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Rove, Cheney and the Death of the Bush Doctrine

August 20, 2007

Among the more tragi-comic aspects of the departure of Karl Rove is the media's renewed interest in the Bush Doctrine and its three tenets of no safe havens for terrorists, preventive war and democracy promotion. Last Monday, Rove claimed that the Bush Doctrine would live on and be the President's legacy. And this morning, the Washington Post described a frustrated President Bush stymied by what it portrayed as bureaucratic stonewalling of his ailing global democracy project.
Lost in this flurry of analyses is the basic truth. The Bush Doctrine isn't dying, it's dead.
As I wrote in June ("The Death of the Bush Doctrine"), the neoconservative vision of attacking terrorist safe havens, launching preemptive wars and declaring a crusade for democracy has been "mugged by reality." Karl Rove notwithstanding, the chaos in Gaza, the carnage in Baghdad and the conflict in Lebanon were the final gasps of the Bush Doctrine in its death throes:

At the end of the day, the Bush Doctrine was a myth. It was merely a rhetorical device, just political opportunism masquerading as grand strategy. Along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have a safe haven, indeed. In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and the WMD debacle, most of the American political and military leadership (as well as virtually the entire international community) opposes pre-emptive strikes against potential future enemies such as Iran and North Korea. And the Bush administration's notion of democracy expansion remains highly selective, as the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Thailand and elsewhere attest. Even with Iraq, the embrace of democracy promotion was ex post facto: we didn't invade Iraq to promote democracy; we promote democracy because we invaded Iraq.

Of course, that cockeyed optimist Karl Rove would have none of it. In the Wall Street Journal piece last week announcing his departure, Rove proclaimed the irreversible triumph of the Bush Doctrine:

Mr. Rove also makes a spirited defense of this president's policy legacy, sometimes more convincingly than others. On foreign affairs, he predicts that at least two parts of the Bush Doctrine will live on: The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist; and pre-emption. "There may be a debate about degree," he says, "but it's going to be hard for any president to reverse that."

This morning, an expose in the Washington Post described bureaucratic infighting, the opposition of the State Department and Dick Cheney's "little-girl crush on strongmen" all combining to thwart the will of a visionary President Bush:

By the time he arrived in Prague in June for a democracy conference, President Bush was frustrated. He had committed his presidency to working toward the goal of "ending tyranny in our world," yet the march of freedom seemed stalled. Just as aggravating was the sense that his own government was not committed to his vision.
As he sat down with opposition leaders from authoritarian societies around the world, he gave voice to his exasperation. "You're not the only dissident," Bush told Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leader in the resistance to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "I too am a dissident in Washington. Bureaucracy in the United States does not help change. It seems that Mubarak succeeded in brainwashing them."

While a gripping tale, the Post's story of bureaucratic intrigue, like Rove's grandstanding, is revisionist history pure and simple. The Bush Doctrine didn't fail because of poor execution or barriers to its implementation. It failed because it was fatally flawed from the very beginning, an idea whose time never came in a world to which it bore no relation.
The administration's wild euphoria of early 2005, with purple fingers in Iraq, Palestinian elections to replace the dead Arafat, the Cedar Revolution in Beirut and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, has long since passed. Hamas is triumphant in Gaza, Hezbollah resurgent in fractured Lebanon and the Maliki government in Baghdad gridlocked by sectarian conflict. Meanwhile, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are safely rebounding in their safe haven in Pakistan, a fact acknowledged by a National Intelligence Estimate and even President Bush himself. And back in Washington, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani advisor Norman Podhoretz remain gleefully ignorant of the march of history, and continue to advocate bringing transformation to Iran through military strikes.
The Bush Doctrine does not - and should not - represent the future of American foreign policy. While the media debates its health, the patient has already passed away. The dangerous and delusional vision of President Bush and his amen corner has already been consigned to the dustbin of history.
As John Edwards said to Karl Rove last week, "goodbye, good riddance."


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

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