One of the purposes of this blog is to serve as a teaspoon removing, drop by drop, the river of venom that is today’s political “debate.” In that spirit, here’s an unusually fair-minded assessment of Bush’s foreign policy that does not come from the usual suspects.
The Bush administration’s abject mishandling of Iraq does not mean that all of the Bush doctrine — with its recognition of the dangers of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, of the need to act unilaterally in certain circumstances, and of the importance of promoting democracy in the Middle East — should be summarily repudiated. Indeed, the modest military success of the “surge” in Iraq has only exacerbated the political divide, and thus made a post-Iraq consensus that much more difficult to establish. Too many Republicans, especially the presidential candidates, still have their heads in the desert sand, insisting that the war was right and we just need more of it more often, and that is all we need to know. Too many Democrats have resorted to full-throated opposition, contending that the failures in Iraq are so profound and long-lasting that anyone who could have supported Bush’s declared policy of diplomacy backed by force should be disqualified from public office. For too many people in both parties, it is still 2003. And if the know-one-thing opponents of the Iraq war get the upper hand in the campaign debate, and in history’s first judgments, there is a real risk that the pendulum of American politics will overshoot the responsible mark, and post-Iraq wisdom will turn into post-Iraq folly. This would leave American foreign policy unprepared for the dangers that are surely coming, and unwilling to act when the cause is just and success is achievable.
James P. Rubin was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration.