- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

It was not President Reagan who coined the phrase "the Reagan Doctrine," connoting America's 1980s assertive foreign policy; it was columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Now, in a major article in the Weekly Standard, doctrine-maker Krauthammer is at it again, announcing the advent of "the Bush Doctrine." The article is subtitled "ABM, Kyoto and the New American Unilateralism." The key word is "unilateralism." Oooh, it's a bad word. It plays right into the European charge that the United States is seeking to "go it alone."

Even Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment, who's just as hawkish as Mr. Krauthammer, is critical of the terrible U-word. Somewhat more importantly, Mr. Bush flatly denies he is a unilateralist. Is it just the "Krauthammer Doctrine" that Mr. Krauthammer is preaching? I think not.

Mr. Krauthammer offers two major examples of "the Bush Doctrine." First is the Bush administration's push for a national missile defense system, which requires the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. Second is the out-of-hand rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on greenhouse gases.

Each of these positions, by my lights, is correct. Surely, neither would have taken place in a Gore administration. And each of these actions can be described as "unilateral."

Perhaps the best way to see what's going on is by looking at what the parties to this debate agree about. Most everyone everywhere agrees for good or ill that the United States is the "sole surviving superpower," or, as the French would have it, the "hyper-power," or, as the Chinese say, "the hegemon." Even the sometimes-mushy Clinton administration kept pronouncing that the United States was the one "indispensable" nation.

Yes, the Cold War is over; we won it, and at least for now, there ain't no one left in the big leagues. We are No. 1 in a way that no nation in history has ever been before: militarily, geopolitically, scientifically, linguistically, demographically, educationally, culturally and globally.

In many parts of the world, even where we are criticized, our geopolitical presence is requested, required and demanded. The nations on the Chinese rim, including Japan, make up one such area. Europe is another.

That given, what should we do about it?

I believe that, if asked, Americans would reflexively and appropriately say our primary goal should be to stay first. Why? Because it's good for us and it's good for the world. Most Americans believe that we stand for something special — liberty. If that idea becomes ever more global, we are ever more secure, and our existence is more meaningful. Just as important, democratic nations may bicker, bicker, bicker, but unlike dictatorships, they almost invariably stop well short of shooting.

Hegemons pay a price. Try as hard as we can to stay away, we get involved in a lot of places. Some examples, big and small: Taiwan, Israel, Bosnia, Cuba, China, Russia. But hegemons also get a bonus. We can try to make the rules, not just play by them. We don't have to cede sovereignty to international organizations if we don't think their proposed actions are in our best interest. The overblown and misunderstood power of "international public opinion" need not hold much sway for the United States. After all, the United States is a nation that could, if it wanted to, which it doesn't, "go it alone."

So Mr. Bush can withdraw from the Kyoto Treaty, which was a fool's errand in any event. The United States catches some flak for it. But no other nation will say, "Therefore, we won't trade with you."

Mr. Bush can maintain that the missile defense of America is an American matter and will be dealt with by Americans, hopefully in cordial consultation with our allies, but at the end of the day, by Americans. And no one will put us on a list of "rogue nations."

A nation with an ideology seeking to stay No. 1 should promote its cause. This is done every day by our private sector, in business, universities, entertainment and science. But the U.S. government is not doing its job in this field.

In a craven act of picayune budgetary manipulation, the Clinton administration eliminated the U.S. Information Agency just when the world wanted plenty of information about the United States. The function, and perhaps the name, of the USIA ought to be restored.

So, is there a Bush Doctrine? Apparently there is. But Mr. Bush denies it, if it involves the U-word. That's all right. Truth be told, sometimes doctrine-purveyors are the last to know.

Over a period of years, Ronald Reagan went on the offensive in Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Only then did the shape of "The "Reagan Doctrine" become doctrinal.

Ben J. Wattenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide