Michael J. Totten makes a point about President Bush’s speech that echoes some comments I made yesterday:

[H]e’s pitching the Kissinger doctrine over the side. “Stability,” “our bastards,” and the rest of the old right ideology is finished. We cannot and will not liberate every oppressed population at once. But we’ll do what we can when we are able.

It’s ironic that a recently isolationist Republican president has embraced this vision. It’s an old vision and its roots can be found on the left. Paul Berman articulated it best. “Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others.”

George W. Bush, to my enduring astonishment, agrees. It’s the only thing that makes the Democrats’ self-destruction bearable.

This is a point that many Bush supporters seem to be missing: he’s turning the foreign policy he campaigned on (Read my lips: No nation building) on it’s head. Indeed, as I observed at the conference last weekend in a roundtable discussion on the neo-con foreign policy, it’s an odd juxtaposition: Jimmy Carter meets Rambo.

(Hat tip: Stephen Green)

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.


  1. melvin toast says:

    As they say, 9/11 changed everything.

    I think one of the attractions of Bush to moderates
    is that he has progressive goals but executes them
    using conservative principles. Peggy Noonan call this
    a high-spend conservative.

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    Bush’s actions on this score have most decidedly not matched his rhetoric. I realize this is a real tightrope, but so far I can’t think of a single thing he’s done to put pressure on a (more or less) friendly government in the region.

    I’d hold the applause for a bit until he takes some concrete action.

  3. rds says:

    Uh, Kevin? Steps? He’s removed two of the world’s worst tyrannies in the space of two years. And he’s expending extraordinary poltical capital to birth liberal political systems in those two countries. Or did the 87 billion take no guts?

  4. rds says:

    I see that Kevin could say that my post is non-responsive b/c he limits his criticism to pressure on more or less friendly states. My answer: the Saudi’s just loved our idea abot deposing Saddam, eh? Supported us all the way? Bush didn’t put any pressure on them at all . . . or Egypt, or Jordan, or . . .

  5. Jimmy Carter meets Rambo? Nah. More like Wilson meets the Terminator. “First the Fourteen Points, then the Fourteen Exit Wounds!” Hrm.

  6. IceCold says:

    I’ve long been puzzled at these references to “quasi-isolationism” and opposition to nation-building in Bush’s 2000 campaign.

    I admit to not having read the campaign position papers thoroughly, or exhaustively reviewed the debate comments and statements, and might therefore be projecting a bit, but my take on Bush’s position on nation-building in 2000 was quite different.

    Like many reasonable people, he strongly opposed committing a shrunken and shrinking US military to ill-suited and dodgy nation-building assignments in areas NOT OF VITAL INTEREST TO THE UNITED STATES. Read: Bosnia, Kosovo, or the fiasco of Somalia II. This was not general opposition to the concept or value of helping nations stabilize or improve their situation.

    Iraq does not really contradict this preference, as Iraq and associated issues are vital US security matters — not social work. Moreover, the goal was and remains to get the US military out of the policing, occupation, and nation-building business there ASAP.

    And recall the Bush mention of a “humbler” US approach to other nations — he clearly was referring to the social work then proceeding in the Balkans (wherein we were immodestly and absurdly lecturing Serbs and Bosnian Muslims on the need to live together, whether they liked it or not), not prosecution of wars to advance basic security interests.

    This implied a more realistic level of expectations for success in nation-building, a caution evident in the Afghanistan post-war operation.

    The silly isolationist tag — recall the brouhaha surrounding his first, pre-9/11 trip to Europe? — was always counter-intuitive. Junking the ABM Treaty was a rational response to changed circumstances — that it was hardly an “isolationist” move was spectacularly confirmed by the subsequent Moscow Treaty, which dwarfed all previous US-Soviet strategic arms control agreements in scope and depth. (If you want to induce an uncomfortable silence at a silly Washington think-tank brown-bag seminar, raise the Moscow Treaty and ask the panelists to fit that into their glib and lame caricature of Bush’s foreign policy as isolationist)

    Declining at the outset to pour good political capital after bad on the Israeli-Palestinian situation was smart (obvious, but smart), not isolationist. The subsequent “road map” initiative was a no-regrets (1) sop to good ally Blair (2) ploy to make the Palestinians demonstrate their suitability as partners … which in typical fashion they have (3) pro forma nod to the pro forma obsessions of Israel-hating Arabs.

    Launching a pro-democracy crusade — er, uh, I mean, effort — in the Arab world is probably over-reach, but fairly harmless, and makes all the right people uncomfortable (State Dept. folks, Europeans, oh, and Arab despots). Freedom is our way of life and our philosophy, but in this case it’s also a weapon against adversaries who need to be undermined or wiped out. And words are almost the only munitions you need.

    Seize and maintain the initiative. The democracy campaign (even if mostly rhetorical) is one more way of adhering to that central strategic tenet.

  7. Ben says:

    I think the important point is that none of this is being done, or attempted out of altruism. While the effects, for Iraqis in particular, and the rest of the Middle East in general will be positive (if successful, which I think it will be.) and beneficial, the idea is to make US safer as a result.

    This is not some altruistic mission. We are not freeing Iraq “out of the goodness of our hearts”. We are doing this because despots breed terrorists, and despots need scapegoats to deal with terrorists. Their freedom, liberty and democracy is a means to making Americans less likely to be killed by nutjobs they create.

    Which presents a wierd situation. The real altruists on the left have opposed this war in Iraq with every fiber of their being, leaving those people enslaved to Saddam, dying and miserable. It is us selfish bastards who supported the war, and are doing so for our own selfish reasons, that will end up producing more altruistic effects, than those pure hearted altruists would have otherwise.

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