The Death of the Bush Doctrine
That wheezing sound you may have heard this week amid the chaos in Gaza, the carnage in Baghdad and the conflict in Lebanon was the final gasps of the Bush Doctrine in its death throes. Just two years after the President and his neo-conservative allies basked in the glow of their self-proclaimed moment of triumph, the Bush Doctrine of no safe havens for terrorists, American preventive war and democracy promotion is discredited, discarded - and dead.
The ruins of the Bush foreign policy vision lay strewn about the Middle East. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas militants now control Gaza after routing the Fatah forces of President Mahmoud Abbas. As Abbas seeks international support for his new prime minister in the West Bank, Hamas, the winner of the 2006 Palestinian elections, has established a de facto parallel government in Gaza. In Lebanon, Walid Eido became the fifth anti-Syrian politician assassinated in two years, even as the U.S.-backed Siniora government battled both Al Qaeda fighters in Palestianian refugee camps and the incessant pressure of Hassan Hasrallah's ever more powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement. And in Iraq, the new rubble of the Shiite shrine in Samarra and Sunni mosques in Basra symbolizes the unending sectarian violence and civil war which has paralyzed both the Baghdad government and the U.S. military surge. From Kabul to Cairo, U.S. backed governments find their democratic institutions under assault, their forces in retreat and their legitimacy in doubt.
What a difference two years makes. In March 2005, President Bush declared, "The trend is clear: In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march." A smug Bush could almost be excused his premature elation. After all, the world had witnessed the first elections in Iraq, with the images of purple-fingered men and women filling television screens. In Ukraine, a poisoned Viktor Yushchenko led the "Orange Revolution" to power after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest rigged elections. In Lebanon, the Cedar Revolution swept away the Syrian occupation in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Harriri. And in Palestine, the death of Yassir Arafat brought the election of Abbas, and with it, renewed hope for peace with Israel.
President Bush's amen corner among the conservative chattering classes were quick to proclaim the triumph of the Bush Doctrine and its four pillars of American unilateralism, no safe havens, preventive war and democracy expansion. On March 4, 2005, Charles Krauthammer declared, "We are at the dawn of a glorious, delicate, revolutionary moment in the Middle East," adding "It is our principles that brought us to this moment by way of Afghanistan and Iraq." Three days later in a Time piece titled "Three Cheers for the Bush Doctrine," Krauthammer mocked the opponents of the President's Bush Doctrine vision of democratic transformation in the Middle East, labeling them "embarrassingly, scandalously, blessedly wrong." And the next day, the National Review's Rich Lowry proclaimed:
"By toppling Saddam Hussein and insisting on elections in Iraq, while emphasizing the power of freedom, Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region."
But it is the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol who was perhaps the Bush Doctrine's most vocal cheerleader and self-satisfied proponent. In the wake of the Iraqi elections, Kristol declared the complete victory of the Bush Doctrine and the arrival of a seminal moment in world history ushering in a new era of democratic change around the globe:
"Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment--perhaps the key moment so far--in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress."
It's no wonder that by July 2005, Krauthammer confidently announced that the Bush Doctrine and the idealism of the neo-conservatives, once so anathema to conservative foreign policy orthodoxy, was now "a governing ideology whose time has come." "What neoconservatives have long been advocating," he said, "is now being articulated and practiced at the highest levels of government."
As it turns out, President Bush was better lucky than good. And now, his luck is running out.
Of course, it's not quite accurate to say that the Bush Doctrine is dead. Actually, it was stillborn. An idea whose time never came, the so-called Bush Doctrine has been disproven by events on the ground. As the downward spiral of chaos in Baghdad, Beirut and the West Bank reveal, the neo-conservative proponents, to use their own parlance, have been mugged by reality. Only those most in denial, like the Heritage Foundation sponsors of "In Defense of the Bush Doctrine," still believe otherwise.
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 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.
As for the Bush Doctrine, its short but unhappy life is at an end. Good riddance.