March 27, 2006

A Serious Challenge to the Bush Doctrine?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Bush doctrine -- the idea the fighting terrorism requires changing the nature of authoritarian regimes -- may have its first serious challenger. Francis Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle (who have their own journal with which to promote their views) have an essay in today’s OpinionJournal where they argue that dismantling tyranny and defeating radical Islamism are two different conflicts that should be decoupled from one another…

As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal recently asked: "Anyone out there have a better idea" than the Bush administration's policy of high-profile democracy promotion in the Arab and Muslim worlds as a means to fight terrorism? Well, yes, there is one. That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now…

Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

This idea has the potential to replace the Bush Doctrine for two reasons. First, the willingness to identify "Islamic radicalism" as the problem makes this idea, in part, stronger than the Bush Doctrine. The Bush administration usually describes America's enemies as terrorists who exploit Islam, not radical Islamists who use terrorism, resulting in a focus on defeating a culturally neutral “terrorism”. Since Fukuyama and Garfinkle talk about America's enemies in a way more direct than the administration does, politicians embracing their ideas won't be labeled as wimpy (though they may be labeled as "insensitive" by the left).

Second, Fukuyama and Garfinkle's willingness to discuss defeating Islamic radicals -- an identifiable group of people -- rather than defeating a more abstract enemy of "terrorism" narrows the focus of the war. Since Americans prefer foreign committments with clear objectives to potentially open-ended ones, this shift will gain its adherents.

I'm not yet sure if the Fukuyama/Garfinkle Doctrine is a good idea or not -- at the very least, more about their specific program for confronting Islamic radicalism needs to be known before it is evaluated -- but I am sure that you'll be hearing more about it in the coming months.

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That's an interesting shift in thinking, and seems like it could work if it could be done. Unfortunately, I think it only works on paper, and doesn't take into account that opponents of these goals (fighting terorism and establishing middle east democracy) already know that it's in their interest to conflate both, and will continue using media to promote that view.

I do very much like the one point about being more specific about who the enemy *is*, Islamic radicalism as opposed to blanket terrorists.

Posted by: Carson Fire at March 28, 2006 5:01 AM