Ensuring a Legacy

Ensuring a Legacy

Mini Teaser: Bush will never run for office again. He should concentrate on applying his doctrine, not on defending his decisions.

by Author(s): Kim R. Holmes

After September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush set forth on a revolutionary approach to U.S. foreign policy. There was a tremendous sense of urgency and an assumption that the old way of doing things had not worked. The strategy of pursuing stability and of slowly working problems through the half-measured process of multilateral diplomacy had not prevented a direct attack on American soil. New strategies and measures were needed to deal with a drastically new and different world. The president moved determinedly to topple the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, to aggressively challenge the rogue regimes of Iran and North Korea, to shift the focus of alliance policies toward Japan and Central and Eastern European countries, to expand the range of military, law enforcement and diplomatic activities to fight the war on terrorism, and finally to adopt his now-famous freedom and democracy agenda aimed (in large measure) at the Middle East.

Many in the Bush Administration thought their various strategies in support of the "long war" on terrorism, including the freedom agenda and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's "transformational diplomacy", would usher in a sea change not only in U.S. policy but in international affairs-not unlike the role of the Truman presidency in establishing a new framework for U.S. foreign policy and the containment policy that endured under Eisenhower and indeed for decades and brought victory in the Cold War.

Now, with two years remaining in his presidency, the administration faces the question of whether it can institutionalize its new approach to foreign policy.

President Bush sorely upset the international apple cart, and while many were happy with the disruption, many others were equally unhappy not only that their equilibrium was thrown off balance, but also that it was Bush, and not them, pushing the cart.

It should come as no surprise that this attempt to reorder international affairs has been met with resistance. The major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been much more difficult than anticipated, producing a politically toxic antiwar movement in the United States and a breakdown of the bipartisan consensus that emerged after September 11. Moreover, the reassertion of U.S. power in the world rearranged the international playing field. Old rogues like Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are gone but dangerous insurgencies arose in their places. Osama bin Laden is in hiding, but his movement morphed into largely self-contained cells and organizations. Some allies like Japan and Pakistan came closer to the United States while others like Germany and France distanced themselves. Rival states like Russia and China became more assertive in challenging U.S. dominance. North Korea set to launching nuclear devices to attract U.S. attention. Hostile states like Iran and Venezuela jockeyed for position to lead a new international movement against America, globalization and Western notions of freedom.

So what must President Bush do to ensure his legacy in foreign affairs? It is clear that he must be perceived as being in control of America's destiny in Iraq. Moreover, as he continues to confront North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs, he must put in place either a solution to the problem or the foundation of a strategy to deter them if they become nuclear powers. Success in these areas would do wonders to strengthen the perception of American strength and leadership, attenuating some of the push back on America around the world.

Beyond these immediate problems, the president must devise a better way to win the war of ideas involved in the fight against terrorism-and he must anchor his approach by consolidating and extending the gains made in advancing the freedom agenda anddealing with the backlash against it in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.

The Iraq Conundrum

Washington has been awash in rumors and plans to save Iraq, including proposals advanced by the Iraq Study Group and in this magazine. Most-such as partitioning, setting up a strongman, creating a regional conference or contact group, setting a timetable for withdrawal-seem predicated on the assumption that any option is preferable to the current one. But this is not true. As bad as the situation is in Iraq, it is remarkable how little analysis is made of these alternatives, particularly since it is not all that difficult to explain how these other approaches could quickly and dramatically make the situation in Iraq much worse and endanger American security even more.

For example, partitioning Iraq would likely unleash massacres and bloodletting on a scale not seen since the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in the 1940s. A so-called strongman would likely spark a full-blown civil war, making the current low-burning sectarian fighting seem positively tame in comparison. A regional conference or contact group that contained Iran and Syria would be like inviting the fox into the chicken coop; these meddling nations would get international cover for their material and political support for the destabilization of Iraq. A unilateral timetable for U.S. withdrawal-one not tied in any way to the situation on the ground or to Iraqi agreement-would demoralize the Iraqi government and signal to the emboldened insurgents, terrorists, sectarian militias and other groups vying for power exactly when they should start their coup d'etat.

This does not mean that there are no new approaches to take in Iraq. On the contrary, it only means that the options du jour seem totally inadequate. To expand the options, we need to help change the political and security environment.

The solution to Iraq is, after all, primarily up to the Iraqis. They must re-forge a national consensus to give all Iraqis a say in their future. To assist this process, the United States should adopt a dual-track strategy: It should first press Prime Minister al-Maliki and Shi‘a leaders to give moderate Sunni Arabs a stronger role in the ruling coalition, which would strengthen political support for the government and weaken it for insurgents and militias. It should forcefully press Maliki (or any subsequent Iraqi administration) to clamp down and eventually disband the sectarianmilitias. Until that is done, the Maliki government will have a tough time defeating the insurgents and getting the militias under control.

At the same time, the United States should help bolster the capabilities of the Iraqi army and police and press the government to root out sectarian infiltrators in government institutions, particularly the Ministry of the Interior. It should triple support for police training over the next year and embed U.S. advisors in various police units and the Ministry  of the Interior to help improve effectiveness and reduce abuses. In the next several months, the Bush Administration should negotiate an agreement with the Maliki government for Iraqis to take over responsibility of day-to-day security-especially in the cities. The United States would continue to support Iraqi counterinsurgency operations and, more importantly, retain the lead role in fighting Al-Qaeda and other outside terrorist groups in Iraq.

With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress, it may be possible for a consensus to be reached on this strategy in 2007-providing there is sufficient political will to avoid partisan wrangling.

North Korea and Iran

A focus on Iraq should not distract us from the increasing threats posed by North Korea and Iran. The Bush Administration is dedicated to finding a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons. That's a laudable and understandable strategy-for now. But if President Bush wishes to leave a lasting legacy of leadership in this area, he will either have to disarm them by diplomacy or military force or, failing that, establish a lasting framework of augmented deterrence.

The current diplomatic strategy is to combine UN Security Council pressure with that of various regional diplomatic groupings like the EU-3 and the Asian Multiparty Talks. At some point this approach will run out the president's clock. Since it would take at least a year to establish the beginning of a credible deterrent strategy for Iran and North Korea, the president should look to the summer of 2007 as the drop-dead date for letting diplomacy runs its course. While they should never be taken off the table officially, if, at that time, military options are deemed unlikely to succeed, then we must begin overt and aggressive preparations for an augmented deterrent regime against these rogue nuclear nations.

A deterrent strategy against North Korea should expand our already robust military cooperation with Japan, particularly on missile defense, sustain the intense international pressure on Pyongyang and revitalize the U.S.-South Korea relationship. A deterrent strategy against Iran would involve strengthening military, security and intelligence cooperation with Iraq, Turkey, Israel and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. They should be offered missile defenses, joint military planning and stepped-up joint military exercises. Further, the president should take steps to prevent Iran from disrupting the flow of oil to the West through the Strait of Hormuz, with a strong naval and air presence in the Persian Gulf and-as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence advised last August-increase and improve intelligence gathering.

The strategic component would be complex since it involves nuclear proliferation, the source of which could be precisely unknowable with two known nuclear proliferators like Iran and North Korea operating in the world. Nevertheless, there is no reason why this ambiguity should work to America's strategic disadvantage and to Iran's and North Korea's advantage. It should become U.S. declaratory policy that the explosion of a nuclear device by any group or entity linked to either Iran's or North Korea's nuclear programs against U.S. interests or its allies shall be deemed a direct attack by Iran and North Korea on the United States meriting a full nuclear retaliatory response.

Essay Types: Essay