Sunday, May 15, 2005

Assessing the Bush Doctrine

Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch provides a terrific overview of the Bush Doctrine and how it has unfolded since 9/11. Here are the key passages:

Within a week after the WTC was felled, Bush had enunciated a new and broad strategic doctrine. We were, he announced, 1) in a global conflict with terrorists, those who would pursue their political grievances through the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, and 2) so importantly, he cautioned that states that harbored terrorists would be held as accountable and culpable as the terrorists themselves. There was nothing inevitable or so obviously intuitive regarding either prong above. I believe a Gore Administration, quite likely, would have considered the 9/11 attacks a matter to be pursued via judicial means. A criminal act (however horrific) had occured, the reasoning may well have gone, the perpetrators would need to be caught and brought to justice. There would have been debates about getting U.N. authorization to go into Afghanistan, perhaps, and the ultimatums to the Taliban would likely have been less demanding, and so on. But let's say, in fairness, perhaps not. Perhaps given the scale of the tragedy, Gore would have sprung into action and declared war on al-Qaeda. All out, full-blown war. Let's go ahead and assume so, shall we?

While I doubt this even, what I can certainly doubt unequivocally is that Gore would have adopted the second prong of the Bush Doctrine dealing with states that harbor terrorists. And therein Bush's first accomplishment. By not only declaring war on al-Qaeda, but also putting all states that have had ties to terrorist groups on notice that their previous routine behavior was now unacceptable, Bush was signaling that a more fundamental re-adjustment of the international system was in the works. He was saying loudly and clearly: something epoch-making occurred when those Towers came down. The world has changed. The status quo is no longer acceptable. Change is the order of the day. There are new rules. Civilized societies will no longer tolerate regimes that aid and abet the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents with purpose and intent. No, not wild Robespierrian excesses, necessarily. Not unbridled freedom is on the march! But a new measuring stick, tempered by realpolitik (see Uzbekistan, Russia, Pakistan etc). States must cut ties to terror, aid the international community in prosecuting terror to the fullest, and liberalize their societies. This last, one might say, is the third prong (and most neo-Wilsonian one) of the Bush doctrine. In fairness, it should be mentioned, it rose to the fore after no WMD turned up in Iraq. But more on that below.

This is an essential point. I know I was extremely thankful for dimpled chads in the wake of 9/11, and remain so to this day. I do disagree with Greg in the sense that I don't see how a Gore Administration could have avoided treating 9/11 as an act of war. The key question is what kind of war America would have waged, and this is where I agree wholeheartedly. A Gore Administration's "War on Terror" would have amounted to little more than a glorified criminal manhunt for Osama bin Laden and associates. The broader jihadist terror movement would have treated as just another transnational threat to be managed and contained, while our overall approach to the Middle East would have remained September 10th business as usual. This was the approach advocated by John Kerry during last year's presidential campaign.

George Bush, on the other hand, recognized after 9/11 that realism was no longer a realistic option. He correctly saw that the September 11th atrocities were just a harbinger of what was to come if the jihadists were not immediately and decisively confronted. This includes not only the defeat of al-Qaeda and other terror networks, but of states that sponsor and harbor them. Most importantly, the Bush Doctrine includes the recognition that Bin Ladenism cannot truly be defeated as long as the Middle East is ruled by corrupt autocrats and brutal dictators. These regimes have survived by creating an atmosphere of xenophobia and fanaticism that made an event like 9/11 almost inevitable. Therefore, fostering the creation of democracy and pluralism in the Islamic world is essential. It will be neither quick or easy, but it is far preferable to the ultimate costs of doing nothing.

Yes, but what about Iraq you might ask. Greg makes some very good points here as well:

Let's pause here for a second and make an assumption. Let's say, despite B.D.'s take, that Gore would have done all this. He would have enunciated a robust post 9/11 doctrine, he would have (mostly) quashed the Taliban, hell, he would even have caught Osama himself in the mountains of Tora Bora. But one thing that we can all agree on, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that Al Gore would not have gone into Iraq. Ah you say, damn straight! And how better off we'd all be. We would have 1,600 more of our country-men still with us; 15,000 or so unmaimed; seemingly countless Iraqis not killed in collateral damage and daily suicide bombings; none of the painful transatlantic discord of the past years; US $ 200BB and counting still in the Treasury, and so on. How better off we'd be!

Except that we wouldn't be. To appreciate this, we must recall the second (and nascent third) prong of the Bush doctrine. Saddam may not have had collaborative, operational links with al-Qaeda; but he had clearly harbored terrorists in Baghdad in the past. He had also provided funds to the families of suicide bombers in the Occupied Territories. While this was a cheap propaganda ploy, it showed that Saddam didn't care a whit about the life of innocents. He was happy to massacre Kurds in the 'Kurdish Hiroshima' of Halabja to 'Arabize' Kurdistan, he was happy to lob Scuds into Saudi and Israel, he was happy to send funds to those would send their children to blow up other people's children. Unlike Kim Jong II or the Iranian Mullahs, Saddam had started two wars and massacred perhaps hundreds of thousands of his own people. He was a unique danger, a sadistic strategic blunderer perched in the middle of one of the most volatile regions in the world. To not have gone after him in a post 9/11 world, after he refused to bow to the will of extant U.N. resolutions, would have been to give the lie to the seriousness of America's intent in a new and dangerous era. In an era marked by the perils of the intersections between WMD, transnational terror groups, and rogue states--the burden was on Saddam to come clean, to cooperate, to turn a page. He and his regime remained obfuscatory, uncooperative, unrepentant. Inaction in the face of this would have been an abdication of the seriousness of purpose our national security needs demanded in a post 9/11 world.

So my point is that Bush's conviction and strength of character to go through with the Iraq war put the truth to his doctrine. America would not just prosecute terrorists; but terror-supporting regimes too. And by picking Iraq, perched centrally in the middle of the critical Middle East, Bush has sent the entire region into a period of great flux and opportunity (and, admitedly, danger too). As I mentioned earlier, that lack of WMD forced a revisionistic lifting of democratization to the top of the Bush agenda. But this mantra, which sounds Dantonesque to some Burkeans, or bullheaded dumb Texan to assorted lefties scared of Chimperor's antics, actually makes realist sense. Terrorist states, failed states, authoritarian states--they are often unstable in the extreme. And this instability breeds extremism. Which in turn leads to terrorism. Imagine the pent up frustrations of a young, secular Lebanese fellow living under the Syrian yoke as that country's intelligence services massacred various local political leaders one after the other? Imagine the frustations on the street, decade after decade, of the Pharoah-phenomenon of perma-leaders in Egypt? Imagine the anticipation resulting in at least having the prospects of reform there? And does anyone doubt the students in Iran, with thousands and thousands of American troops on their East and West (Afghanistan and Iraq) were not emboldened to take to the streets because of these interventions in their immediate neighorhood? Can anyone deny that the spectacle of millions of Iraqis, braving the fanatical scourge of car bombs, coming out en masse to vote--can anyone deny this has not inspired, fascinated, made curious the millions tuning into al-Arabiya or al-Jazeera?

Once again, I have to disagree with Greg on one point: the idea that bringing democracy to Iraq was a post-facto rationalization simply does not square with the historical record. Other than that, Greg's analysis is dead on. The Bush Administration offered numerous reasons for going to war with Saddam, and most of them have been validated. All of these rationales come back to one key factor: the nature of Saddam and his regime. Removing this threat has created opportunities for change in the Middle East that would otherwise not have been possible.


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