I do not count myself a supporter of the Bush Doctrine, though I count myself a supporter of Bush. The President’s “diagnosis” of the threat we faced—or were facing—or continue to face—requires more parsing than I think the editors of Commentary would wish from me. The threat he singled out in 2002 focused on the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction by an enemy of freedom. Here was a dictator who had succeeded, in his own country, in ending freedom, and was putatively determined to succeed beyond his shores, reaching, perhaps, to our own.
I do not think that the President, since the invasion, established retrospectively either the capability of Saddam Hussein to extend his threat or his determination to attempt to do so. I think the President acted on the intelligence at hand. But even if he acted as we’d wished he had, his actions did not bring about the termination of a prior foreign-policy doctrine for the United States or any doctrinal prescription for dealing with such threats in the future.
Bush’s success has to be weighed by—there is no other way—the success of the Iraqi venture. Something that very much needed doing, after 9/11, was a demonstration of U.S. resolve and capability. We demonstrated both in Afghanistan. The undertaking was decisive, rapid, and exemplary in other aspects as well. The ensuing campaign, against Iraq, has required for its justification a kind of empirical success we have not yet achieved. We have not defeated the insurgency or united the Iraqi nation. If we do achieve those ends, and if they bring on a step forward in the direction of Iraqi security and constitutional government, the President will rightly be acclaimed for having dared to undertake something that vastly reorders life and hope in a critical part of the world. If the venture fails, he will justly be held accountable for imprudence.
Are there aspects of our policy that I would change? This is a tough question. As the costs increase, so also should the scale of our visionary purpose. It is inappropriate for the President to abbreviate, let alone abandon, a rhetoric that underwrites a great enterprise. If the Iraq venture were merely one more great-power gymnastic exercise, he would find the ongoing costs hard to justify. As these costs mount, the purpose of expending the necessary funds and other resources cannot be undermined. As we have come this far, and done what has been done, I do not see anything of a military character to be done differently from what we are doing, and I cannot see any prospect of a substantial geostrategic modification of the thinking that brought us to where we are.
But, to address the final question, I do not believe that Bush’s expanded view of the U.S. role is wise. Our goals, as pronounced once by Woodrow Wilson and now by George Bush, remain organically commendable as free societies are themselves commendable. In the nature of things, however, rescue missions to tormented nations of the world have to be selective—a geostrategic art form.
This is so obviously the case that it is embarrassing to undertake to remake it. “What do you call dictators of countries that have nuclear bombs?” the saw began, decades ago.
We are not about to extend the President’s concern for freedom to an energetic concern for freedom in mainland China. We cannot even rev up the political energy to do anything about the genocide in Sudan. Every now and then the stars arrange themselves to give us an ideological mission we can handle, as in Grenada under Reagan—and before that, on an entirely different scale, the war against Hitler. But accompanying doctrines are to be reserved for political oratory. In days and decades ahead, the U.S. will do good for other countries and for humankind, but not, I think, as a doctrinal exercise traceable to a “Bush Doctrine.”
WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR., editor-at-large of National Review, is the author most recently of Last Call for Blackford Oakes, a novel (Harcourt).