Hit & Run

Iraq vs. The Bush Doctrine

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The Wash Post's Robin Wright has a front page analysis of how the Bush doctrine has played out so far vis a via Iraq. The intriguing opening claim--that "a wide range of Republican and Democratic analysts and U.S. officials" all say Bush is all wet--never quite comes off, but it's an interesting piece. The nut:

When the war began 15 months ago, the president's Iraq policy rested on four broad principles: The United States should act preemptively to prevent strikes on U.S. targets. Washington should be willing to act unilaterally, alone or with a select coalition, when the United Nations or allies balk. Iraq was the next cornerstone in the global war on terrorism. And Baghdad's transformation into a new democracy would spark regionwide change.

But these central planks of Bush doctrine have been tainted by spiraling violence, limited reconstruction, failure to find weapons of mass destruction or prove Iraq's ties to al Qaeda, and mounting Arab disillusionment with U.S. leadership.

Whole thing here.

Despite the setup (and a headline that announces "Iraq Occupation Erodes Bush Doctrine") I find the most compelling source in the piece to be the hawkish Robert Kagan, who says, "Enormously sharp distinctions are being made between different policy views, which are largely artificial….There was an enormous consensus going into this war and there's a consensus now about what needs to be done. So we are having a huge, vicious debate, and yet I'm not sure what the debate is about."

I was and am an opponent of the invasion of Iraq, but I think Kagan is right, at least in a descriptive way: a creeping majority of people and pundits may be against the way Iraq is playing out, but most of them don't have serious problems with the larger Bush Doctrine.

The use of an invading force in Iraq may have been wrong, but it enjoyed enormous popularity among U.S. citizens and, more to the point, legislators. If John Kerry's take on Iraq is substantially different than George Bush's, I've yet to fully understand how or why. Kerry is on the record as saying that he'd send more troops to Iraq; the difference is that they'd be under U.N. control, which is probably even worse than being there as we are now.

Personally, I think if you're going to invade countries in an attempt to resculpt whole regions of the world (the best justification, however quixotic, for invading Iraq remains the idea of injecting a democratic state into the Middle East) it's probably a good idea to create a truly robust coalition (and probably better to bypass the U.N.) that will share the blame and the costs. But even the most U.N.-friendly war critics would say that the U.S. should never act unilaterally (or nearly so). At least while a Republican is in the White House, most (not all) conservatives have no problem with nation-building; it's hard to believe that liberal denunciation of Bush's Iraq gambit is much more than partisan politics (which helps to explain the crazy switcheroos between the Balkans and the Middle East). If a country is known to have weapons of mass destruction and a hard-on against the U.S. (or working relationships with terrorists, etc), very few people would say we shouldn't bomb that place or do something to strip it of those weapons. That said, it's clear that the difficulties in Iraq will dampen enthusiasm for the next invasion of anywhere--which may be the silver lining in all of this.

Another possible positive outcome: The rising level of terror-related violence in Saudi Arabia may force that repressive country to come to terms with the movement that it has helped fund. This may be as much a pipe dream as bringing democracy to Iraq in a few short months, but perhaps the potentates in Saudi Arabia will recognize that their safety and future depends on a very different form of government than they've been used to.