Chapter Two Cowboy Ethics and the Bush Doctrine
In this chapter, I will argue that the ideology behind the Bush Doctrine of
Preemption21 is congruent with an honorable form of frontier justice called “cowboy
ethics.” By cowboy ethics I refer to the duty-bound system of unwritten moral standards
of the mythic cowboy, i.e. the “Code of the West” set forth in the lawless backdrop of the
western wilderness (Fishwick 1952, 78). Cowboy ethics means standing for “what’s
right.” As cowboy author Baxter Black elaborated, “It is the embodiment of doing the
right thing. If something needs doing and you have a choice between doing the right
thing and taking the easy way out, you do the right thing” (Mills 2003, 4).
To sell the Bush Doctrine to the American people, Bush must justify the
legitimacy of his foreign policy decisions.22 Conveniently, the vision of the active,
justice-loving cowboy accommodates a worldview that facilitates rationalizing military
intervention in foreign countries (Emmert 1996, 14). Slotkin believed that the cowboy
image could be used to invoke the myth of the West to morally justify political actions on
21 The intellectual origins of the Bush Doctrine did not emerge on September 11, 2001. During the first Gulf War, Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, had talked about a “new world order” in his State of the Union speech on January 29, 1991. In 1992, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz supervised the drafting of a policy statement on America's new mission in the post-Cold War era. The draft affirmed that coalitions “hold considerable promise for promoting collective action,” but went on to say that the United States “should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies” formed to deal with a particular crisis that may not outlive the resolution of that crisis (Wolfowitz 1992, Defense Planning Guidance). The 46-page classified document stated that what was most important was “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the United States” and that “the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in a crisis that calls for a immediate response (Wolfowitz 1992, Defense Planning Guidance).