Was There a ‘Bush Doctrine’?

That is the question asked by the economists Barry Eichengreen (Berkeley) and Douglas A. Irwin (Dartmouth) in an NBER working paper called “International Economic Policy: Was There a Bush Doctrine?”

When it comes to foreign economic policy, their answer is an emphatic “no.” From their abstract:

While many political scientists and diplomatic historians see the Bush presidency as a distinctive epoch in American foreign policy, we argue that there was no Bush Doctrine in foreign economic policy. The Bush administration sought to advance a free trade agenda but could not avoid the use of protectionist measures at home — just like its predecessors. It foreswore bailouts of financially-distressed developing countries yet ultimately yielded to the perceived necessity of lending assistance — just like its predecessors. Not unlike previous presidents, President Bush also maintained a stance of benign neglect toward the country’s current account deficit. These continuities reflect long-standing structures and deeply embedded interests that the administration found impossible to resist.

And their conclusion:

[P]artisan differences notwithstanding, we still expect continuity to be the rule. The institutions and interests in which the policy-making process is embedded shape outcomes too powerfully for any other forecast to be credible.

Look at that first sentence in the conclusion again: “we still expect continuity to be the rule.” This may come as a disappointment to everyone who is voting in the upcoming presidential election with hopes of wholesale changes.

It’s not like the president doesn’t matter or anything like that; it’s just that — well, um, he/she ends up mattering a lot less than people might like to think.

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  1. browning says:

    Except for the part about lowering taxes and borrowing money to initiate a costly and unproductive war that previous presidents avoided because it was foolish. That’s the only doctrine Bush can claim.

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  2. John says:

    He’s an amoral, corrupt, criminal traitor.

    That’s his doctrine.

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  3. doug says:

    “the president doesn’t matter”

    Oh no. We all voted for change. And the caucus voters my wife was surrounded by didn’t have a clue to either candidates positions. They just felt is was “time for change”.

    My cynicism says, good luck to you all, but the next president will fail miserably. They have all been setup for failure.

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  4. Shawn K. says:

    I find it almost humorous that people like John see Bush in this sense. If you must resort to these ever so popular adjectives to describe Bush, please provide examples.

    Since post number two lacks any evidence I will argue why he is not amoral, corrupt or a criminal traitor.

    The Bush Doctrine has proved to be a moral one: African foreign aid. The Bush Doctrine has not been corrupt: Patriot Act and FISA courts have granted the Justice Department take preventative action at home to thwart any more terrorist attacks. The Bush Doctrine has not been evidence of Bush as a criminal traitor: I don’t really know what a “criminal traitor” is, but certainly we can look at Congress (Harry “war is lost” Reid) and find a “criminal traitor”.

    While I provide few examples to refute post number two, I open myself up for criticism. But at least I used examples to address the Bush Doctrine unlike some other readers of this amazing blog.

    As for post number one, in the late 1960’s President LBJ declared a War on Poverty. Talk about an unproductive war.

    Dubner, thank you for mentioning that in the end, a president matters less than people really think.

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  5. Rachel says:

    Great article, I am hoping for the best in the upcoming elections, but I still am not sure who I am going to vote for. Sometimes it feels like I have to pick a lesser of several evils. I just hope that somehow we can bring our economy back.

    Rachel Duncan
    The Baked blogger

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  6. Bored says:

    @Shawn K.: blah, blah, blah. The good folks at Townhall must be missing you.

    But since you made the effort to put pen to paper (so to speak), you should feel free to take credit for the War on Poverty’s lack of productivity. After all, Bush’s tax cuts went to the wealthy, not the working poor who (continue to) need them.

    There’s nothing sadder than a GOP sympathizer who decries the failure of social policies with his voice, while draining those policies’ very lifeblood with his vote.

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  7. Troy Camplin, Ph.D. says:

    Does anyone remember all the changes in foreign policy Bill CLinton had promised? Then, after being elected, there was that transitionary period, and in his inauguration speech, Clinton promised almost complete continuity with Bush’s foreign policy. I suspect that in their first meeting, Bush told Clinton, “All those promises you made sounded great, but now let me show you what the real world is like . . .” I’m no fan of Hillary, but let’s face it — she remembers what it was like in the White House when it came to foreign affairs. That’s why she was hesitant to back off her support of the Gulf War (you can tell she still doesn’t believe what she’s saying when she speaks against it), while Obama is (when he says anything at all) making all sort of ridiculous, unrealistic promises. But don’t worry — if he’s elected, nothing at all will change in foreign policy either.

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  8. Johnny E says:

    So did Bush’s Harvard MBA have any influence on his economic policies? How so?

    “It foreswore bailouts of financially-distressed developing countries …”

    The BBC reported on a scheme called Vulture Funds where shady investors loot aid money from developing countries.



    Has Bush taken steps to stop that?

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