Commentary Magazine


Seven Years Later, Israel Gets the Bush Doctrine

Call me naive, and I’m certainly not trying to be flip, but I’ve never quite understood all the fuss about asymmetric warfare. We have a state of affairs today in which two countries, Iran and Syria, wage war against their western enemies not through the legitimate use of uniformed armies, but through the funding, arming, and organizing of proxy militias and terrorist networks. What obviously engendered this strategy was the knowledge in Tehran and Damascus that conventional armies would be incapable of confronting western powers on the battlefield; and the obvious reason why the asymmetric strategy works so effectively is because it strikes at the heart of western ambivalence about the use of military power, especially against enemies who operate in defiance of the tactics that our foreign policy and military doctrines — and our moral sensibilities — have been adapted over centuries to confront.

This kind of acquiescence to enemy strategy is not what was supposed to define the post-9/11 era. The idea of holding terror-sponsoring states accountable for the depredations of their proxies was deemed such a fundamental and obvious necessity of waging a “war on terrorism” that it was enunciated as the first and central tenet of the Bush Doctrine — a tenet that to my knowledge has been employed all but once, against the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda.

Owing to difficult regional and international dilemmas, we — that is, the western powers directly involved in prosecuting the war on terrorism — have repeatedly acquiesced to fighting our enemies on their preferred battlefields: We confront Tehran and Damascus in Iraq, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, everywhere, alas, but in Iran and Syria, and we insist on describing their armies with self-deluding euphemisms: Hezbollah, foreign policy elites tell us, is a “non-state actor.”

All of this is by way of introducing a very welcome news story — namely that last month, Israel finally got around to explaining the Bush Doctrine to Syria:

A European source familiar with the matter said the message conveyed to Damascus said Syria could be targeted by Israel even if Hezbollah’s attack emanated from Lebanese soil.

An Israeli source with knowledge of government affairs said: “The message was passed around late February, before the last round of fighting in Gaza.”

“It has become clear to us Syria has to understand there is a price for its use of proxy terrorism, especially as Damascus is itself a proxy — the long-arm of Iran,” the source said.

Note that Hezbollah indeed refrained from opening a northern front against Israel during the recent warfare in Gaza, an eventuality that many people (myself included) speculated might be triggered should the IDF make too much progress in degrading Hamas. Perhaps the IDF did not sufficiently damage Hamas to trigger a wider conflict with Hamas’s allies; or perhaps the Bush Doctrine might have something to say for itself after all — if it is only invoked.