“One can’t doubt that the American objective in
Iraq has failed,” Buckley wrote at
National Review Online on Feb. 24, adding that the challenge now
facing Bush and his top advisers is how to cope with the reality of that
“Within their own counsels, different plans have to
be made,” Buckley wrote after a week of bloody sectarian violence in
Iraq. “And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.”
Fukuyama, a leading neoconservative theorist, went
further citing not just the disaster in Iraq but the catastrophe
enveloping Bush’s broader strategy of preemptive military American
interventions, waged unilaterally when necessary.
“The so-called Bush Doctrine that set the framework
for the administration’s first term is now in shambles,” Fukuyama wrote
Feb. 19 in The New York Times Magazine.
“Successful preemption depends on the ability to
predict the future accurately and on good intelligence, which was not
forthcoming, while America’s perceived unilateralism has isolated it as
never before,” Fukuyama wrote.
While those Americans who always opposed the Iraq
War may see this unseemly scramble of Bush’s former allies as a classic
case of rats deserting a sinking ship, the loss of these two prominent
thinkers of the Right mark a turning point in the political battle over
the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
If Bush can’t hold William F. Buckley Jr. – and if
even the ranks of the neocons are starting to crack – Bush may soon be
confronted with a hard choice of either acknowledging his errors or
tightening his authoritarian control of the United States.
Bush’s foundering Iraq policy also raises the
stakes in the November elections. Prospects have brightened for those
who want Bush held accountable for his reckless deeds and his violation
of laws, both domestic and international.
This reversal of fortune is stunning when compared
to Bush’s seeming omnipotence in 2002, when he unveiled the Bush
Doctrine, and even a year ago when leading U.S. pundits were hailing the
a visionary leader.
Bush picked his belligerent course in the days
after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Though the world had rallied to America’s side – offering both sympathy
and cooperation in fighting terrorism – Bush chose to issue ultimatums.
Bush famously told other nations that they were
either “with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Vowing to
“rid the world of evil,” he made clear he would brush aside any
restrictions on his actions, including the United Nations Charter and
the Geneva Conventions.
Europeans were soon
protesting Bush’s treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Muslims
were voicing growing hatred for the United States. Though Bush's tough
actions were popular with his base, they played poorly abroad.
“It annoys your allies in
the war against terrorism, and it creates problems for our Muslim
allies, too,” one West European ambassador said in 2002. “It puts at
stake the moral credibility of the war against terrorism.” [See
Return to Unilateralism.”]
Bush spelled out his broader strategy in a speech
at West Point on June 1, 2002. He asserted a unilateral U.S. right to
overthrow any government in the world that is deemed a threat to
American security, a position so sweeping it lacked historical
“If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we
will have waited too long,” Bush said in describing what soon became
known as the “Bush Doctrine.”
Shortly after Bush’s West Point speech, an article
at Consortiumnews.com observed that “Bush’s grim vision is of a modern
‘crusade,’ as he once put it, with American military forces striking
preemptively at ‘evil-doers’ wherever they live, while U.S. citizens
live under a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended
selectively by one man.
“Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and
freedom that this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy
offers no guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk
of deepening the pool of hatred against the United States.
”With his cavalier tough talk, Bush continues to show no sign that he
grasps how treacherous his course is, nor how much more difficult it
will be if the U.S. alienates large segments of the world's population.”
On March 19, 2003, Bush took another fateful step,
ordering the invasion of Iraq despite being denied authority from the
U.N. Security Council.
After ousting Saddam Hussein’s regime three weeks
later, Bush basked in popular acclaim from many Americans. He even
donned a flight suit for a “Mission Accomplished” aircraft-carrier
celebration on May 1, 2003.
During those heady days, Bush and his
neoconservative advisers dreamed of remaking the entire Middle East with
pro-U.S. leaders chosen through elections and Arab nations ending their
hostility toward Israel.
But Bush’s wishful thinking began to run into
trouble. A fierce resistance emerged in Iraq, claiming the lives of
hundreds – and then thousands – of U.S. soldiers who couldn’t quell the
violence. Instead of contributing to peace, the Iraqi elections deepened
the country’s sectarian divisions – empowering the Shiite majority while
alienating the Sunni minority.
Surging anti-Americanism caused other Middle East
elections to have the opposite results from what Bush’s neoconservatives
predicted. Instead of breeding moderation, elections in Pakistan, Egypt,
Iran and the Palestinian Authority saw gains by Islamic extremists,
including a surprise victory by the militant group Hamas in Palestine.
The United States also has seen its international
reputation devastated by reports of abuse and torture in U.S.-run
detention centers. Rather than the all-powerful nation that the neocons
wanted to project, the United States revealed the limitations of its
military might and the incompetence of its administrative
This string of catastrophes has now led even
prominent conservatives to conclude that Bush’s “stay the course”
strategy must be rethought. They see Iraq spiraling toward a civil war
with 138,000 U.S. troops caught in the middle
The latest defectors – Buckley and Fukuyama –
threaten to pull away even members of Bush’s political base. Buckley is
the godfather of conservative punditry, while Fukuyama has been a bright
light among neocon theorists.
Now, Bush must decide what to do – admit mistakes
and heed the advice of critics – or circle the wagons even tighter and
lash out at the growing majority of Americans who think the war in Iraq
was a deadly mistake.