Friday, February 25, 2005

On the "Bush Doctrine"

I was originally writing this for another website but that site sorta went flaky on me and i think this really deserves a larger audience. So without further ado:

The "Bush Doctrine" and war

To begin with: this post is a response to a proposition put forth by someone else. The proposition goes, essentially, like this:

In the debates Kerry said that he would retaliate if the US was attacked but that Bush said he wouldn't wait for the US to be attacked. Therefore Bush's approach was proactive and Kerry's reactive. In other words: Bush "gets it" and Kerry does not so nothing else matters: no matter how terrible Bush is otherwise he could protect America whereas Kerry could not.

Leaving the arguments about the real positions of the politicians out of it: I propose that precisely the opposite is true. I propose that Just War (in the ethical sense) is never proactive but instead always reactive. I propose that the "Bush Doctrine" is not proactive at all but entirely reactive. And finally: i propose that the "Bush Doctrine" is not a revolutionary way to approach terrorism but instead a limited and useless approach.

Many of my readers may already intuitively believe this but i suspect many of you would have trouble describing precisely why. Well here's why:

Was the Iraq War Proactive or Reactive?

This seems a bit of a counter-intuitive question in our world today. "Of course it was proactive!" goes the conventional wisdom. But i'm going to argue precisely the opposite: the Iraq War was entirely reactive. I propose that the Iraq War, even if the fear-mongering about weapons of mass destruction were justified--in other words: even if there were WMD in Iraq--the Iraq war would have, at best, been a reactive and short-term approach to terrorism and threats in the world today.

Why is that? Consider this:

The backdrop: You're minding your own business today and someone catches your eye. I'm going to deal with four hypothetical scenarios.

Scenario 1: This someone pulls a gun on you and shoots you, you pull your own gun and shoot this other person back.

Almost everyone will agree these actions are defensible and just for almost any particular scenario imaginable that follows this pattern. But more importantly: it's clearly reactive and not proactive.

Scenario 2: Someone pulls a gun on you, but you pull your own gun and shoot this other person first.

Although this one isn't as clear as the above: i propose it, too, is reactive. If this other person hadn't pulled a gun you wouldn't have drawn yours. You responded to the threat, but you just managed to stop yourself from getting shot. The only difference between this and the first scenario is in terms of reflexes and awareness--"are you fast enough" and "did you notice" are the two questions whose answers separate the first and second scenario. This, too, is almost always agreed to be defensible. You are almost always going to be in the right--and even if you shoot someone who doesn't deserve it they probably shouldn't have been waving a gun around like that.

Scenario 3: You see someone who you believe is going to pull a gun on you. You pull your gun and shoot this other person immediately.

This, too is reactive. You're reacting to something other than direct actions on the part of the other party since the other party hasn't acted against you yet you (for some reason) believe they will. The difference between the first two and the third is that you're no longer relying on direct threats (such as shooting someone or pulling a gun on someone) but rather on perceived threats--the questions become "are you fast enough", "are you aware", and "do you have some reason to believe this person is a threat". This action is much more questionable than the above and you're going to shoot innocent people far more often than in either of the first two scenarios. Most people agree that it can be justified under the right circumstances but that care must be taken to not shoot innocent people or you're going to be straying into scenario 4...

Scenario 4: You see some random stranger and shoot this stranger.

Clearly this one is proactive--you're entirely self-directed and in no way is responding to someone else. This one is also the least defensible on ethical grounds--even if you do occassionally nail someone who deserves it you're only doing so by pure luck (or numbers, depending on how many people you shoot) and by no means does that justify your actions.

The only proactive option of the four is the one that is almost never defensible on ethical/moral/etc grounds. That doesn't mean that war (even the "Bush Doctrine's" pre-emption--which more or less falls under #3) is never justifiable but that it simply is not a "proactive" approach.

Furthermore: I propose that America is powerful both militarily and economically (and in a couple other ways)--more powerful than any other individual nation on this planet (we'll leave the EU out of it--that's an unknown entity) and maybe even more powerful than any given two or three--but that America cannot rule the entire world by force.

Given the above four scenarios and limitations of the power of the USA we can outline why the "Bush Doctrine" does not fulfill the role.

As mentioned above: almost everyone already agreed that scenarios 1 and 2 were legitimate--they represent "we were attacked, now we'll attack back" and "we are facing an imminent threat of attack and therefore must attack now or attack later". The "Bush Doctrine" adds number 3 to the list of policies (almost everyone agreed that #3 was circumstantially acceptable), which is what made the Democrats really nervous. However: what the addition of option #3 doesn't do is increase our "proacivity" to threats of terrorism or war.

So the Iraq War, which fits the pattern of scenario 3, is not proactive but instead reactive. In fact: Bush argued the Iraq war as though it were scenario 2 (though the Bush administration tried real hard to avoid explicitly claiming it fell into scenario 2) and not scenario 3. The fact that we have now accepted scenario 3 as legitimate is purely a product of revisionist history on a national scale.

And that's beside the question of whether the Iraq War was justified or not.

I could further describe this theory, but i think the rough outlines ought to be clear so i'll leave it at that for now. Onto the second part:

The Proactive Approach

So if the third scenario is still reactivity then what, precisely, would a "proactive" approach to threats look like?

A proactive approach to threats on national security would involve (just as a starter) diplomacy, education (think "books not bombs"), supporting rational approaches to problems (think: as opposed to allowing theocratic insanity to fester or even actively supporting it), and using other non-coercive/non-violent means of overcoming threats.

So, i would propose, the "Bush Doctrine" doesn't really solve the problem of terrorism in the 21st Century. Instead it only responds to terrorist threats. It might respond more often and/or more effectively than previously (at least: Bush's post-Sept-11 policy sure beats his pre-Sept-11 policy) but it is entirely defensive in the large-scale conflict. If you want a "war on terror" to be taken seriously the idea that military aggression is the ideal response must be discarded.

This isn't a new idea, either. For an example:

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
--Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Sun Tzu is full of goodness. Goodness that the US's current leaders are, so far as i can tell, completely ignorant of. You think the idea that some dead Chinese dude knows more about modern war than our enormous military is crazy?

"He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign."
--Sun Tzu, the Art of War (Emphasis mine)

See: Rumsfeld's assertion that we only needed a few troops in Iraq.

Of course: interference on the part of "the sovereign" is a fundamental piece of Democracy in the USA so we're setting ourselves up for failure on that part. How to fix it? Don't vote total idiots into office.

"The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory."
--Sun Tzu

Same as above.

Anyway: i'm not going to quote the whole Art of War at you people and i'm not going to get into the Killing Sword or other obscure Asian theories about war and conflict. I'm trying to keep on a single topic for this post :P


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