National Security & Defense

Bring Back the Bush Doctrine—with One Addition

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
There is a path to victory in the fight against radical Islam, and our next president should embrace it.

What should be our strategy against ISIS? We ask the question without ever considering Iran.

What concessions about centrifuges and spent fuel should we demand to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power? We ask the question never linking the mullahs’ weapons ambitions with its sponsorship of the global jihad . . . the only reason we dread a nuclear Iran.

What should be the national-defense strategy of the United States against radical Islam, the most immediate and thoroughgoing security and cultural threat we face today?

I had the good fortune to be asked to participate in a CPAC panel Friday on defending America against rogue states. With 2016 hopefuls crowding the halls, it got me to thinking: What should we hope to hear from Republicans who want to be the party’s standard-bearer?

It is often said that we lack a strategy for defeating our enemies. Actually, we have had a strategy for 14 years, ever since the fleeting moment of clarity right after the 9/11 attacks.

That strategy is called the Bush Doctrine, and it remains the only one that has any chance of working . . . at least if we add a small but crucial addendum — one that should have been obvious enough back in 2001, and that hard lessons of history have now made inescapable.

The Bush Doctrine has become the source of copious rebuke. On the left, that’s because of that four-letter word (hint: It’s not “Doctrine”). On the right, there have been plenty of catcalls, too. The reaction, however, has been against what the Bush Doctrine evolved into, not against the Bush Doctrine as it was first announced.

The unadorned Bush Doctrine had two straightforward parts. First, because violent jihadists launch attacks against the United States when they have safe havens from which to plot and train, we must hunt down those terrorists wherever on earth they operate. Second, the nations of the world must be put to a choice: You are with us or you are with the terrorists. Period — no middle ground. If you are with the terrorists, you will be regarded, as they are regarded, as an enemy of the United States.

Before we get to that aforementioned addendum, it is important to remember why the Bush Doctrine was so necessary. For the nine years before it, we were living with the Clinton Doctrine.

That is the doctrine President Obama came to office promising to move us back to — and has he ever. It is the doctrine under which the enemy strikes us with bombs and weaponized jumbo jets, and we respond with subpoenas and indictments. It is the doctrine under which our enemies say, “allahu akbar! Death to America!” and we respond, “Gee, you know America has been arrogant. We can see why you’re so upset.”

The Clinton Doctrine — the one the Democrats will be running on in 2016, perhaps with its namesake leading the way — is the one that gave us a series of ever more audacious attacks through the 1990s: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; a plot to bomb New York City landmarks such as the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels; a plot to blow American airliners out of the sky over the Pacific; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, in which Iran and al-Qaeda teamed up to kill 19 American airmen; the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 200 innocent people; detonating a bomb next to our destroyer, the U.S.S. Cole, in October 2000, killing 17 members of the U.S. Navy; and finally, the 9/11 atrocities, killing nearly 3,000 of our citizens.

And what has gradually restoring the Clinton Doctrine gotten us? While President Obama pleads for a deal that will inevitably make Iran a nuclear power, the mullahs continue to back anti-American terrorists and conduct military exercises in which they practice blowing up American ships. The Iraq so many Americans gave their lives for is now an extension of Iran. Afghanistan is being returned to the Taliban, which the president empowers by releasing its commanders. Libya is now a failed state where jihadists murder Americans with impunity and frolic in the former American embassy. Al-Qaeda is expanding through northern Africa, now a bigger, more potent threat than it was on the eve of 9/11. And yet it may pale compared with its breakaway faction, the Islamic State, which now controls more territory than Great Britain, as it decapitates, incinerates, and rapes its way to a global caliphate.

But Obama tells us there’s good news: Yemen is a success . . . or at least it was until it was recently overrun by an Iran-backed militia — oops. Well, we have indicted exactly one of the scores of terrorists who attacked our embassy at Benghazi. He got his Miranda warnings, of course, and he’ll be getting his civilian trial any month now. Hopefully, we’ll do better than Obama’s civilian trial of Ahmed Ghailani, the bomber of our embassies who was acquitted on 284 out of 285 counts.

Is it any wonder we’re losing?

Largely, it is because we’re worried about the wrong things — like whether we can sweep the enemy off its feet with enough Islamophilic, blame-America-first rhetoric. In reality, our enemies could not care less whether we — the infidel West — think their literalist, scripturally based belief system is a “perversion” of Islam. Radical Islam hears only one message from America: strength or weakness. The Clinton Doctrine is weakness cubed.

The Bush Doctrine, by contrast, is the path to victory — if we get that one addendum right.

It is this: Our enemies are not driven by American foreign policy, our friendship with Israel, our detention of jihadists at Gitmo, or the supposed “arrogance” our current president likes to apologize for. Those are all pretexts for aggression.

Our enemies are driven by an ideology, Islamic supremacism, that is rooted in a classical interpretation of sharia — Islamic law. Islamic supremacism is rabidly anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Semitic. It rejects the fundamental premise of our liberty: that people are free to govern themselves, rather than be ruled by a totalitarian legal code that suffocates liberty and brutally discriminates against non-Muslims and apostates. And sharia is an actual war on women — denying them equal rights under the law, subjecting them to unthinkable abuse, and reducing them in many ways to chattel.

In the “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” view of national security, any Muslim nation, organization, or individual that adheres to Islamic supremacism is on the wrong side. Failing to come to terms with that brute fact is where the Bush Doctrine went awry.

Sharia and Western democracy cannot coexist. They are antithetical to each other. So insists Sheikh Yussuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood jurist who is the world’s most influential Islamic scholar. It may be the only thing we should agree with him about.

The Bush Doctrine was allowed to evolve from an American national-security strategy to an illusion that our national security would be strengthened by promoting a chimera — sharia democracy. We put the lives of our best young men and women in harm’s way in the service of a dubious experiment: that we could build stable Islamic democracies that would be reliable American allies against jihadist terror.

Perhaps the worst thing about this experiment is not its inevitable failure. It is the sapping of America’s will that it has caused. Defeating our jihadist enemies is going to require a will to win, because the enemy’s will is strong — the jihadists truly believe Allah has already helped them vanquish the Soviet empire, and that we are next.

The American people vigorously support military operations that are essential to our defense. They support a vigorous war to defeat violent jihadists and their support networks. They understand that we cannot cede our enemies safe havens and nuclear weapons.

They do not support the notion that promoting our national security obliges us to move into hostile Islamic countries for a decade or three to civilize them. That’s not our job. Worse, when Americans become convinced that Washington — ever more remote from the public — thinks it is our job, they will not support military action, even action that is vital to protecting our nation. They will not trust the government to defeat our enemies without becoming entangled in Islam’s endless internal strife.

Understanding Islamic supremacism so we can distinguish allies from those hostile to us will restore the Bush Doctrine. And let’s not be cowed by the critics: Nothing I’ve said means endless war, or that we have to invade or occupy every country. But it does mean we should be using all our assets — not just military but intelligence, law-enforcement, financial, and diplomatic — to undermine regimes that support sharia supremacism. Cutting off that jihadist life-line is the path to victory — just as maintaining a strong military that is allowed to show it means business, that is not hamstrung by irresponsible rules of engagement, is the best way to ensure we won’t have to use it too often.

In Iran, where sharia is the law of the land, they persecute non-Muslims and apostates just like ISIS does. In Saudi Arabia, where sharia is the law of the land, they behead their prisoners just like ISIS does.

A candidate who cannot tell liberty’s friends from liberty’s enemies is not fit to be commander-in-chief.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.



The Latest