Acting Alone

Acting Alone

Unilateralism is a weak name for the foreign policy sketched in “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America”-a document released by the White House in September 2002 and discussed inadequately in the press. The strong name for it is imperialism. We will be hearing more about that as Europeans come to assess the actions of the Bush administration in the light of this thirty-one-page manifesto. The document, prefaced by a signed three-page letter from George W. Bush, is in large measure a tissue of quotations and paraphrases of the president’s speeches, and it has been clear for some time that the speeches are written by a clever and versatile team. The well-engineered bursts of pulpit eloquence are cemented by think-tank platitudes of a humbler workmanship, so that the total impression is at once bright and dull, commanding and crude. Even so, the National Security Strategy document bears looking into. This is the source that the Bush administration wants Americans to consult in order to understand the aims that guide our international actions. Each of its nine numbered sections is headed by a quotation from George W. Bush, and when you combine their effect with the world-definitive posture of the cover letter, you are aware of a deference to the personality of a leader that makes this production, by the standards of constitutional democracy, unusual. Practical wisdom in the face of terror comes to be identified with the always apposite words of a single man.

The first section gives an overview of the contents, the second a rhetorical portrait of the United States as the champion of human dignity. Four subsequent sections (3, 4, 5, and 8) are exclusively concerned with the attack part of defense. The football coach’s apothegm, “The best defense is a good offense,” is quoted. Defense proper, of the “homeland” in particular, turns out to be the subject of section 9, while two interpolated sections (6 and 7) deal with economic assistance, the imperative of the “free flow” of money and goods to build “the infrastructure of democracy” in the poorer countries of the world. As the document proceeds, it becomes clear that the National Security Strategy takes for its domain all of international relations and foreign policy. Everything the United States could conceivably do in the world is now to be subsumed under the heading of a national defense that is itself an extension of homeland security.

The president’s letter opens by pointing out the difference between the twentieth century and the twenty-first. The “great struggles of the twentieth century” were those “between liberty and totalitarianism.” Liberty won; and this has become generally known. “People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children-male and female; own property; and en...


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