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Bush Doctrine Hangover… A New Headache for Peace builders…
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By Christos Kyrou Two years into Barack Obama’s administration and the consequences of the G. W. Bush era are felt as a heavy shadow over almost every aspect of the foreign policy of the new administration. As the Obama’ doctrine is shaping up the “war on terror,” Iraq, the nuclear threat from N. Korea and Iran, and the system of rendition and Guantanamo continue as if at their own separate pace. So what is the Bush doctrine? Where does it come from and how more difficult has it made it to resolve crises such as the 2008 war between Israel and Lebanon or long term conflicts such as those in the Middle East or in Colombia? The Bush Doctrine is not a parentless child. When back in 1823 U.S. President James Monroe declared that the American continent was now a territory outside the influence of European colonial powers, the US was celebrated as a protector of the sovereignty of its neighboring nations. President Roosevelt’s Amendment to the Monroe Doctrine later in 1904 broadened the role of the United States in Latin America as a territory exclusive to the US in expanding its commercial interests, lifting off the US economic and military hegemony in the region. President Truman’s doctrine in 1947 came right after the end of WWII in order to prevent the expansion of the Soviet Union in Greece and Turkey. Truman declared that the US would provide assistance and equipment to any country resisting communism. As a result not only Greece and Turkey but also other European governments such as in Italy, and France received millions of dollars in their effort to defeat emerging communist movements. By 1957 the Cold War was expanding into new territories opened as a result of the British and French withdrawal from the Middle East and Indochina. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Doctrine saw that the US would commit military and economic power to any government requesting help in fighting communism. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 doctrine included a further containment and even reversal of communism in allied countries. Lyndon B. Johnson’s doctrine in 1965 considered even domestic rebellions in the western hemisphere as attempts for establishing a global “communist dictatorship.” Richard Nixon in 1989 asserted that the US would provide shield for allies threatened by a nuclear power, and also military and economic assistance for regional powers so that they would enforce security in their respective regions. Jimmy Carter later declared that use of military force would be justified to anyone who might try to gain control of the Persian Gulf region. Ronald Reagan’s doctrine openly justified, all the way to the end of the Cold War, the use of US allied rebel groups against communist regimes or counter to communist insurgents around the world. Bill Clinton’s interventionism doctrine was initially reduced only to conflicts and crises that threatened the US interest, to incorporate later cases of genocide. The Child The Bush administration arrived determined to implement the neo-conservative mandate for establishing a world of democracies that would be stabilized and secured through economic interdependence. The events of 9/11 accelerated the implementation of the mandate with the declaration of the Bush doctrine. Where the Cold War had at its core the policy of nuclear deterrence, the post-cold war started with Clinton’s interventionism doctrine and now was about to enter the US era of preemption. The Bush doctrine introduces two conceptual radical ideas: first that there is no difference between so-called terrorists and those forces who support them; second that the US preserves the right to strike preemptively against emerging threats. The first drove directly to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the second to the occupation of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction allegedly hidden by the Saddam Hussein regime to be used against the US. In their totality the Bush administration policies were grouped up as the “War on Terror.” A legalistic maze Backed by legislation with most prominent the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” (USA PATRIOT Act) the Bush Doctrine was and is founded on a concept which according to the State department “no one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance.” The chosen definition for most of the legal applications of the term [Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d)] defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” On June 21st 2010 the US Supreme Court upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to provide any support to a terrorist organization — even when that support is specifically to promote resolving disputes peacefully. The “material support law” was first enacted under Clinton’s administration and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 it makes it a crime punishable by 15 years in prison to “provide any assistance, advice, training or expertise to any group designated by the secretary of state as a foreign terrorist organization.” Even though the full interpretation of the latest ruling is pending, the divided by 6/3 votes Supreme Court sees any form or magnitude of material support to be a crime even if it is to strengthen the capacity of such groups to negotiate peace. Georgetown Law School professor David Cole said "The bottom line is that the court has now said that the First Amendment permits Congress to make human-rights advocacy and peacemaking into a terrorist crime." Implications to Peacebuilding The implications of such legal environment against a speedy resolution of crises involving “terrorist organizations” such as Hezbollah during the 2006 war with Israel or cases such as the FARC-EP and ELN in Colombia, ETA in Spain, the PKK in Turkey, and so on, are already felt in the field of peace studies and peace building. To begin with it is now impossible to even study first hand those groups as any form of communication and or association may be considered criminalized. Considering the millions of dollars and lives lost in fighting against such groups one would assume that studying them vigorously and from all angles would be the preferred way to go. Another important issue is that in cases of insurgent groups with broad popular support such as Hamas, the PKK, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers and others all of those who are ruled by such groups or depend on them, in the absence of humanitarian support, will have more reasons to join the insurgencies than less. In the case of the Israel Hezbollah war in 2006 and as a consequence of the environment of fear of being associated with a terrorist organization, most of the previously open channels of communication that might have stopped the destruction of Lebanon were cut off and the first meeting took place after invitation of the Secretary then of the US State Department Condoleezza Rice after weeks of war, in Rome and with the absence of members of Hezbollah itself. The terms and agreements for exchange of bodies and prisoners took place after most of the damage was completed. It was a good example of how the war on terror has reduced our capacity to rapidly respond through non-governmental channels to stop a crisis. The old days, it might have taken a phone call to put some sense to the parties in conflict. Today that phone call might be considered a criminal act. In this environment there is a strong emphasis on counterinsurgency and the military option as the only solution to terrorism. Even though the use of force has it place in the way to the solution, most of the examples used to promote such approach include cases that either failed in the long run (Algeria, Peru, and probably Sri Lanka) or cases where the “solution” was followed by decades of unstable regimes such as in the Philippines and Greece. The only successful cases where the war ended after the conflict reached a stalemate were those resolved through successful negotiations; negotiations which produced sustainable and wise agreements such as in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Nepal. In cases when poor agreements took place such as in Colombia (Patriotic Union) and Israel (Oslo Agreement) or where negotiations keep on failing (Spain, Turkey, Sri Lanka) it is usually because the parties do not carry the capacity to draft an effective solution and the countries are doomed to the continuation of violence and destruction. It is imperative that parties negotiating peace are able and even strong negotiators from both sides if there is a chance for those agreements to work. Depriving international organizations the right to provide trainings and support to those groups at the point when they decide to reach peace can only prolong the war. The State Department list is not a flexible document. Groups are not removed once they declare a ceasefire. They remain there for years after such as Nelson Mandela and the ANC was on until recently, years after the end of the Apartheid. The logic that the legitimization and strengthen of the political face of terrorists frees resources for them to be even more potent and dangerous is simply false. Most insurgent groups are actually drained to dry when they decide to run into politics. As politics seem to work the insurgents’ constituencies, those populations from which new recruits and materiel comes from, grows more and more supportive to peace instead of the opposite. Strong minds become invested into complex political campaigns and money is diverted from the battlefield to the electoral logistics and party outreach. According to Supreme Judge John Roberts even when the terrorists are willing to negotiate NGOs should not prepare them for it as it might upset governments allied to the US. This is an extremely dangerous point. The “war on terror” has become a gold mine for governments that have secured their place as allies to the US cause. What is said here is that even when terrorists are ready to negotiate peace, even when they are ready to end the war, the populations should remain hostages to any government corrupted enough to have chosen not to end the conflict at the expense of the safety and peace of its citizens. It is not easy to point at the Bush doctrine as the source of every current impediment of building peace with insurgent groups from around the world. Yet, the “war on terror” has created a situation where groups which have never attacked the US are considered enemies of the US anyhow. That becomes even more complicated as groups such as the POLISARIO in west Sahara, the Zapatistas, and the Darfur resistance groups are not considered terrorists by the State Department. Even more complicated is the case of groups such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) in Iran which are on the State Department list yet they are funded and supported frequently by the US Congress and the Department of Defense. In other words the Bush doctrine and by consequence the “war on terror” based on an ambiguous concept and expanded indefinitely to include no one and everyone has created a legalistic and law enforcement maze, a nightmare for peace practitioners. A new field of study, trying to define itself, the science of peace, is facing its first large challenge at the very conception… Today in Washington DC, words such as terrorists and insurgents are taboo topics for research grantees. No potential sponsor or charity is willing to be considered associated with terrorists by sponsoring a research or a dialogue project that could or might be considered a federal crime. As a result thousands of projects for peace have been cancelled of scrapped from plans, projects which could be building today a more peaceful world even at the midst of war. A huge effort is lead by organizations such as the Alliance for Peacebuilding and the Center for Constitutional Rights struggle to push for a grounded interpretation of the latest challenge by the Supreme Court so that ambiguity is removed or for a new law altogether but a great deal of damage has already been made.

Comments in Chronological order (4 total comments)

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Mon, September 13, 2010 01:54 PM (about 105694 hours ago)
I think your point about the confusion of the Bush war on terror, both its theoretical and practical side, is well taken. I also think your point about how rigid categorization of terrorist groups (on the State Department list, for example) can possibly impede a search for solutions at times.
But I dont agree that the Bush doctrine was radical in the sense that it conflated terrorists with the groups (ie., states) that support them. The Taliban was responsible for the actions of Al Qaeda under international law.
Also, I think you need to distinguish preventive war (the U.S. attacking Iraq) and preemptive war, where a state prempts what in all likelihood is a forthcoming attack. The latter may be justified.
 
Sun, March 27, 2011 12:44 PM (about 101015 hours ago)
Well Christos I know you very well. Very left leaning, as usual, but if you do your research you will find, that the situation is different, especially when it comes to the Bush administration. Yes there were no weapons, but there was no allegedly, conspiratorial work at play. It was a gamble and they gambled wrong. Also you forgot to mention that it was during Bill Clinton's presidency that he passed a resolution for regime change in Iraq, and spitting out the same WMD rhetoric.
I urge you to read both sides of the argument, and then make your analysis. this is why we have liberal and conservative propaganda ripping this country apart.
 
Thu, March 22, 2012 07:43 AM (about 92356 hours ago)
Thank you both for your insightful and constructive comments. It is true about Bill Clinton's initiative - not the only one towards this direction - but I think that his impact was a small step to changing policy against Iraq, not a strategic one. Having said that, I appreciate your point and would add a small amendment based on your comment.
 
Thu, March 22, 2012 07:46 AM (about 92356 hours ago)
Thank you for your comment on preemptive vs preventive wars. I appreciate the distinction yet I wonder how much it actually was part of the Bush policy. I will look at this closer, thank you again.
 
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