I have read Norman Podhoretz’s piece, “Is the Bush Doctrine Dead?” for the second time, and once again commend it to our readers. Mr. Podhoretz does a great job of exposing a number of myths — from nearly all positions on the political spectrum — about the Bush Doctrine and the extent of its author’s adherence thereto.
In the end, I agree that the Bush Doctrine is not dead. However, I fear that the Doctrine may have a fever due to a serious tension between two of its primary elements.
Podhoretz identifies the two elements early in his piece: (1) a commitment remorsely to pursue terrorists and nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism and (2) a commitment to the idea of the democratization of the Middle East. The tension arises because nurturing fledgling democracies (or what we hope will become such) in the unlikely terrain of, say, Lebanon or the West Bank may require (or be viewed as requiring) that we moderate our attacks on terrorists. Thus, our desire to provide Abbas with credibility may have caused us to urge Israel to make concessions that a single-minded focus on eradicating terrorists would have counseled against. More recently, our desire to help the new government in Lebanon may have caused us to be less supportive of an all-out prolonged assault on Hezbollah than an unyielding approach to defeating teorrism would have dictated. When a White House spokesman says that an Israeli move deeper into Lebanon does not correspond with American policy, what policy can he be referring to? If it is not a policy of Kerryesque sensitivity to the desires of Europeans (and I assume, with Podhoretz, that it is not) then it must be a policy of trying to help the Lebanese government.
I continue to believe, with the administration, that both components of the Bush Doctrine we’ve been discussing — taking the battle to the terrorists and promoting democracy in the Middle East — are important. But of the two, I regard the first as primary. My sense is that it was primary in the first Bush administration, but may not be in the second. My suspicion (and it’s only that) is that dominant players in the second administration may be using the democracy-promoting prong of the Bush Doctrine as a means of reshaping Bush’s foreign policy into something less distinguishable from the foreign policy of his predecessor than it should be.
Hence, perhaps, the fever.