“And that’s the flaw of the Bush doctrine,” then-Sen. Barack Obama explained to ABC News anchor Charles Gibson in January. “It wasn’t that he went after those who attacked America. It was that he went after those who didn’t.”
By consensus, the Bush doctrine is dead. Its tenure as an organizing principle of American foreign policy did not survive the Iraq War.
Bush’s policies, according to the president-elect, distracted America from more pressing security concerns, stifled its capacity for action, diminished its influence and hindered necessary cooperation with allies in common struggles.
Yet, the verdict on the Bush years remains open. Notwithstanding the exorbitant costs of the Iraq War, it remains to be seen if the alternative course proposed by President-elect Obama will yield better results at lower costs.
Make no mistake: The costs were high, but the Bush doctrine did yield results – results that years of containment and diplomacy failed to deliver on Iran and North Korea.
Saddam Hussein is dead. The issue of Iraq has been dealt a final resolution, and only because of this will an Obama administration confront other matters that would have been impossible to manage with Saddam Hussein still astride the Middle East, thwarting American designs.
The test-case in-waiting that will reveal the wisdom or foolishness of Obama’s critique of the Bush years is Iran, the primary source of instability in the Middle East.
With the political stakes high both at home and abroad, Obama is not wrong to prefer a diplomatic resolution.
In the grandest fantasies of Democratic policy wonks, Iran would be offered a comprehensive diplomatic bargain under which it would abandon its support of terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear power in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, economic aid, access to Western markets and technology, nuclear fuel and other incentives.
If it plays out according to this outline, then Obama will face few obstacles in keeping his promise of a responsible withdrawal from Iraq. The region will stabilize, and Obama will probably easily win re-election in 2012.
But what if the architects of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 have no intention of dealing with America? Reacting to Tuesday’s election results, Seyyid Hossein, a 30-year-old Iranian schoolteacher, told The Guardian, “Obama’s victory could improve things because he has his head on his shoulders. But I believe the regime doesn’t want better relations with the U.S. It wants to have a big enemy to frighten people and maintain its rule.”
It remains a self-serving article of liberal faith that Bush’s obstinacy has been the only barrier to regional rapprochement.
But if Iran declines to come to terms with “the Great Satan,” then a quick, responsible withdrawal from Iraq will be impossible, and Obama will find himself in the shoes of his predecessor, confronting the world’s most dangerous regimes as they seek the world’s most dangerous weapons.
If Obama fails, then Bush was right, and it is not unlikely that preemption, the cornerstone of the Bush doctrine, will again see its day, this time brought to you by Democrats.
The Bush years demonstrated that preemption is a bad option, but it may yet prove to be the least bad option on a policy menu filled with worse options.