The Disenchantment Of The Bush Doctrineers

Max Boot discovers that there’s no such thing as Santa:

The president has consistently talked a good game when it comes to democracy promotion, stopping weapons proliferation and other important goals, but his actions have just as consistently fallen short. Inaction is defensible — because there is always a good case to be made for caution in international affairs. But why then has his rhetoric been so incautious? The combination leads to the suspicion that there is no underlying strategy, merely a disconnect between what the White House speechwriters churn out and what the rest of the government actually does.

Can Boot really be this credulous? Or is he truly among the last to grasp that an administration staffed by some of the least liberal people in American politics — people who themselves have shown nothing but disdain for the actual procedures and processes of democracy — was not particularly suited to the task of cultivating liberal democracy abroad?

Meanwhile, bemoaning the heartless realpolitik of the Obama administration that hasn’t even begun yet, Fouad Ajami strings these words together on the page:

[The] Obama reticence about those burning grounds of the Islamic world is, in part, a matter of biography. The Islamic faith was the faith of his father. A candidate with the middle name of Hussein could not afford soaring rhetoric about the ability of freedom to survive on Islamic soil.

Just to be clear: In addition to pre-emptively condemning President Obama’s as-yet-hypothetical foreign policy, Ajami also locates the reason for Obama’s imaginary abandonment of freedom’s cause in Obama’s father’s Muslim background. This is more than just silly, this is dangerously close to Daniel Pipes territory.

Ajami continues:

In contrast, George W. Bush had been free and confident enough to take up the cause of reform and drastic change in the Islamic world. True, he did not know much about the ways of those lands, but neither did Woodrow Wilson. His doctrine of self-determination in the aftermath of the Great War, and the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, endures as the most consequential and revolutionary American message taken to the lands of old empires.[…]

A circle was closed between that Wilsonian policy and the massive American push into Arab and Islamic lands by George W. Bush.

One thing is sure to go with Mr. Bush when he departs to Crawford, Texas: his “diplomacy of freedom.” That diplomacy — which propelled the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which drove the Syrians out of Lebanon after they had all but destroyed the sovereignty of that country, and had challenged pro-American allies in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula — is gone for good.

So, in contrast to Obama, whose ethnic/religious/cultural background makes him alien to the principle of self-determination, George W. Bush had the confidence to take up the white man’s burden. And didn’t it work great for a while! Until it didn’t. Good lord.


Antique cultural essentialism aside, as with Jackson Diehl last Friday, what neither Boot nor Ajami seem able to grasp is that while Bush’s ideas about promoting democracy in the Middle East may have been admirable, his actual plans for promoting democracy the Middle East were deeply and irretrievably stupid. In the end, Bush’s pro-freedom rhetoric has proved hollow because his pro-freedom policies consisted of kidnapping, torture, and indefinite detention, invading and occupying foreign countries, enabling a sectarian civil war in which hundreds of thousands were killed and maimed and several millions displaced, all of which contributed to previously unseen levels of anti-Americanism while further empowering some of the most conservative, undemocratic forces in the region. The question Boot and Ajami should be asking is why they went along with it.