36 Evaluations of the Bush Doctrine

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005 10:08 pm by Neal

Commentary Magazine, to commemorate it’s sixtieth anniversary, solicited distinguished thinkers to evaluate the Bush Doctrine, which they define briefly:

In response to a radically changed world situation since the Islamist attacks of 9/11, the United States under George W. Bush has adopted a broad new approach to national security. The Bush Doctrine, as this policy has come to be known, emphasizes the need for preemption in order to “confront the worst threats before they emerge.” It also stresses the need to transform the cultures that breed hatred and fanaticism by—in a historically stunning move—actively promoting democracy and liberty in the Middle East and beyond. In the President’s words, “We live in a time when the defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom.”

They received and published 36 responses from some of my favorite intellectual powerhouses such as William Buckley, Victor Davis Hanson, Natan Sharansky and Daniel Pipes. The responses make this one of the best collections of intellectual reflection on the Bush Doctrine. As a sample, consider the conclusions of Pipes and Sharansky, respectively.

Daniel Pipes:

I cheered this change in direction when it was announced, and still do. But here, too, I find the implementation flawed. The administration is trying to build democracy much too quickly. A mere 22 months, for example, passed between the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and elections for the prime minister of Iraq; in my view, the interval should have been closer to 22 years.

Haste ignores the historical record. Democracy has everywhere taken time, and especially so when it builds on a foundation of totalitarian tyranny, as in Iraq. As I wrote in April 2003:

Democracy is a learned habit, not instinct. The infrastructure of a civil society—such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, minority rights, and an independent judiciary—needs to be established before holding elections. Deep attitudinal changes must take place as well: a culture of restraint, a commonality of values, a respect for differences of view and a sense of civic responsibility.

As for the editors’ final question, although Americans have no moral obligation to sponsor freedom and prosperity in the rest of the world, it does make for an excellent foreign-policy goal. The more the world enjoys democracy, the safer are Americans; as other free peoples prosper, so do we. The bold aim of showing the way, however, requires a cautious, slow, and tempered policy. The Bush administration has a visionary boldness but not the requisite operational caution.

Natan Sharansky:

Yet any criticism I may have of the Bush Doctrine’s implementation is tempered by my deep appreciation of the fact that its merits are being discussed at all. For too long, American foreign policy was shaped by the idea that supporting friendly dictators was critical to peace and stability. This illusion collapsed on 9/11, and President Bush was bold enough to chart a different course. For this he deserves nothing but praise and gratitude.

Among the first who owe him gratitude are the millions of Afghans and Iraqis who no longer live under tyranny, the millions of Lebanese who have begun to build a free Lebanon, and the countless democrats now raising their voices throughout a region once characterized only by fear and repression. These are the true beneficiaries of the Bush Doctrine, and I have no doubt that both America and the world are much safer for the bounty that has befallen them.

A great collection of thoughtful commentary on the most important issue of our time.

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