A year ago today I posted here an in-depth essay about the Bush Doctrine. I re-post it here today for your consideration. Upon re-reading it, I note a few minor points where a year's more observation, experience and (hopefully) wisdom would cause me to state some issues differently, but, overall, I stand by this statement. As my last few posts illustrate, it is heartening to me personally to see so many prominent conservatives beginning to come around to the point of view advanced herein.
Please do leave your thoughts, whatever they may be. And, don't forget, you can always email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Nov 5, last year:
As usual, the good folks at Commentary Magazine
have done us an invaluable favor in publishing yet another excellent issue this month, the bulk of which is available online without a subscription. The lead article this month is a Symposium, asking leading intellectuals to comment broadly on the Bush Doctrine, its application to date, its failures, and its future. The responses from 36 writers, professors and analysts are almost all compelling and noteworthy, though one wishes that more on the left were sought out.
Of all the responses that leapt out at me, though, the one that I want to discuss at some length is that of Aaron L. Friedberg
, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton and formerly Vice President Cheney's national security advisor. Friedberg is interesting not only because he was an Administration insider responsible for policy creation during the time when the Bush Doctrine came into being, but also because he has long been connected with the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century
, which had been calling for the ouster of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad since at least 1997.
Thus, Friedman's views reflect not only those of the Administration he was once a part of, but also of that strata of Washington-based intellectuals who have exerted influence over the great policy decisions of the Administration. What follows are Friedman's comments, paragraph by paragraph, along with my comments and observations. (You can, of course, read the entire Friedman piece as a whole at the Commentary Magazine link provided above).
Since 9/11, the "Bush Doctrine" label has been applied to various aspects of administration policy, from the President's initial "with us or against us" warning to state sponsors of terrorism, to his declared willingness to act preemptively (and, if need be, unilaterally) to head off the danger of covert WMD attack, to his assertion that final victory in the global war on terror depends on the spread of liberty across the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. I will focus on this final usage, which is likely to prove the most lasting.
This is frankly startling, especially to those of us who took the President at his word when he announced the Bush Doctrine. It seemed at the time, when the President spoke to Congress in the aftermath of the 9.11 attacks, that the President was ready, willing and able to declare war on those regimes which were sponsoring both international terrorism and those who harbored such terrorists. Now, Friedman tells us that this assertion was merely the first "usage" of the term; in other words, it was pointless rhetoric, discarded at the first opportunity for "clarification." My understanding of the Bush Doctrine was that we would no longer make a distinction between those who actively supported terror and those who harbored terrorists and that both would henceforth be treated by the U.S. as hostile regimes. Now, we are told, it merely means we hope the Middle East becomes a happier place, given time.
The difference between the two concepts could not be greater and can best be summarized in the relative stance of the United States in each: in the first the United States is pro-active, labeling states as "friendly" and "hostile" and taking action appropriate to each individual case; in the second, the U.S. is reduced to a "reactive" stance in which how we are doing is measured solely by what Mohammed and his wife think about politics, democracy, the role of religion in the state, etc. It seems fairly blindingly obvious to me that we can hope to "win" in the first sense, while the second gives the very definition of "winning" over to those who, either through active terrorism or inactive support of terrorism, will never give their consent to a U.S. victory. In short, the rhetorical change has ensured U.S. defeat by defining victory in a manner that makes it next to impossible to achieve.
Is a campaign aimed at the political transformation of the "broader Middle East" essential to the defeat of terrorism? If so, how can it be carried forward to a successful conclusion at an acceptable cost? The first of these questions is easier to answer than the second.
The first may be easier to answer, but the answer itself is by no means readily apparent. If nothing short of the wholesale political transformation of the Middle East can defeat terrorism, then we may as well pack it in and learn to live with Kerry's "nuisance."
While I agree that this is a
solution, it is a solution in the same sense that a solution to the problem of domestic politics in the United States is to convert all Democrat blue states over to red-state Republicanism.
happen, but it really isn't in the cards, is it? And if the task of turning New England into a bastion of red state America daunts you, imagine the task of turning a part of the world steeped in tribalism, authoritarianism and an anti-liberal religious ferocity into a democracy.
I believe the administration's assessment of the Islamist threat is fundamentally correct. In al Qaeda and its affiliates, we confront an enemy who aims to inflict as much pain on us and our allies as possible, thereby dividing the West, forcing a retraction of American power, and clearing the way for the overthrow of local "apostate" regimes and their absorption into a transnational caliphate. Having concocted quasi-theological justifications for their actions, the terrorists put no limit on the numbers they are willing to kill to achieve their goals; all that stands in their way is, for the moment, an apparent lack of means.
Nothing objectionable here, save perhaps for the assertion that Al-Qaeda's justifications are "quasi-theological." On the contrary, the justifications advanced are spectacularly theological, as many a radical Muslim would happily explain to you (just prior to cutting your throat, of course). The humor here is watching Christian and Jewish American functionaries defend the honor of Islam against Muslim interpretations. If only for reasons of self-determination, I'm going with what the Muslims say about Islam and do in its name in order to come to judgment about it rather than relying on the latest "Islam Means Peace" speech from some official in Near Eastern Affairs.
The menace we face may not be "existential," in the same sense as the cold-war threat from the Soviet Union. Al Qaeda cannot rain down tens of thousands of nuclear warheads on American cities. But, with a few well-placed dirty bombs or vials of anthrax, it could impose terrible human and financial costs and radically alter, perhaps for a generation or more, the character of our open society and the extent of our integration into the global economy. The passage of time since 9/11, and the absence thus far of a follow-on attack on American soil, have caused some observers to lose sight of these dangers and even to argue that they have been grossly exaggerated. I know of no one involved in the conduct of the war on terror who shares this sense of complacency.
A useful reminder of the scope of the threat, I think this summary walks the fine line between alarmism and a willingness to face stark reality. A lot does depend, however, on one's definition of "existential." Does the ability to destroy three large American cities qualify? One? Twenty?
I'm not sure, but I do know this: to those who are living in the targeted cities, the threat is existential enough to demand immediate government action.
The ideology that motivates the jihadists has now metastasized and spread, so that it finds adherents even in free societies. But it sprang to life first in the diverse despotisms of the broader Middle East, and these are the sources from which it still feeds and which continue, either deliberately or indirectly, to sustain it. Even if it were possible to wave a wand and transform these societies overnight into functioning liberal democracies, the jihadist movement would likely live on, at least for a time. But unless and until progress is made in this direction, it seems certain to survive, and to thrive. The absence of liberty fuels frustration and extremism by cutting off avenues for more moderate forms of political expression, reinforcing social and economic stagnation, and feeding a sense of collective weakness, shame, and rage.
Here is where I begin to part ways with the Administration's view. While the absence of liberty has undoubtedly led to a growth in cultural pathologies in the Middle East, that fact alone does not explain the Islamist mindset any more than a mere reference to Germany's lack of liberty in the late 30's explains National Socialism. It is not clear to me that Western liberties would do anything to lessen the inherent dysfunction of the shame dynamic so common in Islamic, tribal cultures.
In fact, as is now helpfully on display in Paris, radicalized Islam is thriving in an environment where liberty is not only guaranteed, it is actively championed for on behalf of the larger Muslim community. The Left in France has done everything it can to extend liberty to the Muslims of France and, so far as we can determine, this hasn't really changed the nature of the underlying Islamic culture.
The fact remains that if a people fervently believe that they know the truth and that those who do not agree with them must either convert or be slaughtered, the fact that these people live in a state of liberty granted to them by others will change nothing.
The other key elements of U.S. strategy-stronger homeland defenses and a relentless global offensive against Islamist terror networks-are necessary to keep the enemy off balance and reduce the risk of future attack; but they will not be sufficient, in themselves, to achieve a lasting peace. Jihadism cannot be defeated on the defensive, or even by cutting back its visible offshoots. It must be pulled up by the roots.
Again, I agree. It's how those roots are to be pulled that is the issue. With German fascism and Japanese militarism, the roots were pulled by pounding the supporting population until they themselves agreed to give it up and not to have anything to do with those who advocated those ideas ever again. That, to my mind, is what pulling it up by the roots entails when one is facing fascist fanatics.
Obviously, the U.S. cannot go out and declare war against the entire Islamic world. Not only is that impractical, it would also be wrong. But the United States could, if it wished, do at a minimum the following, which I believe would be essential to winning the War on Terror:
1) It should institute conscription, radically enlarge the Armed Forces and put the U.S. economy on a war footing. It should make a special point to draft recent legal immigrants from Arabic and Farsi-speaking countries to ensure that U.S. forces have sufficient linguistic ability in the field;
2) It should declare war, in Congress, against the Islamic Republic, with the goal of handing over a conquered Iran to the U.N. or some other trans-national authority. It should play no role in reconstructing the county, except insofar as it should be made clear that any return of Islamic Fascism would invite a return engagement on the same terms;
3) It should declare war, in Congress, against the genocidal and Islamic fascist government of Sudan, and replace it with a provisional government led by Sudanese Christians;
4) It should be conducting war against the following Islamic terrorist groups, no matter where located: Hamas, Hezbollah, Abu Sayyaf, and Islamic Jihad. This should include direct military assaults on public displays of any those organizations, including military parades and press conferences;
5) It should demand the cessation of anti-American propaganda and the funding of Wahabbi institutions abroad by Saudi Arabia, backed by the threat of force if not agreed to;
6) It should rally world support for its program by speaking out forcefully and persuasively (i.e. freed from the shackles of political correctness and modern political culture) about the anti-liberal, fascist nature of Islam armed. For example, the plight of women and children should never stopped being spoken of, the abuses of Shari'a should be widely disseminated and the actual practice of Islam in Iran and the Sudan should be the first, middle and last point of discussion whenever a U.S. official opens his or her mouth; and
7) It should use the U.N. as a platform to discuss the crimes and the threat posed by Islamic Fascism and little else.
Should the Islamic world be faced with a confident, stern opponent willing to use force, it would be only a matter of time before the Islamic masses as a whole would give up the struggle and, indeed, do our policing for us.
I understand that these proscriptions sound extreme, and I must admit I've come to them only reluctantly. It has everything to do with judgment: if one believes, as I do, that nothing short of full-scale war will deter the growth of Islamic Fascism, then the rest follows as a matter of course.
It's impossible, it's never going to happen, and all those other things you may well now be thinking, but the cold fact is that a day is not too far off when some President of the United States is going to be presented with the possibility of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic that has as an official, publicly-stated goal the destruction of the United States of America.
We are a liberal people, but reality is what it is and at the end of the day, I have to believe we'll vote for us when it comes down to "us vs. them."
There are alternatives to a strategy that has transformation as its ultimate goal. If pressed, most liberal critics of the Bush Doctrine would say they agree with its ends but differ over means (more "soft" power and less "hard," more multilateralism and less unilateralism). While the differences are in some respects overstated, there is a serious debate to be had here and a consensus to be hammered out, though controversies over Iraq have made this all but impossible for the moment.
Whatever the merits of the plan I outline above may be, the fact is that it isn't going to happen anytime soon. Political calculations are no less important in figuring out what to do than practical ones, even if I think the course of action is crystal clear. After all, who really would have been in favor of total war against Germany in 1938? I'm not at all sure that even knowing what we know now we would change that fact of history had we the power to do so. So, what is to be done?
True consensus cannot be hammered out on this issue until there is agreement about the scope of the threat. So long as a significant portion of the American people, and an overwhelming proportion of their Western cousins, believe that the threat is not grave, there cannot be such an agreement.
Prudent leadership, therefore, should be Rooseveltian at this time. Marshall our strength, do what we can to arm our allies, and prepare the ground for the time when the enemy shows himself.
It would benefit Bush and his successors greatly at this time if the U.S. were to back off, quietly making the Churchill arguments and gaining support here and there until the time comes.
More distinct are the options offered by advocates of what can only be called a policy of appeasement, on the one hand, and the self-described "realists," on the other. The first group asserts that by leaving Iraq, cutting support for Israel, and perhaps withdrawing altogether from the Middle East, we may be able eventually to deprive the jihadists of their base of support. Despite the evident moral and strategic bankruptcy of these arguments, they have begun to gain ground recently in academic circles, where books "bravely" questioning our ties to Israel and "proving" that suicide terrorists are motivated solely by a desire to free their homes from occupation are currently the rage. Fortunately, such ideas seem unlikely for now to exert much influence on practical policy.
I mostly agree with this, though it must be said that U.S. standing is higher in those Islamic nations that we have had next to nothing to do with than with dependencies like Egypt. (I also wonder sometimes if perhaps the U.S. shouldn't impose a Caliphate as a means of immunizing future Muslims from the fanciful image of an Islamic paradise they apparently have.)
It is the "realists" who most stand to gain if American policy in Iraq comes to be seen as a costly failure. Such an outcome would be taken as proof that the pursuit of liberalization in the broader Middle East is a fool's errand and that, instead of criticizing "friendly" local regimes and pressuring them to reform, we should be content to make common cause in wiping out the jihadists. What is needed, in this view, is a more effective and if need be a more ruthless version of the policy that existed before 9/11. The fact that this approach has already proved its ineffectiveness may not lessen its appeal, at least for a while.
"Realism" as defined here is a problem, but, whatever ones hopes and wishes, when one finds oneself arguing against "Reality," one has a problem. The fact is that unless the Iraqi people show a marked improvement over the next year in self-governance and self-protection, the U.S. should announce that it has done what it could and leave.
We simply cannot allow ourselves to be backed into a corner where if, and only if, we gain approval ratings for Bush in Baghdad that he can't achieve in Baltimore, we have succeeded in Iraq.
The Ba'athist threat is gone. We've given decent people a chance to prevail. I don't think there is much more that can be asked of the American people if the stark reality remains that Iraqis aren't interested in joining the modern world. When your biggest "ally" refuses to even speak with you because you're an infidel dog...well, we have better things to do.
In the long run, and whatever happens in Iraq, some variant of the Bush Doctrine will remain an essential part of overall U.S. strategy for defeating Islamist terrorism. The questions facing this administration as it enters its final quarter are more practical than theoretical. How to tailor the right mix of pressures and inducements to move "friendly" regimes toward meaningful reforms, and how to deal with openly hostile holdouts? How to minimize the inevitable risks of transition (the "one man, one vote, one time" problem)? How to institutionalize the "forward strategy of freedom" within the U.S. government and the Western alliance? And how to ensure continuing domestic political support for a goal that is both necessary and just?
Good questions all, and all well beyond the capabilities of this Administration, whatever its other virtues. For a moment, it seemed as if this President was going to rise to the challenge, but it is beyond clear that he lacks the ability and the vision to move us forward.
Whatever it's virtues, the fact remains that Bush and his Doctrine do not command the domestic and international support the U.S. needs to both wage and win the War on Terror. Which makes the lack of an effective opposition party even more keenly felt.
And, come to think of it, quite an opening for a Democrat with judgment and a sense of history.....