In World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Norman Podhoretz identifies the four pillars of the Bush Doctrine: (1) rejection of moral relativism and commitment to fostering the spread of democracy in the Middle East, (2) treating terrorism proactively, on a global basis, and not as law enforcement issue, (3) willingness to engage in preemptive attacks against terrorists and terrorist supporting states, and (4) unwillingness to support a Palestinian state until Palestinian leaders “engage in a sustained fight against terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.” Podhoretz concludes his book by asking whether the Bush Doctrine would survive a Democratic administration. But it’s also fair to ask whether it has survived the Bush administration.
I agree with Podhoretz that the first pillar (democracy promotion) has survived, provided that one views it flexibly, as I described it in this statement, which Norman graciously included in his book:
In each instance, the administration tilts toward democracy, with the degree of the tilt dictated by its perception of our ability to control events and the viability of the status quo. . .In short, the administration’s policy in the Middle East is to attempt to promote democracy to just the extent that doing so makes sense in light of facts on the ground. Since these facts vary from situation to situation, so too do the manifestations of our policy.
Although we haven’t launched new major military operations since Iraq in 2003, there is also no reason to doubt that second pillar (proactive pursuit of terrorists) has also survived. Presumably, the pursuit is ongoing but below our radar screen.
It remains to be seen whether the third pillar (preemption) is still administration policy. In all likeihood, there are some conditions under which President Bush would still launch a preemptive strike. However, if he is unwilling to launch one against Iran, it will be fair to conclude that doctrine has changed. For, as Podhoretz reminds us, Bush himself has said that a failure to deal with the looming threat of a nuclear Iran would condemn the U.S. in the eyes of history. This statement causes Norman to conclude that Bush will take preemptive action against Iran before January 2009. Time will tell.
The fourth pillar (no Palestinian state until the Palestinians fight terrorism on a sustained basis and dismantle terrorist infrastructure) has, in my view, fallen. During an informal chat at the book award dinner on Monday, both Norman and John Podhoretz appeared to disagree with me on this point (we didn’t discuss it in depth). Yet to my knowledge, the PA is not engaged in a sustained fight against its terrorists, nor has the Palestinian terror infrastructure been dismantled. Nonetheless, the Bush administration is working to create a Palestinian state.
Finally, let’s speculate about how the Bush doctrine would fare under Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? The fourth pillar, having already fallen, will not be reconstructed. Nor would I expect a Democratic administration to embrace or practice “preemption” in any strong sense.
The other two pillars may fare better. There’s no reason to assume that Obama or Clinton will be averse to promoting democracy in the flexible, pragmatic way that Podhoretz and I take the Bush administration to be doing. And, considering the consequences (including the political ones) of another attack on the homeland, it is quite possible that a Democratic administration would continue to move proactively against terrorists, rather than embracing a pure law enforcement model. However, the fact that there is doubt as to whether Obama and Clinton will do so with sufficient vigor is reason enough to support John McCain.
To comment on this post, go here.