Everyone has it wrong, there has been, and there is a clear and distinct Bush Doctrine. There has been much made of the interview between ABC’s Charlie Gibson and Gov. Sarah Palin where Mr. Gibson defines the Bush Doctrine as “anticipatory self defense.” The Huffington Post calls it a “six year old U.S. policy of military preemption.” These are at best sophomoric answers to complex policy. In an article in the Washington Post, defender of the doctrine Charles Krauthammer retorted that although “there is no single meaning” it evolved into four distinct meanings. This ignores the very heart and soul of the doctrine.
The Bush Doctrine has a very clear set of principles that are bound to each other like a strong rope. Take one strand away, and the whole thing falls apart. However, the bedrock of the Doctrine rests on the president’s firm commitment to natural law, the very foundation of this republic.
Without the American Founders’ conception of natural law, our Revolution would be nothing more than part of a laundry list of petty rebellions and insurgencies that changed one government for another. Without the same concept of natural law, our foreign policy would be nothing more than part of the cynical realism that dominates all other great powers. This is what differentiates Americans, American foreign policy, and our reaction to 9/11. This Americanism is the core of the Bush Doctrine and is the ultimate legacy that will dominate American discussion of foreign policy for this entire century. It is easy to suggest, and convenient to believe, that president Bush’s adherence to natural law principles in foreign policy is merely an expedient fig leaf to pursue cold hard realism and national interests. It is easier to merely caricature them.
The overwhelming evidence points to a complete national security strategy that grounds itself in the founding of the republic and uses as its touchstone the values of the American Revolution. The four precepts of the Bush Doctrine — preemption, prevention, primacy and democracy promotion — all rest on the legitimacy of that foundational event. Rooted in beliefs of American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, liberation, rollback, and fervent anti-communism, the Bush Doctrine anchors all of these concepts in a belief in the absolute values of liberty. President Bush posed a clear choice to the world between tyranny and the “non-negotiable demand of human dignity” for all people, which is the Bush Doctrine’s favorite theme.
It is at this crossroads that America finds itself. The Bush Doctrine created a zero-hour in American foreign policy, liberating us from the chains of scornful realism and fantasy liberalism. The ultimate legacy of the Bush administration rests here.
It is at this crucial juncture in American history that liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans can forge common ground. It is the clarion call not to turn back from the strong melding of American values and American foreign policy forged into the sword and shield of universal natural law. It is the American belief in the inherent dignity of the human spirit, where all humankind are to be allowed the freedom to practice their God-given liberties of life, liberty, and estate free from the fear created by the tyranny of extremist groups like al Qaeda or from rogue regimes like Iran.
The rising star of American independence rested on the foundation that liberty under law was the natural extension of the creator’s wishes, and that those who oppose liberty, oppose the natural order itself. This is the view that America represents a universal nation the actual manifestation of natural law and natural rights of freedom under the law. This legacy of the Bush Doctrine, fundamentally resting on the beliefs of the Declaration of Independence, can and should be the basis of American foreign policy in perpetuity.
Lamont Colucci is a former foreign service officer at the State Department and is an assistant professor of politics and government at Ripon College.