In a predictable replay of the reaction that greeting President Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), the reaction to the 2006 update of the document has focused almost entirely on the doctrine of preemption. After all the noise made four years ago and after the difficulties encountered by United States in Iraq, perhaps critics had hoped that pre-emption would quietly go away. Yet here it is again, pointing at the next potential target, Iran. Pure exasperation with the National Security Council’s bullheadedness is in the air.
And not only that, but the doctrine of democracy-building has not gone out the window due to difficult days and sometimes disappointing results. In fact, in the 2006 version of the NSS, it has become the mainstay of the entire document, rather than a subsection of the global war on terrorism. Meanwhile, turning things on their head, the war on terrorism has now become one subsection of the overall document, though admittedly an important one.
Those who don’t like either pre-emption or democracy promotion are finding in the document an inability in the White House to learn from past mistakes, and a disturbing lack of touch with reality. The charge of “neo-Wilsonianism” is leveled angrily by critics both on the right and the left, these days having become practically synonymous with that dreaded word “neoconservatism.” As is so often the case, however, labels are not a particularly useful way of conducting a discussion of foreign policy. As important as this document is as a blueprint for American international action until the end of the Bush presidency, it deserves serious attention. A reading of the NSS of 2006 and a comparison with the NSS 2002 suggest an evolving vision for the future.
In fact, one could argue that these two documents attend to the work that would have been completed during the Clinton administration during the early years of the post-Cold War era. But these years were regrettably squandered in domestic scandals and an unwillingness to confront the real emerging international security threats.
The theme and the elements of the NSS are familiar from Mr. Bush’s speeches. “The United States is in the early years of a long struggle, similar to what our country faces in the early years of the Cold War,” the document argues correctly. The strategy, accordingly, has to be long-term and broad. The elements of it are on order:
Aspirations for human dignity, by which is meant largely the promotion of democracy.
Strengthening international alliances to defeat global terrorist networks and prevent attacks.
Diffusing regional conflicts.
Preventing opponents from threatening the U.S. and allies with weapons of mass destruction, — read pre-emption is still an option.
Leading on global free trade.
Tying development aid and democracy promotion.
Cooperating with “Other Center of Global power,” a rather amorphous lot that includes NATO, the World Trade Organization and countries like India.
Transforming the U.S. national security institutions for the 21st century, which is still a work in progress.
Confronting the challenges facing globalization.
Is this a strategy that will work? Will we look back on the Bush democracy agenda in years ahead as a success or a failure? As the 2006 NSS again asserts, “Achieving this goal is the work of generations.” Therefore, it depends on whether Mr. Bush can engineer his own succession, as did President Reagan, and thereby ensure continuity. It is often forgotten that while Mr. Reagan challenged the Soviets in Berlin to “tear down this Wall,” it was the first President Bush that negotiated the unification of Germany. Does anyone think that the Democrats’ presidential candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis, could have handled the situation in Europe as successfully? The mind boggles.
Or, Mr. Bush has another option: creating a bipartisan consensus around his vision to guard it against a change of party in the White House. This is perhaps as great a challenge to face him as anything beyond the shores of this country. There is currently a full-throated rebellion among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the Democrats and other critics in both parties are lying in wait to outmaneuver the president on national security issues at every turn.
Yet, as an overarching guideline for where U.S. foreign policy should be moving in the years ahead, NSS 2006 sets a course that Americans can believe in. There is work ahead for the White House, though, in making the sale.