Desperately Seeking Doctrine

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, July 10, 2006; 1:26 PM

All those previous Bush Doctrines guiding American foreign policy are now inoperative, it would appear, leaving the obvious question: What is operative?

Bush foreign policy has morphed dramatically over time. It started off humble and opposed to nation-building. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the president boldly declared his doctrine of preventative war, vowing to pre-emptively attack emerging threats.

But after the invasion of Iraq failed to reveal any weapons of mass destruction there, the focus shifted to Bush's lofty pledge to fight terror by spreading democracy.

That hasn't worked very well either, however. And now the White House faces an inordinate number of new or growing challenges across the globe without anything remotely like a consistent approach -- or, for that matter, a good sense of who's in charge.

Bye Bye Cowboy

Mike Allen and Romesh Ratnesar 's cover story for Time this week is entitled "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy" and it may just feature the most devastating cover artwork since that Newsweek cover in December showing Bush in a bubble.

"[I]n the span of four years, the Administration has been forced to rethink the doctrine with which it hoped to remake the world as the strategy's ineffectiveness is exposed by the very policies it prescribed," Allen and Ratnesar write.

"So what happened? The most obvious answer is that the Bush Doctrine foundered in the principal place the U.S. tried to apply it. . . . If the toppling of Saddam Hussein marked the high-water mark of U.S. hegemony, the past three years have witnessed a steady erosion in Washington's ability to bend the world to its will.

"Despite appearances, the White House insists that Bush's goals have not changed. 'The President has always stressed that different circumstances warrant different responses,' says White House counselor Dan Bartlett. 'The impression that the doctrine of pre-emption was the only guiding foreign policy light is not true. Iraq was a unique circumstance in history, and the sense of urgency on certain decisions in the early part of the first term was reflective of a nation that had to take decisive action after being attacked.' "

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times that Bush's Chicago news conference on Friday "was notable because it seemed to mark the completion of a rhetorical journey for Mr. Bush. It is a journey that has steadily moved away, in public pronouncements -- if not the president's own thinking -- from the lines he drew in the 2002 State of the Union address. In that famous 'axis of evil' speech, he identified the threats from Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the three most pressing post-9/11 challenges facing the United States.

" 'We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side,' he said in one of the most-quoted passages of what became the signature speech of his administration. 'I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.' "

By contrast, here's Bush on Friday in Chicago: "These problems didn't rise overnight, and they don't get solved overnight. . . . You know, the problem with diplomacy, it takes a while to get something done. If you're acting alone, you can move quickly."

Writes Sanger: "In short, Mr. Bush is discovering the limits of his own pre-emption doctrine -- and the frustrations of its alternative. He knows, aides say, that even to hint at military action or deadlines if Iran refuses to suspend enriching uranium, or if North Korea continues to test missiles and make bomb fuel, would probably destroy any chance of getting China and Russia aboard on a common strategy.

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