Mark Steyn comes up short

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I greatly admire Mark Steyn.  He is one of the most insightful and witty commentators writing today....    However, in his latest column, Steyn offers a defense of the Bush Doctrine that just falls flat. Steyn writes:

I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds—first, for “utopian” reasons:  If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists’ preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats).  But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective:  Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads.  It’s one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective.  In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang.  However it turns out, it’s the “realist” option.

To begin with, note how Steyn equates the Bush Doctrine with the current effort to “promote liberty and democracy” in the Middle East.  As I have argued, this is not what the Bush Doctrine originally was about.  Rather, the Bush Doctrine, as first articulated in the aftermath of 9/11, was a doctrine of using preemptive military power against terrorists and their state sponsors to eliminate and deter serious threats to American national security before they arise.  That is why we invaded Iraq in 2003, to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam’s regime and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (however faulty our intelligence on this point may or may not have been).  That’s also why we should have invaded Iran years ago.

But the Bush Doctrine has now morphed into an exercise in democratic nation-building in Iraq.  Steyn says he supports this version of the Bush Doctrine for two reasons, one he labels “utopian” and the other he labels “realist.”

With respect to his first reason, Steyn offers no basis for believing that the Middle East ever will become “a region of free states,” let alone how long such a transformation might take, or at what cost in terms of lives and treasure and foregone opportunities.  Like other supporters of President Bush’s neo-Wilsonian vision, Steyn simply engages in wishful thinking about some future state of affairs that he asserts is “most consistent with American values.”  But the touchstone must be our national interest.  Is it in America’s national interest to engage in this admittedly utopian exercise (trying to establish a democracy in Iraq) that, at best, offers uncertain prospects for ever achieving this hoped-for future (a region of free states)?  If so, Steyn does not make the case.

Steyn’s second reason is equally deficient.  He argues that our current nation-building project is “a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads” and is “one of the few real points of pressure that America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations.”  Really?  What about killing the thugs and deposing the regimes that rule over these rogue nations?  Isn’t that what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Isn’t that what caused Libya’s dictator Muammar Kaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program?  This strikes me as a much more effective way of achieving our national security goals than the current “strategy” of bogging our military down in Iraq to help build a democracy in that country, while Iran steadily moves toward building nuclear bombs.

While the outcome in Iraq remains an open question, we know that it is just a matter of time before Iran obtains nuclear weapons.  Yet we are acting as if Iraqi democracy is just around the corner, while the Iranian bomb is a long way off.  This is foolhardy.  The Middle East will never become “a region of free states” if it is choking on radioactive clouds and debris caused by a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.  Or if Muslim hatred is inflamed against Israel and the United States, following massive Israeli air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities to avert such a war.  After all, if we don’t take out the Iranian threat, Israel will have no choice but to do so herself.  Either way, the dream of a free and democratic Middle East is unlikely to survive.    

Mark Steyn is one the strongest supporters of the current “war on terror” and a very smart guy.  If this is the best he can offer in defense of the current Bush Doctrine, I am further convinced that the course being followed by President Bush is the wrong one.


 
I greatly admire Mark Steyn.  He is one of the most insightful and witty commentators writing today....    However, in his latest column, Steyn offers a defense of the Bush Doctrine that just falls flat. Steyn writes:

I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds—first, for “utopian” reasons:  If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists’ preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats).  But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective:  Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads.  It’s one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective.  In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang.  However it turns out, it’s the “realist” option.

To begin with, note how Steyn equates the Bush Doctrine with the current effort to “promote liberty and democracy” in the Middle East.  As I have argued, this is not what the Bush Doctrine originally was about.  Rather, the Bush Doctrine, as first articulated in the aftermath of 9/11, was a doctrine of using preemptive military power against terrorists and their state sponsors to eliminate and deter serious threats to American national security before they arise.  That is why we invaded Iraq in 2003, to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam’s regime and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (however faulty our intelligence on this point may or may not have been).  That’s also why we should have invaded Iran years ago.

But the Bush Doctrine has now morphed into an exercise in democratic nation-building in Iraq.  Steyn says he supports this version of the Bush Doctrine for two reasons, one he labels “utopian” and the other he labels “realist.”

With respect to his first reason, Steyn offers no basis for believing that the Middle East ever will become “a region of free states,” let alone how long such a transformation might take, or at what cost in terms of lives and treasure and foregone opportunities.  Like other supporters of President Bush’s neo-Wilsonian vision, Steyn simply engages in wishful thinking about some future state of affairs that he asserts is “most consistent with American values.”  But the touchstone must be our national interest.  Is it in America’s national interest to engage in this admittedly utopian exercise (trying to establish a democracy in Iraq) that, at best, offers uncertain prospects for ever achieving this hoped-for future (a region of free states)?  If so, Steyn does not make the case.

Steyn’s second reason is equally deficient.  He argues that our current nation-building project is “a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads” and is “one of the few real points of pressure that America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations.”  Really?  What about killing the thugs and deposing the regimes that rule over these rogue nations?  Isn’t that what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq?  Isn’t that what caused Libya’s dictator Muammar Kaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program?  This strikes me as a much more effective way of achieving our national security goals than the current “strategy” of bogging our military down in Iraq to help build a democracy in that country, while Iran steadily moves toward building nuclear bombs.

While the outcome in Iraq remains an open question, we know that it is just a matter of time before Iran obtains nuclear weapons.  Yet we are acting as if Iraqi democracy is just around the corner, while the Iranian bomb is a long way off.  This is foolhardy.  The Middle East will never become “a region of free states” if it is choking on radioactive clouds and debris caused by a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.  Or if Muslim hatred is inflamed against Israel and the United States, following massive Israeli air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities to avert such a war.  After all, if we don’t take out the Iranian threat, Israel will have no choice but to do so herself.  Either way, the dream of a free and democratic Middle East is unlikely to survive.    

Mark Steyn is one the strongest supporters of the current “war on terror” and a very smart guy.  If this is the best he can offer in defense of the current Bush Doctrine, I am further convinced that the course being followed by President Bush is the wrong one.