A GOOD WEEK

Dana Milbank observes,

It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine.

Beginning with the capture of Saddam Hussein a week ago and ending Friday with an agreement by Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi to surrender his unconventional weapons, one after another international problem has eased.

On Tuesday, the leaders of France and Germany set aside their long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq and agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of that country’s debt. On Thursday, Iran signed an agreement allowing surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities after European governments applied intense pressure on the U.S. foe. On Friday, Libya agreed to disarm under the watch of international inspectors, just as administration officials were learning that Syria had seized $23.5 million believed to be for al Qaeda.

To foreign policy hard-liners inside and outside the administration, the gestures by Libya, Iran and Syria, and the softening by France and Germany, all have the same cause: a show of American might.

Those who developed the Bush Doctrine — a policy of taking preemptive, unprovoked action against emerging threats — predicted that an impressive U.S. victory in Iraq would intimidate allies and foes alike, making them yield to U.S. interests in other areas. Though that notion floundered with the occupation in Iraq, the capture of Hussein may have served as the decisive blow needed to make others respect U.S. wishes, they say.

“It’s always been at the heart of the Bush Doctrine that a more robust policy would permit us to elicit greater cooperation from adversaries than we’d had in the past when we acquiesced,” said Richard Perle, an influential adviser to the administration. “With the capture of Saddam, the sense that momentum may be with us is very important.”

Perle had provoked much criticism for saying a successful U.S. invasion of Iraq would signal to other foes that “you’re next.” But he said the actions by Libya and Iran prove that the threat alone was sufficient to produce action. “Gaddafi surely had to take more seriously that we would not allow him to get away with the programs he was embarked,” he said.

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Bush’s domestic adversaries have had some trouble responding to the administration’s diplomatic successes. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential aspirant, portrayed the success with Libya as an exception to the Bush Doctrine. “Ironically, this significant advance represents a complete U-turn in the Bush administration’s overall foreign policy,” he said in a statement Saturday. “An administration that scorns multilateralism and boasts about a rigid doctrine of military preemption has almost in spite of itself demonstrated the enormous potential for improving our national security through diplomacy.”

But Bush’s supporters say it is precisely his willingness to go it alone and take preemptive action that has encouraged other countries to seek diplomatic solutions before the United States launches a military attack. The Libya and Iran concessions “show the peripheral benefit of preemption,” said Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms control official who now serves on a Pentagon advisory panel. “Most of all it scares the bejesus out of rogue dictators.” As for stubborn allies such as Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, “they pay more attention when there’s a forceful U.S. policy,” Adelman said.

It is unlikely, of course, that France or Germany would acknowledge that they are reacting to U.S. strength. Yet it is noteworthy that they were conciliatory on the issue of Iraqi debt forgiveness after Hussein was captured — even though they were complaining bitterly just a week before about a Bush plan to exclude them from U.S.-funded Iraq reconstruction projects.

And it is inarguable that Germany and France have taken a more active role in winning Iranian compliance with weapons inspections since the United States invaded Iraq. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain visited Iran in October, overcoming Iran’s longtime resistance to signing a monitoring agreement.

“The Europeans never would have taken these steps [in Iran] without Bush taking the steps he took in Iraq,” said Gary Schmitt, who directs the hard-line Project for the New American Century. “The Europeans don’t want us to do another Iraq there, so they’re rushing in to get a deal. Bush gets an immense amount of credit for laying out what the agenda is and making others step up to the plate.”

Milbank correctly notes that Administration policy has not been perfectly consistent–noting its recent appeasement of Red China–and that China and North Korea have not yet blinked. Then again, foreign policies are seldom perfectly consistent or universally successful. The Bush Doctrine does look a lot smarter than it did a week ago. We shall see if this is the exception or the rule.

FILED UNDER: World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.