The Freedom Crusade, Revisited

The Freedom Crusade, Revisited

Mini Teaser: Leslie H. Gelb, Daniel Pipes, Robert W. Merry and Joseph S. Nye offer their reactions to Robert W. Tucker and David Hendrickson on the Bush Doctrine.

by Author(s): Leslie H. GelbDaniel PipesRobert W. Merry

No, the first real neo-Wilsonian was George H. W. Bush, who sent 28,000 troops into Somalia on a purely humanitarian mission utterly devoid of any argument that American interests were involved. That truly was an unprecedented action and reflected the essential Wilsonian impulse to employ American power on mankind's, as opposed to Americans', behalf. Wilson's rhetoric is replete with proudly delivered pronouncements that America was marching onto the world stage on behalf of humanitarian ideals that transcended American interests. Thus, he was the anti-nationalist, the supreme internationalist.

That was the outlook that eventually led George H. W. Bush into Somalia, Bill Clinton into the Balkans and George W. Bush into Iraq. But, as Hendrickson and Tucker point out, the younger Bush has gone further than his predecessors, fusing this missionary impulse to the notion that it serves not only humanitarian goals but also America's vital imperative to protect its citizens from being killed on their own soil by evil terrorists. The authors reject this formulation, arguing correctly that the fruits of the Bush foreign policy "show plainly that the equation drawn between vital interests and 'deepest beliefs' is false."

Indeed, their essay lays bare both the philosophical and real world deficiencies of Bush's "war system" foreign policy-based on a tendency, as Andrew Bacevich has put it, "to see international problems as military problems and to discount the likelihood of finding a solution except through military means." By effectively dissecting this outlook, Hendrickson and Tucker make a significant contribution to the foreign policy discourse of our time.

Robert W. Merry, president and publisher of Congressional Quarterly, is author, most recently, of Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy and the Hazards of Global Ambition (2005).

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.:

DEMOCRACY PROMOTION might be considered the "default option" of 20th-century American diplomacy. Thus it is not surprising that many passages in George W. Bush's second Inaugural Address could have been uttered by Woodrow Wilson or Harry Truman. Yet Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson argue that Bush's doctrine of democracy promotion as the defining mission of our foreign policy is incompatible with the central elements of American tradition. In my view, this claim is in some ways correct, in others misleading. Presidents faced with crises have often turned to American exceptionalism and the promotion of democracy, as both Wilson and Truman did. The narrative of democracy has been a powerful force in American foreign policy, as in American life.

But Tucker and Hendrickson are correct that Bush's doctrine differs from those of his predecessors. As they point out, Wilson's League of Nations was to protect any state against aggression, democratic or not. Although Truman's doctrine spoke of defending free people everywhere, his policy was containment of communism, not rollback or short-run regime change. The Bush Administration's neo-Wilsonians failed not by pursuing the goal of democracy promotion, but by the means they chose. They are truncated Wilsonians, ignoring his emphasis on multilateral institutions, and inadequate Trumanites, ignoring his prudence.

The correct charge against the people who developed the Bush Doctrine is not idealism. As Henry Kissinger has pointed out, prudent realists do not ignore values. Rather, the neo-Wilsonians who promoted the Iraq War were guilty of illusionism, a cognitive failure to produce an adequate roadmap of means that would balance the risk and realism in their vision. If one doubts this description, look again at the neoconservative proclamation that Iraq would be a "cakewalk" or Paul Wolfowitz's claim that General Eric Shinseki was wildly wrong in his estimates of the number of troops that would be required to win the peace (not just the war) in Iraq.

The Bush Doctrine portrays the roots of terrorism in the Middle East as growing out of the undemocratic nature of the regimes in the region. Removing Saddam's dictatorship and creating democracy in Iraq was supposed to address the root causes of terrorism. While there were risks to altering the status quo in the region, there were even greater risks in leaving it unchallenged. But is this an accurate diagnosis of the roots of terrorism? Does increasing democracy diminish terrorism? Violent extremists exist in nearly all societies, and democracy often gives them more leeway to act than some authoritarian states do. The terrorist attacks in London were carried out by British citizens in one of the world's oldest democracies. Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen, carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult arose in democratic Japan. Even if one focuses solely on the salafi or jihadi strain of contemporary terrorism, it is far from clear that elections in Egypt would have changed Mohamed Atta's mind. As Olivier Roy pointed out in Globalized Islam (2004), many Islamic extremists are nurtured by their alienation in European democracies. They invent an imagined community of a global umma and an obligation of jihad that is politics wrapped in religion.

Even if democracy might reduce the recruitment of terrorists in the Middle East, the Iraq War was the wrong way to promote democracy and has increased the recruitment of new terrorists. Robert Pape's statistics in Dying to Kill (2005), for example, show a positive relation between foreign occupation and the incidence of suicide bombers. As Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the summer of 2005, the American occupation of Iraq provided Islamic militants with a historic opportunity to win popular support. Official American estimates of the number of insurgents in Iraq increased rather than decreased from 2003 to 2005.

The main lesson to be learned is that, while the development of democracy can be aided from outside, it cannot easily be imposed by force. Germany and Japan became democratic after American occupation, but only after their total defeat in a world war and a seven-year occupation. In addition, nationalism had been temporarily discredited in both countries, and there was no insurgency against the occupying forces. Moreover, Germany and Japan were relatively homogeneous societies without the deep communal divisions that mark Iraq. Our instruments also included the soft power of the Marshall Plan. It is hard to see such conditions repeated in today's world.

Even if the Bush Administration is correct that the risks of promoting democracy are less than the risks of allowing the status quo of authoritarian regimes to persist indefinitely, the means matter as much as the ends. The administration placed too much emphasis on American hard power and paid insufficient attention to our soft power. The development of civil societies, economic growth and openness to the world are crucial. But such changes are a slow process. Even if democracy removes some of the sources of rage and reduces the prospects of terrorism in the long run, it is unlikely to solve our problems in the short run. In some cases, a messy transition could even make the short-run terrorist problem worse.

To be fair to Bush's argument, it is still too early to give a definitive answer to these questions. A historical assessment of the Iraq War and its effects on the Middle East will take a decade or more. The January 2005 Iraqi elections were a positive step for the region. As Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, said, "it's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq." The columnist David Brooks observed, "if there is one soft power gift that America does possess, it is the tendency to imagine new worlds." With the invasion of Iraq and his increased rhetoric of democracy, Bush transformed the status quo. In the last year, there have been national elections in Lebanon and local elections in Saudi Arabia. Egypt amended its constitution and allowed a limited challenge in its presidential election. Moderate steps have been taken in Oman, Bahrain and Morocco. Some of these things would have occurred without the Iraq War; some might not.

Democracy, however, requires the tolerance of minorities and individual rights, as well as the development of effective institutions for the resolution of political conflicts in divided societies. It is much more than just elections. As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, it is the liberal rather than the plebiscitary dimensions of liberal democracy that are essential for freedom. Iraq is a long way from liberalism.

Yet there is something to be said for Bush's policy. In an information age, what matters is not only whose army wins, but whose story wins. Democracy will not convert the current crop of extremist jihadists to peaceful change. If anything, too rapid a transition may destabilize governments and enhance the extremists' opportunities to wreak havoc. But in the longer term, a credible narrative that speaks of the slow steady progress of democratization and freedom provides a vision of hope for the moderates. That narrative about a better future undercuts the message of hate and violence promoted by the extremists and enhances our soft power. As Tucker and Hendrickson quote Lincoln, belief in the progressive expansion of free institutions "gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time."

Essay Types: Essay