Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Doctrine Worth Saving
Stomping Bush may impose a steep price.

BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Friday, November 24, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Thanksgiving is unavoidably bound up with the political life of this country. Each year the day before Thanksgiving this page publishes as its lead editorial a segment from the Plymouth Colony records of Nathaniel Morton based on the account of Governor William Bradford. The diary entry makes plain the world that spread before the Pilgrims in 1620--woods and thickets with a "wild and savage hew." My eye this year is drawn to its final line, describing a look backward that day across an ocean, "a gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world."
Over the next three centuries, the Pilgrims' ancestors and others fought and bled to improve the "civil" world they fled. The Revolutionary War took nearly 4,500 lives. The Civil War, a half-million lives. The combined dead in World War I was more than 116,000, and World War II's U.S. battle deaths to defeat Germany and Japan were close to 300,000. After all that, the United States became the foremost part of "the civil part of the world."
In the mid-1990s, I was talking to a politically sophisticated European lady about Europe's lack of military response to Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of the non-Serbs in Yugoslavia. She said, persuasively I thought, "You must understand how much bloody death has happened across our continent the past century. We have simply been worn out by it." In the event, the U.S. went in to stop another 20th-century genocide on the soil of that civil part of the world.
Her remark has come back to me in recent weeks, watching the paroxysm of antipathy toward the Iraq war and its progenitors. It would be one thing to say it is simply opposition to and dissent from an unpopular war and an unpopular president. But this has gone beyond that. The rhetoric is emotional and vituperative. I have seen audiences greet speakers denouncing Iraq as a "disaster" and "failure" with bursts of applause.
It is getting harder to distinguish between animosity toward George Bush and animosity toward the entire American enterprise beyond the nation's borders. As Norman Podhoretz delineated in the September issue of Commentary, columns and articles in journals of foreign policy are equating the tsunami of negativity rolling over Iraq with repudiation of the Bush Doctrine in toto.
One might have expected most of the disagreement to center on the doctrine's assertion of a right to pre-emptive attack. Instead, Iraq's troubles have been conflated with a general repudiation of the U.S.'s ability to abet democratic aspiration elsewhere in the world.
It is certainly possible that the Iraq effort will, in some obvious sense, "fail." Henry Kissinger now says "victory," defined as an Iraqi government gaining political control over the entire country, is not possible. But we might want to think some before we toss out the infant Bush Doctrine with the Iraqi bathwater.
As stated, the doctrine's strategy is "to help make the world not just safer but better." Some conservatives have denounced the "better world" part as utopian overstretch. Beyond that, the document lists as its goals the aspirations of human dignity, strengthening alliances to "defeat" terrorism, working with others to defuse regional conflicts, promoting global growth through free markets and trade and "opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy."
It is mainly the latter--the notion of the U.S. building the "infrastructure of democracy" that now, because of the "failure" in Iraq, attracts opposition across the political spectrum--from John Kerry to George Will and on out to neoconservatives confessing loss of faith in the Bush team to the unforgiving ear of Vanity Fair.
No doubt each of these has declared unfealty to the Bush effort for more or less honorable reasons. But someone ought to step back and consider the cumulative political effect of what of late has turned into an unrestrained gang-stomping of the sort normally seen at Miami-Florida International football games. We are ensuring that no future president, of either party, will project military power anytime soon short of retaliation for a nuclear attack. Every potential presidential candidate, including John McCain, has to be looking at the Bush administration's experience and concluding there is simply no political upside in doing so. We are backing the country's political mind into the long-term parking lot of isolationism, something fervently wished for at opposite ends of the U.S. political spectrum.
The specialists in the foreign-policy community will argue that a new administration can "adjust" policy to changed events and new challenges. That sells short the power of the anti-Bush wave (itself underestimated for three years by the Bushies). This is a new force. Powerful technologies--the Web, TV and (still) newspaper front pages--combine to amplify ancient human barbarities every day from the Sunni Triangle. The opinions of mere pundits acquire exponential authority, a scary thought. Baghdad has become the blood-soaked, psychological equal of the Somme or Gettysburg. The sense grows daily among the American public that helping "them" is hopeless and "we" should pull back to our shores.
Like the Europeans, we may talk ourselves into a weariness with the world and its various, unremitting violences. No genocide will occur on American soil, but the same information tide that bathes us in Baghdad's horrors ensure that Darfur's genocide will come too near not to notice. Too bad for them, or any aspiring democrats under the thumb of Russia, China, Nigeria, Venezuela or Islam's highly mobile anti-democrats. We've got ours. Let them get theirs.
Does this overstate the buildup of anti-Bush, anti-Iraq sentiment? Will U.S. policy, in the hands of ideologically frictionless bureaucracies, slide forward? Maybe. But even the realists and cynics might concede there has been some benefit, perhaps going back as far as Plymouth Rock, in having one nation standing for the conceit, or even the ideal, that men elsewhere with democratic aspirations could at least count on us for active support. This is the core idea in the Bush Doctrine. If its critics don't start making some distinctions, they may discover that profligacy of opinion in our time carries a very steep price.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.
Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

2 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I couldn't agree more with Daniel Henninger. This article is worth discussing. I hear from many critics of the war that it is a failure, preemption is a disaster, and you can't impose democracy. What they should really be saying is that we are an impatient people who have no stomach for messy wars.

I have never been a fan of the U. S. being global cop. I tend to believe that we should aid those on the right side with supplies, training, inspiration, and weapons and only be involved militarily where our vital interests are at risk. Otherwise we will be involved in perpetual war like Great Britian of centuries ago. We will spend our blood and treasury on foreign adventure after foreign adventure while impovershing the American worker and blooding the American psyche.

The problem with this war is that we have to win it. Maybe we should have let the inspectors have more time and targeted Sadaam and company for assination. The truth is this war was likely inevitable except by a miracle. We could no longer allow in a post 9-11 world this base for terror and attacks on the U.S. military. (Iraq attacked coalition forces 450 times over the past 15 years and was involved with talks with Bin Laden's lackeys.) We now have proof that he had weapons of mass destruction programs and had just about everything for a nuke but the enriched uranium.

The same David Kaye report that could not find the mass stockpiles of weapons said in some ways Iraq was more dangerous than we thought.

The terrorists have made Iraq their cause celeb. They are on the run around the world thanks to us. This is their big chance to see if we will cut and run if the going gets tough. If we do they will take these tatics everywhere, including American malls and schools. They will burn our churches, bomb our schools, and shoot up our theaters. The spector of Islamofacism will haunt us until we exorcise fear and tolerance of failure from the American psyche.

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