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Obama Repudiates Bush Doctrine in Annapolis Speech

May 22, 2009

On Friday, President Obama addressed the graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy. In promising to "maintain America's military dominance," Obama also signaled a clear break with his predecessor's Manichean worldview and the Bush doctrine of preemptive war. As it turns out, George W. Bush debuted those discredited concepts seven years ago during a service academy commencement address of his own, his speech to the West Point class of 2002.
Obama's repudiation of Bush's aggressive unilateralism was evident in a pledge he made to the midshipmen and their families in Annapolis:

"And today, this is the promise I make to you. It's a promise that as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy and the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done). This includes the job of bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end and pursuing a new comprehensive strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And to get you the support you need, we're enlisting all elements of our national power -- our diplomacy and development, our economic might and our moral suasion -- so that you and the rest of our military do not bear the burden of our security alone."

The contrast with the 43rd president could not have been more stark. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush introduced the first of the three pillars of his Bush Doctrine, namely no safe havens for terrorists. Later, as the myriad rationales for war in Iraq evaporated, Bush turned to democracy promotion as a central tenet of his foreign policy. But on June 1, 2002, Bush used his speech at West Point to crystallize his vision of preemption by the United States:

"We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long - Our security will require transforming the military you will lead -- a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."

But Bush was not content to stop there. Four months after he famously proclaimed an "Axis of Evil" and just weeks after American interrogators began waterboarding Abu Zubaydah with the blessing of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, President Bush articulated a good versus evil worldview which would come to excuse any atrocity committed in its name:

"Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods but not different moralities. Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong. Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong.
There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil. And America will call evil by its name.
By confronting evil and lawless regimes we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it."

Speaking one day after former Vice President Dick Cheney mocked "lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values," President Obama reminded the Annapolis graduates that they, too, "swear a similar oath, not only to protect and defend the American people, but the Constitution of the United States." That oath, Obama suggested, required them as Americans both to obey the Constitution and to decry evil supposedly perpetated in its defense:

"Yesterday I visited the National Archives and the halls that holds our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, and our Bill of Rights. I went there because, as our national debate on how to deal with the security challenge that we face proceeds, we must remember this enduring truth: The values and ideals in those documents are not simply words written into aging parchment, they are the bedrock of our liberty and our security. We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to; not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe and keep us true to who we are.
Because when America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies, it energizes our adversaries, and it endangers our national security and the lives of our troops. So as Americans, we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals. We can and we must and we will protect both."

To his great credit, George W. Bush declared in March that President Obama "deserves my silence." As for the Bush Doctrine that bears his name, it is similarly little spoken of now. But just in case there was any doubt, President Obama in Annapolis today brought down the curtain on that sad chapter President Bush wrote at West Point seven years ago.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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