"Dominance and preemption have (already) failed," said Sherle R. Schwenninger, co-director of the Global Economic Policy Program at the New American Foundation, which sponsored the forum.
The administration's new foreign policy focus has been embodied most in its tough talk about an invasion of Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein. Although this new approach has been dubbed the "Bush Doctrine," Michael Lind, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said these policies are actually a rehash of policy proposals from Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense, which had been dismissed in the past.
"Wolfowitz has emerged as a dominant mastermind of the foreign policy of this administration, having defeated Colin Powell," Lind said at the forum.
Lind said that while he was undersecretary of defense for policy during the administration of George H.W. Bush, Wolfowitz and other neo-conservatives in that administration circulated a classified document with goals similar to the doctrine now being embraced by the current Bush White House. That document argued for the preemptive use of force, high defense spending to overshadow any potential military threat from other nations, and the downgrading of the reliance on strategic alliances with other nations.
Although administration officials at the time dismissed the plan, these goals have recently become a driving force in U.S. foreign policy, he said.
The doctrine classifies threats from other nations into two categories -- pure threats and rogue nations. Pure threats include any nation that could threaten the dominance of the United States on the world stage. Such countries would be kept in check through American military dominance in their regions.
Rogue nations are those, like Iraq, that are viewed as an uncontrollable threat to American interests and must be struck before they can cause damage to the United States.
Charles Kupchan, author of the book "The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century," agreed with Lind that Bush's foreign policy seems to be driven by a core group of conservative thinkers in the administration with exactly those such ideals.
"What we are seeing is a world out of balance, with a small group of people in the Bush administration (who have), in my mind, too much power," Kupchan said at the forum.
Lind said that a preemptive strike at a state like Iraq represents a dangerous preventive action against a potential threat, not the prevention of a pending attack.
"This (policy) is a genuine threat to the world order of multiple sovereign states that we have had for several centuries," Lind said. "Preventive war is a threat to the global system."
Kupchan noted that although military superiority has been an American policy ideal for years, the Bush administration is seeking to maintain U.S. overseas power at a level that not only keeps all potential challengers at bay, but keeps them from even thinking about challenging U.S. dominance.
"It is really a strategy of almost preemptive dissuading rather than superiority," said Kupchan. "This is a concern because a country that maintains that much military power doesn't say what the Bush administration says it wants to do in other parts of their (written) strategy, and that is build allies."
In addition, he said that such a foreign policy strategy ignores the fact that unapproachable military might does not necessarily ensure unapproachable political might in world matters. As examples, Kupchan cited the implementation of the International Criminal Court in Brussels, and the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gasses, both of which occurred without American involvement.
According to Schwenninger, past attempts to use military dominance and preemption to drive U.S. foreign policy have proved disastrous in the Middle East and in Latin America. The Bush administration is ignoring these realities, while it pushes aside the successful history of cooperation with allies.
"What has worked in Europe and in Asia is where America has been involved in a coalition," he said.
Kupchan added that the problem with such a policy is that it places the world order in an imbalanced state, with little or no checks on American action. This leads to a situation where our allies begin to develop countervailing coalitions to U.S. power as an attempt to balance American hegemony, he said.
"We may get al Qaida, we may topple Saddam Hussein, but we will find ourselves, the United States, in a very lonely world by doing so," said Kupchan. "We have to be extremely concerned about how we use power and exercise self restraint to make sure our power reassures and doesn't scare others."