Incredible Shrinking Doctrine

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In the latest “National Interest,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev and Paul J. Saunders, two of the magazine’s bigwigs, make the case that the “Bush Doctrine” has been effectively dumbed down, by the administration itself.

In both word and deed, therefore, the President has transformed the “war on terror,� pitting the United States and its allies against the forces of international Islamic terrorism, into a counter-insurgency action in Iraq, pitting the new Iraqi government against the Baathist-Islamist coalition that wants to destroy it. The entire conceptual framework underlying the Bush Doctrine has been replaced, in just a few short years, with a Vietnam-era retread. Although President Bush tries to mask this strategic retreat with tough-sounding words about “fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home,� there is something hollow, even a bit craven, about this new slogan. It also is demonstrably untrue, as proved by the Madrid and London bombings. And by President Bush’s repeated promises to bring American troops home just as soon as the Iraqis are capable of fighting the insurgents themselves, not after the insurgents are defeated.

Another notable observation, and one that Democrats particularly ought to pay attention to, since John Kerry’s Monday morning quarterbacking of the war on terror didn’t win over enough voters last year:

Why and how we got into Iraq and what choices could have been made differently: This is not central to when and how we get out. Only victory is. This is not to say that the Bush Administration has not made mistakes in the war and in the occupation. The U.S. assessment, shared by other governments, that Iraq was energetically engaged in WMD programs was clearly incorrect. The administration’s expectations for postwar Iraq were also incorrect and led to a series of decisions–like disbanding the Iraqi army and other state institutions with little thought given to what would replace them–that have made it harder rather than easier to set Iraq back on its feet. The role of Ahmed Chalabi and company in shaping U.S. policy certainly deserves much greater scrutiny in this connection. But the appropriate study and debate of “lessons learned” should not crowd out discussion of the way forward.

Unfortunately, at the political level that discussion has been weak so far. In fairness, the war in Iraq is a problem with no good solution.

Kerry would have had a better chance with me if he had spent less time talking about what he would have done differently two years before (but didn’t say so two years before) and more time talking about what he planned to do two years from then.

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