Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2003
POLITICS/WAR: Dean Doctrine

Howard Dean's major foreign policy address on Monday was probably a mixed bag politically; while Dean's anti-war crusade was yet again upstaged by reality, he once again succeeded in framing the public debate as Dean vs. Bush, and in the primaries, that's what you need.

On the substance? Well, Dean argued that he wouldn't abandon the idea of pre-emption, but (1) would stage a preemptive attack only where an "imminent" threat existed and (2) doesn't think Iraq met that test. It's a politically clever tactic, since it wouldn't necessarily tie down his own freedom of action as President in another case as dramatically as if he rejected preemption entirely, although it does call into question his judgment and does indicate a return to pre-September 11 policy (i.e., Operation Desert Fox vs. Gulf War II as the logical response to Saddam). Of course, I disagree completely with Dean on this.

The core of the Bush Doctrine of preemption is the idea that we don't have to wait until a threat is imminent. . . .There's actually now a couple of Bush Doctrines:

Bush Doctrine #1: States that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists and will be treated as enemies

Bush Doctrine #2: The United States reserves the right to launch a pre-emptive strike against our enemies when we believe they represent a serious and developing threat to our security, whether or not we have established that the threat is imminent. (As announced, I don't think this doctrine extends to threats to our interests, but more narrowly to direct threats to our physical security).

Bush Doctrine #3: The United States is pursuing a "forward strategy of freedom" by which it seeks to encourage reform and/or directly undermine or overthrow undemocratic regimes and replace them with more democratic regimes.

It's still not entirely clear to me what regimes are necessarily subject to this approach. Options: (1) Regimes that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorism? (2) Regimes in the region of the Middle East and/or the Islamic world, from which the terrorist threat arises? (3) Regimes that present a threat of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to terrorists? (Thus, it's not clear whether the strategy extends to North Korea). A corollary to Bush Doctrine #3 is the Administration's position that democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority must be a precondition to recognizing a Palestinian state or conducting negotiations directed towards that goal.

#3 is more a policy or strategy than a doctrine. The strategy is definitely the same as Reagan's - like Reagan, Bush has moved from containment to rollback. Like Reagan, he's realistic about the practical limits of rollback (e.g., neither tried to overthrow China). Of course, the return to an active policy of rollback is premised on the threat posed by the regimes to be rolled back. I sometimes see Left/liberal writers draw a false dichotomy between power politics and a policy of democratization. When the enemy is a group of states and non-state actors who oppose and can be opposed by freedom, then a policy of rollback serves both ends at once. But it's not at all inconsistent to stage a crusade of liberation in the Middle East while living with some useful tyrants elsewhere. My own feeling is this: the US is a permanent friend of democracies, but is and should be a faithless and fair-weather friend to useful dictators, and we should feel no remorse over double-crossing them when they no longer serve our interests.

Via Andrew Sullivan, the Washington Post captures well why Howard Dean is out of even what passes for mainstream among the Democrats these days:

[M]ost Americans understand Saddam Hussein for what he was: a brutal dictator who stockpiled and used weapons of mass destruction, who plotted to seize oil supplies on which the United States depends, who hated the United States and once sought to assassinate a former president; whose continuing hold on power forced thousands of American troops to remain in the Persian Gulf region for a decade; who even in the months before his overthrow signed a deal to buy North Korean missiles he could have aimed at U.S. bases. The argument that this tyrant was not a danger to the United States is not just unfounded but ludicrous.

Mr. Dean may be arguing Saddam Hussein's insignificance in part because he is unwilling to make a commitment to Iraq's future. He appears eager to extract the United States from the Middle East as quickly as possible, rather than encourage political and economic liberalization. His speech suggests a significant retreat by the United States from the promotion of its interests and values in the world.

(Emphasis added). Read the whole thing. I haven't paid enough attention to notice whether the Post has remained as reliably liberal as in the past on other issues, but its editorials have been very solid on the war on terror.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:41 PM | Politics 2002-03 • | War 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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