The Bush Doctrine is a term used to describe a number of ideas related to United States foreign policy. Originally it was used to mean the idea that a state that harbored terrorists could be treated the same as terrorists themselves. Later it expanded to include other implicit rights the United States had in the global arena, including the extremely controversial right to declare preemptive war.
The term Bush Doctrine was used early in President Bush’s first term in office. As early as February of 2001 it was being used to refer the what was seen as a movement of President Bush towards unilateralism. This was typified by Bush withdrawing the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
The core of the early Bush Doctrine, however, was formulated in the wake of the September, 11th attacks. President Bush famously announced, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” In this declaration of the Bush Doctrine, the president paved the way for the invasion of Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that the state apparatus of Afghanistan had not actually attacked the United States.
The Bush Doctrine in this context was used later as a way of justifying the United States’ involvement in parts of North-West Pakistan. Although Pakistan itself is a US ally, Al Qaeda was using this remote region as a training ground for militants that the United States feared would take violent action against its interests.
A year after the Bush Doctrine was first formally laid out, it was codified in a document entitled National Security Strategy of the United States. Four years later, in 2006, the document was updated to reflect shifts and refinements in US foreign policy. The current text, which can largely be considered the definitive statement of the Bush Doctrine, reads:
“It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction — and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.”
This newer formulation of the Bush Doctrine can also be seen to encompass the idea of a preemptive military action. By saying, “before the threats can do grave damage,” the door is opened to taking military action against interests before they have attacked the United States. This is a relatively new concept in modern warfare, where traditionally one side attacks another nation unprovoked, and is considered largely unjust, and that nation can then justly retaliate.
The Bush Doctrine is often contrasted with the Reagan Doctrine. The Reagan Doctrine pushed towards what was often termed political realism, and included a movement towards decreasing spending in the defense arena. Although Reagan desired a strong military and defensive strategy, but also spoke strongly in terms of a peace dividend, moving away form military spending. Neoconservatives at the time opposed the Reagan Doctrine strongly, and were strong architects and backers of the Bush Doctrine.