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The real State of the Union: judging the Bush Doctrine on Iraq performance

DUNLAP, Ill-President Bush had no grand strategy for the Middle East when he took office, but that changed after September 11, when he defined U.S. policy in the simplest of terms: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

The Bush Doctrine was then outlined further in a series of speeches beginning with his January 2002 State of the Union address, which introduced a new "axis of evil" as a threat to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush subsequently rounded out his doctrine, adding themes of American hegemony, unilateralism and "preemptive" action. By February 2003, he was telling the world that a free Iraq would serve as a democratic catalyst for that region, setting "in motion progress toward a truly democratic Palestinian state."

When he campaigned for the presidency, there was no hint of any of this-in fact, he stated the reverse. Candidate Bush scoffed at the notion of nation-building, promising an administration that would lead without arrogance. Instead, President Bush has pursued a narrow, ideological and bullying foreign policy, alienating much of the world. Globally, U.S. foreign policy today is seen as reminiscent of George Orwell's Animal Farm where "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Once in office, the Bush administration quickly challenged, vetoed or withdrew from a series of international agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This unilateralist approach squandered all the international goodwill America enjoyed after 9/11.

Moreover, this approach continues to block progress in Iraq. The checkered success of October's Iraq donors' conference is the most recent example of the limits of Bush unilateralism. When asked by the White House to help out with $36 billion, participants pledged only $13 billion-about two-thirds in loans instead of grants. Key Arab and European states remain unwilling to support postwar reconstruction plans dominated by the United States.

While stressing moral clarity, the Bush administration has also introduced moral confusion. The war on terrorism puts us in league with some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. For example, the newly-minted states of Central Asia, like Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, are increasingly estranged from their own people. In Azerbaijan, a former Communist party boss carefully "managed" recent elections to deliver control to his son. In Uzbekistan, the use of torture is systematic, according to a recent UN report. In search of overflight rights, military bases and petroleum reserves, we are making pacts with the devil, just as we did with brutal dictatorships from Latin America to Southeast Asia during the Cold War. We cannot succeed in the war on terrorism with a "do as I say, not as I do" policy.

Six months after the president declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq, there is no sign of the promised democratic transformation of the Middle East. Israeli-Palestinian talks appear dead in the water and both sides again are responding to violence with more violence. Israel is building more settlements on the West Bank and continuing construction of its version of the Berlin Wall. In bombing a deserted training camp in Syria, Israel is in danger of opening a new war front in an already unstable region.

Is it any wonder that the Bush administration's promises of peace and freedom ring hollow in the ears of people inside and outside the Muslim world?

Mr. Bush and his team need to stop talking about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and focus on the democratic values, systems and institutions needed to make Iraq a regional model. At the same time, White House leaders must recognize that our national security is inextricably tied to global security and to the strengthening of the international community.

Iraq is the crucible that will define this president's administration. And the Bush Doctrine is the strategy that made Iraq Mr. Bush's war.

Unilateralism, "preemptive" action and the unbridled pursuit of American hegemony have put us in a real fix in Iraq. Intended to remake the Middle East, the Bush Doctrine instead has generated conflict and confusion throughout the region. A failed policy deserves a failing grade-and an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy.

By Ronald Bruce St John

Ronald Bruce St John, an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, has published widely on Middle Eastern issues. His latest book on the region is "Libya and the United States: Two Centuries of Strife" (Penn Press, 2002).

© 2000 New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out

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