State of the Union address introduced the Bush Doctrine
President Bush's State of the Union address was arguably one of the most significant foreign policy speeches given in recent times. It is comparable to Truman's 1947 speech outlining the policy of containment or JFK's inaugural address where he promised to pay any price or bear any burden to fight and win the Cold War. Like Truman and Kennedy, Bush has given clear direction for the nation. His words echoed the moral surety of the World War II generation in their fight against communism.
What Bush did was to reshape the nation's foreign policy — defining America's mission in noble and ambitious terms and declaring war on an "evil axis" of nations who harbor terrorists and threaten our nation with weapons of mass destruction. The fate of this administration and its place in history will depend on the success of the "Bush Doctrine."
It may have been one of the first times in recent memory where several major foreign policy debates were settled in one evening. For the last year, the administration has debated how to deal with the so-called "rogue nations." An intense internal debate raged on how best to encourage political change in Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Administration officials were divided between those who believed we could make a deal with the Iranian regime and those who insisted we had to confront the mullahs. There were also hot contests between those seeking to remove Saddam Hussein from power and those who believed his removal would cause regional instability. And there have been powerful voices arguing that poor and starving North Korea could be bought off with food and credits.
The President correctly denounced the unelected rulers of Iran for ignoring the desires of the Iranian people. He cast aside the Clinton era policy of paying ransom to stop North Korea's nuclear pursuits. And he put Saddam on notice that his regime is near an end. He did it all in words that were clear, concise and sure.
The President told the nation that the fight against "the evildoers" is every bit as serious as World War II or the Cold War. The lesson of Sept. 11 was that the United States had enemies who would go to great lengths to murder Americans. When the nation's enemies are armed with weapons of mass destruction, it is a clear and mortal danger to the security of us all.
It is beyond doubt that Iran, Iraq and North Korea pose a serious threat to the United States and its democratic allies. They have supported terrorism in the past. They are hostile to the democratic values of freedom and liberty. All three have raced to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The Bush Doctrine sends a clear signal that the United States will not wait for another attack to take action. In fact, the President said he would take preemptive action to prevent another assault like Sept. 11.
Predictably, the Europeans seemed convinced that Bush made another stupid blunder. France's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, summed up the European critique by calling Bush's policy "simplistic." A more substantial criticism, however, came from Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, who thought the President made a mistake lumping together the three nations instead of dealing with them individually.
This last criticism has picked up some traction. According to an unnamed State Department source, "naming Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an axis of evil suggests links among the three that don't exist." Iran and Iraq are mortal enemies, having fought an eight-year war in the 1980s. And while North Korea has supplied missile technology to Iran and Pakistan, the regime is one of the most isolated totalitarian states in the world.
Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan administration official, believes that the "best analogy" to use is from the 1950s when the Eisenhower Administration talked about rolling back the Iron Curtain. "We talked about it, but didn't mean it."
Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me that the President "has boxed himself in." If he doesn't send troops, or change these regimes, the Bush Doctrine will be called "a failure."
The possibility of failure does not seem to bother the President. In a remarkable series of articles in the Washington Post by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, the President is depicted as being in charge, serious and focused. The articles are must reading for anyone skeptical of the President's ability to lead. His foreign policy team, among the most experienced in recent memory, is united. Colin Powell's recent statement that "there is not one inch" between himself and the President was a signal to domestic critics and to the world of the nation's intent.
The President has called the nation to a sustained battle. We are at war against those who support terrorism and seek to possess weapons of mass destruction. His goal is ambitious: To end the current threat and create a global environment where liberty, the rule-of-law and human rights can flourish. It is the beginning, he hopes, of a new, New World Order.
Scott Flipse is Associate Director of Notre Dame's Washington Semester and Pew Civitas Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He can be contacted at Flipse.firstname.lastname@example.org. "Urbanities" appears every other Tuesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, February 12, 2002