Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2005 / 11 Shevat, 5765

Robert Robb

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Broadness of new Bush Doctrine diffuses focus from the true terrorist threat | In his inaugural address, President Bush provided the most aggressive formulation to date of the Bush doctrine: That the security of the United States depends on the spread of liberty and democracy throughout the world. The starkness of his formulation highlighted the flaws in the doctrine and its imprudence as a guide to U.S. conduct in the world.

The September 11 terrorist attack — "a day of fire," as Bush evocatively described it — was a searing event, exposing an orienting threat. And it is certainly true that American security and interests are enhanced by the spread of freedom, democratic governance and free markets. But it is simply untrue that the lack of freedom, per se, is a security threat against which the United States must mobilize.

According to Freedom House, three-fifths of the world's people who live without liberty are in China. Yet there is not a comprehensive terrorist threat emanating from China.

Moreover, U.S. policy toward China isn't to pressure it to expand political liberty. In her opening statement at her confirmation hearing as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice said: "We are building a candid, cooperative and constructive relationship with China that embraces our common interests but still recognizes our considerable differences about values."

If a lack of liberty is per se a threat, that's a rather indifferent approach.

The problem with the broadness of the Bush doctrine is that it diffuses focus from the true terrorist threat, which is overwhelmingly from militant Islam.

The implication of the Bush doctrine is that the United States, to protect our security, must be an active agent of democratic change elsewhere in the world.

According to Bush, we will "stand with" those who "stand for" their liberty.

But what does this mean? The United States brought tragedy rather than triumph by allowing Eastern Europeans to miscalculate what the United States would do to support rebellion in the early years of the Cold War, as we did with the Shia after the first Iraq war.

Bush said that our relationship with other countries would be tied to their progress in providing political and civil rights.

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But that's clearly not the case with China. Nor with Russia, despite the democratic retreat taking place there.

It's not even true in the front-line fight against militant Islamic terrorism, as the United States has countenanced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reneging on commitments to democratic reform.

Bush dismisses critics of his doctrine as not having sufficient faith in, as he put it in his speech, "the global appeal of liberty."

I, however, believe in the right of all people to live in liberty and in the transforming power of self-government. I'm even cautiously optimistic that Iraq is on a path to some form of democratic governance.

Nevertheless, the Bush doctrine is an imprudent guide to American conduct in the world.

The United States has always been an exemplar and advocate of freedom and democracy. The spread of democracy in the breeding grounds of militant Islam would undoubtedly reduce the terrorist threat to the United States.

But the extent to which the United States can be useful as an active agent of democratic change in that region is very much in doubt. And trying to play such a role makes us even more of a terrorist target.

According to Bush, "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

The end of tyranny is much to be desired. But, according to Freedom House, less than half of the world's people are now truly free. So, that's a pretty big mission.

The Bush doctrine is at odds with the more circumspect role the United States needs to play in the world, and inevitably will play.

After Iraq, the United States is probably out of the invasion business for a while. And other countries are simply less willing to defer to American leadership.

In his farewell address, George Washington said: "Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies."

The United States needs a wide range of ad hoc alliances to protect ourselves against terrorist attack. Those with democracies would be more reliable.

But securing the country shouldn't depend on remaking the world.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


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