Roundtable Review: Lynch and Singh's "After Bush"

The following post examines After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy by Timothy J. Lynch and Robert S. Singh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). It features reviews by Oz Hassan (University of Birmingham), Clea Lutz Bunch (University of Arkansas at Little Rock), Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham), and Mitchell Lerner (Ohio State University). The post concludes with a reponse by authors Tim Lynch (Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London) and Rob Singh (Birkbeck, University of London).

By Oz Hassan, University of Birmingham

In the current “Anything-But-Bush” environment, this is a very provocative and controversial book. The central conclusions that Lynch and Singh present are that the Bush doctrine is a continuation of a US foreign policy tradition, is highly successful and should be continued. As such their arguments are interesting and important but make for incredibly uncomfortable reading. Not only is the book uncompromising, but it is sure to prove divisive because of the antagonistic manner that the authors continuously challenge “Realists” and “left- liberals” assumptions.

As one can imagine, to defend the books central conclusions requires doing so on multiple fronts. Indeed the book valiantly tries to deal with the most dominant critical arguments presented against the Bush doctrine. These vary from the decision to cast the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as an “act of war”, the decision to invade Iraq, the cost of the war, the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq, the conflict between security and liberties, democratic enlargement in the Middle East region, how US policy should face Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, and the future of American Primacy. Dealing with such a wide variety of issues provides a holistic defence of the Bush doctrine, which is greatly reinforced by a consistently superb understanding of US culture.

However what the book covers in breath, it is left wanting in analytical depth. As such there appears to be a temperament being put forward, rather than a robust methodology that guides the reader towards sound premises and conclusions. This is evident in the failure to develop a theory of political continuity and change, and masked in the assertion that “‘Tradition’ as a concept, is difficult to define with precision… [and] invariably involves the scholar in this often fuzzy realm of analysis”. This leaves the text without a theoretical structure that can be referred back to, whilst allowing the authors to be extremely unclear over issues of nuance.

Yet the failure to adopt a theoretical structure does allow a common thread to appear throughout the book’s arguments. A Hobbesian temperament is often present that relies on the bottom line passions of fear and desire to persuade the reader. Once understood in this way the varied elements in the book can be drawn together to suggest a more coherent rationale. This is highly evident in the manner in which the book begins by framing the debate with a fictitious announcement from a future president. The narrative espoused is one in which the United States has attacked Iran with nuclear weapons, in retaliation for nuclear strikes on Washington, Los Angeles, and New York. What is interesting about this faming is that it sits uncomfortably with the notion of “political science”, appealing instead to the imagination and a fear of violent death.

Within this framework “conceivability” is used as a justification for policy, which is very different from rigorous sound analysis of intelligence. Where there is the slightest possibility of a terrorists-technology-tyranny triad then the US is seen to have carte blanche on how it responds. The paramount role of government, it is argued, is to protect the nation at all cost and with any methods; whether deemed internationally legal or not. This includes the use of preventative force which is seen as “a tool” and not a last resort, but also the use of military tribunals and coercive interrogation.

Yet there are more serious paradoxes and problems in the book. Notably three interrelated problems stand out. Firstly, there is a failure to see power in deontic terms. Throughout the book power is defined in terms of military and economic resources. This is most prominently demonstrated when referring to American primacy and William Wohlforth’s observations on measuring power (p.266). To this extent the book plays down the importance of rights, duties, obligations, commitments, authorizations, requirements, permissions and privileges. This writes out the type, and role, of power that exists as long as it is acknowledged, recognised, or otherwise accepted. For the authors results matter more than methods, and “strength” is demonstrated predominantly through confrontation. Yet it is argued that one of the goals of the war on terror (or as the authors refer to it “the Second Cold War”), is not to win hearts and minds but to change them. Such change is seen as possible through US acts of aggression and a monopoly on violence. Indeed the Iraq war, which is termed “necessary”, is seen to have faltered because of tactical military mistakes but remains an “unsound application of a sound doctrine”. Yet there is silence over the issues concerning the use of violence and the effects that this has on strategically selective actor’s cognitions. Such consideration is dismissed through the assertion that “the war is not a public relations exercise”. Without acknowledging the role deontic power plays in foreign relations it is difficult to see how to stop a cycle of violence from occurring. It is difficult to see how one can change minds through violence, especially when such acts help reproduce counter productive narratives and perceived injustice.

Secondly, there is a problematic representation of the US approach to democratising the Greater Middle East. The authors argue that the Bush administration has adopted a quest for human freedom over regional stability, and that this represents the long term solution for winning the war on terror. Indeed it is argued that “the second cold war on Islamist terror is premised on such logic”. The argument put forward is that poor governance is “the enemy” and as long as there is a fear of proliferation then democratization will be adopted as the long term solution. Arab Tyrannies will be weakened by denying stability for their survival. Yet if one looks at the most rigorous research on this issue from authors such as Tamara Coffman Wittes and Thomas Carothers, the reality is that the primary goal of US-MENA relations is stability first and gradual liberalisation to secure regional allies. Indeed this has been a consistent critique from former Bush insiders such as J. Scott Carpenter, who headed the flagship Middle East reform program from the State Department.

Thirdly, the book fails to engage with any distinctions and first order questions about the freedom, democracy and liberalisation agenda that the Bush administration is/should be pursuing. It appears at times that such terms are conflated. The result of this is that a serious contradiction appears, where the authors argue that American primacy over the region is (and should remain) a policy goal at the same time as attempting to increasing freedom/democracy/liberalisation. Yet domination and freedom are surely uncomfortable bed fellows. Throughout the book it appears that aggression is justified in terms “liberation” and the “foreigner’s gift of democracy”, leading to rather Orwellian moments of ‘War is Peace’ because of American benevolence and security interests. The empirical implications of this contradiction are all too evident. Accordingly the author’s assert that Iraq should be a place for US troops for years to come. However in this “liberated nation” and newly “democratic” country, the authors give little consideration that such a decision should be made by the Iraqi government, and not Washington DC

These three related issues raise serious questions about the conclusions that the book draws. Ultimately the authors represent the war on terror as the start of an epochal struggle. Yet the failure to see the role of deontic power closes down alternative policy directions; the power/change nexus is consequently far too intrinsically linked to the barrel of a gun. Moreover, to mask power in terms of liberation and then call for an Islamic Reformation, where liberalism and ‘Islam’ suddenly synthesis, remains dubious. Especially when in reality primacy is America’s policy goal. To this extent the authors may in fact have underplayed the level of continuity in US- Middle Eastern relations; regional stability remains the overall emphasis of US policy. Nevertheless if one is inclined to agree with any of the conclusions in the book, it is that the Bush doctrine will continue under the next administration. Yet it is important to add the caveat that this is reliant on the next administration seeing violence as a tool and believing that they alone have a monopoly on essentially contested terms such as freedom, democracy and liberalisation.

By Clea Lutz Bunch, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Criticizing the Bush Administration has been elevated to the level of an American national sport. The millions of people who re-elected President Bush in November 2004 have conveniently evaporated and been replaced by a multitude of pundits decrying his policies. American bookstores are filled with popular monographs which dissect and condemn the Bush Administration’s inept handling of the Iraq War. Thus, despite my agreement with those who criticize the president’s hasty invasion of Iraq, I looked forward to reading an alternative view. After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy by Timothy J. Lynch and Robert S. Singh promised to provide a revisionist account of Bush’s foreign policy; unfortunately, it failed to offer this perspective with objective, scholarly analysis. This work is deeply flawed on a number of levels.

First of all, Lynch and Singh propose a number of theses that fail to stand up to scrutiny. The authors argue that the Bush Doctrine is far from unique, but instead reflects continuity with past administrations. Yet they undermine their own argument, writing that “Bush’s response was to reject the ‘narrow realism’ of his father’s administration and the ‘wishful liberalism’ of Clinton in favour of a ‘distinctly American internationalism.’ This married Wilsonian ideals to realist means, focusing on regime change in addition to containment, prevention as well as deterrence, and preserving American primacy.” (p.196) If, as the authors imply, Bush crafted a unique approach to foreign policy, does this not undermine the thesis of continuity?

In addition, the authors consistently refer to the War on Terror as “the Second Cold War,” but fail to prove that parallels exist between the current struggle against extremism and the Cold War. Their attempts to construct analogies justifying the term “Second Cold War” are weak and involve convoluted logic. For instance, they argue that the Second Cold War resembles the first because there is “Disagreement about the appropriate historical point at which they commenced.” Yet scholars disagree about the timelines of most historical eras; does this indicate that they all resemble the Cold War? The Cold War differed from the current battle against extremism in many concrete ways: It involved two superpowers, not an asymmetrical conflict between one superpower and amorphous terrorist organizations; the essential threat of the Cold War was mutually assured destruction, not a devastating but geographically limited terrorist attack; and the enemy could be engaged with substantial dialogue and negotiations during the Cold War, while the non-state actors in the current struggle are outside the bounds of traditional diplomacy. Thus, the term “Second Cold War,” which the authors use liberally throughout their book, seems inappropriate.

Echoing the voice of Bush Administration spokespersons, the authors refuse to separate the attacks of September 11 from the war in Iraq. They insist on perpetuating the idea that Saddam attacked the United States. Yet President Bush originally justified the invasion of Iraq by claiming that Saddam had significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; the Iraqi dictator could not be connected to the attacks of September 11. It was only after the invasion, when no weapons were uncovered, that Bush changed his statements, arguing that the goal of the war was regime change as a component of the overall War on Terror. This distinction is important, because the authors base many of their arguments on the false premise that Iraq attacked the United States. Or so it would seem when they make statements like “Few ‘rogue states’ have attacked the United States or severely compromised its interests without suffering regime change as a consequence.” (p.89)

To verify their ideas, the authors used so many leaps in logic, convoluted arguments, and unsubstantiated assertions that I found myself dizzy trying to make sense of their analysis. The book contained many factual errors and distortions of history that seem mildly manipulative, such as, “Americans have had many reasons to demand better security. The war of 1812, the Alamo, Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbour, 9/11—none of these assaults violated a perfect security.” (p.28) Lynch and Singh need to review some of the basic facts of American history before they include the Alamo and Fort Sumter in this list of foreign attacks on Americans. The book is fraught with errors and spurious associations that undermine the authors’ credibility. Other assertions are downright ridiculous, like the idea that “the term ‘reconciliation’ has no equivalent in Arabic.” (p.168) Apparently this statement is meant to indicate something about the recalcitrance of Arab culture; however, it is completely false. There are several Arabic words that can be used to indicate “reconciliation,” tasalih being the first one to come to mind.

Lynch and Singh’s overt partisanship becomes quite transparent when they gloss over some of the most egregious blunders of the Bush Administration, with statements like, “George Bush’s declaration of a ‘crusade’ on September 16, 2001 was only superficially controversial: crusades are basic and regularized phenomena in American public policy—foreign and domestic….Not to have spoken in similar terms after the Twin Towers fell would have been extraordinary.” (p.44) The authors’ obvious desire to exonerate George Bush at every turn gives them the aura of Bush partisans, not objective scholars. The authors also mischaracterize the opinions of their opponents, setting up straw men that are easy to knock down. Realism is reduced to “what makes Arabs happy fulfills American national interests” a ludicrous statement that manages to insult both realists and Arabs simultaneously. (p.93)

Lynch and Singh even attempt to justify actions that should be universally condemned: “It is no surprise to find that messy campaigns, like Iraq, within the wider Second Cold War, and ugly features of the war, like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, offend the people they are meant to liberate. Saddam, of course, tortured and killed several thousand Muslims (mostly Shiites and Kurds) at Abu Ghraib but achieved less infamy in the Muslim world for doing so than did America’s temporary use of the prison.” (p.94) Are the authors are implying that Iraqis should not criticize American military depredations, so long as they do not meet the heinous standards set by Saddam? According to the authors, American actions (good or bad) are irrelevant anyway because “The Islamist world view is essentially immune to US behavior.” (p.95)

The book took on a truly disturbing tone when the authors endorsed Sam Harris’s assertions in The End of Faith, that “We are at war with Islam” and that “Unless Muslims can reshape their religion into an ideology that is basically benign—or outgrow it altogether—it is difficult to see how Islam and the West can avoid falling into a continual state of war….” Lynch and Singh fail to substantiate these bigoted claims with an explanation of how moderate Muslims (the vast majority) pose a threat to the West by quietly practicing their religion on a daily basis. (p.208, p. 225)

In their rush to condemn “Islamists” (a term which I loathe—imagine referring to “Christianists” or “Judaists”) Lynch and Singh forget that the United States is in a struggle to undermine their support systems. Islamic fundamentalists cannot sustain their organizations without significant assistance from moderates in the Middle East. By spreading war and chaos throughout the region, policymakers have persuaded many moderates that violence is the only effective response to American aggression. Lynch and Singh are correct in their assertion that radicals cannot be converted with promises of aid and friendship, but policymakers can appeal to moderates and undermine the support systems that sustain radical groups.

The authors also use insulting terms to target their opponents in academia. They claim that western university students are “rarely schooled in economics” and that “Some of their professors continue to recycle the Marxism that, as students themselves, led them onto the streets in greater numbers but with no greater wisdom, a generation ago.” pp.(34-35) Lynch and Singh chastise the “self-doubting liberal left” for their “shrill anti-Bushism.” (p.86) This is hardly the language of objective scholarly discourse.

In conclusion, I think that Lynch and Singh can be commended for attempting to broaden the scholarly discourse on the subject of the Bush Administration, but I believe their approach is heavy-handed: fraught with partisan language, unclear argumentation, and unsupported theses. Their work will doubtlessly inspire more revisionist accounts of Bush’s policies; I look forward to viewing these alternative perspectives as they become available.

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

When I was asked to review After Bush by Timothy J. Lynch and Robert S. Singh, I promised myself (and the somewhat nervous review editors) that I would seek a constructive response. I knew this was a challenge: Lynch and Singh have set out to be provocative rather than informative, promising a “forceful rebuttal of Bush’s critics”, included contorted, misguided “realists”, the anti-American “liberal left”, and “European/Venusians”. Accompanied by a slick website promotion and blurbs from the Washington network (David Frum of “Axis of Evil” fame, Richard Perle, torture advocate John Yoo), this is a 400-page challenge to critics of recent US foreign policy: Have a Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough.

Yet, having read the book soon after its launch in the spring and re-read it in September en route to European/Venusian Norway, I find that penning a measured response is not the issue. No, the possibly insurmountable quest is finding any meaningful engagement --- academic or political --- with Lynch and Singh’s argument.

The book’s historical framework can’t be engaged because the fragments here are speculative, unsupported, or flat-out wrong.[1] It’s never a good sign when a book opens with the futurist counter-factual, in this case, a Presidential speech of 19 June 2016 after an Iranian-supported nuclear attack on Washington, Los Angeles, and New York. However, concern turns to despair when the authors’ historical rationalisation is that George W. Bush is exactly like Harry S. Truman, two good ol’ boys transcending unprecedented unpopularity at the end of their White House years when we recognise their “reinvigoration of America’s grand strategy and world role, supported by a far-reaching reorganization of the federal government itself”.(p.5)

Leave aside the near-magical transformation from “First Cold War” to “Second Cold War”, from Communism to “jihadist Islam”, from a geopolitical context with the Soviet Union to “a global war on Islamist terror”. There is no substance to Lynch/Singh’s history. A chapter on “Bush and the American Foreign Policy Traditions” consists of mere assumptions: the US frontier leads to “atomistic social freedom”, that US ideology, unlike that of European countries, is dedicated “to a proposition that all people have rights given not by government but by God”, that “the link of America’s trading prowess with its search for security is a fundamental part of a foreign political tradition”. This grand survey is underpinned by quotes from Alexis De Tocqueville, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Abraham Lincoln but forgets to mention, let alone analyse or critique, a single incident, policy, or strategic concept except this: “In 1919 [Woodrow Wilson] warned the British government to abandon the expectation of preferential treatment on the basis of kinship.”(p.36)

Can Lynch and Singh’s purported legal framework, set out in their chapter “The Constitution of American National Security”, be engaged? Possibly, but only after cutting through their twisting of legal and political precedent into an endorsement of “a series of constitutional coup d’etats” by the Executive. The authors first try out John Yoo’s “structural thesis” of executive power, skipping over the inconvenience that Yoo’s rationalisation of Presidential action from the sanctioning of torture to unchecked surveillance of American citizens has been ripped apart by almost every legal scholar except Dick Cheney and a minority trio on the Supreme Court.[2] They then try to bend the 200-year-old notion of judicial activism and, more recently, the notion of a “Living Constitution” to their ends: if you progressively supported the Supreme Court’s intervention on desegregation and reproductive rights, then you are obligated to progressively support an expansive interpretation of executive power to assure “national security”.[3] You must progressively support this expansion even if, as Lynch and Singh conclude, it has occurred not through legal affirmation but through “presidential usurpations, ineffective congressional response, and supine judicial acquiescence”. (p.58)

If the argument that the President has always had great latitude in the conduct of foreign policy is a starting point for consideration, the problem is that Lynch and Singh then ignore or push aside the distinction of the Bush Administration. It was not only free to act because of the absence of Congressional and judicial restraint; it also threw out existing laws --- national and international --- that might constrain it. Lynch and Singh’s belated, brief consideration of this extra-legal, if not illegal, behaviour is by turns judicially vacuous (“In the case of the NSA wiretapping and finances programs, while there was no prior express authorization, the circumstances of 9/11 made such initiatives rational and, at least in principle, defensible”)[4] and disingenuous (“in the cases of military tribunals and coercive interrogation, the presumption of presidential war powers authority was at minimum reasonable, however questionable the merits of the particular adopted policies”)[5], culminating in a claim that would be laughable were it not so horrifyingly wrong: “ ‘Prisoner abuses’ were aberrations --- recurrent in every way --- rather than the logical consequence of the authority under which Bush acted.” (p.78)[6]

This fantastic [7] re-writing of the contemporary leads to the biggest surprise of the book: it cannot even be engaged on its supposed ground of combat, the policymaking strategy of the Bush Administration. Halfway through the book, I realised that I had read snappy quotes from Warren Zevon (one of the few bright spots in the polemic) and Clive James but only five --- whether as public presentation, private discussion, or intra-Administration debate --- from the President or his closest advisors. There is a specious theory of the Holy Triangular Trinity of terrorism, tyranny, and technology to explain the Bush Doctrine but no examination of the public record, unpublished documents, or private statements which would establish that this was indeed the Administration’s coherent view of the world and the appropriate American response to it.

In this book, the period between January and 11 September 2001 (and indeed the 2000 Presidential campaign) does not exist. Yet, if Lynch and Singh had been interested in a few minutes of reading for analysis rather than for diatribe, they could easily have discovered key debates and discussions that framed the Bushian worldview before 9-11. They might have noted the tensions in the Bush campaign between a strategy focused on the old rivals of China and Russia and one concentrating on the newer “rogue states”, between a projection of military power and a commitment to nation-building after the use of that power, between a pursuit of alliance diplomacy and a rejection of international frameworks and institutions. They might have considered Donald Rumsfeld’s concern, some might argue obsession, with military transformation, the Administration’s grail of Missile Defence, the Justice Department’s priority of a crackdown on drug production and use, with the consequent inattention to terrorism as a priority.[8]

Instead of leaving Iraq until after 9-11 (and, indeed, not-so-subtly repeating the connection of Iraq with 9-11), Lynch and Singh might have noted that “regime change” popped up as the #1 item on the #1 agenda for Bush’s National Security Council.[9] They might have considered the unprecedented pursuit, via the National Energy Policy led by Vice President Cheney, of a global strategy for control of energy supplies.[10] They might have come to grips with the scholarly hypothesis, far more substantive than any of the straw-men criticisms of the Bush Administration that they set up and knock down, that the Administration from its earliest days was trying to convert the “unipolar” from projection into reality.

All of this, however, disrupts their fragile connection between First and Second Cold Wars. It exposes both their parroting of Donald Rumsfeld’s mantra of “the long war” and their equally-repetitive insistence that “the war is working”. It highlights both the pertinence and the shallowness of their claim, “The key to winning the Second Cold War on Islamist terror rests on successfully reforming the Middle East.” (p.190) That project was not constructed by the Administration after 9-11 but eight months before it: “Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that's aligned with US interests. It would change everything in the region and beyond.”[11]

Indeed, for Lynch and Singh, it is not just a case of obliterating the record before September 2001 but of ignoring it. Iraq --- the alleged weapons of mass destruction, the ties to terrorism, the oil, “liberation” --- is discussed for 41 pages without a single reference to a meeting on strategy, any consideration of a specific policy before or after March 2003, even a public rationalisation of the Administration of its actions. Lynch and Singh can be read for their assertions of “what ought to be”, but this is completely divorced from any explanation of what transpired and how it was perceived --- by Bush and his officials, by Iraqis, or by any other actors in the war --- between 2001 and 2008. A similar claim can be made for Lynch and Singh on the Middle East as they proclaim, “It should be clear that in encouraging the growth of market democracies the West is seeking to enable Arabs and Muslims to find their own path to remedy the deficiencies so comprehensively detailed by Arabs themselves” (226) (38 pages, 1 reference from the Administration). Or for Lynch and Singh on “Friends and Foes After Bush”: “Bush’s successors will likely feel at home within a de facto English-speaking alliance, one symbolic of a remarkable history and still capable of future victories.” (p.255) (28 pages, no references from the Administration).

No, this book has to be engaged --- can only be engaged --- as a polemic. Rather than an appreciation, let alone a consideration, of the critiques of Bush, the authors set up uni-dimensional caricatures. “Realists” apparently argue that “being liked” is the “key aim...of international strategy”. (p.92) The “left-liberal” camp, which for Lynch and Singh as Tariq Ali, Osama bin Laden, and “university and newspaper liberals”, “march in [the] defense” of “fascist dictatorships”. (p.104) The views of “European/Venusians”? “Diplomacy is not about wielding big sticks but big carrots. It is about appeasement.” (p.107)

This is enjoyable banter, suitable for the pub, an undergraduate debating society, or the Jeremy Kyle Show[12] if he ever ventures from family counselling into political punditry. Lynch and Singh might even claim to refine academic interpretation in the same way that Rush Limbaugh refined American radio, the New York Post refined recent journalism, and John Bolton refined American diplomacy.

I find it impossible, on a critical level, to give any meaningful response to After Bush because there is nothing significant to respond to. I do, however, recognise the book for what it is: a macho, cheerleading division of the world into its saviour --- the macho cheerleader who became the 43rd President of the United States --- and those who would dare challenge him. For this accomplishment, it merits a niche, amongst other ephemera, as a pseudo-factual symbol of the fictional “Second Cold War”.

[1] To be fair, some of Lynch and Singh’s most egregious historical errors did not make it into the final draft. Consider this from their website: “The most important military official serving George W. Bush is Dan Petraeus. Ditto Harry S. Truman and Douglas MacArthur. Each general brought stunning success that was profoundly controversial back home.” One can only presume that Lynch and Singh have yet to realise Truman fired MacArthur in 1951 after the general threatened a nuclear attack against China. [“In for the Long Haul: Petraeus and the War”, 9 April 2008,]

[2] A useful starting point for critique of the Bush Administration’s approach to the law is Philippe Sands, Lawless World (Penguin, 2006). See also John Dean, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (Viking, 2007) and, specifically on Yoo, Stephen Holmes, “John Yoo’s Tortured Logic”, The Nation (13 April 2006).

[3] Lynch and Singh’s own tortured logic is highlighted by the inconvenience that perhaps the most vehement Supreme Court exponent of the Bush Administration’s expanded power, Justice Antonin Scalia, is also one of the vehement opponents of a “Living Constitution”. See United Press International, “Scalia Says Constitution is Not ‘Living’”, 5 March 2008,

[4] On the Bush Administration’s use of the National Security Agency for domestic wiretapping and surveillance, setting aside the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, see James Risen, State of War (Simon and Schuster, 2006). An illuminating specific incident occurred when Attorney General John Ashcroft, semi-conscious in an intensive care unit, was pressed by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to approve a warrantless programme (Dan Eggen, “FBI Director’s Notes Contradict Gonzales’s Version of Ashcroft Visit”, Washington Post, 17 August 2007).

[5] Lynch and Singh’s claim is refuted by, amongst others, Philippe Sands, Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[6] The notion of abuse of prisoners as an aberration, rather than a consequence of Administration policy, was thoroughly discredited as early as 2004 in Seymour Hersh, Chain of Command (Harper Collins, 2004). For more recent details see Sands, Torture Team, and Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure (Penguin, 2008).

[7] Deriving from the root word “fantasy”

[8] A forthcoming interpretation is in Scott Lucas & Maria Ryan, “Against Everyone and No-one: The Failure of the ‘Unipolar’ in Iraq and Beyond”, in David Ryan and Patrick Kiely (eds.) America and Iraq: Policy-Making, Intervention and Regional Politics Since 1958 (Routledge, 2009).

[9] See Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).

[10] An incisive, if anti-Bush, analysis can be found in Michael Klare, Blood and Oil (Henry Holt, 2005).

[11] Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 73

[12] Those unfamiliar with Mr Kyle can learn more at

By Mitchell Lerner, Ohio State University

As I sit at my desk to write this, I cannot help but notice the "Bush Countdown Clock" sitting on my shelf, ticking down the remaining seconds of the Bush presidency. I am most certainly not the only owner of such a device; a quick Google search reveals not only clocks but countdown keychains, watches, screensavers, stickers, magnets, coloring books, and more (my favorite is perhaps the "Final Countdown Hot Sauce," which can be ordered for a mere $5.95 per bottle). The brisk sales of such items should come as no surprise to anyone who follows presidential politics; after all, George W. Bush currently sits with one of the lowest approval ratings in American history. But for the many Americans planning a party for his January 2009 departure, Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh warn you to be careful what you wish for; you might get it. For in their view, America after Bush has "few compelling reasons to expect or want" (p.7) significant change in their nation's approach to international affairs, which they say has not been the failure under the current administration that so many allege. Their conclusions about the Bush presidency are strongly revisionist and likely to prove very controversial, and I admit that while I find much here to admire, I find the larger thesis unconvincing. But, I should note from the outset, my critique should not be construed to suggest that After Bush is anything less than a thoughtful, provocative, and significant work. I have many serious disagreements with it but they are the type of disagreements one has with serious work done by serious scholars. It makes them no less serious. To paraphrase the subject of their study, After Bushis a work that should not be "misunderestimated."

The book's contributions are plentiful. The analysis of the flawed decisions that hindered the occupation of Iraq is thoughtful and well presented, as is the discussion of the serious consequences that a precipitous withdrawal from that nation would foster. I agree with many of their recommendations for future American policy, even if some are easier to put down on paper than they would be to implement. Declaring, for example, that the US should endeavor to convince all Arab states in the region to recognize Israel (p.213) is as desirable as it is unlikely to be achieved, and the authors offer no real details as to how to accomplish it; I might similarly note that I should improve my social life by looking more like Brad Pitt. And their central thesis that subsequent presidents will likely continue many of Bush's policies is logical and well-argued, although it strikes me as somewhat less controversial than they imply; after all, even the less hawkish of the two candidates for the White House has pledged to leave an American military presence in Iraq for as long as needed, indicated his willingness to strike terrorist targets inside Pakistan if necessary, and pledged to do "whatever it takes" to stop the Iranian nuclear program. I am aware, though, that this will be a much less exciting roundtable if I continue to focus on the book's many strong points, so let me instead emulate my nation's current president by embracing a more combative persona for the rest of this discussion.

My first problem with After Bush is its occasional reliance on historical oversimplification, overgeneralization, and even outright inaccuracies. Some, I suppose, are fairly unimportant. The Monroe Doctrine did not, as alleged, claim an American right to "interfere in the Americas" (p.27); it took almost 100 years for Theodore Roosevelt to add that plank to the original proclamation. America's defeat in Vietnam is here attributed to a "defeat-phobic American public," (p.40) without noting that supporters of the War were actually in the majority until 1968.Describing American policy between 1966 and 1973 as isolationist is at best simplistic and at worst just wrong; one can only imagine Richard Nixon turning in his grave at such a depiction (p.21).And many of these oversimplifications are clearly designed to champion conservatives and discredit liberals. We learn, for example, that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War (p.143), a claim that has a modicum of truth, perhaps, but ignores so many other contributing factors and people that it is more polemic than historical position. At one point, the authors even make the shocking claim that America's enemies in the early Cold War period were "appeased by liberals" (p.291),a statement that would likely spark a fistfight had it been uttered to Truman, Acheson, Kennan, Lilienthal, Nitze, Forrestal, Clifford, Harriman, or many others; the authors support this claim with a single reference to Henry Wallace, evidence so far off the mark that it calls into question their understanding of the political history of the era (in fact, when it became clear in 1944 that President Roosevelt was gravely ill, Democratic Party leaders came together to have Wallace removed from the vice-presidency, at least in part because his views were so far from the party mainstream).

Such oversimplification struck me as most troubling when it appeared in one of the book's fundamental arguments: the idea that Bush's actions have conformed to both recent American political norms and the intentions of the Founding Fathers. The first claim seems misguided, albeit not totally unreasonable. While it is true that American presidents since WWII have significantly expanded executive power, there remains a qualitative difference between this administration and those that preceded it; no previous administration has championed torture, claimed the right to imprison American citizens indefinitely, or required the CIA to manufacture evidence leading to war. In fact, the defining principle behind Administration policy is an expansive interpretation of the already expansive "unitary executive" theory, one that essentially argues that during wartime the President's personal interpretation of the Constitution allows him to overrule Congress and the courts, an unprecedented claim that essentially overturns the separation of powers that has been sacrosanct in the US since Marbury v. Madison in 1803. But even more doubtful is their second claim, that expanded wartime powers fits with the founders’ vision. When a delegate to the constitutional convention proposed giving the president the power to "make war," the suggestion was roundly rejected, with one prominent delegate insisting that the presidency was "not safely to be entrusted" with such power. In fact, the weakness of this argument is reflected in the fact that to make their case the authors rely heavily on the work of John Yoo, which they describe as offering "the most prominent and strong support" of their position, and which is cited five times in the footnotes and three times in the text. But it was John Yoo who, from his position within the Justice Department that he held because of ideological affinity rather than expertise or competence, formulated many of the legal arguments in favor of the administration's position! If Lynch and Singh want to argue this point they need to confront, or at least reference, the overwhelming body of scholarship that refutes it, written by scholars such as David Cole, John Hart Ely, Jonathan Turley, Ronald Dworkin, and Anthony Lewis (who has called the Administration's positions regarding wartime power "so troubling that one hardly knows where to begin discussing them"). Citing Yoo in support of a position that Yoo helped create is a bit akin to asking Paul McCartney if the Beatles were any good.

This point leads us to another problem: the willingness of the authors to portray Bush in the most favorable light even when evidence to support such claims is weak or even absent. Consider their pronouncement on Libya. The authors, while admitting the existence of some evidence suggesting that the country's abandonment of its nuclear program was a product of diplomacy and soft power, still conclude that the major role was played by the hard line of the Bush administration. But the evidence for such a claim is just not there. We simply do not know what lay behind Gaddafi's decision, and again the authors make no reference to the numerous experts who would attribute it to internal Libyan economic need or domestic political imperatives, and would stress the long-term diplomatic process that pre-dated the Bush administration. And once again their sources are troubling, as they cite the opinions of American hawks like William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer (and even quote Dick Cheney), but this hardly meets commonly accepted evidentiary standards. This is not to say that Singh and Lynch are wrong about Libya, of course. But it is to say that controversial arguments can only be credibly supported by legitimate evidence rather than a reliance on post-hoc ergo propter-hoc logic.

A more troubling example of such bias comes in their depiction of the Korean situation. Bush's policies here, we learn, were "not much different from that of Bill Clinton," a conclusion they reach based largely on the fact that both men involved the international community in efforts to contain the regime (p.135). While this may be true in theory, it obscures the obvious differences in practice. The Clinton Administration took the lead in negotiating the 1994 Agreed Framework that, for all its flaws, saw the DPRK lock away its spent fuel rods at Yongbyon, and seal the reactor and plutonium reprocessing facilities there, with the facility then opened to IAEA inspectors. When Bush came to office he quickly moved in the opposite direction, repeatedly criticizing the DPRK government and suspending (despite the opposition of South Korea) the heavy oil shipments that had been agreed to in1994. When the agreement soon fell apart, the administration had gotten exactly what it wanted: a reversal of the Clinton policies. Subsequent claims of turning to multilateralism were an obvious cover, since everyone knew that nothing would get done in Korea without active American leadership. And doing nothing is exactly what the neo-conservatives, convinced that the stick would work better than the carrot, wanted. Now, one might argue (although I would strongly disagree) that this approach was superior to Clinton's. But the fact that both administrations talked about multilateralism does not mean they were the same. Even less credible is their claim that "Bush used multilateral diplomacy to forestall Pyongyang's nuclear program" (p.243). When Bush came to office, the American intelligence community was almost unanimous that the DPRK had produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for one or two weapons, although they had not weaponized it, tested it, or developed the ability to deliver it to a target successfully. But by January 2003, the North had restarted the Yongbyon facility, expelled IAEA officials, and withdrawn from the NNPT, and by2006 they had conducted their first underground nuclear test, demonstrated a significantly improved delivery system, and reprocessed enough plutonium for as many as twelve nuclear weapons. Again, one might argue that this was not a reflection of poor policymaking by the Bush team, but to describe it as "forestall[ing] Pyongyang's nuclear program" seems so far off the mark that I admit to being a bit baffled as to exactly what the authors mean.

Similarly one-sided is their optimistic depiction of American policies in the War on Terror. I happily confess that my gloomy view of this situation has been improved a bit by reading Lynch and Singh’s analysis, which offers some nuggets of information of which I was unaware. Still, I remain unconvinced that, as they write, "the war is working" (p.112).Al Qaeda may be weakened but is hardly beaten, as made clear by a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the group "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability." Moreover, while the situation within Iraq seems to have improved, one has to question whether the effort was worth the ramifications for the larger war against Islamic terrorism across the globe; by most accounts Iraq has drained American resources, diverted attention from more immediate threats, alienated many moderate Arabs whose assistance is vital in (among other things) intelligence efforts, and sparked a resurgence in anti-American sentiment across the world. It has also proven to be both a recruiting tool and a training ground for a new generation of jihadists (according to a recent study, the number of fatal terrorist attacks by jihadist groups has risen over 600% since the war began, and is up 35% even if one excludes attacks on targets inside Afghanistan and Iraq), and has left the American army near its breaking point by almost any measure. Lynch and Singh are repeatedly critical of those who opposed this war, which they see as a necessary step in the larger struggle against terrorism; what they ignore is that most critics (myself included) saw Iraq as a potential threat to be dealt with but only after more pressing ones were addressed. So while the US has lost 4,000 soldiers and $3 trillion in Iraq, Afghanistan has seen the re-emergence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the return of its opium industry, and suicide attacks that grew from two in 2003 to 137 in 2007; a recent study by the American government concluded that of the 433 police units trained by the US since 2002, not a single one is capable of handling domestic terrorist activities. The Iranian threat grows, both through its nuclear program, which had 160 centrifuges enriching uranium in 2003 but now has 3,300, and its support for terrorist groups. The Pakistani border regions has seen an explosion of anti-Western terrorist groups and jihadist training centers; the Council on Foreign Relations wrote that "In recent years, many new terrorist groups have emerged in Pakistan, several existing groups have reconstituted themselves, and a new crop of militants have taken control, more violent and less conducive to political solutions than their predecessors."Meanwhile, US prestige wanes with every new revelation about an Abu Ghraib, a Guantanamo, a secret midnight rendition, or the existence of another CIA torture camp in Eastern Europe. Lynch and Singh are right to point out the hypocrisy of the many brutal regimes that condemn these practices, but when Canada places the US on its list of rogue nations, one has wonder about the future of America's standing as leader of the "Free World."Little wonder, then, that in a 2006 poll of over a hundred leading American intelligence and foreign policy officials conducted by Foreign Policy, 84% concluded that the US was not winning the war against terrorism.

There are other examples of a pro-Bush bias that undermine the work's credibility. Abuse of prisoners, we are told, is an aberration rather than a government policy, despite the fact that a thorough Army study found otherwise; "The commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture," concluded General Antonio Taguba. "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes." President Bush, we read, has implemented 37 of the 39 recommendations made by the 9/11 commission (p.119). There is no footnote explaining these specific numbers (the best match I can find is the Administration's own claim in a statement of policy in January 2007), but regardless, there is no acknowledgment that many of these reforms were passed by a Democratic Congress over the opposition of the Administration, which criticized the spending amounts, objected to the strengthening of a civil liberties oversight board, resisted the creation of a grant program for local law enforcement, and threatened a veto over various labor protection provisions. No real surprise here, of course, since Bush had resisted the creation of the 9/11 Commission itself and refused to cooperate fully with its investigation.

In a few cases, the misleading nature of the book's assertions are particularly worrisome. Perhaps most egregious is the claim that the 9/11 commission concluded that Iraq "did have a relationship with Al Qaeda," a statement that is technically true but dangerously misleading (p.158). The 9/11 Report actually minimized this relationship strongly, and denied it completely with regard to the orchestration of the 9/11 attacks. The authors' footnote for this allegation cites page 66 of the report, but even that page contradicts their message, as it concludes that "[sources] describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides’ hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."Similarly Lynch and Singh cite the Duelfer Report to support their claim that Saddam planned to resume production of WMDs once free of UN sanctions (p.160). Again, this statement is technically accurate but seriously flawed, as it ignores the report's central conclusion that, regardless of future intentions, Saddam did not have WMDs at the time of the America invasion, had been bereft of them since 1998, and had not taken steps to develop them since then. Saddam's programs, the report concluded, had "progressively decayed," and the regime "had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam."

These troubling moments of pro-Bush bias are exacerbated by the presence of my final objection: the occasionally petulant and shrill tone that marks the book. Singh and Lynch are impressive and accomplished scholars, who should be above the mean-spirited personal attacks on the political left that dot this book. Readers learn, for example, that "left-liberals rather want [America's decline] to happen" (p.96). And that "the US is opposed by many on the left because…it is far worse than the opponents it provokes and creates" (p.96). And that a "descent into an ineffectual internationalism [would] please the academic left" (p.232). And that "the poverty of the left's contribution is symbolized in an increasingly shrill anti-Bushism which has gone not much further than support for Cindy Sheehan, the Dixie Chicks, and the doomed senatorial candidacy of Ned Lamont." (p.86). The authors are of course entitled to their opinions, even ones like these that are hyperbolic, insulting, or ridiculous (or all three). But such derisive barbs only impugn the impartiality of those who launch them, and do not belong in a serious work of scholarship. Simply, they are unworthy of two such distinguished scholars.

By now it is clear to anyone who has managed to muddle through this overly long commentary that I have serious concerns with After Bush. I do. None of these concerns, however, are meant to imply that it is not an important book. It is. And it will likely stand as the definitive voice for this position for some time. Future historians may not like it (I did) and they may not agree with it (I didn't). But they will have to recognize its contributions and address the arguments it makes. In fact, for all of the objections I have voiced here, I would leave readers with four simple words about the book: it made me think. An author, I believe, can earn no higher praise.

The Authors' Response

By Tim Lynch (Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London) and Rob Singh (Birkbeck, University of London)

We are grateful to these reviewers for, to paraphrase Scott Lucas, thinking themselves hard enough and having a go at our book. Provocation is easier than persuasion and we are cautious that if we have not achieved the latter in the book itself, how much less likely we are to do so here. The four reviews range widely and we will not attempt here to acknowledge all praise or defend against all attacks. We will take each review in turn – and do so in the spirit of debate rather than confrontation.

Oz Hassan articulates a reaction common to each reviewer here: that we have engaged in broad brush polemic obscuring our analytical and normative claims – some of which he is prepared to admit gave him pause. It is, of course, impossible to find a style – especially in a co-authored monograph about an inherently controversial subject – that will please all readers. Supporters condemn us for being insufficiently robust, opponents deride us as polemicists propagating a ‘Hobbesian temperament’ rather than a ‘methodology’. Like persuasive analysis, polemic is invariably in the eye of the beholder.

Hassan expresses a valid and oft expressed concern that international law has been downgraded in a no-holes-barred effort to realize US security. But as we argue in chapter 1, a sturdy scepticism of the claims made by international lawyers did not begin in the United States on September 12, 2001. Any number of presidents have found the duty of self-defense greater than the morality of international law. Even presidents claiming to be acting on its behalf – observe Clinton in Kosovo – did so outside of its institutions. Neither Kosovo 1999 and Iraq 2003 commanded UN approval and yet each campaign was waged to make their targets more not less responsive to UN strictures.

The reviewer claims we misunderstand power. We do not. We just believe that the efficacy of hard power has been underappreciated in the cosmopolitan rush to its softer forms. If Joseph Nye can get away with so amorphous a concept as soft power there is space in the debate for those who suggest the death of military power has been exaggerated. If anything, the fate of Iraq since 2003 was caused by the failure of hard power to secure an environment for soft power to work. We do not disavow diplomacy and collective action. We do query their record in bringing lasting security to the United States and its allies or the nations it finds itself in conflict with.

The reviewer is wrong to suggest that we grant to the US military a transformational power to which the last eight years give the lie. We do not contend that hearts and minds can be changed at the barrel of a gun. We do argue, and agree with him, that poorly chosen military tactics can lose wars. Our remedy, though, is to craft better tactics rather than insist on a blanket rejection of violence as an inherently inappropriate tool. This reviewer has done us the service of reading our book with some care. However, his review indicates an appreciation of international relations so as variance with our own that we are unlikely ever to convince him – though we are grateful to him for allowing us to try. American primacy is not American domination; though the reviewer conflates these terms and hears the echo of the latter in our use of former.

Clea Lutz Bunch is right to expect a consistent defence of the book’s concept of continuity. We contend we have offered this, the reviewer does not. Continuity does not mean that each and every president adopts the same foreign policy as his predecessor. If this were true the important differences between Bush Sr., Clinton, and Bush Jr. would quickly invalidate our claim. Rather, we argue in the book that national security strategy changes only very slowly and that, usually, one administration hands on its approach to the next. Differences of style and presentation across the three post-cold war administrations should not obscure us to the substantial continuities they embody. Clinton and both Bushes made war on Saddam Hussein. Clinton and Bush Jr both attempted to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden. These three administrations engaged in wars the substantial effect of which was to liberate Muslims from oppressive regimes to which they found themselves exposed: Kuwait 1991, Bosnia 1995, Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003. None disavowed humanitarian intervention, though their record of execution was patchy. Each contended, rightly, that American primacy was better for the US and the world than its absence. Where they fell short was in their pretence that they could ignore the continuities. Hence our problem with the narrow realism of Bush Sr., which left Saddam in power for a disastrous twelve years after Desert Storm, or the wishful liberalism of Bill Clinton, which left Rwanda dripping in blood. Both men were afforded a room for manoeuvre denied to George W. Bush who was forced to bridge the gap left by both approaches in the wake of 9/11.

We do take exception to accusations of bias, on behalf of George W. Bush or against Muslims – both are made by the reviewer and both are categorically rejected by us, whose record should speak for itself. To observe that crusades are basic and regularised phenomena in US public policy is not a defence of President Bush. To indict the failure of Arab governance and want its reform is not to be Islamophobic. Indeed, we argue that real, lasting change in the Middle East will come only when the vast majority of Muslims, quietly practicing their religion on a daily basis, are afforded the right to alter or abolish their governments.

We simply do not agree with the reviewer on the consequences of American unpopularity in the Muslim world. The US-led wars listed above hardly earned Islamist approbation. If de facto wars in alliance with them (as in Afghanistan in the 1980s) or on their behalf (as in the Balkans in the 1990s) could not do this, we would query how better public diplomacy might.

If we wanted to caricature the reviews we expected to get – in greater number than we actually have – Scott Lucas’s would be it. The reviewer has provided us with ample vindication for embarking on the project – for this we are grateful. The reviewer offers the longest review in this roundtable, and the only one with extensive footnotes, in support of his claim that it is ‘impossible, on a critical level, to give any meaningful response to After Bush because there is nothing significant to respond to.’ The review might have begun and ended there. It does not. We thus find ourselves obliged to respond to responses that are not, the reviewer insists, responses at all.

The reviewer ‘despairs’ over our analogy with Harry Truman. Better to spell out why we are wrong. We are not told. If ‘atomistic social freedom’ is not an appropriate concept with which to explain American responses to government, tell us why. It seems to us that the reviewer simply does not agree with us on several points. If we are wrong about executive power in wartime, explain why. We make a series of arguments in the book but none is engaged in this review. For all the sound and fury of his outrage and despair the reviewer has not managed to join a debate, let alone win it. Indeed, he insists there is no debate to be had and merely offers a series of denunciations.

Mitchell Lerner’s review has many of the strengths of the foregoing assessments without their weaknesses. The common thread of his various criticisms is that a ‘one-sided’ and ‘pro-Bush bias’ undermines the book’s credibility. In one sense, of course, this charge is legitimate – while we carry no torch for the president we support the Bush Doctrine and believe that much of the conventional wisdom about unilateralism, the shredding of the Constitution, and the failure of the war on terror is simply wrong. But we hold this to be a disagreement about the facts, not anyone’s distortion – witting or unwitting – of them. Moreover, as any careful reading of the book would acknowledge, we make clear our agreement where Bush did commit egregious errors, most notably on the occupation of Iraq. That ours is a minority, controversial and unpopular position we are well aware – although recent work by Philip Bobbitt, Jack Goldsmith, Benjamin Wittes and others is also now contributing to a more balanced critical assessment of the Bush administration and the nature of, and optimal responses to, the current global threats. Still, we are grateful for a review that does find much to engage in our work, if only to disagree with much as well. Who knows, perhaps we’ll find our macho selves pulling our punches in the future as a result?

Matthew Hill