American policy about anything, they are beloved by the left in our country who shudder about offending them.


#8

But when G-dub says it - it sounds better. Besides, who's going to listen to a Canuck anyhow?


#9

You know, Vroom... the more I read your posts the more I'm going to rank you up there with ProfX as enjoyable/interesting/thought provoking reading.


#10

vroom,

It's the actual reasons that are important, not just the asking of the question. Kinsley seems to imply the whole "root causes" argument, which is all about poverty causing terrorism. Going from memory, weren't you talking about those sorts of causes, or the "why do they hate us" self-blame meme that was also widely floated?

Poverty as a root cause of terror doesn't seem to be the case, at least not in terms of the big picture terrorism that most worries the administration (see above). Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 hijackers, and the other head terrorist honchos are rich and well educated, not poor and destitute.

Also, the "why do they hate us" inquiry seems to only lead to the conclusion that it is either from bad past policies on our part or misinformation on theirs (specifically, the belief in the propaganda served up by the despots of the Mid East), or both. This seems only remotely and tangentially related to what is shaping the Bush policy, which is a push to remove and/or contain tyrannical rogue regimes -- again, to combat the big-picture terrorism threat.

Of course, you should get some credit for asking the question, all the same.


#11

Boston,

The issues you raise are indeed very related, not at all tangential as you might think.

Often, the very regimes that are tyrannical, were helped or created by previous policies of the west. Oops! Sure, there were other factors and it might have been the best course of action at the time based on the situation, but those are merly excuses for poor behavior and policy conducted in someone elses back yard.

The point is, pissing in someone elses pool will annoy them, whether or not you feel it was justified at the time. A lot of pools have been yellowed for a long time... with tin pot dictators propped up by the US imposing tyranny on their populations.

The "apologetic" credo advanced by the right as a liberal problem, is just a way to sidestep the issue of having to deal with the fact that everything has causes.

I'm happy the Bush administration is starting to open the door on trying to look for reasons. Of course they will never admit to apologistic reasoning, but the open door will slowly take them and the US towards responsible behavior with respect to other countries.

Right wing idealogues may continue to bitch about "might makes right" and ask "why should the US pay attention to concerns of anyone else on the planet" as if they and only they matter, but if the administration goes elsewhere, they will eventually follow along like the good little lemmings they are.

The pandora's box of reasons, once opened, won't easily be shut.

Also, I presume Rainjack was kidding, but those of you who can't judge a comment beyond the source or person voicing it, that is too bad. If common sense or reason makes an appearance, grab onto it with both hands and hang on tight -- it doesn't matter where it came from as it is not attached to its source once uttered.


#12

Someone once said you get more with a gun and a kind word...then just a kind word.

On a global scale perhaps they were right.

I think these policies will work. I am glad we are trying them. I don't think they would if we did not have the one sided military advantage we now have.


#13

Hedo is exactly correct!


#14

vroom,

I think they're related to your point. I just don't think they're related to Bush's.

I think Bush is more focused on the nation-state level -- or on the organizational level for the terrorist organizations. And those are only very tangentially related to the sort of "root causes" arguments that were floated previously w/r/t terrorism.

I don't think any of the rogue states we're most worried about today w/r/t Terrorism (Note: I am going to use "Terrorism" to designate the concept I introduced above, namely nuclear and WMD Terrorism from organized groups, and "terrorism" to denote localized suicide bombers and the like) -- Syria, Iran, N. Korea, and maybe Libya -- were created by U.S. policy. [Note: Pakistan is a special case - not a rogue state, but still a potential problem]

I suppose one could make a good argument that Iran was indirectly caused by U.S. support of the Shah's government, but that's a different sort of argument.

I know there has been much good rhetoric about freedom for the people, and I do believe Bush is happy to promote freedom and oppose tyranny generally. However, I think the driving force in the policy is opposition of tyrannical regimes because of the type of support they can offer for Terrorism. It's not so much worrying about who provides recruits for terrorism as who provides the materials and support for Terrorism.

Post 9/11 the main principles of the government were cleared out of Washington. That wasn't due to fears about suicide bombers or even more plane crashes. That was due to fears concerning Terrorism.

I think that now the administration is fairly comfortable with the idea that the al Quedas of the world don't have access to nukes -- it would stand to reason that they would have used them if they did.

Thus, now the focus w/r/t national security is making certain they can never get them.

To quote from an author I enjoy, John Derbyshire:

"Making nuclear weapons is hi-tech work, needing a large industrial infrastructure. Barring some horrible breakthrough in physics, no terrorist group is going to be able to do it in caves and rooming-house basements. They need help from substantial nations with suitable infrastructure, nations that are inclined to help them. The appropriate action is therefore to either trash those nations' infrastructure, or make them no longer inclined to give help to terrorists."

With Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration chose the "trash the infrastructure" and bring down the regime option. Iraq may not have had the WMD we thought they did, but the calculus of the time was that we couldn't afford the chance that they did. The cost of being wrong if Saddam had WMD was seen as infinitely bad (i.e. he could give them to Terrorists), so even if it were true that, in a vaccuum with no time constraints if the Administration had carefully studied each piece of info there might have been a marginally stronger probability that Saddam didn't have WMD [Note: this is a hypothetical, and I am not admitting this], the decision to act as if he did was still a very good one.

The next step in the doctrine is what Bush has been announcing via his speeches on the Iraqi elections, his Inaugural Address and the SOTU. That is the "make them less inclined to give help to the terrorists" option. Promoting democratic reforms is an excellent way to accomplish this without resorting to the military.

Note, though, that this is still regime-focused behavior, and behavior focused on stopping Terrorism. This isn't about root causes of terrorism, and it's especially not a mea culpa in which the administration will now go on a crusade against Global Poverty by funding a U.N. program or step to a podium and, utilizing the quivering-lip approach of his immediate predecessor, issue an apology for everything negative ever effected by the U.S., as well as for many things not effected or affected by the U.S. or U.S. policies.

That's how I'm reading it at any rate.

Yes, we agree. Everything has causes. OK, what next?

I think we have differing ideas about what constitutes "responsible behavior," but I am happy to see that the administration believes it is in a strong position to effect things diplomatically.

It still sounds funny when each sentence is followed by "...eh?"


#15

RNC devices. Can Rove allow himself to groan?:

http://www.nydailynews.com/02-10-2005/news/gossip/story/279466p-239417c.html

http://mediacitizen.blogspot.com/2005/02/gannon-quits-after-blogger-inquiry.html

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/2/10/3624/16968

One type of coherence.


#16

Quick Note:

To make a nuclear device it requires incredible time and resources. Enriching uranium is absurdly expensive and difficult. Otherwise everyone would have a chunk. Not to mention its not like you can just steal a giant hunk of radioactive material, stick it in your passenger seat, strap it to a homemade rocket, and jettison it off. Only groups with massive resources would even be able to fathom a nuclear attack.

Biological and chemical attacks are much easier to reproduce. Granted to do them safely would probably be just as difficult, but assuming luck is on your side (And if Muslim they think Allah is... So hey... Even better than luck) you can pull off reproducing an entire batch of diesese in nothing more than an advanced vet or an outpatient clinic. And most of these things can actually be mounted to 18 wheelers.

Now this is neither here nor there, but the first threat will usually find itself in the form of governments, while the second could be in either. It's just the local guys aren't going to get any enriched uranium.


#17

Limbic - Don't you recognize the "Liberal Media" when you see it? : )


#18

I suppose that IS, because the right is brain washed into thinking that criticising PNAC is tantamount to agreeing with the "Jews taking over the world" myth, therefore to give any serious thought to the Neocon/PNAC influence on our foreign policy is somehow anti-Semitic.

Which BTW, is exactly why most Jews are so afraid of the Zionist influence on World policy. Zionists use anti-Semitism as a tool to deflect any criticism of Israel's policies and label anti-Semitic, anyone who openly disagrees.

It's funny to watch the right discuss every aspect of the Middle East conflict but never once mention Israel (other than being a vicim of Palestine) because it's "taboo".


#19

Or it could be because there's nothing to it and it seems silly. Either/or I guess.


#20

The "softball" GOP device:
"...evidence that implicates Gannon as the owner of web domains hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com, and militaryescortsm4m.com, which are registered under the same owner as Gannon's home page www.jeffgannon.com.
It now appears that the person registered as the individual owner of these domains, James Dale Guckert of Wilmington, DE, and Jeff Gannon are one in the same."