The Bubble of American Supremacy: The Costs of Bush's War in Iraq / Edition 1

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Long known as "the world's only private citizen with a foreign policy," George Soros combines his razor-sharp sense of economic trends with his passionate advocacy for open societies and decency in world politics to come up with a workable, and severely critical, analysis of the Bush administration's overreaching, militaristic foreign policy.

Soros believes that this administration's plans abroad come from the same sort of "bubble" psychology that afflicted our markets in the late 1990s. They have used a real fact, our overwhelming military supremacy, to create a deluded worldview, that might makes right and that "you're either with us or against us," in the same way that the recent boom used a real fact, the growth in technology, to lead to a delusion, the "new economy."

Like the best of the books that have responded quickly to world events, The Bubble of American Supremacy has a clear, intriguing, comprehensive thesis that makes necessary, and compelling, order of our seemingly disordered world.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Financier George Soros excoriates the Bush administration for its policy of preemptive military action, likening it to a financial bubble perilously close to collapse and proposing constructive measures to reverse the process before it's too late.
Washington Post Book World
Soros's strength is in grasping the big picture, determining how he can make a difference, and succeeding in improving the world.
Publishers Weekly
Soros has made it his "primary objective to persuade the American public to reject President Bush in the forthcoming elections." This aspiration is immediately clear from the outset of his new book. The founder of Soros Fund Management (and author of The Crisis of Global Capitalism, etc.) gives sweeping critiques of the current administration and shows how its post-9/11 policy has pointed the country in a direction that he believes will lead to ruin. The book's major shortcoming is that it fails to add anything particularly new to this project, and is not always convincing. It's not clear, for instance, why a pact of signatories to the Warsaw Declaration for the development of democracy would be more effective than the U.N. in getting nations to put the common good above national interest. To his credit, Soros accurately presents the important dimensions of the "Bush Doctrine" foreign policy and its vision of America's role in the world. He is able to incorporate his expertise in areas of international finance and to give some interesting and unique insights, such as seeing American supremacy as the boom part of a boom-bust cycle. But neither simple explication nor periodic nuggets of wisdom make this a particularly good read. Overall, the book is clear, but it will do little to persuade an attentive American audience that they should vote Bush out in 2004. (Jan. 2) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Soros, a well-known financial expert and critic of uncontrolled global capitalism (The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered), extends his thesis to American foreign policy in this hastily written but passionately argued critique of the Bush administration's war on terror. A disciple of political philosopher Karl Popper, Soros believes that the "open society" requires private interests and communal interests to be in equilibrium. Though he supported the UN-backed U.S. attack on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Soros castigates the attack on Iraq because he believes that it was begun as an outgrowth of the neo-conservative ideology adopted by Bush to establish American supremacy rather than to fight terrorism and destroy weapons of mass destruction. The first half of the book is a spirited, highly politicized attack on Bush's foreign and economic policies, which Soros believes contradict American principles. In the second half, he proposes reasoned alternatives to current U.S. policy based on a balance between sovereignty and terror prevention on the one hand and cooperative initiatives and international assistance on the other. A provocative if somewhat repetitive work that is recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586482923
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 10/11/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

George Soros heads Soros Fund Management and is the founder of a global network of foundations dedicated to supporting open societies. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Crisis of Global Capitalism, Open Society, and George Soros on Globalization.

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Table of Contents

1 The Bush Doctrine 2
2 The War on Terror 17
3 The Bush Administration's Foreign Policy 31
4 The Iraqi Quagmire 51
5 The State of the Union 66
6 Improving the World Order 78
7 Sovereignty and Intervention 100
8 International Assistance 126
9 People's Sovereignty and Natural Resources 146
10 Historical Perspective 156
11 The Bubble of American Supremacy 176
Epilogue 189
App My Conceptual Framework 191
Index 205
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First Chapter

The Bush Doctrine

It is generally agreed that September 11, 2001, changed the course of history, but we must ask ourselves why that should be so. How could a single event, even if it involved three thousand civilian casualties, have such a far-reaching effect? The answer lies not so much in the event itself but in the way the United States, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, responded to it.

Admittedly, the terrorist attack was a historic event in its own right. Hijacking fully loaded airplanes and using them as suicide bombs was an audacious idea, and the execution could not have been more spectacular. The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center made a symbolic statement that reverberated around the world, and the fact that people could watch the event on their television sets endowed it with an emotional impact that no terrorist act had ever achieved before. The aim of terrorism is by definition to terrorize, and the attack of September 11 fully accomplished this objective. Most people in America were shaken to their core. They were affected both individually and collectively. Until then, the idea that the United States could be challenged on its own soil and that U.S. citizens may be personally vulnerable did not enter into Americans' consciousness. The attack shattered people's sense of security. A feeling of normalcy was replaced by a sense of emergency.

Even so, September 11, 2001, could not have changed the course of history to the extent that it has if President Bush had not responded to it the way he did. He declared war on terrorism and under that guise implemented a radical foreign policy agenda that predated the tragedy of September 11.

The underlying principles of this agenda can be summed up as follows: International relations are relations of power, not law; power prevails and law legitimizes what prevails. The United States is unquestionably the dominant power in the post-Cold War world; it is therefore in a position to impose its views, interests, and values on the world. The world would benefit from adopting American values because the American model has demonstrated its superiority. Under the previous administrations, however, the United States failed to use the full potential of its power. This has to be corrected. The United States must assert its supremacy in the world.

This view on foreign policy is part of a comprehensive ideology customarily referred to as neoconservatism, but I prefer to describe it as a crude form of social Darwinism. I call it crude because it ignores the role of cooperation in the survival of the fittest and puts all the emphasis on competition. In the economy, the competition is between firms; in international relations, it is between states. In economic matters, social Darwinism takes the form of market fundamentalism; in international relations, it leads to the pursuit of American supremacy.

Not all the members of the Bush administration subscribe to this ideology, but the neocons form an influential group within the executive branch and their influence greatly increased after September 11. Their ideas were succinctly stated in the 1997 mission statement of the Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative think tank and policy advocacy group. Already in 1992, under the first Bush administration, a similar memorandum had been prepared by the Defense Department, but it proved so controversial that it had to be dropped. It is worth quoting the 1997 mission statement and its signatories in full:*

statement of principles
American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America's role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budget that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.
We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.
As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital-both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements-built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations. As a consequence, we are jeopardizing the nation's ability to meet present threats and to deal with potentially greater challenges that lie ahead. We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration's success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.
Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.
Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

  • we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
  • we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
  • we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
  • we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.

Elliott Abrams
Gary Bauer
William J. Bennett
Jeb Bush
Dick Cheney
Eliot A. Cohen
Midge Decter
Paula Dobriansky
Steve Forbes
Aaron Friedberg
Francis Fukuyama
Frank Gaffney
Fred C. Ikle
Donald Kagan
Zalmay Khalilzad
I. Lewis Libby
Norman Podhoretz
Dan Quayle
Peter W. Rodman
Stephen P. Rosen
Henry S. Rowen
Donald Rumsfeld
Vin Weber
George Weigel
Paul Wolfowitz

In 1998, many of the same signatories sent to President Clinton an open letter in which they argued for the invasion of Iraq. Five years later, they were in charge of the invasion, Dick Cheney as vice president, Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz as his deputy, Zalmay Khalilzad as the envoy of the Pentagon, and the others as advocates and ideologues both inside and outside the government.* These people had a clear idea of the direction in which they wanted to take the country, and when the September 11 terrorist attacks presented an opportunity, they seized it without ever coming clean about all of their goals. The public is still not fully aware of this history.

Prior to September 11, 2001, the ideologues of the Project for the New American Century were hindered in implementing their strategy by two considerations. First, President Bush came to office without a clear mandate-he was elected president by a single vote on the Supreme Court. Second, America did not have a clearly defined enemy that would have justified a dramatic increase in military spending. The strategy advocated prior to September 11 was not identical with the one adopted afterward-it emphasized missile defense rather than the war on terrorism-but it was infused with the same spirit of seeking unilateral American dominance.

September 11 removed both obstacles in one stroke. President Bush declared war on terrorism, and the nation lined up behind its president. Then the Bush administration proceeded to exploit the terrorist attack for its own purposes. To silence criticism and keep the nation united behind the president, the administration deliberately fostered the fear that has gripped the country. It then used the war on terrorism to pursue its dream of American supremacy. That is how September 11 changed the course of history.

Exploiting an event to further an agenda is not inherently reprehensible. It is the task of the president to provide leadership, and it is only natural for politicians to twist, exploit, or manipulate events to promote their policies. The cause for concern is to be found in the policies that President Bush is promoting and in the way he is going about imposing them. President Bush is leading the United States and the world in a very dangerous direction.

Supremacist Ideology
The supremacist ideology of the Bush administration is in contradiction with the principles of an open society because it claims possession of an ultimate truth. It postulates that because we are stronger than others, we must know better and we must have right on our side. That is where religious fundamentalism comes together with market fundamentalism to form the ideology of American supremacy. The very first sentence of our latest national security strategy reads as follows: "The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom-and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise."

This statement is false on two counts. First, there is no single, sustainable model for national success. And second, the American model, which has been successful, is not available to others, because our success depends greatly on our dominant position at the center of the global capitalist system and we are not willing to yield this position to others.

The Bush doctrine, first enunciated in the president's speech at West Point in June 2002 and then incorporated in the national security strategy in September 2002, is built on two pillars: First, the United States will do everything in its power to maintain its unquestioned military supremacy and, second, the United States arrogates the right to preemptive action. Taken together, these two pillars support two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States, which takes precedence over international treaties and obligations, and the sovereignty of all other states, which is subject to the Bush doctrine. This is reminiscent of George Orwell's Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

To be sure, the Bush doctrine is not stated so starkly; it is buried in Orwellian doublespeak. The doublespeak is needed because of the contradiction between the Bush administration's concept of freedom and democracy and the actual principles of freedom and democracy. Talk of spreading democracy looms large in the national security strategy. When President Bush says, as he does frequently, that "freedom" will prevail, in fact he means that America will prevail. I am rather sensitive to Orwellian doublespeak because I grew up with it in Hungary first under Nazi and later Communist rule.

In his address to Congress nine days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, President Bush declared, "The advance of human freedom-the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of our time-now depends on us. Our nation-this generation-will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage."* In a free and open society, however, people are supposed to decide for themselves what they mean by freedom and democracy and not simply follow America's lead.

The contradiction has been brought home by the current occupation of Iraq. We came as liberators bringing "freedom and democracy," but that is not how we are perceived by a large part of the population. The military part of the campaign went better than could have been expected, but the occupation turned into a disaster.
The dearth of thought given to, and preparation for, the aftermath of the invasion is truly amazing, especially when so many critics had been so vocal in warning about the difficulties. It can be explained only by a confusion in the mind of President Bush, which has been exploited by the advocates of the Iraqi invasion. President Bush equates freedom with American values. He has a simplistic view of what is right and what is wrong: We are right and they are wrong. This is in contradiction with the principles of open society, which recognize that we may be wrong.

It is ironic that the government of the most successful open society in the world should have fallen into the hands of ideologues who ignore the first principles of open society. Who would have thought sixty years ago, when Karl Popper wrote Open Society and Its Enemies, that the United States itself could pose a threat to open society? Yet that is what is happening, both internally and internationally. At home, Attorney General John Ashcroft has used the war on terrorism to curtail civil liberties. Abroad, the United States is trying to impose its views and interests on the rest of the world by the use of military force, and it has proclaimed its right to do so in the Bush doctrine.

The invasion of Iraq was the first practical application of the Bush doctrine, and it turned out to be counterproductive. A chasm has opened between America and the rest of the world. That is what Osama Bin Laden must have been hoping for. By declaring war on terrorism and invading Iraq, President Bush has played right into the terrorists' hands.

September 11 introduced a discontinuity into American foreign policy. It created a sense of emergency that the Bush administration skillfully exploited for its own purposes. Violations of American standards of behavior that would have been considered objectionable in normal times came to be accepted as appropriate to the circumstances, and the president has become immune to criticism, because it would be unpatriotic to criticize him when the nation is at war with terrorism. Contrary to the mission statement of the Project for the New American Century, our policies did not strengthen our ties to our democratic allies; on the contrary, they stand in the way of international cooperation. There has been an unprecedented rift between the United States and what Donald Rumsfeld calls "old Europe," because the United States demands unquestioning subservience from its allies. Some, like French President Jacques Chirac, resisted even to the point of endangering French national interests; others, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, aligned themselves with us in the hope of modifying our behavior, but they have found themselves in an untenable position with regard to their electorates. It is difficult for a democracy like Britain to be allied with a country determined to act unilaterally.

The discontinuity was brought about by the Bush administration's carrying to extremes certain ideological tendencies that were already present in the United States before President Bush came into office. Ever since Senator Barry Goldwater's candidacy, the Republican Party has come under the domination of a curious alliance between religious fundamentalists and market fundamentalists. The two groups feed off each other-religious fundamentalism provides both an antidote to and a cover for the amorality of the market. Market fundamentalists and religious fundamentalists make strange bedfellows, but they have been held together by their success: Together they came to dominate the Republican Party.

Until recently, the natural complement of market fundamentalism in the foreign policy area has been geopolitical realism, which maintains that states should-and do-pursue their national interests. The pursuit of American supremacy is a wild extrapolation of that idea, reflecting America's success as the sole remaining superpower. The neoconservatives add a dose of proselytizing zeal that is lacking in geopolitical realists. Necons regard the American model of national success as superior to all others and want the rest of the world to benefit from it. That is the origin of the quaint idea that we can introduce democracy to a country like Iraq by military force. Although they were influential, the advocates of American supremacy could not have their way until the terrorists struck on September 11. That is when American foreign policy entered what I call far-from-equilibrium territory. The country is now in the grip of an extremist ideology that is changing not only America's role in the world but the very character of the country. I call it extremist because I do not believe that it corresponds to the beliefs and values of the majority of Americans. Both the executive and the legislative branches of government are dominated by the same attitude, and President Bush is mounting a campaign to impose it on the judiciary. Disagreement is not tolerated. Government is run in a more authoritarian and ruthless manner than ever before. The moderate core of the Republican Party is being progressively eviscerated.* Criticism, which is essential to an open society, is stifled by being treated as unpatriotic. The policies of the Bush administration do not only affect America's posture in the world; domestically, they favor the rich to the detriment of the middle class and the poor and they reinforce the unholy alliance between the state and big business that was first identified by President Eisenhower as the military-industrial complex.

People are not aware of how dramatic the changes are, partly because the changes are seen as the continuation of tendencies that have been in effect for some time and partly because they are seen as a concomitant of the war on terrorism. Yet September 11 marks a transition when the abnormal, the radical, and the extreme became redefined as normal.

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