11/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush Moves to Plan B

Reposted from Foreign Policy In Focus

Not long ago, the head honchos of the Bush administration probably sat down in the Oval Office. Long faces prevailed around the room. The agenda: "Moving from Plan A to Plan B."

Plan A was the dynasty plan. The plan posited a continuation of Bush policies, notably the radical conservative game plan laid out in the 2002 National Security Strategy, under the next Republican administration. Plan B was the legacy plan, designed to lock in as many Bush policies as possible before losing the presidency to the Democrats.

No matter that six years after the unveiling of the National Security Strategy, the majority of the U.S public rejected nearly all the basic premises of the doctrine. Although most Americans now weighed in against the Iraq War, for adherence to international law and institutions, and against the role of the United States as global cop, the dynasty plan assumed that what was needed was a deepening of the same policies that had been applied over the previous eight years. Given the concentration and expansion of executive powers achieved during George W. Bush's two terms of office, this could be done without explicit agreement from the citizenry.

To put the dynasty plan in place simply meant passing the torch to Republican Party candidate John McCain. In the beginning, this plan seemed relatively easy. There were no major differences between the outgoing and incoming executives. The de facto powers of state -- defense and oil companies, neoconservative global architects -- would hardly be disturbed. There was even talk of putting Jeb Bush on the ticket in the number-two spot, but some worried about the obvious dynastic implications of having a Bush on the ballot seven out of the last eight national elections. In any case, McCain could keep the seat warm for brother Jeb in 2012.

There's no clearer formulation of this plan than the 2008 Republican platform. Not only does it affirm the most controversial aspects of the Bush doctrine, it also insists on unchecked presidential powers to order the pre-emptive strikes and unilateral measures that characterize the security strategy.

The platform doesn't mince words: "The waging of war -- and the achieving of peace -- should never be micromanaged in a party platform, or on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives for that matter. In dealing with present conflicts and future crises, our next president must preserve all options." Besides the citizenry and the Congress, the other bodies that should never be allowed to interfere with dynastic power are international institutions. The platform states: "The United States participates in various international organizations which can, at times, serve the cause of peace and prosperity, but those organizations must never serve as a substitute for principled American leadership. Nor should our participation in them prevent our joining with other democracies to protect our vital national interests."

The Fall of the Dynasty Plan

This multi-generational strategy depended on holding executive power. But things got a lot more complicated since the plan was developed -- hence the long faces.

First, the relay team dropped the torch. The president, whose job it was to pass the torch, began to lag seriously behind in the race and then bungled the pass. Then the candidate, whose job it was to receive the torch, fumbled the handoff, complaining that the torch itself was defective.

By the time the Bush team realized just how bad things were the situation had become worse. The polls showed signs that an African-American, liberal upstart would actually win the race. That would blow Plan A out of the water.

Not only was it unclear whether power could be transferred successfully under the original dynasty plan, there was now another major monkey-wrench in the works. The financial system was crashing. Not flailing, not foundering, but crashing -- and in a way that could no longer be hidden from the public. Through devious machinations and financial instruments, the group of people that had benefited most under the Bush administration severed even tenuous connections between the financial system and the real economy, and the speculative bubble had burst. The situation was embarrassing, costly, and also potentially fatal to Plan A.

Add this financial mess to the mess in Iraq and it's no wonder McCain had doubts about grabbing the torch that was being handed him. Under these circumstances, one could get seriously burned.

In short, the Republican dynasty plan was in crisis on multiple fronts. Although all possible attempts would be considered to save it, including Dick Cheney's personal favorite of attacking a foreign country (the much-discussed October Surprise) there seemed to be no choice but to prepare Plan B. This was the "Legacy Plan."

Locking In a Legacy

The Legacy Plan recognizes the possibility that the Republicans might not only lose the White House, but that they might also face such a widespread backlash against their disastrous policies to make any form of Republican recovery unlikely. The goal under Plan B is to lock in as many of Bush administration's fondest structural changes as possible before turning over the keys of the White House.

In foreign policy, the Bush administration has seen the goals of its own national security strategy recede into the distance. The invasion of Iraq was exceedingly costly, not only in military and financial terms but also in political terms. And yet that troubled nation can still not be counted as the stable source of oil and containment in the Middle East that proponents of the bloody occupation envisioned. Pressures for U.S. withdrawal have come from all quarters, including the Iraqi government.

In addition to seeing the goal of establishing a strong U.S. foothold in the oil-rich region fade away, the administration is hearing complaints from the defense industry at the prospect of future contracts drying up.

To fill the potential gap created by drawdown in Iraq, the legacy plan is expanding military spending in other areas and preparing the ground for new conflicts. The Bush administration pushed increased military spending in Afghanistan and Pakistan and started delivery of defense contracts for the U.S.-Mexico border region. The $162 billion FY2008 supplemental spending bill passed in June provides significant breathing room to defense contractors in the case of a transition, but concerns are mounting about what will happen to bloated defense companies when the Iraq feed line is cut.

To move from dynasty to legacy in foreign policy requires two things -- funding and political will. The Bush administration seems to have no real problems on the funding front. Despite their complaints about the policies, the Democrats have been generous to the Department of Defense and forked over billions of dollars' worth of funds to support Bush’s polices throughout the world. Based on Obama's statements and Washington’s inertia, it's likely that major cuts aren’t forthcoming in the near future, although they certainly should be.

The Latin American Legacy Plan

One region where the Bush administration worked hard on its legacy plan over the past few months is Latin America. According to its binary "with us or against us" view, Latin America had wandered so far from the fold that a full half of its territory must now be transferred from the friend to the foe category. Venezuela's leadership on issues of South-South integration and solidarity aid have combined with major incursions by Chinese and European investors to decrease U.S. influence in the region. Many grassroots movements now reject the free-trade model and in many cases helped elect progressive governments. Instead of seizing the opportunity to resolve age-old problems of poverty and democracy, the Bush administration has cast this trend as a major threat.

The administration already took several major steps in Latin America to lock in its legacy. The most important is the Mérida Initiative, a multi-year military and police-aid package that includes equipment and training to Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Congress already passed the first $465 million-dollar installment in June of this year and the 2009 spending request will be coming up soon.

This plan, described as a regional security cooperation initiative, locks in three Bush policies that have resulted in demonstrable failure, major human rights violations, and death: the war on drugs, the counterterrorism paradigm, and border security. The Mérida Initiative replicates the Plan Colombia model of the war on drugs by focusing exclusively on interdiction and confrontation -- a model that didn't work in Colombia and won't work in Mexico.

The inclusion of counterterrorism imposes the failings of the model applied in the United States on its southern neighbors, where international terrorism hasn't been a threat and the political costs could be much higher. A 2004 Foreign Policy In Focus report on the counterterrorism model noted six failings of this Bush policy, which also apply to the Mérida initiative: an overemphasis on military responses, an underestimation of the role of and problems with intelligence sharing, a clear tendency to undermine democracy and civil liberties, a lack of focus on homeland security measures at home, a weakening of international institutions, and a failure to attack root causes.

Finally, the linking of immigration enforcement with national security in the initiative mimics the language found in the Republican platform. Migrants are treated as the equivalent of terrorists and drug-traffickers. The militarization of borders -- not just the U.S.-Mexico border but the Mexico-Guatemala border, as Mexico must assume the task of intercepting migrants before they get close to the United States -- provides juicy contracts to the defense industry and has led to hundreds of migrant deaths and abuses.

The militarization of international relations and ever-increasing defense spending embodied in this plan has been shored up by other developments. Experts warn that the Commands (Central, North, South) have developed their own dynamic, outside the control of the State Department.

The Democratic Congress failed to recognize that the Mérida Initiative was designed to tie the hands of a Democratic administration by imposing a classic Bushian script on relations with our southern neighbors. Following the feint that Mexico simply needed help with its drug war, Democrats approved the funding.

Locking in Free Trade

Free trade is another front where the administration seeks to lock in its legacy. Described as the second pillar of the Bush national security strategy, free-trade agreements have divided Latin America in two, between those that have FTAs with the United States and those that don't.

Legacy-locking action on this front has been frantic over the past few weeks. The Bush administration lobbied heavily for passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to reinforce its geopolitical presence in the region, through tighter ties to one of its few real allies, and to create a Pacific Rim chain of nations linked to the United States through trade accords.

Bush has already suffered innumerable setbacks to its free-market agenda in Latin America. The announcement of the Andean countries (except Colombia) that they had no interest in a free trade accord with the United States, the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) effort, and advances in South-South integration have all eroded the U.S. free-trade agenda.

On September 24, the White House hastily gathered its allies into a new "coalition of the willing" on trade, under the auspices of the pro-business Council of the Americas in Washington, DC. The resulting “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas” initiative brings together Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the United States "to take stock of the significant progress we have made in our hemisphere through shared commitments to trade and investment liberalization, social inclusion, development, rule of law, and democracy."

The new proposal is to form a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which recognizes the failure of the FTAA but is yet another example of the contortions geography has been submitted to in the name of U.S. geopolitics. When the proposed hemispheric regional integration hit a major snag (most of the largest economies in Latin America rejected the U.S. government's intransigent terms for the NAFTA-style FTAA) the map was redrawn to include only the willing Western nations and Southeast Asia. This remapping of the region seeks specifically to head off the Latin American integration promoted by Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

By locking in free-trade agreements that destabilize developing countries and go against the call of the U.S. public to re-evaluate these agreements, the administration hopes to prevent backtracking on free-market orthodoxy, even as the model palpably fails in the United States.

Escaping the Legacy Trap

Every outgoing administration seeks to lock in its control over the system before handing the reins to the opposing camp. Whether it's stacking the courts, pardoning powerful buddies, or issuing executive decrees, the practice is as old as the hills and pretty much inevitable.

But the radical policy dictums of Bush’s foreign policy must not be allowed to continue. In these last weeks of the current administration, the Democrats and the public must identify and reject all administration measures that could leave a Democratic president hamstrung to make significant changes in foreign policy.

At present, the U.S. financial bailout has understandably obscured all other issues. But in the next few weeks, Bush legacy laws and policies could undermine the change that so many millions of Americans will stake their vote on in November.