Is The Revolution Over?

Gerard Baker says that the days of muscular American foreign policy are over:

I can’t answer for Mr Cheney’s hunting etiquette, but when it comes to aggressive and unilateral US foreign policy, you can forget it. It’s over. It was a wild ride for a couple of years, a genuine revolution in foreign affairs, but it’s gone. The revolution has been aborted. America is back to where it was before Iraq, before 9/11, before Bush v Gore: an upstanding member of the multilateralist diplomatic community, piously mouthing the familiar platitudes of international co-operation and stability.

I certainly hope that Baker is incorrect. One of the reasons the September 11 attacks occurred was because of America’s weakness abroad. And indeed, I think that Baker is incorrect. What we’re seeing is not some massive sea change in American foreign policy, but the next stage in the process. I don’t see Bush abandoning his quest for democratization, and it would be a repudiation of their own best ideas if they did. The single greatest part of the Bush Revolution in foreign policy is the realization that America’s long-term strategic interests are tied to the democratization of the Middle East. The only way we can win this war is to have a Middle East that no longer acts as a petri dish for terrorism. The way to achieve that end is to prevent the fundamental disconnect between government and civil society in the region. Terrorism rose up so dramatically in the Middle East because the mosque was the only place were someone could talk freely. The idea that “Islam is the solution” as the Muslim Brotherhood proclaims is an idea that has special power in a place where the average citizen has little to no control over their own political destiny.

We can’t do that militarily, and Iraq is less about military control but shaking up the status quo in the region. We have every interest in seeing a free and democratic Iraq, although that is a goal that will take at least a generation to achieve in a truly permanent way. However, what we have done has already begun a process of democratic transformation in the region. The genie of free elections has already been let out of the bottle, and the ripple effects are being felt across that region.

Baker notes that the Administration is sounding much more multilateral than before, but that’s largely because they’ve won the debate on foreign policy. Europe now takes the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism much more seriously then they did before – although sometimes not seriously enough. Madrid and London made it clear that Europe is a target too. The old belief that terrorism was something to be endured and ignored no longer holds nearly as much sway as it does.

Quietly and with little fanfare, the US and the French worked behind the scenes at the UN to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. The fact is that Bush’s foreign policy has always been much more pragmatic than is publicly let on. Bush’s biggest foreign policy coups involved the stabilization of relations between the US and Pervez Musharraf, defusing the possibility of an Indian/Pakistani nuclear exchange, and the dismantling of the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. In terms of global geopolitical impact, those difficult and tense negotiations were key towards stabilizing that region of the world. A few years ago two nuclear powers were dangerously close to the brink of war, yet now tensions have eased. The Administration may have been fond of rattling the saber from time to time, but that isn’t the sum total of American foreign policy.

I don’t necessarily think the very real shift in American foreign policy is a sign that Bush is relenting on the Bush doctrine. American “unilateralism” has always been made to be much bigger and more aggressive than it really was – even the invasion of Iraq involved a large amount of diplomatic negotiation, both within and outside of the UN. The reality is that the initial stages of Bush’s foreign policy played out largely as they were supposed to – the Taliban is gone, Pakistan is uneasy but under control, Saddam Hussein is gone, democracy is on the table in the Middle East, and Europe no longer has a lax attitude towards terrorism. That doesn’t mean all is well and the Bush Administration’s foreign policy is no longer a success, but that the initial phase is over and an entirely new phase is beginning that is less about open confrontations and more about subtle moves behind the scenes.

One thought on “Is The Revolution Over?

  1. Whether or not the US adopts an aggressive or isolationist foreign policy depends completely on the party in power and beyond that on which wing of either party that is calling the shots. If McCain was ever to dominate the gop i DOUBT THE us WOULD UNILATERALLY FLEX ITS MUSCLES. I can think of a single Democrat that would use American military to advance American interests in the foreign affairs arena.

    As far as collectiveism, it is as dead as the UN. Does anyone believe in the fantasy that is multilateralism?

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