A humble foreign policy?

President Bush's Metamorphosis in Foreign Policy

President Bush is now warning against a retreat into "isolationism" and has begun recommending international engagement. This from a man who morphed a campaign pledge of adopting a "more humble foreign policy" into virtually unilateral invasion of Iraq-another sovereign nation posing little threat to the United States. In the past six years, the president has undergone an interesting metamorphosis: from "isolationist" to muscular unilateralist to advocate of international engagement.

The root of the president's change of heart has been a defensive reaction to the debacle in Iraq. First, taken by surprise even after being warned about a possible post-invasion insurgency, he has had to substitute Republican nation-building for the Clinton administration's Democratic nation-building, which he so despised for being armed social work. Second, his new "internationalist" pose allows him to smear critics who advocate a withdrawal from Iraq as "isolationists." But this tactic is nothing new.

At the turn of the last century, Alfred Thayer Mahan, a naval strategist who was pushing for a large U.S. naval force to dominate the globe, coined the dreaded I-word to discredit those who supported the traditional, more restrained foreign policy originally instituted by the nation's founders. Ever since then, interventionists have tried to attach this general label to critics of any particular overseas military adventure. The name-calling gets especially intense when interventionists are trapped in a failed brushfire war, such as Iraq. Critics who see the writing on the wall and want to cut U.S. losses are accused of "cutting and running" or of "aiding the enemy." These accusations of cowardice and near treason are designed to deflect the critics' searing questions about the interventionist policy: why the ill-advised military action was undertaken in the first place and how the United States has aided future enemies by showing them how to fight the United States-using guerrilla tactics-and by providing a haven and training ground for terrorists in Iraq.

Of course, using the label "isolationist" to describe critics of the war is inaccurate and says more about the accuser than the accused. Most critics of the war do not want to cut off the United States from the world; they simply want the U.S. military out of Iraq. For interventionists to describe this view as "isolationist" is merely an indication of how militarized U.S. foreign policy has become since World War II. The Defense Department and its regional military commanders around the world have resources that dwarf those of other U.S. departments engaged abroad-for example, the State Department. And having such a large and capable military-U.S. security expenditures exceed the combined defense spending of all the other major world powers-has increasingly tempted U.S. presidents to use it to solve the world's problems.

President George W. Bush is not the first recent president to use military power to intervene in the affairs of other countries, but he probably has been the most reckless and incompetent. In terms of numbers of useless military interventions, Bill Clinton was the modern day champion-intervening or threatening to intervene in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo-but he was smart enough to have avoided a large ground invasion that might have led to a quagmire. Even Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon-who sent large ground forces into the Vietnam tar baby and persisted in that futile war, respectively-did not have the potential to inflame radical anti-U.S. terrorists worldwide by their actions.

Instead of completely neutralizing al Qaeda after 9/11, President Bush's ignorance and lack of understanding of Islam have increased the threat from radical Muslims against the United States. In Islam, even moderate Muslims believe that when Islamic lands are invaded by non-Muslims, every Muslim must do what he or she can to resist. The fierce Muslim response to the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Russians in Chechnya, and the Israelis in Palestine should have given the Bush administration pause about how a foreign invader would be received in Iraq. Compounding this difficulty, it didn't occur to the Bush administration that Iraq was an artificial country that had always been held together by brute force and that when that force was removed, it would descend into anarchy and civil war. Nor did it occur to the administration that the chaos would create a haven and training ground for radicals, who could launch future attacks against the United States.

If George W. Bush had been president when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, he would have attacked Russia, making the problem far worse.

If the president had stuck with his campaign promise to conduct "a more humble foreign policy"-or "isolationism" as he now pejoratively labels it-the nation would not be hemorrhaging blood and treasure in a foreign bog that is undermining U.S. security.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

New from Ivan Eland!
THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed

Most Americans don't think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. In The Empire Has No Clothes, Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Buy It Today >>

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Older Comments:
Refusing to bankroll Iraq's old army seems to have been the moment at which America put Iraq on the road to civil war. The apparent misstep seems marvelous ammunition, so to speak, for soldiers of the Democratic National Committee's army of resistance. And yet the author, a man who is paid for his expertise on military affairs, makes no mention of it. Does he view it as largely irrelevant? A good idea? Likely to confuse (or unhelpfully divide) his article's intended audience?

I'm sorry to have oversimplified the author's position. But I'm curious to know where he and his "team" stand concerning such a perilous initiative. Might he himself be inclined to someday recommend a similar course of action? Possibly somewhere else? That is even if the author himself would be less easily maneuvered into recommending military intervention. By which I mean to suggest something beyond voter-friendly acts of provocation, such as involving the use of cruise missiles, which haven't always seemed effective as a deterrent. But then again perhaps the effectiveness of hit-and-run retaliation depends considerably on whom it's against. And I do hope I'm being helpful here (in a non-divisive way).

great read, I could not have said it better myself

Well this is what happens when you have politicians and leaders of state with manure for brains. I don't think that any 'personality' in the past history could be compared to Bush. Bush will go down in history as the moron elected as president to a fascist American government by a brainwashed citizenry. It's so unbelievably odd that the American people follow whatever their government and media feed them with, even if that thing was nothing more than horseshit? God Almighty, the Pharao of Egypt and Nazi Germany would have relished on an asanine population like this! Any Nazi and Fascist government is in need of a populace that doesn't think on its own. I don't believe that there is another people than the North American to follow blindly their government and paying for it often with their lives. Sad, very sad,but simingly congenital cretinism has no cure. Thanks to the high intake of immigrants coming from Asia,Africa and Latin America, this disturbingly coward mentality will change,God willing.


If BUSH stays as a permanent President of USA, he would attack or invade all muslim countries and change the name of USA to UCA : UNITED COUNTRIES OF AMERICA.

This is the bottomline plan of USA & extremists to take all muslim countries and control the resources anywhere and any PRESIDENT (Rep./Dem) has to do it.perod. USA already has military bases with puppets in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq and planning to have more before his II-term.

It has UN ,NATO and all types of weapons and friends/puppets in this world to do.


D. THOMAS said:
The author has no basis of saying, "If George W. Bush had been president when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, he would have attacked Russia, making the problem far worse." This is just guessing and speculation that serves no purpose. It also takes away from the seriousness of the article, and weakens his position.

With Iraq being an artificial country I agree 100%. George W. Bush naively believed that he could accomplish good, not realising that it would take a miracle. And we all know miracles don't happen do we now.

I disagree however 100% with the thought that the U.S. could be isolationist, and be able ensure their on safety. Every country has the right to defend themselves.

Let me give you an example. If your neighbor has a visitor in their house, and that person is trying to kill your children by shooting through the windows of the house, and the owners of the house and the police don't or can't do anything. Then you have the right to take the situation in hand to protect your family and property.

This is the situation the U.S. is living now. If you don't want foreign countries occupying your lands, don't harbour or assit terrorists.

You don't see the U.S. invading Canada or Mexico and both countries have huge supplies of oil and natural gas.

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Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.

Oscar Wilde
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