The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Ideas behind U.S. Foreign Policy

Michael Brendan Dougherty makes a good case against me on one point: I overstated things when I wrote that George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, with its emphasis on America’s interest in the spread of market democracy, was an “after-the-fact rationalization” of having gone into Iraq.

Many arguments for invasion and regime change were made in advance, and some of those arguments involved the benefits of spreading free institutions. But typically these arguments were put forward as important side-benefits to a course of action mainly justified by weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi regime’s aggression, and so forth. An invasion would have had much less support — from the public, from congressmen, from Bush administration officials — if spreading democracy had been the sole or leading rationale. The weapons of mass destruction were the decisive reason, as almost everyone at the time understood. The democratizing argument became more important after the WMD case evaporated. That’s what I was getting at but oversimplified in that sentence of my post.

To return to the larger point of that post: I continue to think it is a bigger mistake to talk about our intervention in Afghanistan as though George H. W. Bush’s musings about a “new world order” had a huge effect on U.S. policy and September 11 never happened.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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