In Defense of the Bush Doctrine


Title:                      In Defense of the Bush Doctrine

Author:                  Robert G. Kaufman

Kaufman, Robert G. (2008). In Defense of the Bush Doctrine. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

LOC:       2008273275

E902 .K385 2008

Date Posted:      March 30, 2013

The title of this monograph concisely predicts what the reader will find between the covers[1]. Posed in scholarly language, the book describes and argues for an American grand strategy based on a concept the author calls “moral democratic realism.” He compares this concept to the “major alternative schools of foreign policy” that characterize the criticism aimed at Pres. George W. Bush’s foreign policy—primarily the administration’s approach to the global war on terrorism (GWOT) and Iraq in particular. However, Kaufman does not restrict his analysis to the Bush approach to foreign policy and merely answer current criticism about the GWOT. He gives readers an enlightening look at the Bush Doctrine through a broader historical lens, which encompasses US foreign policy since the founding of our nation and then extends his analysis to our ongoing and future policy around the globe.

A political scientist specializing in American foreign policy, national security, international relations, and various aspects of American politics, Dr. Kaufman is widely published and has impressive academic credentials. Currently an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation, he has taught at the Naval War College, Colgate University, and the University of Vermont. Kaufman makes the case for the Bush Doctrine and its proper conformity to moral democratic realism based on two premises. The first is that the basic purpose of American foreign policy has remained the same throughout our history—“to assure the integrity and vitality of a free society ‘founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual’.” The second is that “prudence” ought to serve as the standard for judging American grand strategy. Throughout the book, he consistently goes back to these premises as he compares and contrasts different schools of thought.

His method for defending the Bush Doctrine lies in separating foreign policy thought into generalized academic categories—“isolationism, realism, and liberal multilateralism.” Kaufman uses the first half of the book to describe the broader historical context of American foreign policy and different theories of others. Rather than dismiss the isolationism advocated by contemporary critics like Pat Buchanan, he tackles the isolationists’ reasoning head on. He also critiques the neorealism of thinkers such as Kenneth Waltz or Stephen Walt and the classical realism of Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger. Finally, he discusses the liberal multilateralism championed by Charles Kupchan and John Ikenberry and embraced by many Democratic politicians such as Senator John Kerry (D-MA). The remaining half describes moral democratic realism and examines that concept in light of the “endgame of the cold war” as well as the ongoing war on terrorism and the US approach to foreign policy in other important arenas such as Korea.

While supporters of the Bush Doctrine may agree with Kaufman’s premise and conclusions, his defense sometimes seems like an attack against other viewpoints rather than a balanced analysis. The book may come across as too partisan, especially for Bush opponents at-large. I say this for two reasons.

First is his tendency to simplify—almost stereotypically—arguments from other viewpoints to fit them into “schools of thought.” He often reduces an impressively large and diverse bibliography by picking out references that support his critique and rarely giving credit or consideration to points that may be of value elsewhere in the works from which he quotes. For example, in his first two chapters, he focuses on the classic national instruments of power, such as the use of force and economics, without even mentioning Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power” until discarding its value in any circumstance, saying it is not effective in all cases. Second, in some sections, he seems to contradict his own arguments when criticizing someone else’s. For instance, in discrediting the neo­realist preference for containment of Saddam instead of using force, Kaufman speculates that it would have been harder for bin Laden to gain support if we had eliminated Saddam in the first Gulf War and left no foreign troops in Saudi Arabia; but only two pages later, he argues that bin Laden and the Islamists fight for a universal Islamic empire across the world and their cause has little to do with US Middle Eastern policy and international behavior.

Although the book often comes across as political (which should be expected), I recommend it for those interested in military strategy and policy. Robert Kaufman does an excellent job examining the national decision-making environment which so frequently calls for the employment of our air, space, and cyberspace capabilities.

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