By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News
For the past two weeks, US President George W. Bush has been on the offensive against those who claim his Iraq policy has been a disaster and the sooner he withdraws from that country the better. If opinion polls are any indication, Bush has managed to stop the tide of opposition against his Iraq policy from rising further. But he has not been able to regain the kind of support he enjoyed in April 2003 as US and coalition troops liberated Baghdad.
The debate on the future course of US foreign policy is likely to intensify until next November's mid-term elections. This debate is focused on a few key questions:
Is the Bush Doctrine dead? Has the United States, chastised in Afghanistan and Iraq, decided to move beyond neoconservatism? Where should one look for a new doctrine to guide US foreign policy?
These and similar questions are all the rage in the US foreign policy circles, especially in the scores of think-tanks that, together, provide the backbone of a veritable industry based on intellectual speculation. And as is often the case many academics, scholars and policy wonks are adjusting or readjusting their positions so that they can swim with the tide of opinion that seems to be moving away from key aspects of foreign policy under Bush.
Let us set aside the neoconservative bit of the debate for the time being because I haven't been able to define the term to my own satisfaction. The rest of the debate revolves around a couple of assumptions often made without testing them against reality.
The first assumption is the US has failed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The second is the US can change foreign policy the same way we lesser mortals might change our shirts.
Both assumptions are false.
To show the US has failed in Afghanistan and Iraq one must first provide a yardstick against which success or failure is measured.
In what way has the US failed in those two countries?
The US intervened in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the aim of changing the regimes in Kabul and Baghdad, which was achieved with remarkable speed. The machinery of terror and war built and maintained by the Taliban and the Baath has been shattered. And whatever happens in Afghanistan and Iraq one thing is certain: Mullah Mohammad Omar and Saddam Hussain will not return to power.
In both Afghanistan and Iraq the remnants of the terrorist regimes, now joined by their ideological kindred from elsewhere, are still waging a vicious war, mostly against civilians. But neither country is a safe haven for terrorists plotting attacks against other nations, including the US.
To be sure, critics might say the aim of the intervention was to transform Afghanistan and Iraq into modern democracies. While this is true any judgment as to the success or failure of the project must take into account the element of time. No, Afghanistan and Iraq are not Swiss-like democracies at this precise moment in time. Both may suffer years, if not decades, of violence and terror.
The real question is whether or not Afghanistan and Iraq would have had any chance of even a democratic dream under Mullah Omar and Saddam.
If the sole yardstick for determining a nation's success of failure were to be its ability to contain and then eliminate terrorism, many nations other than Afghanistan and Iraq would also have to be put on the list of failures.
Telling the future should be left to soothsayers but one thing is certain: the region's democratic forces now have their first opportunity in almost a century to make a real impact.
Now let us examine the second assumption in the current debate that the US can change its foreign policy at will and instantly.
There are those who preach a return to the bankrupt hotch-potch that Henry Kissinger sold to the Americans under the label of Realpolitik for almost a decade. But would Bin Laden or Abu Musab Al Zarqawi agree to play the role of Brezhnev in a new version of the Kissingerian detente? Would the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaida and Baath learn the Treaty of Westphalia by heart and play their role in a new version of balance of power scripted by good old Henry?
Richard Haass, a more intelligent student of international affairs than Kissinger, offers a new "doctrine" presumably to replace the Bush Doctrine. But all that Haass ends up with in a long recent article is an admission that the US will not be safe for as long as there are despotic regimes likely to breed and then sustain terrorism.
Also looking for a new "doctrine" is Francis Fukuyama who had started by announcing the end of history and thus the superfluity of any foreign policy doctrine. More than a decade later he offers a new book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy in which he returns deep into the history of the last century to find an alternative to the Bush Doctrine.
He labels this "Wilsonian realism", after President Woodrow Wilson who first brought hopes of democracy to the Middle East in the aftermath of the First World War.
In a sense the US foreign policy, even in periods of isolationism has always had a certain Wilsonian accent in the sense that American policy makers were aware that democracies were unlikely to provoke wars and that any threat to the US came from despotic regimes. But why does Fukuyama need the adjective "realistic" to make his neo-Wilsonianism credible? The reason is that Wilson made a lot of promises which he then failed to uphold. His idealism appealed to oppressed people everywhere. But his failure to back it with action brought death and desolation on a vast scale for numerous nations across the globe.
The only realistic version of Wilsonianism is the Bush Doctrine which, put starkly, is prepared to back words with deeds in the context of enlightened self-interest. The spread of democracy is good for American safety and security, not to mention trade and economic interests. And that, in turn, is also good for nations who wish to enter the mainstream of global life.
During much of the Cold War the US, both by choice and necessity, on occasions acted against character by supporting despots in the context of a global power struggle against the Soviet bloc. There is no longer any justification for that.
Bush seems to have understood this. And that, whether Kissinger, Haass and Fukuyama like or not, is the most realistic matrix for American foreign policy in the 21st century.
- Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.