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Analysts: Bush's foreign-policy doctrine has failed
San Francisco Chronicle


August 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- President Bush vowed last week that he would never abandon his goal of creating democracy in Iraq, but outside the White House, the foreign-policy world is wondering how to contain a civil war that could engulf the Middle East.

Even Bush acknowledged the debate. "If you think it's bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before the government can defend itself," he said Monday.




Analysts across the political spectrum say the Bush Doctrine - preventive war, choking the roots of terrorism by planting democracy and brandishing power to force others into line - has failed. Bush's lofty goals, shared even by his critics, have been set back, perhaps decades, by the Iraq occupation.

Yet for all the criticism, neither the Democratic Party nor the foreign-policy elite has devised an alternative for the post-Sept. 11 world, leaving U.S. foreign policy adrift.

No one has an endgame for Iraq. No one offers any magic bullets against stateless terrorists undeterred by conventional military power, or the dangerous regimes in Iran and North Korea that many believe to be bent on nuclear arms. The United States now faces a set of bad options - or, at best, a deeply chastened view of the limits of American power.

By many measures, the United States is weaker and its enemies stronger than before the 2003 Iraq invasion, the experts say.

The United States may find it hard, if not impossible, the analysts say, to again try in the near future to topple a hostile regime. Its military is stretched, its moral standing diminished. Even democracy itself is tarnished, often equated now with car bombs and chaos, rather than peace and prosperity.

"The kind of thing people in the administration prided themselves in understanding, namely the use of power, was actually the very thing they proved not to be able to use effectively," said David Holloway of Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, which conducts research and training on issues of international security.

Bush's domestic support - the crucial ingredient in U.S. foreign policy - is fading fast. Conservatives are fracturing over the war, and rising Republican disenchantment could swell to rebellion if the GOP loses control of the House or Senate in the November elections.

Even ardent backers of the Iraq invasion are alarmed.

"We're losing" in Iraq, said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who supported the war. "The country is sliding into civil war, and the president doesn't seem to be doing very much about it. That has tremendous negative repercussions throughout the region and indeed the world, because it's really a black eye for the United States and a blow to democracy advocates around the region."

Bush's foreign policy is not without successes.

Libya abandoned terrorism and weapons of mass destruction after the Iraq invasion. The A.Q. Khan nuclear-arms network in Pakistan, dedicated to sharing weapons secrets, was dismantled. The administration defused a nuclear showdown between Pakistan and India and strengthened relations with both, especially India, a vital emerging power. Relations with Japan are at a high point. There have been no big missteps on China.

The administration has elevated attention to Africa with new development and AIDS initiatives. Democratic movements have taken hold in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Alliances with Europe have largely been repaired.

And there still have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

But five years after Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda operatives launched those assaults, the world looks scarier than ever. The burgeoning civil war in Iraq threatens to draw in neighboring states - Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - and set off an oil shock in the West.

World opinion, dismissed by top Bush officials, has undermined U.S. clout, said Joseph Nye, a professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Bush's emphasis on force has cost good will around the world - nowhere more than among Muslims - and squandered the sympathy that empowered the United States to invade Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"A president has to be able to combine the hard power of military force with the soft power of attracting others to want to follow us," Nye said. "In fighting a struggle against terrorism - where everything depends upon winning the hearts and minds of moderates - that loss of soft power is very expensive. The key to diplomacy is to divide your enemies, and Bush has in a sense united our enemy."

Elections have not turned out to be the panacea Bush promised. The Palestinian territories, as well as Egypt and Lebanon, have delivered victories to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, all considered terrorist groups by Washington. Lebanon's move to a new democratic government was damaged by war with Israel and soaring popularity for Hezbollah.

The U.S. image abroad has so eroded that Iran's leading democracy activist, Akbar Ganji, viewed as that country's Nelson Mandela, last month spurned the White House and $75 million in aid.

The failure to get international support is now seen as one of the costliest mistakes of the war.

"In the end, we are weaker because we have fewer with us, and we cannot do everything alone," said Rand Beers, a National Security Council official for four presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush who resigned over Iraq.

"There is no doubt in my mind that any president would or certainly should have done what we did in Afghanistan, but we had the entire U.N. with us," Beers said. "We had a real opportunity to change the way the world was dealing with terrorism on a cooperative, global basis, and we didn't use that opportunity."


E-mail Carolyn Lochhead at clochhead(at)
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