Well, I can say this much. The cover story of the latest issue of Time magazine is at least provocative: “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy: Why the Bush Doctrine no longer guides the foreign policy of the Bush Administration.” I wish I could say that the article is as insightful as its title is provocative. But it’s not. It is one of the sorriest pieces of analysis that I have read in a long time.
In a nutshell, the article argues that the current litany of global crises have put to the lie “the Bush Doctrine” of foreign policy. In other words, an unpopular war in Iraq, a growing insurgency in Afghanistan, an impasse over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the threat of war between Israel and the Palestinians have shown that the twin pillars of Bush’s foreign policy (preemptive war and unilateralism) have failed and have made the world more dangerous.
The argument in this Time article is seriously flawed not only because it completely misunderstands President Bush’s foreign policy decisions, but also because it defines “the Bush Doctrine” of foreign policy in terms that the President himself has never advocated nor would he advocate. The article alleges that President Bush has backed away from preemption and unilateralism in his engagement of Iran and North Korea because those two policies have proven to be disasters in Iraq. This assertion has so many problems that it’s difficult to know where to start a response.
First of all, yes, the costs in human life and treasure in Iraq have been high. But that’s a far cry from saying that Bush’s policy in Iraq is a failure. If the toppling of a brutal dictator and a burgeoning democracy in the heart of the middle east are failures, I say let’s have some more “failures.” With “failures” like that, who needs successes?
Second, apart from a toned down rhetoric, President Bush is not backing away from anything. He is not changing course. Contrary to what the Time article claims, President Bush has never advocated a universal application of unilateralism and preemption, as if such responses would be appropriate to address every global crisis. Even the Time article quotes White House counselor Dan Bartlett saying as much,
The President has always stressed that different circumstances warrant different responses. The impression that the doctrine of pre-emption was the only guiding foreign policy light is not true. Iraq was a unique circumstance in history, and the sense of urgency on certain decisions in the early part of the first term was reflective of a nation that had to take decisive action after being attacked.
The President has held all along that different situations call for different responses. Just because the President took one course of action with Iraq, one shoudn’t assume that he will address every security threat in the same way he addressed Iraq. Despite Time magazine’s assertions to the contrary, the so-called “Bush Doctrine” is less doctrinaire than the President’s political opponents want to concede, but this important fact is lost on the writers of the Time article.
Third, the terms “preemption” and “unilateralism” reflect more the rhetoric of the Iraq War’s detractors than it does any stated policy on the part of the Bush administration. How do we know this is true? In the first place, the Iraq War came after Saddam Hussein refused for over a decade to abide by the terms of peace he agreed to after the first Iraq War. The main condition of that peace was that Iraq would verify the destruction of all its WMD, and Hussein never complied with this condition. Instead he played cat-and-mouse games with U.N. weapons inspectors while shooting at U.S. airplanes enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq. This rarely-reported set of facts has left many observers uncomfortable with describing the Iraq conflict as strictly preemptive.
In the second place, Bush’s path to the Iraq War was not strictly unilateral either. In the run-up to the war, President Bush went to the U. N. and ultimately got Security Council Resolution 1441 passed, and it said that Iraq was in violation of a string of previous resolutions and that Iraq would face “serious consequences” if it didn’t comply. Resolution 1441 passed unanimously in the Security Council. Even Syria voted in favor of it. This was multilateral diplomacy at its finest. The failure came later when the U. N. refused to bring the “serious consequences” and enforce its own resolution when Hussein did not comply. This was when President Bush put together a “coalition of the willing” to effect a regime change in Iraq. The march to war began as a multilateral effort in the U. N. Security Council. And ultimately, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was also a multilateral effort. The only reason the war has been described as unilateral is because the invasion started without the imprimatur of the U. N. Security Council.
The Time article ends with a bizarre statement that in my mind is totally incomprehensible:
For most outside the U.S., the threat of suicide bombings is a less pressing concern than issues like health care, education, job security and the environment. The longer the U.S. bases its foreign policy around the single-minded pursuit of Islamic terrorists, the less influence it is likely to have.
This statement is just asinine. If Americans lived “outside” the U.S., then maybe our government wouldn’t have to prioritize fighting Islamo-fascist terrorists who try to kill people who live in America. But as long as Americans live inside the U.S., they don’t have the luxury of subordinating their national security interests to the social programs of those “outside” the U.S. It’s beyond me why Time magazine would suggest otherwise.
The Time article alleges that Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” is dead. Whatever one’s view is on that question, no one can disagree that Time’s ability to do objective analysis looks like it’s on its last gasp.