The Bush Doctrine
To the Editor:
One has to admire Norman Podhoretz’s perseverance in continuing to believe in the viability of the Bush Doctrine long after the doctrine’s obsolescence has become apparent to just about everyone else [“Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?,” September]. As he himself acknowledges, there is now “a consensus that has formed on the death of the Bush Doctrine,” one that “embraces just about every group all along the ideological spectrum . . . the realists, the liberal internationalists, the traditionalist conservatives, the paleoconservatives, and the neoconservatives.”
I am named as a part of this consensus along with people as diverse as William Kristol, Charles A. Kupchan, George F. Will, Richard Perle, and Mike Allen and Romesh Ratnesar of Time. But instead of seeing this remarkable convergence as a sign that these observers may be on to something, Mr. Podhoretz insists that the Bush Doctrine is alive and well. His refusal to allow pesky facts to get in the way of a good argument is akin to Bush’s own stubborn determination to talk as if his policies were on track even though reality clearly suggests otherwise.
Where Mr. Podhoretz and I agree is that Bush and his top advisers still believe in the Bush Doctrine’s basic assumptions—America is in a war against evil; all nations must choose to be for or against us in this struggle; we must act unilaterally or preemptively when necessary; and spreading democracy is the long-term solution to the problem of terrorism. But Mr. Podhoretz refuses to admit that the strategic, political, financial, and even moral basis for implementing this program has eroded. Since the Bush Doctrine was formulated, the U.S. military has become bogged down in Iraq, the federal budget has gone from massive surplus to massive deficit, international support and respect for America have fallen to new depths, and the President’s domestic support—especially for the war in Iraq—has fallen considerably.
It is not surprising that under these circumstances the administration has reached out diplomatically to allies, backed away from military interventions and regime change as a policy tool, put pragmatic foreign-policy professionals in top positions once held by hawkish ideologues, and set aside aggressive democracy-promotion (except at the rhetorical level). The reason so many of Mr. Podhoretz’s neoconservatives allies are now attacking Bush’s foreign policy is not that they have changed their views but that the policy has changed.
The Bush Doctrine is dying not only because support for it is eroding but because it is failing. On this point, Mr. Podhoretz takes issue with a recent article I wrote in Foreign Affairs, “The End of the Bush Revolution.” He accuses me of “rehears[ing] the by now familiar litany of alleged disasters . . . that have followed from Bush’s pursuit of a ‘transformative foreign policy’: failure in Iraq, a ‘decline in legitimacy and popularity abroad,’ and a waning of political support at home.” For my part, I would say that these items may be familiar, but they are also rather significant.
Mr. Podhoretz gives me some credit for acknowledging that Bush has seen some successes, including “elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, a revolution in Lebanon followed by Syrian withdrawal, nuclear disarmament in Libya, and steps toward democracy elsewhere in the world.” But given the fact that elections in Iraq and Afghanistan have not prevented rising violence in either place; that the revolution in Lebanon has led not to stability but to serious internal strife and Hizballah’s attacks on Israel; that Libya’s disarmament seems to have resulted more from enduring international sanctions than from the Bush Doctrine; and that the steps toward democracy elsewhere in the world have gone nowhere, it is hard to agree with Mr. Podhoretz’s conclusion that the “successes” outweigh the failures.
Let me also reassure Mr. Podhoretz that, contrary to what he claims, “renewed progress in these areas” is not what I “most fear”; indeed, I wrote that such progress would be “highly desirable.” I just do not think that we are likely to achieve our goals by following Bush’s approach. What I fear is more of the misplaced optimism and wishful thinking that leads to counterproductive policies.
Perhaps the best evidence that Mr. Podhoretz’s determination to support the Bush Doctrine blinds him to any reasonable assessment of it is that he “confess[es] to being puzzled by the amazing spread of the idea that the Bush Doctrine has indeed failed the test of Iraq.” I must in turn confess to being puzzled by his puzzlement. For the price of over 2,700 American lives, 20,000 injured soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, over $400 billion and counting, and incalculable damage to America’s standing in the world, the Iraq war has produced a country on the verge of civil war, a regime under Iranian influence, inspiration to a growing number of violent terrorists, and an ongoing burden that limits America’s ability to exercise diplomatic and military influence elsewhere. If that is a success of the Bush Doctrine, I would hate to see what failure looks like.
Philip H. Gordon
The Brookings Institution
To the Editor:
Halfway through his paean to the Bush Doctrine, Norman Podhoretz takes words he once directed at Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the first President Bush, and redirects them at the columnist George F. Will. Will is in need of instruction, Mr. Podhoretz informs us, because he has suggested that any missionary effort to democratize the Middle East runs counter to the centuries-old cultural realities of the place.
But, says Mr. Podhoretz, the despotisms of the Middle East are not the legacy of centuries but rather of relatively recent actions by Britain and France after World War I. “This being the case,” he writes, “there is nothing ‘utopian’ about the idea that such regimes—planted with shallow roots by two Western powers—could be uprooted with the help of a third Western power and that a better system could be put in their place.”
This remarkable quotation crystallizes the essential fallacy of Mr. Podhoretz’s position that there is no reason to shrink from the grand vision of America remaking the Middle East in whatever image it desires. He utterly misses the central implication of his own words, namely, that the reason we are grappling with these problematic states is that the arrogant efforts of the British and French some 90 years ago proved a botch. Indeed, they proved a botch because (as Scowcroft put it) they ran up against “thousands of years of history.”
Mr. Podhoretz’s essay, crafted with his usual elegance of phrase and force of opinion, does not seek to make a case, with any serious argumentation, as to why those thousands of years of history do not matter. He merely states it, or rather restates it. But if he is wrong, then much of his argument simply falls of its own weight—as does the Bush Doctrine. And unfortunately for Mr. Podhoretz—and America—Scowcroft’s view is closer to reality than his.
Mr. Podhoretz describes the Bush Doctrine as having four pillars: an overriding belief in the moral imperative and inexorable advance of human freedom; the idea that terrorism should be viewed as a global threat that is tied to the nations that aid and abet it; the validity of preemptive attacks on such nations; and the convergence of America’s fight against terrorism with Israel’s struggle against Palestinian assaults on Israeli civilians. He eloquently equates this doctrine with that of Harry Truman, which led to America’s strategy for waging—and winning—the cold war. “Bolstered by that analogy,” he writes, “I feel safe in predicting that, like the Truman Doctrine in 1952, the Bush Doctrine will prove irreversible by the time its author leaves the White House in 2008.”
But four years after Truman’s doctrine was asserted, it had produced the Marshall Plan, saved Greece and Turkey from Communist insurgency, preserved free Berlin through the 1948 airlift, and generally saved Europe from a mortal threat. The Bush Doctrine, by contrast, has generated a war without discernible end, created a spawning ground for highly dangerous Islamist warriors of potentially global reach, inflamed the world of Islam beyond any necessity, sapped America’s leadership authority in the world, and introduced into the domestic polity stresses and strains of alarming magnitude.
Mr. Podhoretz goes to great lengths to refute those who perceive a retreat on the part of Bush from his own doctrine. He is right: Bush has not retreated—yet. But this misses the point again. The test is not Bush’s regard for his own cherished doctrine but rather the electorate’s regard for Bush and his party. Clearly, the folly inherent in the current policy has captured the nation’s political consciousness. Bush may in fact cling to it, as Mr. Podhoretz certainly will. But that does not mean the Bush Doctrine is not approaching a sure and unavoidable death.
Robert W. Merry
To the Editor:
Along with Norman Podhoretz, I have been an enthusiastic admirer of George W. Bush. I have cheered Mr. Podhoretz for the things he has written about Bush’s foreign policy, “World War IV,” the pursuit of terrorism, and the prosecution of the war in Iraq. His latest defense of the Bush Doctrine elicits much but not all of the agreement I have had with its predecessors.
One of the pillars of the Bush Doctrine that Mr. Podhoretz accepts but I do not is the aim of bringing democracy to Iraq and, eventually, to other countries in the Middle East. When Paul Wolfowitz first announced this policy for the administration, I pointed out that it would make every country in the region our enemy.
More important, the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq, or any country like Iraq, is simply utopian. The President’s frequently repeated assertion that democracy is the aspiration of all peoples, and that to free any people from tyranny is to free them for democracy, has no foundation in history or political philosophy. It is the long and uncontradicted experience of the human race that when confronted with the alternatives of tyranny or anarchy, a people will choose tyranny. It is in the light of this experience that most of the governments of the Middle East have been formed.
Aristotle taught that there are many forms of government that are neither tyrannical nor democratic. He also taught that the foundations of any regime must be constructed out of the materials of the preexisting human realities. The Declaration of Independence makes mention of savages, and it is clear that the principles of the Declaration cannot form the basis of the governments of savages. People divided by profound sectarian or tribal differences do not accept each other as being “created equal.”
Before political independence, the American colonies had long practical experience in self-government and long tutelage, by their pastors no less than by their professors, in the principles enunciated in the Declaration. American Christianity had evolved from its European antecedents so that the different faiths, or sects, could accept the unity of mankind in the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Jefferson said that the ideas in the Declaration were an expression of the American mind—a mind that was thereafter shaped by that document. The Iraqi people have had no such preparation for the transition to freedom.
President Bush has said that the desire for freedom beats in the breasts of all human beings everywhere. He seems to think that the desire for freedom and the desire for democracy are one and the same. But they are not. In 1798, Jefferson accused the Congress and the President of measures no less tyrannical than those he had charged against the king and parliament of Great Britain in the Declaration. Free elections, Jefferson held, are not in themselves a guarantee of non-tyrannical government. (Hitler came to power in free elections.)
When a people forming a government do not concede to each other the mutual and reciprocal enjoyment of such rights, no government by majority rule is possible. Republican government was not possible anywhere in Europe before the American founding. The European wars of the 16th and 17th centuries were wars of religion, with Protestants and Catholics attempting so far as possible to exterminate each other. Until sectarian differences are removed from the political process, government by majority rule in any form is impossible.
In the Middle East, virtually all political differences are sectarian religious differences. Shiites want political power by majority rule so they can persecute the Sunnis as the Sunnis had persecuted them under Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Sunnis want the return of Saddam—or a reasonable facsimile. The idea of religious freedom for all, and persecution for none, is an idea whose time has not yet come to the Islamic states of the Middle East. Putting democracy before religious freedom is putting the cart before the horse. It will not go.
Harry V. Jaffa
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s reference to me, in his fine article about the Bush Doctrine, was neither inaccurate nor unfriendly. Nonetheless, I want to make it clear that I am to be grouped neither with those who are disillusioned with the Bush Doctrine nor with those who believe that Bush has abandoned it.
Mr. Podhoretz refers to an op-ed of mine criticizing the administration for its flaccid response to the Egyptian government’s persecution of Ayman Nour, the candidate who ran second to President Hosni Mubarak in last year’s presidential election and who was clapped in prison for his troubles. In taking issue with me, Mr. Podhoretz argues that critics are wrong to read too much into prudential compromises that President Bush, like any other official, feels constrained to make.
Fair enough. But I believe that the administration has failed to recognize how much Mubarak’s insidious response to American pressure for democratization threatens Bush’s own policy. In last year’s election, Mubarak made a tacit (and sometimes overt) accommodation with the Muslim Brotherhood while cracking down mercilessly on the liberal opposition led by Ayman Nour. In this way, Mubarak deliberately encouraged a polarization that left little space for demo-crats. For its part, the U.S. administration, justifiably frightened by the Brotherhood’s strong electoral showing, soft-pedaled its response to the persecution of Nour.
While it is unreasonable to criticize an administration merely for making prudential compromises, it does not follow that every prudential compromise is wise or justifiable.
Norman Podhoretz writes:
Philip H. Gordon flatters me (not, to put it mildly, that this is his intention) by comparing my defense of the Bush Doctrine to George W. Bush’s “own stubborn determination.” Quoting my own words on “the consensus that has formed on the death of the Bush Doctrine”—a consensus which, I went on to say, “embraces just about every group all along the ideological spectrum”—he asks how I could possibly stand out against what he then rightly describes as a “remarkable convergence.” Well, the answer is that I have learned from experience that the more a given idea gets to be accepted as a self-evident truth by my fellow intellectuals, the more likely it is to be wrong.
To be specific: about 35 years ago, there was a similarly broad consensus, also confident that it was perfectly in tune with “reality,” on the idea that the Soviet Union had become a “status-quo power,” and that World War III (more commonly known as the cold war) was now over—or, as Arthur Schlesinger memorably declared, “la guerre est finie.” Those few of us who took issue with this “remarkable convergence” were almost universally derided as delusional and denounced as dangerous warmongers, but we turned out to be right.
The same thing happened with the Oslo Accords, whose promise of peace between Israel and the Palestinians was embraced by an even larger “herd of independent minds.” Here again, those few of us who argued that Oslo would lead not to peace but to another war were derided and denounced, only to be (unhappily) vindicated by the second intifada.
Mr. Gordon once again rehearses what I for my part will once again call the familiar litany of disasters that have allegedly been brought about by the Bush Doctrine. But having in “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?” and a number of earlier articles explained why I think these allegations add up to a misrepresentation of the very “reality” that Mr. Gordon and his like-minded colleagues are so complacently fond of evoking, I trust that I will be forgiven for not taking another turn around the same track here. I do, however, want to make one more attempt to dispel Mr. Gordon’s puzzlement over my puzzlement about the spread of the idea that the Bush Doctrine has failed the test of Iraq.
As Mr. Gordon’s account of the “price” being paid there reveals, this idea is based almost entirely on the fact that the forces opposed to the Bush Doctrine are (mirabile dictu!) fighting back. Evidently the die-hard Baathists and the sectarian militias and the jihadists and their foreign sponsors do not share in the consensus on the Bush Doctrine’s failure. For if they did agree that it is already dead, why would they be waging so desperate a campaign to defeat it?
Harry V. Jaffa (to whom I will return) has an answer to this question: they are fighting not against democratization but against each other. Yet it is impossible to distinguish between democratization and the aim of keeping the country unified, which means that sectarian violence serves the purposes not only of revenge but also of frustrating any further progress toward the loose federation envisaged by the constitution that was adopted in a referendum last year.
The campaign to defeat the Bush Doctrine is doing brilliantly in the United States, but here, as summarized by the exiled Iranian commentator Amir Taheri, is a vividly concrete account of how miserably this campaign is failing in Iraq:
They kill teachers and children, but schools stay open. They kill doctors and patients, but hospitals still function. They kill civil servants, but the ministries are crawling back into operation. They kidnap and murder foreign businessmen, but more keep coming. They massacre volunteers for the new army and police, but the lines of those wishing to join grow longer. They blow up pipelines and kill oil workers, but oil still flows. They kill judges and lawyers, but Iraq’s new courts keep on working. They machine-gun buses carrying foreign pilgrims, but the pilgrims come back in growing numbers. They kill newspaper boys, but newspapers still get delivered every day.
Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi writer now living in the United States, provides a similar description of how things stand in his native land, and concludes:
It is these simple acts of courage—to keep going amidst all the threats of terror—which were on display during the elections, but they keep happening daily even when the cameras stop rolling.
Furthermore, Kazimi writes:
It is easy for journalists to ride the “Iraq is failing” wave and churn out the safe stories that tell us that all is bad. It is much harder for them to make sense of why so many Iraqi policemen and soldiers are fighting back when attacked rather than dropping their weapons and cowering for safety. Something is changing in Iraq, and it is happening despite the serial bungling of Mr. Maliki’s government or the incessant predictions of an American withdrawal. It is happening because more and more Iraqis understand what is at stake should those murderous insurgents win.
Robert W. Merry takes issue with the comparison I drew between the Truman Doctrine, of whose consequences he paints an entirely positive portrait, and the Bush Doctrine, to which he ascribes nothing but one calamity after another. But Mr. Merry neglects to mention that, in addition to the Marshall Plan and the other achievements he cites, the Truman Doctrine also produced the Korean war. Korea (which cost more than 36,000 American lives as against the fewer than 3,000 in Iraq) turned out to be at least as unpopular then as Iraq is today, and Truman’s contemporaries were just as blind to the accomplishments of his doctrine as Bush’s are to his. Yet unlikely as it would have seemed in 1952, a year in which Truman’s job-approval rating plummeted into the 20’s (fifteen points lower than Bush at his nadir), historians now rate him as a great President. I believe that the same recognition will in due course be accorded to George W. Bush.
Mr. Merry also claims that Brent Scowcroft is right in contending that the Bush Doctrine runs up against “thousands of years of history.” Well, in the first place the history in question goes back not thousands of years but at most about fourteen hundred. Furthermore, Ber-nard Lewis, the greatest contemporary authority on the history of the Middle East, commenting on the commonly held view that “Islamic peoples are incapable of decent, civilized government,” says that this view “shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and unconcern for the Arab future.”
Alas, Harry Jaffa, who also thinks that the idea of bringing democracy to countries like Iraq is “simply utopian,” runs afoul of something else Bernard Lewis has written on the subject:
Arab ways are different from our ways. They must be allowed to develop in accordance with their cultural principles, but it is possible for them—as for anyone else, anywhere in the world, with discreet help from outside and most specifically from the United States—to develop democratic institutions of a kind.
This is not to say that Mr. Jaffa’s arguments are wholly without merit. On the contrary: he makes, as anyone familiar with his great work would expect, a number of very telling philosophical and historical points. But all of them highlight only the obstacles standing in the way of bringing “democratic institutions of a kind” to Iraq and other countries like it, while ignoring (as does Mr. Merry) the great things that have happened as a result of the Bush Doctrine: two countries liberated from monstrous tyrannies, one religious and one secular, and then making extraordinary progress toward democratization—all done in the face of a relentlessly murderous opposition, in an amazingly short time, and at a very low cost (by any historical standard) in American lives. Thanks to the Bush Doctrine, too, there is now talk of political and religious reform where there was nothing but terrified silence before. And this is only the beginning of a long struggle to make the Middle East safe for America by making it safe for democracy.
I agree, of course, with Mr. Jaffa that free elections are not the be-all and end-all of democracy, but (as I showed in my article) Bush agrees with him, too. On the other hand, as Amir Taheri and Fouad Ajami have tried to teach us, the holding of elections is tantamount to an admission that (to quote Taheri again) “the principal basis for legitimacy is the will of the people as freely expressed through ballot boxes”; and “in Arab societies,” he adds, “this is a revolutionary idea.” So, too, Ajami, who says that the ballot box has “broken the pact with Arab tyranny.”
Since Mr. Jaffa brings up his beloved Declaration of Independence, I will also make bold to remind him that, while Jefferson may have held that it was “an expression of the American mind,” it still affirmed the universality of the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Mr. Jaffa’s equally beloved Lincoln followed suit, and so does Bush, whose doctrine is in this respect solidly rooted in American soil and in the American soul. Yes, people will choose tyranny over anarchy when there is no other alternative. But to restate a question I have often asked: can it really be true that Arabs and other Muslims are so different from their fellow human beings that they like being pushed around and repressed and beaten and killed by thugs—even if the thugs wear clerical garb?
Finally, having already indicated (in a footnote to my article) that Joshua Muravchik’s criticism of the Bush administration’s dealings with Egypt was “not to be taken as a wholesale loss of faith in Bush’s dedication to his own doctrine,” I am not surprised by his restatement of his own dedication to it. I am also pleased to see that, unlike a growing number of our mutual friends, he can tell the difference between a betrayal of principle and a prudential compromise. But I find myself less certain than he is on the question of whether this particular compromise was wise or justifiable. In any case, even if he is right, I still think that he went too far in calling his op-ed piece about it “A Democracy Policy in Ashes,” and I much prefer the more temperate language he uses here.