Strengthening the Fainthearts

June 1, 2004 Topic: Security Regions: Persian GulfMiddle East Tags: Bush DoctrineBusinessIraq War

Strengthening the Fainthearts

Mini Teaser: Washington loves to panic over impending snowstorms, ongoing heat waves, the Redskins' playoff chances, and policy implications.

by Author(s): John Hillen

For these proponents, to compromise in applying the doctrine is anathema. universal values cannot be compromised, after all; to do so would refute their universality, so it could be said. Some neoconservatives have even suggested that if our values are not fully implemented everywhere, than they are illegitimate even in our own tradition! It is hard to understand however, how the U.S. Constitution loses legitimacy after 215 years of struggle and interpretation in our own country if not implemented tomorrow, or the day after that, in Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, neoconservatives believe that the enemies America faces will grow even stronger if America does not forcefully escort them into the modern age--with all the trappings of political freedom and free-market prosperity.

Perhaps. But it is possible for Bush to apply the basic tenets of this doctrine while recognizing seriously two pragmatic considerations. First, power has limits, even American power. To recognize this, work through it, and even accommodate it in policy on occasion is not to be unpatriotic or defeatist. Second, American values do have universal appeal to some extent; nonetheless, one is not surrendering to cultural determinism or relativism to recognize that these values are not easily applied in their "pure" form on ancient or failing societies struggling with the challenges of modernity. Nor should they be. Democracy is, by its very nature, a home-grown enterprise--with all the quirks and baggage that complex societies can hang on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with societies getting to modernism in their own way and on their own pace provided that they do not threaten America or its allies' peace along the way.

If pragmatic conservatives do not help the Bush Administration define an ideologically uninspiring but eminently practical "middle way" for the Bush Doctrine, it could end up being junked for its failure to transform the Middle East via democracy in Iraq. But the Bush Doctrine must remain.1 Bush is right in recognizing that the United States cannot wait to be attacked and must have a proactive and muscular engagement with all parts of the world in the furtherance of American and global security interests. The Bush Doctrine is also correct in recognizing that a holistic approach to the root causes of global terrorism should be an important part of American strategy--and not simply be bent on the final act of capturing or killing a core group of irredeemable and apocalyptic terrorists.

But the Bush Doctrine--applied to terrorists, rogue states or even malevolent rising powers--does not require the United States to democratize the world or even small parts of the world in a generation. Iraq is an important opportunity to define the Bush Doctrine for what it is: a cold-eyed and sober strategy to protect American interests, guard allies and the global systems on which U.S. prosperity depends, and to promote principally through example and support the values that allowed the country and world to flourish.

Essay Types: Essay