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  • The Bush Foreign Policy and The Good Society
  • George H. Quester (bio)

Critics of the domestic or foreign policies of an American administration will be inclined to phrase their complaints in terms of moral principle, painting the administration as lacking in moral standards, as driven instead by simple selfish material interests, or as adrift for lack of any sense of what is really important in life. The criticisms made of American foreign policy since George W. Bush was sworn in as President in January of 2001 are often enough of this form, criticisms leveled by the Americans who did not vote for Bush, or who now regret having voted for him, and sometimes criticisms as well from abroad, often from countries historically friendly to the United States.

This author is someone who shares much of the disquiet about the policies that have been adopted or proclaimed since 2000. Yet it might be a mistake for us to assume that there are no moral principles guiding the Bush team. It is always risky to conclude that only our side has a vision of the "good society", and that the other side is oblivious to such terms.

This will thus be an attempt to sort some of the principles motivating the George W. Bush administration, as it deals with the world. These principles, like many or all sets of moral considerations, may be beset with contradictions. Some of these principles may indeed be what all of us would endorse, while others are the object of much dispute among Americans.

Basic Confusions

Some of the confusion in sorting the principles of today's American foreign policy stems from a major shift in how the administration has described its purposes, from its initial year in office, to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. These confusions are also tied closely to the phraseology and categorization by which the Bush foreign policy approach has described itself as "conservative" or "right-wing," which (as will be discussed) can indeed mean two very different things. The contending principles here either draw together, or keep substantially separate, the portions of political science labeled as "international relations" and "domestic government."

Given that George W. Bush had showed very little interest in foreign policy before running for President (or indeed interest in the outside world in general, having hardly ever traveled abroad), much attention has been directed to the sources of the advice he received in this policy area. His principal tutor and adviser has been Condoleeza Rice, who had served on the National Security Council staff under Brent Scowcroft in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, and who became Director of the NSC from 2001 to 2004, and then in 2005 Secretary of State. Rice is a political scientist who had specialized in Soviet affairs until the end of the Cold War, and had become a professor at Stanford University, where she also took on the senior administrative position of Provost, before coming back to Washington. Differentiating the Bush II approach from that of President Clinton (and also somewhat from the approach of the first President Bush), Rice helped shape the "realist" tone of the 2000 campaign and of the incoming administration, by which the United States, rather than being a "world policeman" helpfully engaged in "nation-building" around the world, would stick more to "its own national interest"1 "Realists" would not so frequently talk about the "good society" abroad. Rice herself minted the phrase "vulcans" for her generation of younger foreign policy experts who came in to advise the second President Bush.

Included also among the "vulcans," but expressing a substantially different tone of moral guidance for foreign policy, has been a group of younger "neo-conservatives," quickly labeled the "neocons," of whom the most prominent has probably been Paul Wolfowitz. A number of these "neocons" had taken political philosophy, especially the works of Leo Strauss,quite seriously as undergraduates and graduate students. One important impact of the "neocons" was to foster the ambition of bringing democracy to the Middle East, and in the process perhaps relieving Arab hostility toward the United States and toward Israel.2

The "neocons" thus came into the...


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