We do not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. We only get to choose what side we are on.–George W. Bush in The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2012 from a speech to the Bush Institute at SMU.
The Bush Doctrine has become a forgotten relic, dismissed by today’s White House, but I continue to believe as Bush 43 does that it or a very similar doctrine will be necessary to free the Muslim Middle East to join the civilized world. What will or should replace it? For awhile, Barack Obama was forced by circumstances to continue various elements of it, primarily those involving American security, and he certainly deserves credit for taking out Osama bin Ladin. But the balance of Obama’s record in the Middle East has been miserable, and this is most recently reflected in the utter failure, to the surprise of almost no one, of the U. S. backed United Nations approach to Syria and the obvious backsliding of democracy and increase in terrorist activity in Iraq as a result of premature withdrawal of American troops. These trends highlight the indispensable necessity of presidential assertion of direct American leadership which has been sorely lacking in this administration, and the President himself seems not to have the inclination for hands on involvement, instead preferring to “lead from behind”.
There is no lack of reasoned strategy advice from an informed group of foreign policy experts outside the administration, most prominently a recent report from the Hudson Institute addressing the overall threat of Islamic extremism. This report makes the point that, contrary to the Obama administration’s statement that “we are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida and its terrorist affiliates”, the U. S. is taking a much too narrow approach to the definition of the enemy. It maintains that the Bush administration’s broader characterization of the threat remains true, that “the principal terrorist enemy confronting the U. S. is a transnational movement of extremist organizations, networks, and individuals and their state and non-state supporters, which have in common that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends”.
So defeating al-Qa’ida in Iraq is not enough. The essence of the problem is ideological and we cannot solve it by focusing our efforts on a single organization and its affiliates. And according to the study, the key is to stimulate and influence debate among Muslims in order to promote interpretations of Islam that do not assert the legitimacy of terrorism. Will this strategy work? Not without a definitive plan and certainly not without the committed leadership of the President of the United States.
But this President is not committed to any strategy except for one that favors a worldview dominated by transnational consensus based on the judgment of international organizations. Meanwhile, there have been over 10,000 deaths among the rebel forces in Syria, Iran continues on the path toward a nuclear capability while assisting in the killing of Americans on every front, democracy in Iraq is deteriorating, and Russia and China continue to block any serious UN response to any of this. The President has said that “the tide of war is receding”. Is he looking at the same Middle East map that I am?