TCS Daily

Reconsidering the Bush Doctrine

By Arnold Kling - November 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Recently, Commentary magazine put together a fascinating symposium on the Bush Doctrine, which includes the use of pre-emptive attacks and the strategy of bringing democracy to the Middle East. I strongly recommend reading the symposium, as well as other recent thoughtful pieces by Francis Fukuyama, Theodore Dalrymple, and others cited in the blogs Winds of Change and Belmont Club.

Commentary's editors kicked off the symposium with a number questions about the Bush Doctrine. Participants were asked to comment on the doctrine and its implementation to date.


I am skeptical of the Bush doctrine. However, I want to be clear from the outset that my purpose is not to endorse the main alternative, which is the Mush Doctrine. To proponents of the Mush Doctrine, phrases like


-- international community
-- multilateral
-- moral leadership
-- hearts and minds
-- treating root causes


are phrases that carry positive connotations. Such phrases make me want to spit. For more on the Mush Doctrine, see my essay on George Lakoff, the Berkeley linguistics professor influential in Democratic Party intellectual circles.


Speaking of linguistics, the conflict in which we are engaged has suffered from vagueness of definition. President Bush first described it as the "global war on terror." Since then, many people have argued that this formulation fails to face up to the role of Islam. For example, Newt Gingrich suggests that we call this the "Long War" against the "irreconcilable wing of Islam." That terminology will do. However, terrorism is important, because attacks on civilians are the modus operandi of Islam's irreconcilable wing.


The Three Theaters


In a complex global war, it can be useful to view the conflict as a combination of several theaters of operation. I think of this war as having three theaters: cultural, technological, and conventional military. Each theater provides a potential for victory or defeat.


The cultural theater is the contest between American values and the ideology of what Gingrich calls the irreconcilable wing of Islam. We could win in the cultural theater if Muslim moderates were to assert themselves strongly, so that the radical wing shrinks and loses viability. On the other hand, our society has its own internal divisions and weaknesses. We can lose in the cultural theater if our fighting spirit gives way to feckless appeasement. Another possibility would be for the majority of the world's Muslims to become radicalized, while the Western democracies coalesce in self-defense. That would set the stage for spectacular bloodshed.


The technological theater is one where each side has the potential to alter the balance of power in a dramatic way. We would win in the technological theater if we were to establish Surveillance Supremacy, meaning the ability to track with confidence the movement and threat potential of terrorists. We would lose in the technological theater if terrorists are able to deploy weapons of mass destruction on American soil.


The conventional military theater is the set of places where Americans and others in the "coalition of the willing" are fighting Islamic militants. In addition, Victor Davis Hanson identifies four countries -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Syria -- that are potentially in the conventional military theater, because their governments have an attitude toward terrorists that is ambivalent, to say the least. We can win in the conventional military theater if we kill a large proportion of terrorists and deny them access to funding, supplies, and training. We can lose in the conventional military theater if terrorists are able to carry out major operations routinely without effective disruption.


In the cultural theater, we are trying to change the attitudes and behaviors of Muslims around the world. The Bush Doctrine focuses on using democracy as the lever to achieve such change. Supporters of the Mush Doctrine believe that America can, by playing more nicely in the international schoolyard, achieve victory in the cultural theater.


My question about strategies focused on the cultural theater is this: Even assuming that we choose the best strategies and they work as well as one could possibly hope, when is the soonest that we could expect victory? 2040? 2050?


On the other hand, my guess is that within ten or fifteen years of today, weapons of mass destruction will be easier for terrorists to access. (The technology for surveillance also is advancing rapidly.) Given the increased risks of proliferation, unless we achieve surveillance supremacy or defeat the terrorists conventionally, we will have lost the war technologically long before the wave of radical Islam recedes. From this assessment, it follows that:


The war is likely to be decided in the technological theater.


Until the decision in the technological theater is reached, I think that our goal in the conventional military theater should be to apply as much pressure as possible. We should try to hold the line in the cultural theater, but it is futile to rely on a decision there.


Revisiting Iraq


We made a number of mistakes prior to the war in Iraq. One mistake was attempting to utilize the institutional forum of the United Nations.


We have many helpful allies. We ought to consult with them and involve them. However, our message to people in other countries should be that they can influence our policy constructively, not through obstruction and betrayal. Going to the UN undermines our standing with our friends, because it reduces their influence. Instead, it increases the influence of countries that are willing to vote against our interests.


Another problem with the UN, and with international elites in general, is their tendency to substitute empty gestures for real action. Economic sanctions are empty gestures, and they should be dispensed with. In the case of Iraq, they were worse than empty gestures -- they led to the "oil-for-food" program, which strengthened Saddam's regime both domestically and internationally.


What about the invasion itself? At various times, the invasion of Iraq has been alleged to offer benefits in all three theaters of the war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. In the technology theater, it was supposed to address the threat of weapons of mass destruction. In the conventional military theater, there was a period when people spoke of a "flypaper" strategy, in which we would use Iraq as a killing field for terrorists. In the cultural theater, it was supposed to showcase the plan for democracy in the Middle East.


Concerning weapons of mass destruction, we made a big mistake by essentially promising to find WMD's. It would have been far better to go in saying the opposite -- that we did not necessarily expect to find WMD's, but we were going to war over the principle of unimpeded inspections. That is, in today's world, our alliance must be able to send teams of weapons inspectors anywhere that a potential WMD threat exists. Refusal to accept inspectors ought to be a legitimate grounds for war. Certainly, that is the message that one would have wanted to send to Iran and North Korea. It was the principle embodied in the UN resolution leading up to the war, a fact which the world's anti-American elites have conveniently chosen to forget.


The net result of transforming the WMD issue from a question of unimpeded inspections into a question about our intelligence estimates is that we are now more timid about enforcing an inspections regime going forward. By the same token, rogue nations are less timid about flouting the principle of nonproliferation. Overall, then, this has to be regarded as a setback in the technological theater.


Another rationale for the war is in the cultural theater, where we hope to gain by changing Iraq from a dictatorship to a democracy. In my view, the weakest pillar in the Bush Doctrine is the plan for democracy. As Fukuyama and others point out, it is difficult to execute. Moreover, as noted above, I believe that the conflict with the irreconcilable wing of Islam is likely to be decided, for better or worse, in the technology theater.


In post-war Iraq, the Bush Doctrine is bound to over-promise and under-deliver. Certainly, some ethnic group or sub-group is going to be justifiably bitter about the way that democracy plays out over the next several years. We should not have put ourselves in the position of taking responsibility for producing a successful democracy where everyone lives happily ever after.


If the Iraq war provided any benefits, those would have to be in the conventional military theater. Here, I have more questions than answers.


What alternative uses would have been made of the American troops?


Perhaps the American forces now occupied in Iraq would instead have been deployed to one of the other rogue nations, such as Pakistan or Iran. If that is the case, then one might argue that they were wasted in Iraq. I find it implausible that our troops would have been used in other countries, but this assumption is implicit in much of the scornful rhetoric used by some war critics.


What would the jihadists who came from other countries to fight in Iraq have done otherwise?


Another implicit assumption made by war critics is that the foreigners became jihadists spontaneously in response to our invasion. The extreme alternative hypothesis is that the Iraq invasion was a "flypaper strategy" that attracted existing militants from elsewhere. My guess is that the truth includes some of both. My guess is that there are somewhat fewer trained militants in Saudi Arabia and Europe today, because they were killed by our troops in Iraq.


Did the invasion help "tip" Saudi Arabia in the direction of cracking down on the irreconcilable wing of Islam?


George Friedman, in America's Secret War, argues that the Iraq war may have helped in this regard. In his view, the Saudis needed to see that America was willing and able to fight in the Middle East before they would take action against Al Qaeda.


Did the invasion help "tip" Iran in the opposite direction -- further radicalizing and emboldening that regime?


Friedman says that invasion of Iraq probably did have this adverse effect. If so, then this has to be counted as a point against the invasion policy.


Did removing Saddam reduce the number of countries that support terrorists?


Supporters of the war say that under Saddam, Iraq was involved in aiding terrorism. They also point to a change in Libya's policy. If Victor Davis Hanson is correct that we now have four countries to worry about, he might argue that prior to the invasion there were six. Other analysts would disagree.


Going Forward


Going forward, my recommendations for the Bush Doctrine would be to try to rejuvenate the pre-emption doctrine while lowering expectations for democratic transformation. In particular, I would recommend:


1. Build on the concept of a "coalition of the willing" by creating a formal alliance against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. Members of the alliance will be consulted on strategy and will enjoy the prestige that comes with active participation in the long war. If some countries prefer tacit support or neutrality to membership in the alliance, then so be it. A new war calls for a new alliance, which is not necessarily the same as the alliance that was left over from the Cold War.


2. We need a new institutional mechanism for determining when pre-emption is justified. The ex post effort to delegitimize the invasion of Iraq is terribly corrosive. At this point, it does not matter whether the problem is that Bush lied or that Democrats are airbrushing history. Either way, we are signaling to the rest of the world that we might never again muster the political will to engage in pre-emptive military action.


In the future, there may be a compelling need to use force against another country. If so, then we need a process that allows us to do so. I am thinking of some sort of independent, bipartisan intelligence review commission, whose job is to evaluate rogue nations on an ongoing basis and to advise Congress and the President when to go to war. There may even be a role on this commission for other countries in our alliance.


3. Finally, we need powerful internal audits of our key agencies, both for effectiveness and for conformity to Constitutional protections of individual rights. For example, Gingrich writes,


"The office of the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] could have an advisory board, functioning as a corporate board of directors, which would meet at least monthly to represent the President, the Congress and the American people, provide a review function and sound and practical guidance. These directors could include individuals with a national reputation as successful managers in government or the private sector. They might include a former mayor or state governor, a corporate CEO, or someone who has effectively run a governmental program in an area outside of intelligence."


I have thought along similar lines. A few months ago, I wrote, "What needs to be watched most closely? Our airports? Our rail systems? Our government buildings? Our borders? Radical Muslims? I think that the top security priority should be to set up a system to monitor the Department of Homeland Security. I am not kidding."


Overall, my sense is that we have reached a point where the Bush Doctrine no longer serves as a sufficient basis for addressing the long war against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. The three institutional changes listed above could bolster our ability to conduct the war in the future.


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