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In his famous 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” to describe any and all states that sponsor terrorism and to highlight to the people the “enemies of America” in an attempt to rile up support for his War on Terror and expansion of the US Military’s involvement in International Affairs worldwide.

This article aims to take individual pieces of Bush’s foreign policy involvement and evaluate them individually then closing with a final verdict and conclusion.

“If we move the conversation towards Iraq, the Bush doctrine becomes even more flawed. This is because its success required either a much longer occupation or constant occupation to maintain stability.”

Iraq and Afghanistan

In what has been correctly assumed as Bush’s largest military military overseas venture, the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan saw their initial primary goals achieved. The Taliban and al-Qaeda were indeed routed from central power in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government overthrown in Iraq. However evaluating the success of these ventures based on these primary goals is over simplistic and suffers from the same nearsightedness that condemned the eventual occupation as a whole to failure. In the case of Afghanistan, indeed it is true that the Taliban were pushed to the hills along with aQ (al-Qaeda) but they were not destroyed completely and permanently. The presence of these two groups still pose a threat to the stability and safety of the region – the frequent attacks in Pakistan for example – and also not to mention the threat posed of a Taliban return to power, with the takeover of Sangin in Helmand province. If we move the conversation towards Iraq, the Bush doctrine becomes even more flawed. This is because its success required either a much longer occupation or constant occupation to maintain stability. The moment US Forces withdrew, as they did in 2011, the divisions within the country along political, ideological, racial and religious lines in Iraq ran far too deep for any but an extremely strong government to keep together a country so easily torn apart by sectarian violence.

If we can assume that a secondary goal, although just as important as the primary, was to bring long lasting stability to Iraq and the Middle East region then this has obviously failed. While the Islamic State has been pushed back the power vacuum left by the withdrawal from Iraq gave to its rise, and it was the international coalition against IS that can be argued to have been the sole pivotal factor in bringing back relative stability to Iraq – once again bringing the point back to the flaw in the Bush doctrine: it requires a much longer occupation than originally envisaged to bring stability. This is something that the US was not and is not prepared to do due to fear of the Vietnam syndrome – a turn of public opinion against the war and subsequently against the incumbent President.

Furthermore the War in Iraq did not actually even achieve one of its Primary Goals: the eradication of the presence of WMDs in Iraq . This goal of course could not be achieved because there wasn’t any to find. In this light then, it could be argued that Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan was a complete and total failure. However it was a failure in practice because of the reasons highlighted above; America was all to reluctant to remain involved in the region from 2008 onward, and as such the region destabilised.

However in principle, and for a brief short while the occupation did bring stability to the region. During the Sunni insurgency, Bush was presented with two options: pull US Troops out of the unpopular war completely (bring our boys and girls home) or send more troops to the region in a last-ditch attempt to rescue the failing country. Bush responded with the latter option and it did succeed in bringing stability to the Iraqi government for a while. This was the brief snapshot that we saw of the Bush doctrine in its purest form.

Following the removal of a dictator, US Troops en masse liberalised a country by force. Whether you agree this is the ‘right thing to do’ or not (I for one certainly do not think it was right for Bush to invade Iraq at all) it brought stability to the region and accomplished that secondary, long term goal of stability in the region.

Conversely, however this paints an overly rosy picture of the Bush doctrine and assumes that an en masse occupation bringing stability is indeed morally right. It was indeed overwhelmingly, almost objectively, the opposite. The American occupation was not at all non-lethal, surgical or clean. It was messy, destructive and frequently resulted in collateral damage, the same story in Afghanistan. Further from this, the Bush Doctrine in Iraq was certainly doomed from the start as, to keep Iraq both liberalised, rebuilding and stable, it would have required the US Military to be perpetually engaged in occupation. This combined with the lasting effect the Bush doctrine has left on the region, with the rise of the Islamic State and a crumbling of stability and peace in an already fragile and tenuous region means the world was certainly left with a bitter taste in its mouth after the Bush years.

“Herein we can see the Bush Doctrine’s glaring flaw: it was too big for its boots. Even with such a large and well-equipped army, navy and air force such a campaign over such a large expanse of area and with a native population so hostile to the United States against such a strong adversary would’ve proven impossible.”

Iran

If we are to believe what several people from the former Bush administration say, and it wouldn’t be too infeasible to do so in this case, the ultimate goal of the Bush Doctrine was not just to topple Saddam Hussein but also the theocratic regime in Iran. In fact former Gen. Wesley Clark in 2007 as much as confirmed that it was indeed the ultimate aim no matter how absurd or impossible, that was still the wish. Ten years after that interview, and nearly fifteen years since the invasion of Iraq, the theocracy still stands and Iran is still as strong as ever – made stronger and more secure by the Obama administration’s olive branch nature towards Iran.

However I would argue that such an attitude towards Iran is not such a bad thing for a successful invasion of Iran is nigh impossible. To take over Iran like the US did Iraq would cost so many lives it would be regarded as one of the most catastrophic conventional wars ever fought – not to mention the presence of potentially nuclear capabilities at play. Herein we can see the Bush Doctrine’s glaring flaw: it was too big for its boots. Even with such a large and well-equipped army, navy and air force such a campaign over such a large expanse of area and with a native population so hostile to the United States against such a strong adversary would’ve proven impossible. It would’ve been made further impossible by the fact casualties mounting on the side of the US would prove so preposterously large in number that no public could ever support it. A war against Iran would suffer Vietnam syndrome dramatically.

Herein we see one strong argument against the Bush Doctrine. Its assumption that the public would see it as justified and necessary was critical. The expansion of the United States into the Middle East on the grounds of anti-terrorism or anti-Americanism – wars against the so-called “Axis of Evil” would indeed prove popular at first as the shock of the September 11th Attacks stayed pertinent in people’s minds. However as time wore on that same heat cooled and public opinion waned against the military endeavours as the cost, both in lives and finance, grew to simply unsustainable and unjustifiable amounts. It is here that we can see that public opinion against the War on Terror needed to be maintained but to maintain it perpetually would’ve been simply impossible.

North Korea

Although mentioned in the Axis of Evil SOTU address, North Korea was not so much the concern of the United States as Iraq and Afghanistan were, bluntly because the United States had ground troops actively fighting both of these conflicts, however the Bush doctrine was not applied to North Korea the same way as it was in the Middle East – this was obviously because of the massive military presence of Russia and China that would not accept a steamrolling of the DPRK regime the same way as Saddam and the Taliban were steamrolled. Instead Bush showed a different tact, diplomacy and appeasement. $400million worth of fuel, food and aid were sent in exchange for North Korea shutting down its main nuclear reactor in an attempt to slow down or stop its nuclear program. As we can see today, this tactic certainly failed.

Conclusion

Like many ideas and visions for foreign policy, it was strategically beneficial in theory, assuming all the assumptions and hurdles it encountered could be overcome with ease. Unfortunately those principles can be applied to any and all ideas. The Bush Doctrine was fundamentally flawed from the start. It assumed that the US would not be met with heavy casualties and wouldn’t cause civilian casualties. It assumed that the war in Iraq would be vindicated, which it wasn’t, and that the United States could withdraw harmlessly after routing the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and aQ (at least on the surface) and allow those secondary, long-term goals to achieve themselves. It ignored the fact that, to maintain stability after deposing two regimes with an extremely tight grip on their respective societies, a far more monumental, longer and deeply unpopular occupation would’ve been needed. It ignored the fact that such a large scale war would create endless amounts of collateral civilian damage and as such the invasions and occupations of the Bush Doctrine will go down in history, least of all in this article, as some of the most morally bankrupt, regrettable and failed exercises of American foreign policy in history.

9 COMMENTS

  1. We are still feeling the effects of those policies and lets not forget our part in this story either. As a 15 year old boy in 1991 I remember being excited at the prospect of all that military hardware in play, reading up about the stealth fighter and seeing graphics of the battlefield. Now as a 41 year old dad I cannot see past the tragically high human cost, all those civilians caught up in conflict through no fault of their own. Not to mention the men and women sent to fight, many of whom didn’t return or if they did came back with scars, both physical and mental.

    Lets hope lessons can be learned and that we do not repeat the same mistakes. I really hope my kids do not see the likes during their lifetime.

    • I still remember two Muslim kids in my school openly supporting Saddam Hussein, jumping on tables and celebrating when our first Tornado got shot down and wishing death on all British Soldiers.

  2. You cannot impose democracy militarily or democratically as history shows (unless you go about it likes the Romans did which would be impossible today). As horrible as it sounds, we’d be better doing our best to ignore it, and helping by giving more basic forms of aid. The west does not need another military occupation.

    I would be in favour of an air campaign in Syria to destroy Assad’s air force however. That way we could be seen to be helping by trying to put an end to these despicable chemical attacks, without actually occupying the region.

  3. On the contrary, democracy, at least in the modern sense, has always been achieved militarily by wresting power away from monarchs, oligarchs or other elitists. Consider the U.K., France and the United States, for starters…

  4. I agree with Evan P.

    For me this Syria business is becoming primarily a superpowers playground, where Russia and the USA are facing off against each other over Assad, neither wanting to be the one who backs down, one wanting regime change, the other propping up the regime.

    Iraq and Libya have been a disaster where the West tries to remove dictators who were actually keeping the lid on even greater chaos underneath.

    If we are not careful we will be making the same mistake for the third time, this time with Russian personnel in country.
    This is inherently dangerous.

  5. The issue within the article is it was NOT a detailed a explanation as to how and why the doctrine failed. The author just decided to launch into along diatribe against America and the use of military force by the United States for anything other than parades and guarding his sorry hide. Mr.Waters belief that it is not moral and impossible to forcibly impose democracy is historically ignorant. Were it true South America would still be colonies of the Spanish monarch. America would be rules by far off people who had never been there. France would still have the House of Bourbon on the throne.
    More modern examples needed? Would the author have preferred democracy not been reimposed on Germany and Japan after WWII? Both of which required massive wars and long occupations. Nevertheless, they were successful.
    Also Mr. Waters seems have this strange belief that Americans would not win a war against Iran. Even invoking terms like, “Vietnam Syndrome,” and other terms of the pacifists. Forgetting that such things like Vietnam are only caused win not committed to war and when being constantly undermined by your allies diplomatically even then that idea is laughable. The US had blown to scrap and occupied the military and country Iran had proven itself incapable of decisively defeating. His childlike trust of the regime in Iran is disturbing. Considering that it has broken numerous agreements between nations even basic ones such as. “Don’t kill the diplomats, and embassy guards then seize the compound.” Then their was the illegally mining the Gulf causing the death of American sailors. Lets not forget paying jihadi to drive a truck full of explosives into a Marine barracks in Beirut. Then add this to supporting insurgents in Iraq during the occupation specifically in Baghdad and Basra you would have to either be an idiot or your parents must have met at a family reunion to trust Iran.

    On another note I wouldn’t have gone into Iraq mostly because I just don’t care. But also because like many Americans with recollections of the 70s and 80s hold a much larger grudge against Iran. Therefore I wouldn’t have bumped off their competition. Just please for the love of God spare the world your moral proselytizing and hindsight vision dressed up as analysis.

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