Making Sense of the Bush Doctrine

Deciphering the directions and aims of America’s current foreign policy has become an obsessive pastime for people around the world. Strangely, Bush’s presidency has done more to transform the average ugly American into a global citizen than the efforts of one-worlders and the United Nations combined.

Americans of all political stripes join the rest of the world in observing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a distance, curiously wondering what these unimaginative, tone-deaf, but institutionally-empowered men will say or do next. Like concerned virologists, we watch for signs that their political pathogen is mutating into something more deadly, or if we are lucky, into something safer and less threatening.

We watch, wonder, and wait. As we do, people in foreign lands, and our own children and spouses, suffer and die in ever-increasing numbers because of the decisions and commands of the Bush administration. The forgotten catastrophe of Afghanistan is matched today by Somalia, an even more forgotten catastrophe. In the middle, we have Iraq, with all of the heartbreak that this uniquely American debacle has produced, and continues to deliver dripping fresh each and every morning.

Armchair detectives know that when a crime of passion is committed, the prime suspect is easy to identify. A friendship turned sour, a love rejected or betrayed, or pursuit of economic gain — we all know where to look for the murderous culprit. Even as the logical suspect loudly claims that we should be looking for an evil stranger, an unknown drifter, the black carjacker in the knit hat, or those guys that killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman — we quickly see through those claims and rarely give them credence — except as damning evidence after the fact.

In the case of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, the relationship we’ve had is long standing and well documented. The crimes of passion being committed against these people and countries can be understood as the acts of the strong lustful partner against the weak, yet still desired partner. When confronted with the evidence, stories are woven, and intentions claimed, and alibis put forth. In the case of the Bush doctrine applied in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia today, and Iran and Syria tomorrow — that story is democracy, the intentions honorable and self-sacrificing (but never crusading, of course), the alibi is "doing our job as the world’s greatest nation." We are killing terrorists in self-defense and for the good of the world, you see. We are taking over foreign countries, setting them up with our favorite puppets "in charge," controlling their economy, their movements, their dress codes, their defensive projects, and their dreams, solely because we love them, and apparently can’t live without them.

The Bush doctrine as employed today would make a great movie. It wouldn’t star Clint Eastwood in a Dirty Harry reprise. Instead, it would star Julia Roberts in a remake of Sleeping with the Enemy, or perhaps Jennifer Lopez in Enough, Part Two. Because to understand the Bush doctrine is to understand the psychology of violence and abuse. To understand the Bush doctrine, we must recognize that it is about relationships founded on unrealistic and purely imagined constructs, and then using violence, threats and destruction in an attempt to stave off reality.

Under ideal conditions, America’s relationships with the rest of the world would be guided by compassion and constrained by respect. The relationships would model that beautiful ideal of America of which Jefferson spoke when he advocated "Peace, commerce and friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none."

Not every man, nor every government, is ideal or perfect. They are not always moral, or rational, or compassionate. George W. Bush’s America has become an abusive father and stepfather, an angry and vindictive husband, a spurned and incensed lover. Not to imply any undeserved masculinity to George W. Bush, his America, as Chris Floyd powerfully articulates, is a proud "black widow" intent on harvesting great wealth from the decomposing carcass of a once-nurtured spouse. The Bush doctrine is angry, irrational, immoral, and merciless.

Imagine the Bush doctrine as a personal philosophy. If a man or woman were acting on that philosophy by taking the battle to imagined enemies, destroying their homes, their economies, labeling whole groups with the real or imagined misdeeds of a member of that group, shaping cowed friends and lovers into submissive and numbing caricatures of the "ideal" partner, murdering at will and hiding the consequences — if we actually lived the Bush doctrine in our daily lives we would be hospitalized, imprisoned or both. More importantly, we would be universally ridiculed, condemned, and required to reform, restitute, and apologize to our victims.

But when our nation conducts its business abroad this way, many in this country — Democrats and Republicans alike — instead become huffily patriotic. They do not condemn or ridicule, or demand reform and restitution. They go along with it, perhaps believing the endlessly charming stories told by the violent nitwits holding court in the White House. Those in Congress don’t tend to believe the President, but they go along with it in most cases because they are in on the benefits, including financial support from various pro-war lobbies, [and] promises of post-congressional and post-bureaucratic positions in the grand defense-industrial enterprise so empowered in the last century. They go along with it because of that toxic combination of delusion and cowardice that seems to cloak most politicians like a cheap aftershave.

Mr. Bush made stupid threats last week, and while he indeed looked stupid saying them, we prudently ought to assume he intends to make them good. He will do those stupid things, unless, as in the case of a violent husband or boyfriend, someone takes the keys, locks up the guns, hides the baseball bats, protects the next victim, and slaps a restraining order on the offender. We would do no less for our neighbors, our friends, our children. We’ve all seen it before, and we know what needs to be done to protect our community, to stand up for the weak, to do the right thing.

America herself is currently at great risk from a violent, angry man with illusions of grandeur, and outrageous demands for total submission to his will. Congress has the power and responsibility to shut him down, and to prevent more death, more destruction, more delusion. If they understand the Bush doctrine for what it is, and American actions in the Middle East for what they truly are, the Congress will have no choice but to stop all funds for this war, withdraw any support for this president in terms of foreign policy, and begin impeachment proceedings immediately.

If they do not do their duty, might I suggest to Congress two other sequels that could be coming soon to a government institution near them. In the original version, The Burning Bed features a woman, who after enduring years of abuse and getting no help, sets the old man on fire. He dies a horrible death, and she gets off on a verdict of temporary insanity. The other is Extremities. This one has a happier ending — the abuser is captured by his victim, sprayed with mace, locked in a fireplace, taunted, beaten and berated for hours. In the end, he is turned in to the authorities for arrest and incarceration — a fate he welcomes most enthusiastically.

As a political scientist and patriot, I can easily imagine political sequels to these films. The only question is whether I’ll be watching them at 8, and again at 10, on Lifetime for Women, or around the clock on CNN.