The End of Cowboy Diplomacy

Why the Bush Doctrine no longer guides the foreign policy of the Bush Administration

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To much of the world, that's a relief. But having expended so much energy and so many resources on al-Qaeda and the war in Iraq, the Administration is finding that other global challenges--from the turmoil in the Middle East to the genocide in Sudan to the regional ambitions of China--have grown beyond its ability to do anything about them. "It's difficult to think of many other times and many other presidencies when so many dangerous events were happening at once," says Wendy Sherman, a State Department official under President Clinton. "But there's so much going on in every global hot spot because the Bush Administration really opened up Pandora's box with little-to-no plans to support their actions." At the same time, there is a danger that Bush's belated embrace of conventional diplomacy will turn out to be a cover for disengagement, at a time when U.S. leadership is still required to fend off civil war in Iraq and deter the ambitions of Iran and North Korea--to say nothing of al-Qaeda. We are witnessing an overhaul of the old Bush Doctrine, but the question is, Can the U.S. find a new one to take its place?


It may be too soon to say whether history will look kindly on the U.S.'s decision to invade Iraq, as Bush and his aides insist will happen. But the very fact that parts of Iraq remain on the edge of chaos after three years of fighting and the deaths of more than 2,500 Americans are incontrovertible evidence of how the Administration's miscalculations have come back to haunt it. Toppling Saddam was to be the singular demonstration of the Bush Doctrine, a quick and decisive strike against tyranny in the heart of the Middle East. It would also send a message to the rest of the world's malefactors, including Iran and North Korea, to think twice about testing the U.S.'s patience with regimes bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

As it turns out, Iraq may prove to be not only the first but also the last laboratory for preventive war. Instead of deterring the rulers in Tehran and Pyongyang, the travails of the U.S. occupation may have emboldened those regimes in their quest to obtain nuclear weapons while constraining the U.S. military's ability to deter them. "We put three countries on notice--Iraq, Iran and North Korea--and we attacked one of them pre-emptively," says retired Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the U.S. Central Command from 1991 to '94. "Now we find that was a put-up job. Meanwhile, North Korea and Iran have chosen different routes than what we wanted them to take."

Fighting the insurgency in Iraq has eroded the appeal of the Bush Doctrine in a more mundane but no less significant way: it's exhausting. Public backing for the war rose slightly after the killing of terrorist leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi in Iraq last month, but the unremitting body count has pushed those numbers back down again. More than half the public believes going to war was not worth the cost. The drain on U.S. resources is becoming embarrassing. According to the Associated Press, the diversion of money for Iraq is partly responsible for a shortfall in an Army fund that has left one base, Fort Bragg, unable to buy office supplies. Another base, Fort Sam Houston, has received utility disconnection notices.

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