Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2005 / 11 Shevat, 5765
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
The problem with the broadness of the Bush doctrine is that it diffuses
focus from the true terrorist threat, which is overwhelmingly from militant
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
According to Bush, we will "stand with" those who "stand for" their
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.
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
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
The United States needs a wide range of ad hoc alliances to protect
ourselves against terrorist attack. Those with democracies would be more
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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