Tuesday, November 4, 2008


When Gov. Sarah Palin was asked to define the Bush doctrine, she received no end of ridicule from the chattering classes for not being clear in her definition. It turns out she is not alone.

According to Lamont Colucci, author of “Crusading Realism,” there are at least seven definitions of the Bush Doctrine. In his book, he describes how interpretations range from the opinion of people such as Melvin Deffler, who believe that there isn’t one, to the viewof former Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who believes that the Bush doctrine is the nexus of democracy. Mr. Colucci, assistant professor of international relations and national security at Ripon College, analyzes the Bush doctrine fully and comes to the conclusion that it is not only good, but that it is the logical extension of the historical roots of American foreign policy.

Along the way, the author traces the origins and results of various named doctrines, beginning with the one bearing James Madison’s name. That portion of the book is an excellent primer on the evolving outlook of American foreign policy from the idealism of Woodrow Wilson to the cold realism of Nixon.

Mr. Colucci also describes the Bush administration’s post September 11 shift from the pursuit of an approach that put minimal emphasis on foreign policy to one of crusading realism that gives the book its name. He begins with the attempts by the Clinton administration to deal with the emerging threat of Islamic terrorism; in his analysis, Mr. Colucci comes down on the side of conservatives who accuse the Clinton administration of having treated international terrorism as a law enforcement problem rather than the grave threat to national security that it is. “Crusading Realism” is the second book that I have reviewed in a month that accuses former terrorism czar Richard Clarke of dissembling and distorting his real role in the months and years leading up to Sept. 11.

The author then goes on to describe the evolution of the Bush Doctrine and what he believes it really represents. In his view, the Doctrine is comprised of three components: preemptive and preventive war; military primacy, and the promotion of democracy beyond American shores. He approves of the Bush Doctrine and postulates that it is a logical continuation of the tradition of strong presidential influence, idealism and American exceptionalism that has characterized American foreign policy since our nation’s birth.

The book went to press before the recent presidential debates. Nevertheless, based on what we have heard from the candidates, we can postulate how the Bush Doctrine would fare under the person who is ultimately elected. Neither senator has rejected preemption out of hand. That leg of the stool will probably stand. Sen. Barack Obama is much more prone to use soft power than Sen. John McCain, but in either case, we will probably see more emphasis on diplomacy than military power. It is unlikely that either candidate will be as aggressive in pushing the expansion of democracy as President Bush, so that the thrust of the Doctrine will likely wither in comparison to how it thrived during the Bush years.

The Bush Doctrine has actually evolved radically in the last two years. The Bush administration has not actively sought to change the Doctrine, but those implementing it have altered it. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker have put much more emphasis on negotiating with some factions of the Iraqi insurgents than on raw military power in trying to bring former opposition to the table and over to our side. The entire administration has become less concerned with the degree of commitment on the part of their allies to democracy than their competence to govern.

Regarding preemption, I had an opportunity to do a study on the outcomes of preventive and preemptive wars for the Marine Corps in 2002 - shortly after the Bush Doctrine was announced. What I found was interesting. Of the preemptive wars of the 20th century, 60 percent were successful and relatively quick; however, the 40 percent that were not resulted in prolonged and bloody conflicts that ended in some form of regime change for the side that initiated them. This is something to think about; the odds are better than even, but the stakes are high.

This is a well-written and thoroughly researched book, but non-wonks will find it a hard go. Liberals will hate it, and conservatives will use it to find vindication. Those who really want to study the roots of American foreign policy and learn about the dynamic tensions between the realists and idealists who formed it, will find it a worthy investment of their time.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer. He teaches a course on the Revolution in Military Affairs at George Washington University.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide