[Note: After reading a recent article that called into question my opposition to the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, I wanted to state my position clearly to set the record straight. I appreciate that the editors of Common Dreams have given me this opportunity.]
When Congress approved the President’s authorization to go to war in Iraq – no matter how well-intentioned – it was giving the green light to the President to set his Doctrine of preemptive war in motion. It now appears that Iraq was just the first step. Already, the Bush Administration is apparently eyeing Syria and Iran as the next countries on its target list. The Bush Doctrine must be stopped here.
Many in Congress who voted for this resolution should have known better. On September 23, 2002, Al Gore cautioned in his speech in San Francisco that “if the Congress approves the Iraq resolution just proposed by the Administration it is simultaneously creating the precedent for preemptive action anywhere, anytime this or any future president so decides.” And that is why it was such a big mistake for Congress to allow the president to set this dangerous precedent.
Too much is at stake. We have taken decades of consensus on the conduct of foreign policy – bipartisan consensus in the United States and consensus among our allies in the world community – and turned it on its head. It could well take decades to repair the damage this President and his cohort of right-wing ideological advisors have done to our standing in the international community.
Theirs is a radical view of our role in the world. The President who campaigned on a platform of a humble foreign policy has instead begun implementing a foreign policy characterized by dominance, arrogance and intimidation. The tidal wave of support and goodwill that engulfed us after the tragedy of 9/11 has dried up and been replaced by undercurrents of distrust, skepticism and hostility by many who had been among our closest allies.
This unilateral approach to foreign policy is a disaster. All of the challenges facing the United States – from winning the war on terror and containing weapons of mass destruction to building an open world economy and protecting the global environment – can only be met by working with our allies. A renegade, go-it-alone approach will be doomed to failure, because these challenges know no boundaries.
The largest, most sophisticated military in the history of the world cannot eliminate the threat of sleeper terrorist cells. That task requires the highest level of intelligence cooperation with our allies.
Even the largest, most sophisticated military in the history of the world cannot be expected to go to war against every evil dictator who may possess chemical weapons. This calls for an aggressive and effective diplomatic effort, conducted in full cooperation with a united international community, and preferably with the backing of the multilateral institutions we helped to build for just this purpose. This challenge requires treaties – such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – that this Administration has sometimes treated cavalierly. In any case, war should be a last resort or an option to be used in the face of an imminent threat.
The UN Charter specifically protects the right of self-defense against armed attack, and most agree that action against imminent threat is also justified. As President – as has been the case with all previous presidents – I would not hesitate to use our military might to protect our people or our nation from an imminent threat. But you will not find a Dean Administration turning to the option of force in the first instance as this President does.
The immediate task at hand of the next president will be to begin rebuilding our relationships with our allies so that we can work in concert on tackling these challenges.
The next president will need to undo the work of this band of radicals currently controlling our foreign policy – who view the Middle East as a laboratory for their experiments in democracy-building, where no such traditions exist. Their approach will drastically change the view that the world has had of the United States.
Our nation should be viewed as a moral and just power, a power that seeks to do good, one that has led by example and with a spirit of generosity, and one that works with the world community in advancing the ideals of human dignity and rule of law across the globe.
The people of this country must understand that this Administration has a far different concept of the role of America in the world. This concept involves imposing our will on sovereign nations. This concept involves dismantling the multilateral institutions that we have spent decades building. And this concept involves distorting the rule of law to suit their narrow purposes. When did we become a nation of fear and anxiety when we were once known the world around as a land of hope and liberty?
On day one of a Dean Presidency, I will reverse this attitude. I will tear up the Bush Doctrine. And I will steer us back into the company of the community of nations where we will exercise moral leadership once again.
And not only will I seek to heal the divisions this President has caused in the world community, but I would also begin the process of healing the divisions he has exploited here at home.
This President shamelessly divides us from one another. He divides us by race – as he did when he claimed that the University of Michigan uses quotas in its law school admissions. He divides us by class by rewarding his campaign donors with enormous tax cuts while the rest of us are deprived of affordable health care, prescription drugs for our seniors, and good schools for our kids. He divides us by gender by seeking to restrict reproductive choice for women. He divides us by sexual orientation by appointing reactionary judges to the bench, and as he did in Texas by refusing to sign the Hate Crimes bill if it included gay or lesbian Americans as potential victims.
It is a Bush Doctrine of domestic division, and I want to be the President who tears that doctrine up, too. I want to restore a sense of community in this country – where it’s not enough to worry whether your own kids have health care, but whether your neighbors’ kids have health care. I want to go to the South and talk about race. White southerners have been flocking to the Republican Party in recent years, but I want to offer them hope that their children will benefit from better schools and affordable health care, too. The Republican Party has done nothing for working people, black or white, and we need to remind Southern white folks that the only hope for better schools, and better job opportunities, and health care that is affordable is a Democratic President.
I am what is commonly referred to as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I am proud of the fact that as Governor I routinely balanced the budget – which I was not required to do by Vermont’s constitution – and paid down our state debt by nearly a quarter. I had to make tough decisions, and I will admit that some of them did not make the progressive community happy. But I made those decisions because I have a guiding principle that social justice must rest upon a foundation of fiscal discipline. Because of that approach to governance, Vermont today is not cutting education and is not cutting Medicaid despite the perilous economic times brought on by the Bush fiscal policies.
One of my goals as a Presidential candidate is to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party – a line made popular by the late Paul Wellstone. Some have questioned why I would so closely align myself with a politician whose politics were considerably more liberal than mine. The fact is that I admired Paul Wellstone greatly, not only because of his politics, but because he stood up for his beliefs and fought for them until the day he died. I can only hope that someday people will say the same about me – that I, too, remained true to my core principles no matter what. I believe that the Democratic Party needs to stand for something if we want people to vote for us. And by standing against the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war and domestic division, we may yet rediscover the soul of our Party.
Howard Dean's campaign website is www.deanforamerica.com