As President George W. Bush prepares to sell his "surge" strategy to a skeptical American public, it's worth pausing to take stock of the progress of the Bush Doctrine so far.
The Bush Doctrine, articulated in the 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS) [PDF link], states that the United States has the unilateral right to identify nations it considers enemies and preventatively invade them to thwart suspected attacks against the US.
Corrolary to this is the notion that no distinction should be drawn between terrorist organizations and states with which they are associated. In this light, the US invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government on the grounds that al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization suspected to be responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the US, maintained training bases there and enjoyed Taliban approval.
Further, the US reserves the right to take whatever steps it deems fit to ensure that no potential rival can challenge its military supremacy. Toward this end, the United States spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined.
However, the right of military supremacy goes beyond maintaining US military power and extends to blocking or preventing other countries from acquiringn power that could conceivably threaten the US.
For example, the US is actively trying to block Iran from its legal efforts to develop nuclear power capabilities on the grounds that Iran could conceivably use its nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons.
In a more recent example, the new US National Space Policy [PDF link] "rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit US flexibility" and explicitly asserts the right to "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests".
But all of this is just window dressing. The crown jewel of the Bush Doctrine was the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq starting in March 2003, an occupation that has since claimed the lives of as many as 655,000 Iraqis and over 3,000 American soldiers.
Its main proponents - Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Abram Schulsky, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al. - had strongly advocated a war to topple Saddam since the 1990s. Once Bush won the 2000 election and they found themselves in power, they immediately set about putting together a case for invasion.
Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was already asking his staff to start planning an attack. "Go massive," he instructed them. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."
Later, after the invasion, Paul Wolfowitz explained in a Vanity Fair interview that different departments had different reasons for wanting to invade, but they all agreed on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat, despite the fact that most experts agreed Iraq was already effectively disarmed.
Of course, WMD wasn't the only reason. In 2000, Iraq started selling its oil for euros instead of dollars, breaking the petrodollar system that has guaranteed a steady market for US dollars since the first OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s.
Other countries, like Iran, started talking about doing the same thing, threatening a widespread abandonment of petrodollar hegemony. (Incidentally, the US didn't really crank up its propaganda campaign against Iran until after that country threatened to sell oil for euros as well.)
Peak oil is another reason for the invasion. Right now, global oil production is at or very near an all-time peak, after which it will exorably decline. One of the reasons the US invaded Iraq was to get its oil back into production again.
During the 1990s, oil prices were supernaturally low, and the US and OPEC were perfectly happy to keep Iraq's production offline during the UN embargo. By 2000, forward-looking analysts could see the price of oil starting to creep up; by 2003 the price had doubled and was still rising.
The US had a strict policy of not allowing the UN sanctions against Iraq to lift until Saddam was out of power (a straightforward violation of UNSCR 687, by the way), but needed that Iraqi oil back on market to stabilize rising prices.
Better yet, getting rid of Saddam meant tearing up all the memoranda of agreement he had signed with French and Russian oil companies, and giving exploitation rights to US and British companies instead.
However, there was no way the US public was going to rally around a war that was explicitly prosecuted to take control over another country's oil. That's why the various departments settled on WMD.
Clearly, some people, even in the US government, actually believed that Iraq had secret WMD (and many others were willing to convince themselves that they believed it), but this factor had much greater emotional potential to rally the public behind the war. Remember those mushroom clouds hanging over American cities.
Myopia may make good politics but it makes bad policy. The problem with a really intense propaganda campaign is that its architects can easily fall for their own patter. This clearly happened with Iraq, of which we were promised that it would be a cakewalk, the people would throw flowers at our feet, it would pay for itself, and it would be over in six months at most.
In reality, the Bush Doctrine is just a cover for a pre-existing strategy of old-fashioned imperial aggression. It's a moralistic justification of war crimes on the pretext of spreading freedom and democracy while confronting the threat of terrorism.
Again, the Iraq War is the premier expression of the Bush Doctrine, the test case for an unhinged America, freed from the constraints of civility and universal principles of justice.
Let's look at the results of the Iraq War so far:
I don't think the decline of America's standard of living will be sudden and apocalyptic. Instead, I expect a grinding, relentless ratcheting down of expectations as today's suburbs slowly decay into tomorrow's slums and America progressively takes on the characteristics of a third world country.
It's already a good part of the way there, with a sharp divide between the upper-middle and upper classes in their gated communities, and the lower-middle and lower classes in their urban projects, suburban ghettoes, over-leveraged mchouses, crappy strip plazas, trailer parks, and other assorted detritus of an ersatz American dream, listening to Rush Limbaugh and blaming gays and immigrants for their misery.
This is the real legacy of the Bush Doctrine, a squandered opportunity for the world's most powerful - and energy-dependent - nation to start planning for a time when cheap, abundant energy will not longer be a given.
Instead, Bush took his father's ersatz-macho posturing - "The American way of life is not up for negotiation" - and turned it into a disastrous foreign policy that will merely delay, and make all the more painful, the ultimate day of reckoning.
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