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Abdul Rahman and the Death of the Bush Doctrine

March 25, 2006

Neo-conservative founding father Irving Kristol once famously said, a neoconservative is "a liberal who's been mugged by reality." Now the once-preening adherents of the Bush Doctrine are being beaten and battered by events on the ground. First came the Sharia-influenced constitution and sectarian violence in Iraq and the Hamas government in Palestine. With the possible execution of Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan, neo-conservatives' faith in democracy promotion in the Middle East is falling victim to their own much-hyped law of unintended consequences.
Consider the Abdul Rahman case. A medical aid worker who converted to Christianity 16 years ago, he survived the rule of the Taliban while helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Now, Rahman has been sentenced to death for apostasy by an Afghan court, a ruling apparently consistent with the new Afghan constitution and its enshrinement of Sharia law.
In January 2004, President Bush proclaimed "Afghanistan has now got a constitution which talks about freedom of religion." Not so much, as he, his followers on the religious right and Abdul Rahman himself are now finding out. Ansarullah Mawlavi Zada, the chief of the three-judge panel in the Rahman case, stated, "we have constitution and law here. Nobody has the right to put pressure on us." Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the Karzai government's own Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, confirmed that Sharia law recognized by the Afghan constitution mandates that any Muslim who rejects Islam should be sentenced to death. The cleric Khoja Ahmad Sediqi, also a judge on the Afghan Supreme Court, declared, "The Quran is very clear and the words of our prophet are very clear. There can only be one outcome: death."
Rahman may yet escape his constitutionally mandated fate. MSNBC reports that he may be released with in days. Rumors are building that the Afghan government is feverishly looking for an out, including the possibility of having Rahman declared mentally ill. (As Andrea Yates and others have found, in Texas mental illness does not necessarily mean salvation from the gallows.) Or perhaps Rahman may adopt the "Libby Defense," which argues that he was so busy and preoccupied with his duties that he inadvertently converted to Christianity.
But the damage has already been done to the myth of the Bush Doctrine and its central tenet of democracy promotion. President Bush was warned that the new Afghanistan constitution would produce something less like Western liberal democracy and more akin to "Taliban-lite." Now Bush is being backed into a corner by his erstwhile allies, including bloggers Michelle Malkin and LaShawn Barber, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and other members of the American Taliban. (As Barber ironically reports, the same folks who encourage Christian orthodoxy at home held a "Support Abdul Rahman" rally outside the Afghan embassy Friday to call for religious tolerance in Afghanistan.)
The sad tale of Abdul Rahman is just the latest pronouncement of the death of the Bush Doctrine. Its three central tenets - no safe havens for terrorists, preemption, and democracy promotion - have been swept away by wishful thinking, strategic incoherence and willful neglect. Threats from supposed Axis of Evil states like North Korea and Iran grow and fester. Preemptive war, contingent on unimpeachable intelligence and moral force, was fatally undermined in an Iraq conflict that featured neither. Most strikingly, the fantasy of sowing Western liberal democracy throughout the Islamic world by gunpoint has been abandoned by its most articulate proponent, End of History author Francis Fukuyama.
The neocons have been mugged by reality indeed. We just don't have a new name for them yet.
UPDATE: AP is reporting that the case against Rahman has been dismissed and that he has been released for now due to insufficient evidence and the possibility of mental illness. His trauma may not be over, as he may still be prosecuted or even targeted for death by Afghan clerics. In any event, while Rahman mercifully may live to see another day, the Bush Doctrine remains dead as a doornail.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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