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Recycled Trash Makes Poor Policy


With the Republican defeat in the congressional midterm elections and the widespread perception that America is losing in Iraq, the notion that the Bush foreign-policy doctrine is now officially dead has moved from theory to fact.

What was the Bush doctrine? In short, it was the belief that the United States was in a war against the evil of Islamist extremism; that nations were either with us or against us in that war; that America had the right to act unilaterally, and/or preemptively to fight its enemies; and that the only way the bad guys would be defeated was by the spread of democracy.

The embrace of this doctrine led America to not only invade Afghanistan and Iraq but to alter its policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rather than allow American strategy to be dictated by Arab powers whose anti-democratic domestic rule and ambivalence toward Islamic terror outside of their own borders rendered them on the wrong side of the us-vs.-them divide, Bush embraced Israel, defended its right of self-defense and refused to meet with arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat.

Why has the Bush doctrine failed? Surely not because most Americans no longer think our enemies are evil or question whether we really have any enemies. Nor would any but those on the far left actually think that an American president ought to receive permission from the United Nations or, heaven help us, France, before acting to defend ourselves.

Nonetheless, the death of the Bush doctrine cannot be refuted because of two key points.

One is that the United States is locked in a bloody stalemate in Iraq with no easy conclusion anywhere in sight. Americans like their wars to be relatively bloodless (at least in terms of American blood), swift and easily defined as victory.

Iraq is obviously none of those things. The fact that the enemy there only has the capacity to commit acts of terrorism (albeit on a horrifying scale) – and has no chance for victory other than the very well-placed hope that we will tire of the carnage before they do – cuts no ice with most Americans who want no part of a long-term counter-insurgency against a barbarous foe in that awful place.

The other failure of the doctrine involves the promotion of democracy. It is obvious that democracy is not taking root in Iraq. The Palestinians, who Bush thought would also embrace democracy, did so only by electing a terrorist group whose doctrine calls for holy war to the death with both Israel and the West.

Perhaps more Iraqis and Palestinians should have read Natan Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy, which the president recommended to one and all. Maybe more Americans should have read it, too. But that still leaves us with a situation in which Bush’s policy goals seem to be sunk.

Many of the so-called neocons, the architects of this ambitious strategy, are leaving or have left their posts, and the return of the “realists” is widely predicted. The convening of an Iraq-policy study group led by former secretary of state James Baker and others, such as former national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft, is seen as merely the process by which the administration of Bush the younger will give way to the wiser, supposedly more realistic heads that ran things during the administration of Bush the elder.

Charged with finding a way out of Iraq, the Baker group is believed to be ready to recommend not only an olive branch for Iran but pressure on Israel. Only by satisfying the Arabs on Israel, it is thought, can America find a way to exit Iraq.

This is a position that has already been articulated by Bush’s only serious ally on Iraq, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. Combine that with the fact that even Israel’s friends in the White House appear to have lost confidence in an Israeli leadership that seems to lack Ariel Sharon’s decisiveness, and whose Lebanon strategy (or lack thereof) let its American allies down, and you have the makings of a shift in the wind on Israel.

Multilateralist diplomacy appears to be the new-old currency of the realm as even nonstarters like the 2002 Saudi fake “peace plan” have been lobbed back into the court of public opinion, along with similarly ridiculous schemes previously mooted by European diplomats who mean Israel as little good as the royal house of Saud.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


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