The Betrayal of the Bush Doctrine
By Alex Epstein (Capitalism Magazine, September 16, 2002)
In the days following September 11, we feared for our future. Would terrorist attacks become a fixture of life? Would we have to live the rest of our days with the knowledge that our work, our dreams, our loved ones, our lives could be obliterated at any moment? Was the America we had known and loved--the free country our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to create--gone forever?
In an impassioned speech to Congress last September 20, just over a week after the attacks, President Bush brought hope to many. He pledged to eradicate terrorism by waging a war that was to begin with al Qaeda and the Taliban, but that "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." Although the speech contained several concessions to America's enemies, including a refusal to name the many nations besides the Taliban that sponsor terrorism and promote Militant Islam, Bush came across as an implacable foe of terrorism with his now-famous statement: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." This sentence marked the birth of what was later named the Bush Doctrine--the policy of waging an uncompromising war against terrorists and their state sponsors. Bush's unequivocal pledge seemed to relegate to history our decades-long failed policy of treating terrorists as individual criminals while ignoring their government supporters, of meaningless pinprick strikes, of the most powerful nation in the world dealing with tin-pot terrorist dictators by diplomacy and appeasement. Finally, it seemed, America was asserting herself. After hearing President Bush's bold promises to protect America, many Americans shared the sentiment expressed by Senator Joseph Lieberman: "If I were a terrorist tonight," he said, "I would not go to sleep feeling very comfortable about my security."
A year later we are the ones who are less comfortable about our security. According to a recent poll by USA Today, only one-third of Americans believe that we are winning the war on terrorism--down from two-thirds in January. Our leaders, humbly resigned to the threat of mass death, tell us that future terrorist attacks are inevitable. The cause of this newfound pessimism? President Bush has abandoned the Bush Doctrine.
"I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people," he promised. But our freedom and security are imperiled because Bush, bowing to the demands of our so-called "allies," has relented repeatedly. In Afghanistan his failure to commit large numbers of American ground troops and to effectively seal the country's borders allowed thousands of terrorists to escape and plot the murder of more American civilians. His reluctance to bomb key targets, for fear of inflicting civilian casualties, allowed much of the al Qaeda leadership to escape. Even worse, Bush has not taken substantive military action beyond Afghanistan--repeatedly delaying an attack of Iraq, for instance, even though he acknowledges the grave threat posed by Saddam Hussein, who has chemical and biological weapons and is eagerly developing nuclear weapons. "I am a patient man," Bush explained--but when American lives hang in the balance, patience in disposing of our would-be murderers is an unmitigated vice.
"From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime," Bush promised. But he has not treated the nations who create the terrorist threat as hostile. Bush has issued no ultimatums and taken no military action against Iran, which, according to his own State Department is the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. He rewarded the Palestinian Authority's 21-month escalation of terrorism against Israel with a promise to create a Palestinian State--with leaders to be democratically elected by people who overwhelmingly favor destroying Israel. He did not oppose the U.N.'s election of Syria, a major sponsor of terrorism, to its "Security Council." And in addition to taking no action against Saudi Arabia--a country that, as an expert recently told the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, is "active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader"--Bush has invited its top officials for photo-ops at his Texas ranch, heralding America's "eternal friendship" with the Saudis.
Such shameful actions are a betrayal of the trust President Bush won from the American people a year ago, and a return to the suicidal appeasement practiced by his predecessors. On the anniversary of Bush's most important speech, we should demand that he resurrect the Bush Doctrine by uncompromisingly prosecuting state sponsors of terrorism. Nothing less will save America. And, as the President himself has said, "time is not on our side."
Alex Epstein was a writer and a fellow on staff
at ARI between 2004 and 2011.
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