I often said during the George W. Bush administration that whoever succeeded him would be hard pressed to find a better strategy for the defeat of radical Muslim jihadism than the Bush Doctrine. And, in fact, President Obama has used significant elements of it to great advantage during his term, without directly crediting its author, of course. But now, with his May 23 foreign policy speech at the National Defense University, the Bush Doctrine appears finally dead.
What will replace it? Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal characterizes what he heard in the President’s speech as “The Retreat Doctrine”, and a good case for this terminology could be made in the obvious gradual and intentional withdrawal of American power and commitment to the principles outlined in the Bush Doctrine and the Congressional war authorization following 9/11. And why not, if the President can simply and unilaterally declare that “the war on terror is over”?
But there is abundant evidence that this war, which arguably began in 1979, is a long way from over, and what I heard and read in the speech was a misguided return to the mentality of 9/10, when terrorism was considered a widely diffused threat conducted by disparate individuals that could be managed with law enforcement, good intelligence, and civilian courts, without the weapons and mindset of wartime footing.
This mindset also ignores the best analogy to the current conflict, the Cold War, which we waged for over 40 years and which was declared over when our opponent dissolved and we won! In his 2007 book World War IV, the name he gives to the current conflict, Norman Podhoretz writes that the proper name for the Cold War should be World War III. And in making the analogy, he offers comments by Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University in his description of the characteristics shared by III and IV: “That it will in fact be global; that it will involve a mixture of violent and non-violent efforts; that it will require mobilization of skill, expertise, and resources, if not vast numbers of soldiers and a conventional front; that it may go on for a long time; and that it has deep ideological roots.”
Likewise, the Truman Doctrine, which gave substance to our policy in response to the worldwide Soviet threat in 1947, is analogous to the Bush Doctrine in response to 9/11. We forget this history, abandon a doctrine that has worked, and revert to a pre-9/11 mindset at our peril.