What is the Bush Doctrine?

Brendan McGuigan

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.

Among other things, the Bush Doctrine holds that the United States does not need United Nations support when it acts to counter forces that represent an existential threat to the U.S.
Among other things, the Bush Doctrine holds that the United States does not need United Nations support when it acts to counter forces that represent an existential threat to the U.S.

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 invasion of Afghanistan is often cited when discussing the Bush doctrine.
The invasion of Afghanistan is often cited when discussing the Bush doctrine.

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.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


America has complex way of thinkng. As such, one hardly can decipher their intent or motives till the effects of their plan pops out. I think 9/11 is fraud and only an instrument for aggression and assuming exercise of world power privileges.


I think the Bush Doctrine can be compared with Adolf Hitler.


@Sauteepan: It has been shown numerous times that in the rush for war in Iraq, the Bush admin completely ignored evidence to the contrary and barely checked its facts. The decision to go to war in Iraq was made by Bush before the 9/11 attacks even happened and the Bush doctrine was 'developed' to keep America safe.

The Bush admin lied the country into a war that has cost Americans almost 5,000 soldiers, and over 100,000 Iraqis.


Can we assume that America is a "Terrorist Nation" because we have monetarily supported Pakistan, who in turn, has harbored and given safe haven to Osama bin Laden, literally in their midst? Mmmm.


@SurfNturf - I just want to say that it is true that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which was President Bush’s reason for going to war.

However,the intelligence that he and all of the other European nations including Great Britain indicated that he did.

I think that any President would have considered the same options based on the information that he had at the time. At least with President Bush I felt that he had the safety of the American people at heart, but with Obama I don't feel that he does.


@Subway11 - I think you are right, but don’t forget that President Bush botched up the Iraq war too. He wanted to take out Saddam Husain because he thought that he had weapons of mass destruction and they did not find anything.

While I think President Bush did a lot of things for the right reasons the results were not always pretty.


@Icecream17 - I could not agree with you more. It really doesn’t matter what you think of the Bush Presidency but the one thing that no one can deny is that he was spot on with regards to terrorism and keeping American’s safe.

The Bush war on terrorism opened American’s eyes to the fact that the world is not so safe and we need to take measures to protect our way of life. The actions on September 11th really changed our foreign policy forever.


The Bush Doctrine has really kept us safe. Since the institution of the Bush Doctrine we have not had a terrorist attack. There really should not be a distinction between a terrorist and countries that harbor terrorists.

I agree with President Bush calling North Korea, Iran, and Iraq the axis of evil nations. These countries were harboring terrorist and they should be called on the carpet for it. It was a bold move.

Post your comments
Forgot password?