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July 8, 2004

What is the W. Doctrine?

Posted by Phil on July 8, 2004 11:47 AM

Josh Marshall inches toward some kind of crux vis-a-vis what he sees as the widespread belief that "promoting democracy," now the default rationale for the Iraq war, is a central focus of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Looking at the record, he says, it isn't, not any more than it's ever been in American foreign policy. Bush is no more likely than any other president to make short-term geostrategic sacrifices for the long-term well-being of a foreign population, and has demonstrated as much in his policy towards every nation.

The generous conclusion to draw is simply to say we can't judge Bush foreign policy on those grounds, or expect him to consistently apply such policy. Which comes as no surprise to anyone who saw the scorn with which Bush spoke the words "nation building" in a 2000 debate.

The less generous conclusion is to say that this rationale for the Iraq war has always been just as dishonest as the previous rationales of fighting terrorists and finding WMDs.

We invaded Afghanistan, with justification, because the terrorist network was inextricably intertwined with the Taliban "government." It remains to be seen how real is our commitment to peace and democracy there. My guess is we'll settle for "stability," but I really haven't heard much about Afghanistan since that football player died. Have you?

We invaded Iraq not for terrorists or Saddam but for the same bouquet of reasons we always do things, but Bush was able to be more brazen about it than usual. Our fears of terrorists, and Saddam's incorrigible brutality, gave Bush the talking points he needed to get support for it (at least domestically) even if all the other reasons evaporated (and they have). Absent all other excuses, opponents of the war could always be shouted down: Would they prefer that Saddam was still in power? Of course, no one would.

And, of course, no reasonable person, whatever his or her feelings about Bush or the Iraq war, can look at Iraq since the handover of sovereignty (whatever it means) and hope that things don't turn out well. It certainly goes against any "liberal" conviction or instinct I've ever had. I hope the Iraqi people are able to take their future in both hands.

But, even without waiting to see if next year's Iraq election is free to produce results unfriendly to the U.S., I'm no more convinced of the Bush administration's commitment to charitable nation-building than I was when Bush derided the idea four years ago. Marshall's post is instructive in removing that from consideration as any kind of guiding philosophy for this administration.

The most tragic aspect of the war in Iraq may turn out to be that it was not sold or undertaken in the interests of global democracy, let alone the Iraqi people. Iraq cannot be allowed to slide into chaos, and the administration's conduct of the war and the diplomacy leading up to it has ensured that other nations are little obligated or inclined to help. It is up to America to see it through, struggling uphill against rock-bottom Iraqi opinions of our strategies, our methods, and our goals.

Unfortunately, just at the moment when history needs the American public's buy-in, recent polls show that we are believing less and less that the war had anything to do with terrorists or WMDs, and caring less and less about freeing Iraqis.

Bush invaded Iraq because he thought it would be easy. He gave reasons that never existed for his war of choice, and he is now left waging it for a reason he never believed in; a reason that, in his ignorance and haste, he never prepared the American people for, but one that may be, ironically, the only reason it was ever worth waging.