Bush's inflated sense of supremacy
By George Soros
Financial Times - March 12, 2003:
With US and British troops poised to invade Iraq, the
rest of the world is overwhelmingly opposed. Yet Saddam
Hussein is generally seen as a tyrant who must be
disarmed and the United Nations Security Council has
unanimously demanded that he disclose and destroy his
weapons of mass destruction. What has gone wrong?
Iraq is the first instance in which the Bush doctrine
is being applied and it is provoking an allergic
reaction. The doctrine is built on two pillars: first,
the US will do everything in its power to maintain
unquestioned military supremacy; second, it arrogates
the right to pre-emptive action. These pillars support
two classes of sovereignty: American sovereignty, which
takes precedence over international treaties; and the
sovereignty of all other states, which is subject to
the Bush doctrine. This is reminiscent of George
Orwell's Animal Farm: all animals are equal but some
are more equal than others.
The Bush doctrine is grounded in the belief that
international relations are relations of power;
legality and legitimacy are decorations. This belief is
not entirely false but it exaggerates one aspect of
reality - military power - at the exclusion of others.
I see a parallel between the Bush administration's
pursuit of American supremacy and a boom-bust process
or bubble in the stock market. Bubbles do not grow out
of thin air. They have a solid basis in reality but
reality is distorted by misconception. In this case,
the dominant position of the US is the reality, the
pursuit of supremacy the misconception. Reality can
reinforce the misconception but eventually the gap
between reality and its false interpretation becomes
unsustainable. During the self-reinforcing phase, the
misconception may be tested and reinforced. This widens
the gap leading to an eventual reversal. The later it
comes, the more devastating the consequences.
This course of events seems inexorable but a boom-bust
process can be aborted at any stage and few of them
reach the extremes of the recent stock market bubble.
The sooner the process is aborted, the better. This is
how I view the Bush administration's pursuit of
President George W. Bush came into office with a
coherent strategy based on market fundamentalism and
military power. But before September 11 2001 he lacked
a clear mandate or a well defined enemy. The terrorist
attack changed all that. Terrorism is the ideal enemy.
It is invisible and therefore never disappears. An
enemy that poses a genuine and recognised threat can
effectively hold a nation together. That is
particularly useful when the prevailing ideology is
based on the unabashed pursuit of self- interest. Mr
Bush's administration deliberately fosters fear because
it helps to keep the nation lined up behind the
president. We have come a long way from Franklin D.
Roosevelt's dictum that we have nothing to fear but
But the war on terrorism cannot be accepted as the
guiding principle of US foreign policy. What will
happen to the world if the most powerful country on
earth is solely preoccupied with self-preservation?
The Bush policies have already caused severe unintended
adverse consequences. The Atlantic Alliance is in a
shambles and the European Union divided. The US is a
fearful giant throwing its weight around. Afghanistan
has been liberated but law and order have not been
established beyond Kabul. The Israeli-Palestinian
conflict festers. Beyond Iraq, an even more dangerous
threat looms in North Korea.
The global economy is in recession, stocks are in a
bear market and the dollar is in decline. In the US,
there has been a dramatic shift from budget surplus to
deficit. It is difficult to find a time when political
and economic conditions have deteriorated as rapidly.
The game is not yet over. A rapid victory in Iraq with
little loss of life could cause a dramatic reversal.
The price of oil could fall; the stock market could
celebrate; consumers could overcome their anxieties and
resume spending; and business could respond by stepping
up capital expenditure. America would end its
dependency on Saudi Arabian oil, the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict could become more tractable and
negotiations with North Korea could be started without
a loss of face. This is what Mr Bush is counting on.
Military victory in Iraq would be the easy part. It is
what follows that should give us pause. In a boom-bust
process, passing an early test tends to reinforce the
misconception that has given rise to it. That could
It is not too late to prevent the boom-bust process
from getting out of hand. The Security Council could
allow more time for weapons inspections. Military
presence in the region could be reduced - and bolstered
if Iraq balks. An invasion could be mounted at summer's
end. The UN would score a victory. That is what the
French propose and the British could still make it
happen. But the chances are slim; Mr Bush has
practically declared war.
Let us hope that if there is war, it will be swift and
claim few lives. Removing Mr Hussein is a good thing,
yet the way Mr Bush is going about it must be
condemned. America must play a more constructive role
if humanity is to make any progress.
The writer is chairman of Soros Fund Management