“The Bush Doctrine is dead,” a friend and triumphant fan of the Democratic party pronounced in my office, upon the news that David Kay could find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said this with some ambivalence, wishing, at least for Israel’s sake, that Bush hadn’t bungled, while savoring the chance for his party’s victory.
There is, indeed, a sense that since his lightning victory in Iraq, and despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, Bush’s foreign-policy balloon has been popped. America went to war to disarm an unarmed dictator. Bush will never, my friend says, be able to play the WMD card again. Ergo, his doctrine is dead.
I don’t think so. Partly because, as former CIA chief James Woolsey has pointed out, the 8,500 liters of anthrax that Iraq admitted it had, if reduced to powder, could have fit into a number of suitcases.
“Saddam’s ’stockpile’ of biological agent wasn’t in his spider hole with him,” says Woolsey, “But it could have been.” We also don’t know what he stashed away in Syria.
But let’s say for a moment that Saddam’s entire WMD program was an elaborate bluff and that all the West’s intelligence services–including those of France, Germany, and Israel–were utterly taken in. Even then, the Bush Doctrine is not dead.
The current debate confuses an extension of the Bush Doctrine with its essence, which is that support for terrorism is punishable by regime change. As Bush put it on September 25, 2001, “If you harbor a terrorist, if you aid a terrorist, if you hide terrorists, you’re just as guilty as the terrorists.” This was a fundamental shift from the pre-9/11 world, in which the price for supporting terrorism was at most a tit-for-tat via cruise missiles, not threats to regimes.
Woolsey argues that the justification for the war in Iraq should have been a three-legged stool: liberation of the Iraqi people, draining a corner of the swamp of terror, and preempting the threat from WMDs.
How can Bush save his doctrine? The main effort seems to be dedicated toward turning Iraq into more of a success story by Election Day.
Elections are supposed to be held there in June, and the hope is that Iraq’s new leadership, with American help, will be able to stabilize and democratize the country.
But short-term success in Iraq is a thin reed on which to build. The number of American casualties there could be reduced, but it could also rise. Even if there were quiet, the bar has been set so high in Iraq that there could be any number of ways to claim that America’s policy is failing.
Iraq is a must-win challenge, and will remain the centerpiece of the transformation of the Arab world that America is leading. But Iraq symbolizes the solution, not the problem, and Bush cannot win the hearts and minds battle without restating the context that Iraq fits into.
In his recent State of the Union address, Bush succinctly stated the choice he stands for: “We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.” The problem is that Bush’s own overly Iraq-centric policy contradicts his message.
Bush believes that the war against terrorism is about driving every rogue regime out of the terror business, and that this is what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are really about. The Democrats in the race either don’t agree with confronting regimes or have not put forward a plausible alternative for doing so. But Bush’s problem is that neither has he.
As long as Bush’s actions, rather than his words, project that the war against terror ended in Iraq, he is not offering voters a real choice and is draining his own policy of credibility. Bush seems to want to have it both ways: not scaring voters that he is gearing up for another war, while promising he will not let America’s guard down.
But how can Bush explain that the people of Iran, the most dangerous terror-supporting state in the world, are dying to rid themselves of their regime and he is not lifting a finger to help them? Worse, he allows an internal administration debate to continue over whether to isolate or engage the mullahs–and those pressing for isolation don’t seem to be winning.
Bush has not shown what his model for regime change is, short of invasion. Until he does, it will be hard to argue that he is continuing the war against terrorism, while the Democrats will not. The WMD-based, invasion-dominated phase of the Bush Doctrine may indeed be over, but it is up to Bush to show that the war against jihad-backing states is alive and taking on new forms.
–Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle and the World After 9/11.