The umpteen Republican presidential candidates have fumbled and stumbled over whether they would’ve invaded Iraq, thus demonstrating the burdersome weight of the Bush baggage. But as entertaining as this spectacle has been, none of them have addressed the most fundamental questions about war and peace.
Such as: Forget Iraq for a moment; what about the future? Would a new Republican president adhere to the Bush Doctrine?
In case you’ve forgotten — I wrote about this more than a decade ago — the Bush Doctrine decreed that we should be more…shall we say…assertive in the warmaking sphere. Prior to 2002, America generally went to war only after it was attacked or manifestly provoked. But an ’02 document, the National Security Strategy, was a radical departure. Bush’s neoconservative tutors introduced the concept of preventive war. In the words of the document, America should “not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively” against “emerging threats before they are fully formed.”
Emerging threats before they are fully formed….Well. That’s broad enough to justify all kinds of preemptive acts. It was certainly broad enough to justify the Iraq invasion. So, looking ahead, it would be nice to know what the Republican candidates (plus Hillary Clinton) think about the Bush Doctrine. Granted, a country has the right to act in its own defense – heck, even the United Nations charter recognizes that right – but these weighty questions need to be asked and answered:
Did the Iraq debacle ($2 trillion and counting, 4500 Americans dead, regional chaos, a stronger Iran) kill off the Bush concept of preventive war? If not, can it be invoked more responsibly? What criteria should a president use to define a legitimate imminent threat? What safeguards, if any, can be put in place to ensure that a perceived threat is not being ginned up for ideological reasons? In short, and most importantly, what should be the burden of proof for launching a preventive war?
A friend of mine, the columnist Jill Lawrence, has more questions for the candidates: “Was George W. Bush justified in viewing Iraq as an imminent threat? Do you agree? What other countries would you attack or invade on that basis? Syria, which had and may still have chemical weapons? North Korea, which has nuclear weapons? What about Iran – is it an imminent threat? Would you stop nuclear negotiations and start bombing its nuclear facilities? Would you put boots on the ground, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he might in Syria?”
And here’s one just for Jeb Bush: Would you revise or scrap the Bush Doctrine, despite the fact that one of your key foreign policy advisers is Paul Wolfowitz – an Iraq war architect who helped craft the Bush Doctrine?
If the ’16 election is going to be heavy on foreign policy, as many Republican candidates believe, then it behooves them to address this stuff – without dismissing them as “hypotheticals.”
I’d like to know whether they believe Harry Truman was wrong when he rebuffed the military’s pitch for preventive war against the newly-nuclear Soviet Union. (Truman said, “You don’t ‘prevent’ anything by war…except peace.”) I’d like to know whether they believe Dwight Eisenhower was wrong when he rebuffed his Joint Chiefs, who urged preventive war against the Soviets in 1954. (Ike told them, “There is no victory except through our imaginations.”)
And I’d like to know whether they believe John F. Kennedy was wrong in 1962 when he nixed a preventive strike against the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Under the Bush Doctrine, those missiles would’ve qualified as an “emerging” threat – and yet, Kennedy’s brother, Robert, said during a Cabinet meeting that a preemptive attack would’ve been un-American: “For 175 years, we have not been that kind of country.”
So, ’16ers: Post-Iraq, are we that kind of country now?