August 23, 2006


Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?: The president's critics are wrong. That includes the neocons. (NORMAN PODHORETZ, August 23, 2006, Opinion Journal)

So misrepresented has the Bush Doctrine been that the only way to begin answering that question is to remind ourselves of what it actually says (and does not say); and the best way to do that is by going back to the speech in which it was originally enunciated: the president's address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.

In analyzing that speech shortly after it was delivered, I found that the new doctrine was built on three pillars. The first was a categorical rejection of the kind of relativism ("One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter") that had previously prevailed in the discussion of terrorism, and a correlative insistence on using such unambiguously moral categories as right and wrong, good and evil, in describing the "great harm" we had suffered only nine days earlier. But, the president went on, out of that harm, and "in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment."

In spelling out the nature of that mission and moment, Mr. Bush gave the lie to those who would later claim that the idea of planting the seeds of democracy in Iraq was a hastily contrived ex post facto rationalization to cover for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction there. Indeed, the plain truth is that, far from being an afterthought, the idea of democratization was there from the very beginning and could even be said to represent the animating or foundational principle of the entire doctrine:

The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us. Our nation, this generation, . . . will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage.

The second pillar on which the Bush Doctrine stood was a new conception of terrorism that would, along with the "mission" emerging out of the rubble of 9/11, serve as a further justification for going first into Afghanistan and then into Iraq. Under the old understanding, terrorists were lone individuals who could best be dealt with by the criminal-justice system. Mr. Bush, by dramatic contrast, now asserted that they should be regarded as the irregular troops of the nation-states that harbored and supported them. From this it followed that 9/11 constituted a declaration of war on the United States, and that the proper response was to rely not on cops and lawyers and judges but on soldiers and sailors and Marines.

Again giving the lie to those who would later accuse him of misleading the American people as to why he had led us into Iraq, the president said:

Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

Furthermore, this war that we were about to fight would be

a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. . . . From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

In thus promising to "pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism," the president touched on the third pillar on which the Bush Doctrine was built: the determination to take pre-emptive action against an anticipated attack. But it was only three months later, in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 29, 2002, that he made this determination fully explicit:

I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

Here it is important to note what, for better or worse, the president did not say. He did not say--as almost everyone imagines he did--that he would act unilaterally, or that he would pay no attention to the opinions of our allies, or that he would ignore the U.N. Nor did he say--as would later mendaciously be charged in the relentless campaign to prove that he had "hyped" the danger posed by Saddam Hussein--that the threat had to be "imminent" before pre-emptive action could legitimately be taken. Nor did he use that word a few months later when, in the next major address he devoted to the Bush Doctrine, he restated the same point:

If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. . . . The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.

The reason it was now necessary to act in this way, the president explained, was that the strategy we had adopted toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War (or World War III in my accounting) could not possibly work "in the world we have entered"--a world in which "unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons or missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."

Having thus set the foundation for a new American policy in the broader Middle East, the president was left with the problem of how it could and should be applied to the narrower Middle East--that is, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In October 2001, only a month after 9/11, George W. Bush had become the first American president to come out openly for the establishment of a Palestinian state as the only path to a resolution of that conflict. But by June 2002, he had also arrived at the realization of a glaring contradiction between his own doctrine and his support for the creation of a Palestinian state that would, as things then stood, inevitably be run by terrorists like Yasser Arafat and his henchmen. He therefore added a number of conditions to his previously unqualified endorsement of Palestinian statehood:

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

This, he added, required the election of "new leaders," who would embark on building "entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action against terrorism."

And because he recognized that the Palestinians were "pawns in the Middle East conflict"--by which he clearly meant the war the Arab/Muslim world had been waging against Israel for "decades"--he broadened his demands to cover that world as well:

I've said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media and publicly denounce homicide bombs. Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment, and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Every nation committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.

With these portentous words, Mr. Bush eliminated the contradiction between waging a war on terror in the broader Middle East and supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state run by terrorists in the narrower. [...]

It is utterly inconceivable that the wish for an American defeat could ever find room in the mind or heart of a traditionalist conservative like the columnist George Will (though it could and has taken up comfortable residence in the thinking of rabid paleoconservatives like Patrick J. Buchanan). Even so, after many months of expressing his unhappiness with the Bush Doctrine mainly through hints and asides, Mr. Will's exasperation with it has finally boiled over. This administration, he laments in a recent column, is

currently learning a lesson--one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job--about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world.

In preaching this lesson to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Will joins forces with the likes of Philip Gordon within the old foreign-policy establishment who have long since appropriated and adapted it to their own political and ideological purposes (which are very far from Mr. Will's). Unlike the realists, however, but like the liberal internationalists, Mr. Will fears that enough life is left in the Bush Doctrine to continue doing damage. Hence he does not, as they do, see in the "ascendancy" of Ms. Rice one of the leading indicators of a retreat from, never mind a death blow to, the Bush Doctrine. To the contrary, he criticizes her for echoing the doctrine in seeming to consider "today's turmoil preferable to the Middle East's 'false stability' of the past 60 years," and accuses her of being stuck in the illusion that democratization is necessarily an antidote to terrorism.

Here Mr. Will comes perilously close to sounding like Brent Scowcroft, the elder President Bush's national security adviser (whose political purposes as an enemy of Israel are even further from Mr. Will's than are those of the old foreign-policy establishment). Some months ago, in an argument with Ms. Rice, who is his former protégée, Mr. Scowcroft drew an invidious comparison between the turmoil her boss's policy was creating in the Middle East and the "50 years of peace" the old policy had brought us. Though I very much doubt that George Will himself would ever describe as "years of peace" a period during which some two dozen wars were fought, he does deride Ms. Rice's claim that the "stability" the Middle East enjoyed in those years was "false"; and with regard to democratization, he also seems to agree with Mr. Scowcroft's contention that "you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history."

Accordingly, I would give the same answer to Mr. Will that I once gave to Scowcroft:

But the despotisms in the Middle East are not thousands of years old, and they were not created by Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. All of them were established after World War I--that is, less than a century ago--by the British and the French. This being the case, there is nothing "utopian" about the idea that such regimes--planted with shallow roots by two Western powers--could be uprooted with the help of a third Western power and that a better political system could be put in their place. And, in fact, this is exactly what has been happening before our very eyes in Iraq.

This is not an answer, however, that would cut any ice with William F. Buckley Jr., the other major traditionalist conservative who has, after much hesitation, decisively given up on the Bush Doctrine. The reason my argument would fall on deaf ears if directed at Mr. Buckley is that his own break with Mr. Bush's policies has not primarily been driven by the apparent conflict between Mr. Bush's "ideological certitudes" and sound conservative principles. The main factor is what Mr. Buckley has become convinced is the failure of these policies to pass the acid test of Iraq. [...]

In opposition to Messrs. Will and Buckley, and with at least the partial exception just noted of David Frum, my fellow neoconservatives are still heavily invested in the Bush Doctrine. But an increasing number of them also charge that it is being killed off--not by the obdurate realities of the Middle East; and not by any conceptual flaws; and not by its enemies at home and abroad, but rather by its author's loss of nerve in seeing it through. For the more aggressive remedy they prescribe, they have been cast out of the conservative community by no less an erstwhile political friend and ally than George Will himself. Neoconservatism, he has now concluded, is "a spectacularly misnamed radicalism"--a dirty word in Mr. Will's vocabulary. Though he thinks this administration richly deserves severe criticism, the kind it is getting from the neoconservatives is "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."

What Mr. Will is referring to in this uncharacteristically fevered attack is a July 24 piece in The Weekly Standard by its editor, William Kristol, advocating an immediate military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Going all the way, Mr. Kristol denounces the administration's delay in launching such a strike as a form of appeasement.

Now as it happens, there is a split among neoconservatives on the desirability of military action against Iran. For reasons of their own, some--including Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute--are just as opposed to such a course as is Mr. Will himself. They do not, however, agree with Mr. Will (who here again joins hands with the old foreign-policy establishment) that a nuclear Iran can just as successfully be contained as the Soviet Union was in World War III. As Eli Lake writes (New York Sun, Aug. 1, 2006):

There are those of us who have long endorsed a plan to bolster Iran's opposition as an alternative to a war with Iran, and there are sound arguments that bombing Iran's nuclear infrastructure would scuttle the efforts of Persian democrats to rescue their country from the mullahs. But let's not pretend that Iran is not at war with America and Israel. If it was true that Iran could be contained with a nuclear threat capability, then how does one explain its emboldened recklessness with regard to its proxies, Hezbollah?

Moreover, the fervent commitment of this group of neoconservatives to the democratization of the entire Middle East must similarly strike Mr. Will as tainted by the sin of radicalism and as "untethered from reality." So, at least, one is entitled to infer from another argument he makes against Ms. Rice:

America's intervention was supposed to democratize Iraq which, by benign infection, would transform the region. . . . But elections have transformed Hamas into the government of the Palestinian territories, and elections have turned Hizballah into a significant faction in Lebanon's parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state. And as a possible harbinger of future horrors, last year's elections gave the Muslim Brotherhood 19 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament.

But listen to what the exiled Iranian columnist Amir Taheri has to say about this argument:

Disappointed by the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian election and the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in last year's polls in Egypt, some doubt the wisdom of pushing for elections in the Muslim world. . . . The holding of elections, however, is a clear admission that the principal basis for legitimacy is the will of the people as freely expressed through ballot boxes. In well-established democracies, this may sound trite; in Arab societies, it is a revolutionary idea.

And listen also to the corroborative testimony of Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins. Speaking with the authority of one born and raised in Lebanon who is also an eminent student of the history of the Middle East, Mr. Ajami flatly asserts that "while the ballot is not infallible," it has "broken the pact with Arab tyranny."

Where Iran is concerned, those neoconservatives who oppose military action, and detect no possibility of even relatively free elections there, have instead placed their hopes in an internal insurrection that would topple the mullocracy and replace it with a democratic regime. They also keep insisting that the failure of this long-predicted insurrection to materialize is largely the fault of the Bush administration, whose own failure to do everything in its power to help the democratic opposition is in their eyes a blatant betrayal of the Bush Doctrine.

On this account, Richard Perle, one of the most influential of the neoconservatives, is furious with the president (in whose administration he formerly served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board). "Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi)" reads the headline of a piece he recently published in the Washington Post. Here Mr. Perle charges that Mr. Bush has "chosen to beat . . . an ignominious retreat" by yielding to the State Department's wish "to join talks with Iran on its nuclear program." In thereby betraying the promises of his own doctrine, Mr. Perle adds, the president has crushed the hopes that his "soaring speeches" had once aroused in the young democratic dissidents of Iran.

Other neoconservatives focus on what they see as other betrayals. In his column in the Los Angeles Times (July 12), Max Boot singles out Egypt as a prime example of "the downsizing of President Bush's democracy-promoting agenda." Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute, in "A Democracy Policy in Ashes" (Washington Post, June 27), likewise concentrates on "the bitter disappointment that Egypt's democrats feel over the apparent waning of the Bush administration's ardor for their course." Moving beyond Iran and Egypt, Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, begins a piece entitled "Fight for Mideast Democracy Failing" (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14) by offering examples of how, thanks to the Bush Doctrine, "democracy took root in what many once dismissed as infertile ground," but ends by showing how, "in the face of Bush's reversal," democratic dissenters throughout the region, who were emboldened by the president's pledge "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements," are now being silenced and repressed once again, while "U.S. allies who once considered reform now abandon it."

According to still other neoconservatives, it is not only in the Middle East that the administration, instead of carrying on with the struggle to "end tyranny in our world," has inexplicably pulled down this pillar of the Bush Doctrine by adopting a new policy of "coddling despots" like the repressive leaders both of Russia and China. North Korea makes for a comparably strong argument that the third pillar--the pledge to move pre-emptively against gathering threats--has also been blasted out from under the Bush Doctrine. Thus Nicholas Eberstadt, a neoconservative expert on that country, charges that Mr. Bush's policy toward the regime of Kim Jong Il is, if anything, worse than President Clinton's:

Apparently unwilling to move against North Korea's nuclear challenges by itself, and evidently incapable of fashioning a practical response involving allies and others, the Bush administration's response to Pyongyang's atomic provocations is today principally characterized by renewed calls for additional rounds of toothless diplomacy.

Kenneth Adelman, yet another strong partisan of the Bush Doctrine, adds insult to injury by telling an interviewer that its day is done, and that the administration's handing of North Korea (and Iran) amounts to "the triumph of Kerryism."

Two extraordinary features mark the consensus that has formed on the death of the Bush Doctrine. One is that it embraces just about every group all along the ideological spectrum, critics and friends of Mr. Bush alike: the realists, the liberal internationalists, the traditionalist conservatives, the paleoconservatives and the neoconservatives. The other extraordinary feature is that the only group that has refused to join in this unprecedented consensus is made up of Mr. Bush's enemies on the left.

Take the inveterate Bush hater Fred Kaplan, who, in the left-liberal webzine Slate, argues that "reports of the death of 'cowboy diplomacy' are greatly exaggerated," and that while there has been a "moderating tone in Bush's rhetoric . . . his actual policies have barely changed." It is in Slate, too, that its editor Jacob Weisberg (the same Jacob Weisberg who has devoted himself to collecting "Bushisms" supposedly proving how stupid the president is and how adept at finding "new ways to harm our country") posted his article acknowledging Mr. Bush's persistent refusal to engage with "rogue regimes." Moving further to the Left, we come upon Mother Jones, where one Ehsan Ahrari also denies that "cowboy diplomacy" has really ended.

No doubt, both Mr. Ahrari and Mr. Kaplan would very much prefer to agree that Mr. Bush has abandoned his wicked ways, and to congratulate the left on this great accomplishment. But the best they can do is concede that he is now "drifting" rather than pushing forcefully ahead (Mr. Kaplan) and to hope that Iran and North Korea will eventually force a real change in his overall approach (Mr. Ahrari). As for me, unaccustomed as I am to finding myself siding with my ideological enemies on the left, I have no honest choice but to admit that I think Fred Kaplan's analysis of where the Bush Doctrine now stands is closer to the mark than any of the others discussed above, including the ones offered by some of my fellow neoconservatives.

Neocons have one very simple problem, common to all intellectuals: they may love democracy in theory but they're dismayed with the level of religiosity (irrationality) it brings into office both domestically, in the form of George W. Bush and the congressional GOP, and in the Middle East, where they seem bizarrely surprised that Muslims are electing Islamic governments not the secular rationalist ones they drew up around think tank conference tables.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2006 9:15 AM

Naw, this is the point in any eight-year administration where its supposed most fervent adherents are seeking wiggle room out. I am not suprised by this development at all. I do get the feeling, however, that there will be loads of disappointment all around from these folks come Nov. 8.

Posted by: Brad S at August 23, 2006 1:51 PM

Jyst yesterday he said Iraq had nothing to do with al Queda so why are we in Iraq....some nonsense about impending mushroom clouds....hell we don't have working democracy here how can we export it?

Posted by: madmatt at August 23, 2006 3:04 PM

We did though.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 3:17 PM

The problem was never the Bush doctrine exactly, but the bumblingly inept and politically cynical way in which it was carried out. We'll never know if the doctrine would have worked becasue it was never faithfully executed to begin with.

Though I do find it odd that the Bush doctrine is steeped in idealism with regard to beleiving we have the capacity to impose democracy in a way which will bring about positive transformational change. That idealism is definitely out the door now...though, as I said above, it's possible that competent leadership could have made it work.

Posted by: ME at August 23, 2006 3:36 PM

Regardless of the specifics of the doctrine say, it's become utterly clear to me that so long as either party controls both houses of congress and the presidency, bad things are going to happen. Without at least one branch saying whoa, we end up with a bunch of yesmen leading us into morasses like Iraq. If you don't have to defend your doctrine against the critcisms of the opposing party, you'll end up in an echo chamber, hearing what you want to hear. I'm at the point where I don't much care which party is in which branch, just so long as theres' a mix.

Posted by: Brent at August 23, 2006 3:53 PM

Except that it did work and is working. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the PLO are all neutered. Libya gave up its WMD programs voluntarily. Hamas and Hezbollah are becoming mere political parties. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon all democratically elected governments. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc, have had to start holding elections.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 4:01 PM

The problem is actually the Republicans inability to control the Senate because of the bogus filibuster rules. If they could hammer through SS and tax reform and the like folks would feel better about the direction of the country than they do with changes that are quite popular being thwarted by statist dead-enders. The GOP is stuck trying to undo the New Deal/Great Society without the legislative wherewithal that they were imposed with.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 4:34 PM

The real reason for the dissatisfaction of neo-, paleo-, con, is Bush does not listen to them. Like the leftists, they believe Bush is dumb and is manipulated by the conservatives. They've never believed Bush is capable of having his own goals and agenda. Like everybody else, they want to appear as expert talking heads on TV's. The fastest route to get recognition from the MSM is to "break" with Bush. Thus in the Katrina debacle, the neo-cons knew it was the state's responsibility to evacuate the residents. Yet they competed with the leftists to get on the TV's to blame Bush. In the Lebanon ceasefire, they accused Bush of selling out Israel ignoring the obvious that Israel needed some breathing space. He may make mistakes on the way, but Bush will do what Bush and his allies, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice want to do, regardless what the left or the neocons said or not said about him. None of them is going to run for office, thus they are free to do what they believe is the best for the country. If Bush's critics put away their assumption that Bush is dumb, then they will understand better what Bush is getting at.

Posted by: ic at August 23, 2006 5:21 PM


It's just their secularism & his theoconservatism.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 6:26 PM

Except that it did work and is working. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the PLO are all neutered.

Except that Al Qaeda has increased recruiting and its prestige as a direct result of our invading. Oh, and worldwide terrorism has also increased; this last according to the Bush dep't's own figures.

I don't consider that a plan that's working

And the Taliban is resurging in Afghanistan -

And the state of the PLO has nothing at all to do with the Bush doctrine.

Libya gave up its WMD programs voluntarily.

Because we dangled before them a lifting of sanctions - which is not part of the Bush doctrine.

Libya has actually been trying to use their WMD's as a bargaining chip for the lifting of sanctions, since 1999.

Hamas and Hezbollah are becoming mere political parties. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon all democratically elected governments. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc, have had to start holding elections.

Yes - and everyone they are electing HATES US.

Is that a success?

Why is it a logical stretch to think that, if you go in and bomb a country that isn't currently threatening you, the survivors will hate you for killing their family, friends and neighbors? And they will tell all the neighboring countries why they hate you?

Posted by: jim at August 23, 2006 7:04 PM

Even the Canadians are kicking Talib butt. OBL is dead and al Qaeda can't pull off any of even the feeble attacks they've tried. Libya is mostly a function of Saif al Islam, but his pro-Westernism is hardly a negative.

The state of the PLO is because we forced elections and a secular party can't win them.

The governments they're electing are getting deserved mileage out of resentment at our interference. The national pride they play on is a very good thing.

If you want pro-American governments you impose dictatorships. Of course, that's how the trouble started...

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2006 7:37 PM

The Taliban is resurging in Afghanistan?

Fluctuations in violence because they've run out of room to retreat and are increasingly getting their butts kicked even by Canadians is not resurgence. It's wishful thinking on their part and yours as well. Pathetic.

Posted by: andrew at August 23, 2006 9:45 PM

"The state of the PLO has nothing at all to do with the Bush Doctrine"???

What's up with that? Arafat has a permanent reservation in the White House, and things go to heck in the West Bank and Gaza. Then, a US President actually refuses to meet with him, and Israel finally decides to just pull back. And that's a coincidence? Please.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 23, 2006 10:15 PM