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.

Johnny E

In regards to Shawn K, I would posit that there would be no black middle-class now without Johnson's War on Poverty. It worked while it lasted, until the costs of Vietnam stopped it, unfinished. Don't believe the spin the right-wing ideaologs put on it.

Can the Freakonomicists work up some numbers on that?

Perhaps they can also work up some numbers on how many Bush officials indirectly enriched themselves at government expense. How is Halliburton and Exxon stock doing since Bush took office? Bush seems to be continuing the Reagan Doctrine of "now that our guy is in office let's get a job with the government and loot the treasury".

In Comtempt Of the Public: Reagan's team is eclipsing its predecessors when it comes to unethical conduct, corruption. A Baedeker of Scandal -
Newsday - Long Island, N.Y.
Author: By Mark Green and Peter H. Stone.
Date: Jun 28, 1987

Shawn K.

I certainly did open myself up for criticism.


I think it would be a good thing that certain policies continue from president to president. It makes our policies more consistent. If a policy is good, then it should continue from one president to the next. If a policy is bad, sometimes it is better to continue it and gradually curtail, than to stop all at once. For example, the IRAQ war, it was a bad idea, but it may be worse to just pull out all at once.


I guess gaing critical leverage over Iraq's oil, enhancing thier relationship with Opec. Then alowing Opec to turn off the spicket, charge $110 a barrel and letting our oil companies be the middle men doesn't qualify. It's to bad we can't pay Bush as much as the Saudi's do.


shame on the 'economists' for labelling the administration's handling of the account deficit as "benign neglect"- not only oxymoronic, but furthering 'laissez faire' propaganda which the investment banks have used to drive the credit markets to bankruptcy- would these astute analysts also label the Reagan administration's handling of the S+L corruption as "benign neglect"?!- perhaps their other-worldy threshold of negligence starts when the taxpayers are coerced into handing over 1Tril to refinance the looted market


Um. Actually, the President is the head executive of the Executive Branch. You know, the part of government that is tasked with executing the law? The power of the Presidency seems to be the only "Bush Doctrine," which is being so audacious with signing statements (Bush has used them 750 times to declare he can disobey laws signed by himself), blatant disregard for the rule of law (claiming the FISA courts didn't work so he avoided judicial review), obstructing justice (they lost huge amounts of email from the time period that the Iraq War was being cooked up) and supporting 580 earmarks(including $8.9 million for Bush I's Million Points of Light program, and $24 million for Laura Bush's 21st Century Librarian Program).

So yes, Bush is the most corrupt president since Grant, the most power hungry since Nixon and is probably on par with Buchanan in terms of addressing the needs of the nation (Katrina anyone?).

Seriously- History will judge Bush. And it's already starting.



Yes, there was most definitely a "Bush Doctrine."

Very simply, under Bush, for better or worse, we moved from using our military only if first attacked...to using our military preemptively.

This has, of course, caused much consternation. And while I am a pretty strong critic of Bush, I have to admit that in these times when a "first attack" could mean (and did mean) the loss of thousands of people, we ought to have in our arsenal the protocol of striking preemptively anytime we deem it in our national interests.

There should certainly be some additional protocols placed around this, to ensure that we don't just strike at the President's whim (ouch!) or for anything less than a true threat, etc., but we can no longer afford to let the other person in the duel fire first.

Further, we should ensure that if we are going to attack (as in Iraq), we have an actual plan in place to make it work.

So, yes, Bush Doctine is "the right to preemptive war."

Of course, if we really meant that, we'd have bombed Iran or North Korea instead of Iraq.



I find it amusing that there are still "people" out there who deny the criminality of the Bush administration. In response to Shawn (#4) I want say 2 things:

1. John (#2) didn't really need to explicitly mention the examples of Bush's criminal and traitorous activities, such as Scooter libby, faked intelligence, the Iraq war, the suspension of habeas corpus in the Military Commissions Act and many many others, the list is endless. But I guess if you still didn't get it by now, then all hope is lost here.

2. Contrary to your assertion, your examples have not refuted anything. You cannot refute someone's criminality by example in the first place. That's like saying Timothy McVeigh is not a criminal, because he bought ice cream on Jun12, 1992.

Go ahead and try to deny the accusations, but I trust that the majority of readers are savvy enough to make up their own minds. As for my part, I am done with Bush, since he will soon go down in history as the worst president of all times. It's time to look forward and to hope that the majority of Americans have become wiser. If you want to engage in twisting and distorting his legacy, then I guess you derive some sort of gratification from it.

Maybe a last word on the Bush doctrine: By my understanding the Bush doctrine (like its predecessors) described a policy of unilateralism and preemptive military strikes (euphemism for imperialism) and international dominance through interference in foreign nations in the areas of space, high technology and others. So in short, yes, there is evidence of a Bush doctrine, and there is also evidence that it was a complete failure both politically and economically. But apparently my understanding of the Bush doctrine differs somewhat from this article. I am aware that the promotion of democracy was used as a justification for foreign intervention, but that's just a means of extending the mission beyond self-defense and catching terrorists to regime change. A pattern that we have seen in the run-up to the Iraq war, when at least 5 different reasons were used to justify this historic blunder. When you look at the history, leading from the Wolfowitz doctrine and the Project for a New American Century to the Bush doctrine, it becomes clear that the goal of promoting democracy is mainly just a means to expand the reasons for political intervention, because the documents really are mainly interested in America's strategic position in the world. Frankly, I haven't heard of the promotion of free trade as being one of the goals of the Bush doctrine, but I guess there is a first time for everything.


Shawn K.

Listen Bored, I'm not going to sit here and completely defend Bush and his economic policy. But let's face it, he's not the sole agent of the economy. I guess I didn't express that in my previous post. One of the points I take from Dubner's entry is that its really easy for people to point fingers at one man because he is the front for the country.

Bush has been a target ever since he has taken office and that bullseye has become bigger and bigger every year since he has been in office. Has he been a great president? History will judge. Has he been a failure? I do not think so.

I don't know the exact breakdown of the tax cuts, but if somebody with a bit more tax expertise than myself could confirm...haven't the tax cuts actually resulted in more revenue by the federal government? And people still forget, the "wealthy" are still taxed out the rear.

Jon Peltier

This is an interesting follow-up to "Do Presidents Matter". If you look at the foreign policy doctrine and the economic non-doctrine, you can say that bad presidents matter a lot. Good ones, if they exist, probably have a hard time getting over the barriers to goodness.


@Shawn K:

How many people were killed in the War on Poverty? How much hatred did the War on Poverty create toward the US?

How come conservatives and others are so afraid of terrorist attacks? If 911 happened every year, you would still be 16x more likely to be killed in a car accident.


I'm with Eli on this one. To be quite frank, nowhere in the history of the United States have the private interests of friends of the administration (and even members of the administration themselves) been so BLATANT about gaining profitable footholds abroad. At least everyone since the 70's has *tried* to keep it on the DL.


Troy Camplin, Ph.D.

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.


@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.

Johnny E

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?

Shawn K.

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.



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


"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.


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.


He's an amoral, corrupt, criminal traitor.

That's his doctrine.