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Friday, March 1, 2024

Bush’s situational ethics

President Bush's new, 19,322-word national security report is a stunning document that parents should not permit their children to read. It does not square with what schoolchildren learn about the principles for which this country has stood.

President Bush’s new, 19,322-word national security report is a stunning document that parents should not permit their children to read.

It does not square with what schoolchildren learn about the principles for which this country has stood.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur _ even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.” This is a restatement of Bush’s remarkable and central doctrine of preemption _ this country now chooses to go to war against countries suspected of plotting to do us harm, even if the threat is not imminent, even if facts aren’t known or clear.
  • “This diplomatic effort (with Iran) must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided.” This says to the world that the United States has different strokes for different folks. It’s OK for India to refuse to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the United States will go to war against Iran, which also scorns non-proliferation. With the war in Iraq still raging, Bush says it is now Iran that may pose our biggest challenge.
  • “Regional cooperation offers the best hope for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of (North Korea’s determination to get nuclear weapons).” Unlike Iran, Bush has no intention of using force against North Korea despites its efforts to get nuclear weapons. _ “The United States must expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy.” Bush argues that the answer to terrorism is to push every nation to become a democracy, even though it may not work out (Palestinians now are led by a terrorist group, Hamas). Through the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and Americans, Iraq has held elections and has a constitution. But the United States just spearheaded the largest air assault since the war in Iraq began, in a country ripped apart by sectarian violence.

Even as the Bush administration seeks another $91 billion to fight in Iraq while piling up a $9 trillion national debt, 60 percent of Americans tell pollsters that Iraq was not worth going to war over and 55 percent say civil war and more chaos in Iraq are the likely outcome. Only 40 percent agree with Bush that Iraq soon will have a stable government, the first domino leading to Middle East democracy.

Bush is not wrong in seeking to spread democracy. But his assumption it could be done on the cheap and his sending mixed messages about America’s strategies have inestimably undermined this nation’s goals.

Bush went to war in Iraq ignoring warnings that “victory” would be more difficult than he expected. He ignored the military’s warning that more troops were needed, underestimated the strength of the insurgency and has refused to admit any mistakes.

His remarkably strange new national security report makes clear that if he had it all to do over again, he would do the same things, in the same order, on the same scale.

Even though weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq, which is disintegrating, Bush insists he was right. His new report accordingly demands the world go along with all U.S. goals, whether they involve war or peace.

A few years ago, Bush was full of praise for Russia, raising his glass in tribute to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s path to democracy and capitalism despite signals Russia was straying from that path.

Now Bush is not so certain: “Strengthening our relationship (with Russia) will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts. Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom’s path.”

Bush warns China that its leaders cannot stay on a path toward peace “while holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world.” He defines “old ways” as expanding China’s military, expanding trade and supporting resource-rich countries without regard to misrule at home or misbehavior abroad.

That, of course, is exactly how the United States became the world’s superpower — amassing the world’s most impressive military force, expanding trade and extracting resources at home and abroad no matter what the local politics were.

To read Bush’s 19,000 words is to experience an us-against-them fear — his fear that in the last six years the world has become a far more dangerous place, that he trusts few, that old allies are no longer reliable in following our lead.

Bush’s message to our children in this surreal document is that situational ethics is right. Increasingly, that is how the rest of the world perceives us — as believing that the end justifies the means.

(Columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail