After Bush, The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy


Timothy Lynch is Lecturer in American Foreign Policy, University of London; Robert Singh is Professor of Politics, University of London.

With the plethora of left wing liberals in academia, a media circus whose memory stretches to one week at best, so called alternative comedy rhetoricians and politicians ever looking to score party points, one might think there is nobody eager to or capable of, promoting a learned and well argued study of American foreign policy, before during and subsequent to the presidency of George W Bush. Step forward Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh.

The simple thesis of this book might be said to be that the United States of America (US) is engaged in a Second Cold War. The parallels between the Truman doctrine and the Bush doctrine are there for all to see. Truman left office deeply unpopular, his party charged with foreign policy failures and promoting an unwinnable war; there must be few commentators who mourn the passing of the Bush tenure. However as Lynch and Singh point out "…the demise of the Bush presidency marks not the repudiation of an aberrant or even revolutionary disjuncture on foreign policy but the beginning of the end of the first phase of a Second Cold War against jihadist Islam".(p5)

It is argued that US foreign policy has not changed greatly in 200 years. As Monroe in 1823 asserted the right to interfere in the Americas and deny that right to Europeans, so George W Bush demanded the right to act in isolation, if necessary, to realise US security by securing the universal rights of foreigners. Incorporated in such policy are two others tenets. One; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is part of the American psyche not just part of the constitution. Two; no US president, Republican or Democrat, Protestant or Catholic and (we can say now) Black or White is going to surrender to a third party responsibility for homeland security.

There can be no doubt that the presidency of George W Bush was dominated by the attacks of 11th September 2001 (9/11) and the subsequent response, The Global War on Terror (GWOT). As the authors stress the 9/11 perpetrators attacked four sites, successfully hitting three of their targets. 9/11 was not the first such attack nor has it been the last; between 1948 and 2007 it is easy to identify at least fifteen sites. Some, for instance Bali (2002) the scene of a single attack others such as Jerusalem, London and now Mumbai (Bombay) the scene of multiple attacks. In the wake of 9/11 George Bush announced 'America is at war'; both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly passed the resolution, there was only one vote against. It was to be a war on capacity, a preventative war, a war 'to deny the world's worst leaders the world's worse weapons'. Regime change was a policy not unknown in US foreign policy.

Part of the war was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an invasion that was to have consequences which are still rumbling on in 2009. In the aftermath of the invasion and amid the resulting organisational chaos, many started to question the notion of GWOT itself. Post 9/11 many liberals blamed the US for the hatred visited upon its own people. Some commentators saw the invasion of Iraq as illegal because it was not multilateral enough nor sanctioned by a fresh UN resolution. Lynch and Singh suggest that the US has 'rarely held multilateralism as a moral imperative'. Furthermore while the Declaration of Independence pledge a 'decent respect to the opinions of mankind' this did not involve abiding by other nations' wishes. What is multilateral? What number constitutes enough? Is France worth more than Australia or Venezuela more than the UK? Iraq was already failing to comply with the existing UN sanction. Some Iraqi army officers together with the security forces of US, UK, France, Israel, Australia, Russia and China believed that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. No US president could take the chance that the intelligence was false. What was Bush to do, wait until 100,000 US citizens had been vaporized?

Appeasement was/is not an option; it didn't work before the 1914 or 1939 conflicts and neither did it work pre 2001. According to Lynch and Singh the al-Qaeda plot that resulted in 9/11 was hatched during the Clinton presidency. During a time when Clinton's American forces were bombing Serbian Christians in support of Bosnian Muslims. Bush's America joined a war already underway. al Qaeda itself declared war in 1996, for some the war was first declared in 1979 or 1945 while for some Islamists it has been going on for several centuries. Jihadist Muslims were at war with America not for what it does but for what it is, for its ideals. Finally appeasement doesn't work because like Communism, Islamism is not at war with the West in order to secure concessions but to replace it.

In After Bush Lynch and Singh deal with all aspects of US foreign policy and the arguments for and against. They deal with the negative assessments of the war on terror dividing them into three camps, namely- conservative/realist; left- liberal and the 'old' European. In counter argument, as can be seen from above, they present a positive audit. They consider the effectiveness of the United Nations or rather the incompetence of that establishment. In the same category they place the European Union, only NATO is worth the bother. They also examine the part trade plays and has played, in formulating US foreign policy; we all use oil don't we?

Reading the work during the early days of the Barack Obama presidency I found myself comparing their ideas with real time actions; I could certainly see the legitimacy of their argument. As always when people feel safer they turn on those who had the courage to take extreme decisions. Debates in the British parliament [24 June 2009] have centred on an inquiry into the Iraq war, should it be in camera or be held in public. One Liberal- Democrat who had marched with the 'stop the war coalition' to Trafalgar Square in February 2003, spoke of an illegal war; while a Plaid Cymru member wanted the British government to report itself to the International Court for Justice. In the same vein George W Bush, his actions and US foreign policy are decried. Lynch and Singh have considered the various American actors and associated actions not in isolation but as part of an ongoing structural process.

After Bush by Timothy J Lynch and Robert S Singh is a well argued alternative to the rash of condemning works that presently seek to command attention, due to the veracity of its arguments, it will, unlike them, stand the test of time.

Don Vincent
Copyright © Open University History Society, 2015