Iraq Occupation Erodes Bush Doctrine
The War on Terrorism
Bush turned his sights on Iraq within weeks of the war in Afghanistan. "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror," he said in the 2002 State of the Union address. He added later: "The price of indifference would be catastrophic."
Whatever the merits of deposing Hussein, foreign and domestic polls now consistently show that the failure to find concrete evidence of significant ties or joint actions between the Iraqi leader and al Qaeda has dissipated international support for the United States and generated skepticism at home about the benefits of the Iraq war.
The Iraq war may even have hurt U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, analysts say, noting the increase in car bombings, hostage abductions and beheadings in Iraq as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia. "We have assisted al Qaeda in recruiting fresh adherents by the war in Iraq and the antagonism it's generated," Hoge said.
The administration is "drifting," Carpenter said. It "clings to the idea of state-sponsored terrorism as a motive for the Iraq war, but it was wildly off the mark," he said. "Afghanistan continues to be the real central front, to the extent there is a front at all."
U.S. officials say waging war in Iraq was vital to eliminate a refuge for extremists after Afghanistan.
Early supporters of administration policy also say the problem is not with the principles, but with their implementation. Any government has limited chances to enact policy, and early setbacks in execution can lead the public or policymakers to back away even if the ideas remain valid, Kristol said.
The most ambitious aspect of Bush doctrine is pressing for political and economic reform in the Islamic world, the last bloc of countries to hold out against the democratic tide that has swept much of the rest of the world. Iraq was to be the catalyst of change.
"Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution," Bush said in a November 2003 speech to the National Endowment for Democracy.
Although the administration is still pushing its new democracy initiative for the wider Middle East, Muslim disillusionment with the United States over Iraq has deeply hurt this goal, analysts warn. Democratic and Republican foreign policy experts almost unanimously predict that progress will be much slower than expected even six months ago.
"The idea that the Middle East can be repaired by external intervention has been seriously damaged. And the ideas of reform are going to be a much harder sell after Iraq," said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine.
After six decades as the main mediator in the region, the United States may also be losing its standing as an honest broker because of Iraq and the U.S. failure to fulfill promises to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Naim said.
The Iraq intervention also discredited the president's approach to regional peace. "The administration argued that if you removed the security threat in Iraq, you'd improve the chances of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict -- that the road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad. If anything, we learned it's just the other way around," Hoge said.
Supporters of the administration's efforts argue that promoting democracy is the oldest goal in U.S. foreign policy worldwide, dating back more than 200 years. Whatever the current problems, they contend, it will remain a top goal -- particularly in the Islamic world as a key to countering extremism.
The overall impact of policy challenges in Iraq, analysts say, is that the Bush White House has been forced back to the policy center or scaled back the scope of its goals. They cite the president's appeal for NATO assistance and cutbacks in the democracy initiative.
"It's a lesson in hubris," Carpenter said. "The administration thought it had all the answers, but it found out through painful experience that it did not."
Yet administration supporters say Iraq has not produced backtracking or policy reassessment. "Enormously sharp distinctions are being made between different policy views, which are largely artificial," Kagan said. "There was an enormous consensus going into this war and there's a consensus now about what needs to be done. So we are having a huge, vicious debate, and yet I'm not sure what the debate is about."
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