On September 12th, 2001, Ann Coulter wrote an editorial which she concluded with the following infamous words:
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war. (emphasis added)Coulter, reviled by liberals for inflammatory rhetoric and loved by conservatives for plainspokenness, gave voice to what the majority of Americans felt in the wake of 9/11, that we had allowed a problem to go on for much too long and it was now time to clean house. Suddenly it became clear to Americans that the United States had been the subject of a long campaign of terrorist attacks over the course of decades, and that this problem wasn’t going away.
Speaking emotionally after a moment of national catastrophe, Coulter may perhaps be excused for her intemperate speech. Much less excusable is the "Nuk'em all, they're vicious animals anyway" attitude I've frequently encountered since.
Fortunately, President George W. Bush and his advisors have pursued an active foreign policy that has simultaneously sought to respect the rights and dignities of rank-and-file Muslims. It is not U.S. policy to force Muslims to convert to Christianity, nor, to target civilian populations. American good faith is evident in the fact that two C-17 Globemaster transport jets were to deliver 37,500 daily rations by airdrop to refugees inside Afghanistan on the first day of the attack (Oct. 7, 2001). By November 1st, U.S. C-17's flying at 30,000 feet had dropped 1,000,000 food and medicine packets marked with an American flag.
The Bush Doctrine
On January 29th, 2002, President George W. delivered his first State of the Union Address after 9/11. Here for the first time President Bush outlined a strategy of preemption to the American people:
[Our goal] is to prevent regimes (terrorist) that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.In The National Security Strategy for the United States document published in September of that year (NSS 2002), the Bush administration developed this preemptive rationale further:
Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens—leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections—then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.
It has taken almost a decade for us to comprehend the true nature of this new threat. Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option. We cannot let our enemies strike first.It is important to understand that for about fifty years world politics was dominated by the great contest between the U.S. and the USSR. The Cold War can roughly be divided into three periods, the first of which was characterized by uncertainty as the USSR adjusted its commitment to the propagation of world communism after Stalin's demise. The period of Détente between 1962 (the Cuban Missile Crisis) and 1980 (Reagan's administration) was characterized by a growing understanding between the two powers that a status quo should be maintained in order to prevent nuclear disaster. The third period was characterized by uncertainty again as a confident America pressed an embattled USSR, diplomatically and economically, to the breaking point. It was due to the moral leadership of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II on one hand, and Gorbachev's unwillingness to employ repressive measures against his people (as his predecessors had done) on the other, that the Cold War was finally brought to an end in 1991.
In the Cold War, especially following the Cuban missile crisis, we faced a generally status quo, risk-averse adversary. Deterrence was an effective defense. But deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations.
After breathing a collective sigh of relief, the world experienced a decade of optimism summed up in the first Bush's use of the phrase "New World Order" and the title of Francis Fukuyama's popular book, The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama's phrase, "The End of History," stands for the idea that history had inevitably led to the triumph of liberal democracy and its correlate, free-market capitalism. Fukuyama's other phrase, "Last Man," refers to the eventual extinction of the aggressive alpha male contemplated by his utopian vision of world peace. After the successful resolution of the first Gulf War, secure in the knowledge that the Millennium of peace had at last arrived, the would-be "last man," President Clinton, decided to "beat swords into plowshares" and massively downsize the U.S. military from its Cold War levels.
In his introduction to NSS 2002, George W. Bush articulated a grand American purpose that basically shares Fukuyama's vision of the social good, but recognizes that the struggle is far from over:
The great struggles of the twentieth 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. In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society—and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages.
Notice that President Bush says these principles are "right and true for every person, in every society." He is articulating a notion of the social good which he regards as universally morally compelling and he is prepared to use American power to achieve such ends:
Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence. In keeping with our heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty. In a world that is safe, people will be able to make their own lives better. We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.John Lewis Gaddis, the 'Dean of Cold War Historians' has written an excellent little book entitled Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (2004) (SSAE), in which he surveys U.S. grand strategy from the War of 1812 to the present. In this work, Gaddis has rendered a remarkable service in outlining how American strategy has developed from the starting point of President Washington's farewell counsel to avoid permanent "foreign entanglements." Gaddis' thesis is that three surprise attacks throughout our nation's history have acted as catalysts to direct American foreign policy in a direction consistent with Washington's counsel.
The first shock came on August 24th, 1814, during the U.S.' last conflict with Britain. It was on that fateful day that British forces invaded Washington and burned down the capitol. Out of this experience arose the perceived rationale for the Monroe Doctrine, which was actually John Quincy Adams' brainchild who was Secretary of State at the time. Gaddis argues that this foreign policy precedent is composed of three basic principles that have been developed in subequent presidential policies. First, the U.S. reserved for itself the option of preemption to protect its vital interests (SSAE, 16). Second, the principle of unilateralism was asserted in which the U.S. was not to depend on the "good will of others to secure its safety, and therefore should be prepared to act on its own" (SSAE, 22). Third, the principle of hegemony over the entire western hemisphere was asserted to create a sphere of influence in which the U.S. could operate without competition from another great power (SSAE, 26).
The second shock came on December 7th, 1941, with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the realization that the U.S. could not confine its influence to the western hemisphere only. According to Gaddis, the Cold War was a contest between two powers who were vying to shape the world according to their competing ideals of international order. For a time, during the period of Détente, the two powers had achieved an accomodation because of the danger of nuclear war, but this arrangement collapsed with the close of the Cold War and was reversed after 9/11.
My proudest moment as an American came on the eve of the Iraq war, when George W. Bush addressed the American and Iraq peoples to explain why we were going in to depose Saddam. Here, the principles of preemption and unilateralism are quite evident:
Last September, I went to the U.N. General Assembly and urged the nations of the world to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8th, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and immediately disarm.
Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power. For the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it. Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.
In recent days, some governments in the Middle East have been doing their part. They have delivered public and private messages urging the dictator to leave Iraq, so that disarmament can proceed peacefully. He has thus far refused. All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals-- including journalists and inspectors--should leave Iraq immediately.
Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free. In a free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms.
The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.