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Bush "Preventive War" Doctrine Fails In Iraq

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Comics have said everything George Bush knows about foreign policy he learned at the International House of Pancakes. That’s not quite true.  Somewhere, he internalized the motto of heavyweight boxer Tony Galento: “T’row foist!” Just as Galento took an awful drubbing from heavyweight champ Joe Louis, Mr. Bush clings dazedly to the ropes in Iraq.  His “surge,” is only prolonging the slaughter. And his latest stumbling response has been to anoint a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to replace General Peter Pace, who reportedly opposed the idea of using nuclear weapons against Iran.  Recall preventive war is the heart of the “Bush Doctrine.” It was Mr. Bush, after all, who told the world he reserved for America “the prerogative of striking first”--- just like Tony Galento.

That Doctrine, writes international relations expert Andrew J. Bacevich in “The New American Militarism,”(Oxford)”represents the clearest articulation to date” of the preventive war philosophy. Bacevich, a graduate of West Point and Viet Nam veteran, notes preventive war is designed “not to warn or wound. It is to kill quickly and efficiently” and “The only acceptable standard of performance is a first-round knockout.” By that reckoning, the Iraq war is an epic failure. The U.S. military machine, which defeated Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard in a major tank battle in the Gulf War, has ground to a halt in the streets of Baghdad much as Hitler’s panzers, designed for lightning war on the prairies of Europe, were immobilized in the rubble of Stalingrad.

“However one evaluates his accomplishments as war president, the fact remains that Bush succeeded to his office possessing only the most rudimentary grasp of the military arts and sciences,” Bacevich points out. Although determined “to finish off” Hussein at the first opportunity, Bush “did not bring with him a comprehensive, ready-made conception for how to deal with the incongruities that plagued U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East,” writes Bacevich, Director of the Boston University Center for International Relations.

Even before Bush took office, though, the U.S. was moving toward the Bush Doctrine, thanks to President Reagan who “refashioned American attitudes about military power, and began reorienting the Pentagon on the Islamic world,” Bacevich writes. President Bush “pulled the trigger, but Ronald Reagan had first cocked the weapon,” he opines.  The author says Reagan laid the groundwork:

# In 1983, Reagan upgraded the Persian Gulf intervention force to the status of a full-fledged regional headquarters to become “the chief instrument for U.S. policy, diplomatic as well as military, throughout the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.”

# Reagan accelerated the conversion of tiny, British-owned Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean from a minor U.S. communications facility into a major forward support base.

# Reagan positioned large stocks of supplies and equipment on pre-loaded ships to facilitate rapid transit of U.S. combat forces to the Persian Gulf. As early as 1990, the U.S. had 25 vessels in this Afloat Prepositioning Force.

# Reagan got overflight rights and agreement to permit U.S. military access to airports in Morocco, Egypt, and elsewhere in the region to support introduction of major American forces.

# Reagan redoubled U.S. efforts “to cultivate clients states through arms sales and training programs,” Bacevich writes, “the latter administered by either  the U.S. military or U.S.-backed private contractors employing large numbers of former U.S. military personnel.”

In short, by the time Reagan departed office, “the skids had been greased: the national security bureaucracy was well on its way to embracing a highly militarized conception of how to deal with the challenges posed by the Middle East.” Reagan’s “seemingly slapdash Islamic pudding turned out after all to have a theme,” says Bacevich.

Whether considering the first President Bush’s 1992 incursion into Somalia, President Clinton’s 1999 war for Kosovo, or President Bush’s  2003 crusade to overthrow Hussein, “the growing U.S. predilection for military intervention in recent years has so mangled the concept of common defense (outlined in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution) as to make it all but unrecognizable,” Bacevich asserts.

Congress has “failed egregiously,” Bacevich writes, to assume its responsibility of deciding whether or when the nation should intervene abroad, hiding behind the skirts of such phrases as “support our commander-in-chief” and “support the troops.”

Bacevich calls on the U.S. to view the use of force only as a last resort, and to renounce the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, which arrogates to the U.S. “prerogatives allowed to no other nation…and in the long run can only make Americans less secure.”  He calls on the U.S. to draw down its overseas garrisons and to begin treating “U.S. allies as partners rather than vassals.”

The author recalls America’s first president, George Washington, warned against “those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.”

If the U.S. continues to exercise its military dominance upon the world, it will share the fate “of all those who in ages past have looked to war and military power to fulfill their destiny,” Bacevich warns. “We will rob future generations of their rightful inheritance. We will wreak havoc abroad. We will endanger our security at home. We will risk the forfeiture of all that we prize.” Anybody in Congress listening?


(Sherwood Ross is an American writer who covers military and political topics. Reach him at

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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