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Desperately Seeking Doctrine

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
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.

"But failing to lay out the consequences clearly -- the kind of straight talk Mr. Bush used to say distinguished his administration's foreign policy -- may embolden Iran and North Korea to try to run out the clock, produce more nuclear material and hope for a better deal with the next president."

Allen and Ratnesar, incidentally, see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in ascendancy. They write: "Her push for pragmatism has rubbed off on hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney, the primary intellectual force behind Bush's post-9/11 policies. 'There's a move, even by Cheney, toward the Kissingerian approach of focusing entirely on vital interests,' says a presidential adviser. 'It's a more focused foreign policy that is driven by realism and less by ideology.' "

To which I say: Phooey. As I wrote in my June 23 column , Cheney's worldview appears as ideological -- and grandiose -- as ever.

For some more background on foreign policy, I wrote in my March 16 column about how the Bush Doctrine appeared to be have died a while back. And I wrote in the Thursday column about the contrast between Bush's soaring rhetoric about spreading democracy and the mess it increasingly looks like he'll leave behind.

Unhappiness on the Left and Right

Prominent conservative William Kristol writes in the Weekly Standard: "The red lines, pink lines, and mauve lines of U.S. foreign policy seem increasingly to be written in erasable ink. What was 'unacceptable' to President Bush a week ago (a North Korean missile launch) has been accepted. In retrospect, according to a draft Security Council resolution, the missile launch turns out merely to have been 'regrettable.' "

Kristol concludes that "to be Clintonian in a post-9/11 world is to invite even more danger than Clinton's policies did in the 1990s."

Liberal blogger Kevin Drum writes that "the Bush administration literally seems to have no foreign policy at all anymore. They have no serious plan for Iraq, no plan for Iran, no plan for North Korea, no plan for democracy promotion, no plan for anything. With the neocons on the outs, Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, and Dick Cheney continuing to drift into an alternate universe at the OVP, the Bush administration seems completely at sea. There's virtually no ideological coherency to their foreign policy that I can discern, and no credible followup on what little coherency is left.

"As near as I can tell, George Bush has learned that 'There's evil in the world and we're going to stand up to it' isn't really adequate as a foreign policy for a superpower but is unable to figure out anything better to replace it with. So he spins his wheels, waiting for 2009. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left spinning with him."

G-8 Watch

Some Bush critics have argued that the only way in which Bush has been utterly consistent throughout his presidency has been in pursuing the interests of big-business corporate America.

(See, for instance, conservative firebrand Richard A. Viguerie on washingtonpost.com in May.)

So in the absence of any compelling foreign policy doctrine, perhaps that is part of what's behind Peter Baker's Sunday exclusive in The Washington Post.

"President Bush has decided to permit extensive U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia for the first time, administration officials said yesterday, reversing decades of bipartisan policy in a move that would be worth billions of dollars to Moscow but could provoke an uproar in Congress," Baker writes.

"Bush resisted such a move for years, insisting that Russia first stop building a nuclear power station for Iran near the Persian Gulf. But U.S. officials have shifted their view of Russia's collaboration with Iran and concluded that President Vladimir Putin has become a more constructive partner in trying to pressure Tehran to give up any aspirations for nuclear weapons.

"The president plans to announce his decision at a meeting with Putin in St. Petersburg next Saturday before the annual summit of leaders from the Group of Eight major industrialized nations, officials said."

Gitmo Watch

Reaction to the Supreme Court's June 29 ruling curbing the administration's assertion of nearly unlimited executive power was remarkably muted last week.

Maybe it's because everyone's still in shock.

Michael Isikoff and Stuart Taylor Jr. write in Newsweek: "Administration officials and Washington lawyers are still digesting the text of the ruling, but it is already becoming clear that it could have ripple effects that extend far beyond the trial of Hamdan and other Guantánamo prisoners. . . .

"Some legal scholars and current and former administration officials believe the case could undermine the secret foreign detention centers and the NSA eavesdropping program, two cornerstones of the terror war. 'This is an extremely damaging decision for presidential power,' says a former senior administration lawyer, who asked for anonymity owing to his intimate involvement in the legal wrangling over prisoner treatment. 'And it was largely a self-inflicted wound.' The bitter irony: an administration determined to expand executive power may have caused a serious contraction. . . .

"The court decision's possible effects have set off an intense debate within the administration over how to respond. One camp, headed by national-security adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, want to use the decision as the basis for a wide-ranging 'fix' that would accept a role for Congress and the courts on detainee issues. . . .

"But hard-liners -- led by [David S.] Addington, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff -- are fiercely resisting. They, along with some congressional Republicans, want to nullify the court ruling by rewriting portions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and granting the president the powers the court rejected."

Kate Zernike and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times about the congressional battle lines.

Stolberg wrote in the Saturday New York Times: "In his most detailed comments to date on the Supreme Court's rejection of his decision to put detainees on trial before military commissions, President Bush said Friday that the court had tacitly approved his use of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."

But, she notes: "The question of whether Mr. Bush had properly used Guantánamo Bay to house detainees was not at issue in the case. At issue was whether the president could unilaterally establish military commissions with rights different from those allowed at a court-martial to try detainees for war crimes."

Missile Defense?

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush said Friday that he believed the nation's nascent missile defense system would have had a 'reasonable chance' of shooting down a long-range missile launched by North Korea had it come close to the United States."

I have to wonder what he meant by reasonable.

Peter Spiegel writes in the Baltimore Sun: "The Bush administration has spent nearly $43 billion over the past five years on missile defense systems, but with North Korea brandishing its most advanced missile yet, U.S. government assessments and investigative reports indicate little confidence in the centerpiece portion of the program.

"Eleven ground-based interceptors in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California, the cornerstone of the administration's new system, have not undergone a successful test in nearly four years and have been troubled by glitches that investigators blame, at least in part, on President Bush's order in 2002 to make the program operational before it had been fully tested. . . .

"A little-noticed study by the Government Accountability Office issued in March found that program officials were so concerned with potential flaws in the first nine interceptors now in operation that they considered taking them out of their silos and returning them to their manufacturer for 'disassembly and remanufacture.' "

A Loyalist's Beef

Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane write in the Sunday New York Times: "In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

"The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.

"But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed."

But this particular rebellion, from a hard-core Bush loyalist, doesn't seem aimed at reining in the president as much as protecting him from the government employees ostensibly out to do him harm.

Here's the full text of the letter, which it turns out is mostly about Hoekstra's unhappiness with the White House's decision to force out Porter J. Goss as CIA director, replace him with Gen. Michael V. Hayden, and hire back Stephen R. Kappes, who had resigned rather than take part in Goss's political purges.

From Hoekstra's letter: "I have long been convinced that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets. I have come to the belief that, despite his service to the DO, Mr. Kappes may have been a part of this group."

Too kooky for the New York Times? Apparently. But Maxim Kniazkov writes for AFP: "A high-ranking Republican lawmaker, in a letter made public, exposed what he sees as a dissident faction within the CIA that he says 'intentionally undermined' the policies of President George W. Bush."

Abramoff Watch

Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi write in The Washington Post: "Lobbyist Jack Abramoff had a half-dozen White House appointments in the early months of the Bush administration, according to logs released yesterday by the U.S. Secret Service. . . .

"In May, the Secret Service released partial data showing two White House visits by Abramoff. In a letter faxed to Judicial Watch yesterday, a Justice Department lawyer said that the Secret Service had recently learned of other visits when it 'unexpectedly discovered computer files' containing entry and exit logs on the visits."

Deficit Watch

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year, even though spending has climbed sharply because of the war in Iraq and the cost of hurricane relief."

But as Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt write for NBC News's First Read: "What the news really measures is the success of this Administration's efforts to manage expectations about deficit projections (with the help of former White House budget chief turned chief of staff Josh Bolten), intentionally setting markers each year that wind up being too high."

Clinton and Rove

Joel Stonington writes in the Aspen Times: "The clearest example of the breadth of political discourse in last week's Aspen Ideas Fest came with two of the week-long event's featured speakers: former President Bill Clinton and Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's deputy chief of staff.

"Clinton enjoyed a warm reception Friday night, after the Atlantic Monthly's James Fallows introduced him as the most popular man on earth. Rove was met with tough questions from moderator Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and hisses from the audience."

In fact, Clinton provided some of the questions for Rove.

Billy Kimball writes on Huffingtonpost.com: "Delivering a question posed by Bill Clinton two nights before, Walter asked Rove what Rove would have done if Clinton's Chief of Staff had blown the cover of a CIA covert operative in order to punish her husband for telling the public a truth that the Administration preferred it not know. Rove took his recent toothskin-thin exoneration and ran with it, saying that, had such a thing occurred, he would have condemned it in the strongest terms and demanded that the hypothetical Chief of Staff be summarily fired. If on the other hand, such a charge had been thoroughly investigated and found to be utterly groundless, then people of good faith should respect the judgment fairly rendered by our system and get on with their lives. An attempt to follow up was lazily rebuffed with the standard-issue 'can't comment on an on-going investigation' routine."

Bush in Chicago

"I'm sure you're wondering why I would have a press conference in Chicago," Bush said on Friday . "It's a fabulous city; plus I like to see what it's like to have a major press conference outside of Washington. It might do me some good. The truth of the matter is it might do the White House press corps some good, as well."

But Bush's new media strategy such as it was (see Friday's column ) had an inauspicious beginning.

Michael Tackett writes for the Chicago Tribune that if White House officials "thought that by taking the president away from the Beltway he would somehow be bathed in different light, the morning in Chicago proved them wrong."

John Schmeltzer writes in the Chicago Tribune about the White House's search for backdrops.

" 'I received a phone call last week from the White House asking for the names of some manufacturers where they could take the president. They said they needed a manufacturer in the Loop,' said [Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association]. 'I suggested that might be difficult because there has not been a manufacturer in the Loop for more than a century.' "

Over on Channel 2 in Chicago, they reported that Bush apparently did not leave a tip after his breakfast with CEOs at a diner although "In the president's defense, someone, maybe one of the invited business leaders, left a few bucks on the table."

Fun With Imagery

This Associated Press photo of Bush and Hastert in lab coats provoked the Wonkette blog to suggest a few amusing captions.

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz looks at political expression on YouTube.com, where the "sixth most popular group -- as measured by the number of people who click to subscribe -- is titled 'Bush Sucks,' with 2,018 members and 741 videos."

Here, for instance, are

'Stupid Bush ' and ' Bush Drunk ,' which as Kurtz explains is "a bit on CBS's 'Late Late Show' that slowed down a tape of the president so it appeared as if he were slurring his words."

John Amato blogs another video, almost certainly bound for YouTube glory, this one entitled "The Bush Pilot."

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