Iraq Occupation Erodes Bush Doctrine
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2004; Page A01
The occupation of Iraq has increasingly undermined, and in some cases discredited, the core tenets of President Bush's foreign policy, according to a wide range of Republican and Democratic analysts and U.S. officials.
When the war began 15 months ago, the president's Iraq policy rested on four broad principles: The United States should act preemptively to prevent strikes on U.S. targets. Washington should be willing to act unilaterally, alone or with a select coalition, when the United Nations or allies balk. Iraq was the next cornerstone in the global war on terrorism. And Baghdad's transformation into a new democracy would spark regionwide change.
But these central planks of Bush doctrine have been tainted by spiraling violence, limited reconstruction, failure to find weapons of mass destruction or prove Iraq's ties to al Qaeda, and mounting Arab disillusionment with U.S. leadership.
"Of the four principles, three have failed, and the fourth -- democracy promotion -- is hanging by a sliver," said Geoffrey Kemp, a National Security Council staff member in the Reagan administration and now director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center.
The president has "walked away from unilateralism. We're not going to do another preemptive strike anytime soon, certainly not in Iran or North Korea. And it looks like terrorism is getting worse, not better, especially in critical countries like Saudi Arabia," Kemp said.
As a result, Bush doctrine could become the biggest casualty of U.S. intervention in Iraq, which is entering a new phase this week as the United States prepares to hand over power to the new Iraqi government.
Setbacks in Iraq have had a visible impact on policy, forcing shifts or reassessments. The United States has returned to the United Nations to solve its political problems in Iraq. It has appealed to NATO for help on security. It is also relying on diplomacy, with allies, to deal with every other hot spot.
"There's already been a retreat from the radicalism in Bush administration foreign policy," said Walter Russell Mead, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow. "You have a feeling that even Bush isn't saying, 'Hey, that was great. Let's do it again.' "
Some analysts, including Republicans, suggest that another casualty of Iraq is the neoconservative approach that inspired a zealous agenda to tackle security threats in the Middle East and transform the region politically.
"Neoconservatism has been replaced by neorealism, even within the Bush White House," Kemp said. "The best evidence is the administration's extraordinary recent reliance on [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Annan and [U.N. envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi. The neoconservatives are clearly much less credible than they were a year ago."
The administration would not make a senior official or spokesman available for quotation by name to support its policy. But top administration officials insist the Iraq experience has not invalidated Bush doctrine, and they contend its basic principles will endure beyond the Bush presidency.
Policy supporters argue that current realities will keep some form of all four ideas in future policy. "Despite all the problems of implementation and despite mistakes made by the Bush administration, I don't see many other choices," said William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle.
"No one thinks the Middle East pre-September 11 is acceptable, or that we should work with its dictators. No one says in a world of weapons of mass destruction we can rule out preemption or that they're not worried about the linkage between terrorism and states producing weapons of mass destruction," he said. "So I don't see much of an alternative to the Bush doctrine."
Challenges to its four central tenets, however, are likely to influence U.S. foreign policy for years, some analysts predict.
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