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 pre-emptively
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 towards 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
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
Nonetheless, the death of the Bush doctrine cannot be refuted because of two
One is that the war that the United States has waged in Iraq is locked in a
bloody stalemate 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
The other failure of the doctrine involves the promotion of democracy since
it is obvious that it is not taking root in Iraq. The Palestinians, whom 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 his 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.
This will all presumably mean a return to a belief in engagement with evil
regimes, such as those of terrorist-sponsoring Syria and an Islamist Iranian
regime whose apocalyptic nuclear ambitions are no secret.
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 prev
iously mooted by European diplomats who mean Israel as little good as the
royal house of Saud.
REALISM NOT SO REALISTIC
The return of Baker, as well as the Saudi, plan should be setting off alarms
among those who have been Bush's chief critics. The pessimists about democracy
and Iraq turned out to be right about the administration's blithe dismissal
of the perils of its idealism. But history did not begin or end with the last
few years. If the neocon strategy made sense, it was chiefly because the
Bakerite realism had failed disastrously in the preceding decades.
Is our collective attention span so short that we have forgotten how a policy
of relying on supposedly stable and authoritarian Arab regimes got us in the
mess that led to the 9/11 attacks? And did the pre-George W. Bush decades of
American pressure on Israel to make concessions lead to peace or even moderate
Palestinian demands? Clearly not, as the historic blunder that was the Oslo
peace process proved.
Every step back from an aggressive support of Israeli self-defense will be
rightly perceived as a victory for Arab extremists who will be emboldened to
commit more violence, not less.
Even an all-out American betrayal of Israel something that neither the Bush
White House nor the Democratic Congress would countenance would not help us
out of our Iraqi pickle. Islamists there aren't fighting for a Palestinian
state or even just for the extermination of the Jewish state. They want much
more, and are honest enough to tell us as much if only we will listen.
The truth is that while the George W. Bush doctrine may have failed, it was
no more or less of a failure than that which preceded it. And, despite many
well-aimed barbs about Iraq, none of Bush's critics seem to have a viable
alternative concept to deal with Iran, the Palestinians or Iraq.
In none of those cases does merely calling for more engagement or yapping
about the need for peace (as many on the Jewish left do nonstop) constitute a
strategy. Indeed, the Baker ideas and the Jewish "peace" camp's nostrums about
more pressure on Israel are just "staying the course" on concepts that were
proven fallacies even before George W. Bush took office.
It may well be that the Bush doctrine is dead or dying, but those who are so
enthusiastically sitting shivah for it need to do better than to merely
recycle "peace plans" that were long ago consigned to the trash bin of history.