The Obama Watch

The Bush Doctrine Is Still Working

The dictator-defending Obama Doctrine is not.

By 7.8.09

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A central theme of President Bush's administration was to promote democracy in the Middle East. He argued that establishing a full fledged democracy in Iraq in the heart of the Middle East would have transforming effects throughout the Muslim World. Even though the promotion of human rights and democracy had been a central theme of liberal foreign policy for decades, the Left ridiculed Bush's policy as hopelessly naïve. Even some on the right echoed this criticism.

But recent trends throughout the Middle East show that this policy is now producing a growing, very powerful effect in countering Islamic extremism and terrorism, just as Bush originally envisioned. The most recent example of this is the elections in Lebanon, where the pro-Western coalition in power there was reelected last month with a slightly increased majority over the Islamic extremist Hezbollah coalition, despite Iranian funding estimated in the billions for Hezbollah.

When the pro-Western coalition was first elected in Lebanon in 2005, it soon chased the Syrian army out of the country, ending the occupation started over 20 years ago during the Lebanese civil war. That was a huge victory for America and the West for which Bush received no credit.

Another recent example comes from Kuwait, where the public mostly voted for secular parties, rejecting the Islamic extremists in even electing women to the legislature for the first time, contrary to extremist strictures. Elections in Pakistan have probably been the most important of all, with the public overwhelmingly choosing secular parties over Islamic extremists. In the 2002 election, the extremists were revealed as a fringe element with only about 11% of the vote. In the more recent election in 2008, they got only 2%, winning only 6 out of 270 seats. This was another big victory, revealing the lack of appeal by the Taliban and Al Qaeda in that critical country.

In Iraq itself, we have seen the same results. The public votes for secular parties, not Islamic extremists. Indeed, despite all the talk from the Left about how Bush only alienated the Islamic street, we don't see anti-American candidates in Iraq even running let alone winning.

Another big turning point came in Morocco in 2007. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) was projected to win the parliamentary elections. But when the votes were counted, PJD had won only 14% of the vote, and a conservative party aligned with the traditional King had won. In municipal elections this past April, the PJD sunk to 7% of the vote. In Jordan in 2007, the Islamic Action Front won just 6 of the 22 seats it contested, down from 17 seats in the previous parliament.

Absent democracy, the roughly 10% of the public in Middle Eastern, Islamic countries willing to shoot their way into power in the name of Allah seems dominant. Actual elections reveal them to be fringe, extremist groups, greatly diminishing their power in favor of reasonable, secular leaders. As a result, the Bush doctrine of advancing democracy and human rights is now increasingly successful in combating terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Now we are seeing these same results in Iran. Where did the people of Iran get the idea that they were entitled to an honest election? They haven't had an honest election there in over 50 years. Maybe it comes from watching their Shiite brothers voting in honest, free elections in neighboring Iraq. And maybe it comes as well from watching the same in neighboring Afghanistan, which had formerly been seen as hopelessly backward for centuries.

Iran's recent sham election fiasco is the biggest victory of all for America and the West, again courtesy of the Bush doctrine of promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East. All of a sudden, the Islamic theocracy in Iran has been discredited and exposed as illegitimate. Now that the ruling mullahs have had to turn to shooting their own people in the streets to stay in power, it is only a matter of time until their theocracy falls, and the popular will regains power. That result will be enormously beneficial for America, because Iran's theocratic regime is the central power in the Middle East supporting and spreading Islamic radicalism, terrorism, and continued war against Israel and the West. Once Iran's theocracy falls, and is replaced by a secular government, peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be possible and increasingly likely over time.

In this environment, the right policy for America would be to do what it can to promote regime change in Iran. Organizing an international gas embargo would greatly undermine the security forces by creating a shortage of fuel for their vehicles, as Iran has minimal refinery capacity and must import virtually all of its refined gasoline. International sanctions and isolation for the theocratic regime would also help. Covert financial and even military aid to the rebels may be desirable as well

But President Obama is committed to the opposite course. He is committed to still negotiating with the mullah dictators to get a deal to stop Iran's nuclear program. There is zero chance any such negotiations will succeed. The mullahs have already said they are not interested in the materialist incentives of aid and trade packages, or concerned about the materialist harm of sanctions. They are committed to their extremist religious views, which call for wiping Israel off the face of the earth, as they have put it (Holocaust 2.0). President Bush actually carried on diplomatic negotiations with Iran for years regarding its nuclear weapons program through a European coalition and in other forums, and all this did was enable the Iranians to buy time to develop their nuclear weapons.

All Obama's negotiations will achieve is provide legitimacy to the mullah dictators as the real government of Iran, which will delay their fall for years. This reveals the fundamental weakness of Obama's foreign policy. It is weak on the traditional liberal theme of democracy and human rights. Obama's foreign policy is more like Nixon's Realpolitik in its willingness to negotiate and deal with reigning dictators, from Iran to Russia to China to Venezuela, and around the world.

The Honduras Fiasco

Indeed, while Obama did not want to "meddle" in Iran for fear of offending the mullahs, whom he intends to sweet talk out of their nuclear weapons, he was quick to meddle in Honduras as soon as the people acted to defend their democracy from a rogue president, Manuel Zelaya, allied with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Despite what you have heard from the Democrat party-controlled press, there has been no military coup in Honduras. It is still ruled today by a civilian government, not the military, and free elections are still scheduled for November for a new president and government.

What really happened is that Zelaya refused to comply with the law limiting him to one term. Following a Chavez strategy, Zelaya called a national referendum to repeal the term limit, but the Honduran Supreme Court ruled he didn't have the authority to call such a referendum on his own. He nevertheless proclaimed he would proceed with the referendum, using ballots printed by Chavez in Venezuela. When the military seized and impounded the ballots on a military base following the Supreme Court ruling, Zelaya led a violent mob to storm the base and seize and distribute the ballots. The military then arrested Zelaya and deported him, again following the Supreme Court. The National Assembly voted in a replacement president until the elections this November.

Chavez has since threatened to invade the country, remove the civilian government, and reinstall Zelaya. Incredibly, the Obama Administration is backing Chavez, demanding the reinstallation of Zelaya as well. As Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, "Is this insane? You bet." This episode reveals just how closely President Obama is willing to work with established dictators like President Chavez and his anti-democratic South American allies.

Obama's Nuclear Disarmament

Even worse for America, however, is President Obama's American nuclear disarmament policy, which he is pursuing this week in Russia through a nuclear deal with the Putin dictatorship. In his foreign policy speech in Prague earlier this year, Obama called for worldwide nuclear disarmament, suggesting that American nuclear weapons are no more acceptable than Iranian nukes, and that the rest of the world would agree to give up its nuclear weapons if America would give up its own. This is an extreme left policy.

North Korea responded soon thereafter with nuclear tests and the firing of new missiles. While Obama responded with bluff and bluster about real consequences, nothing much happened. Meanwhile, Obama's budget, passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress, substantially cuts funding for missile defense. When Japan suggested North Korea would fire missiles at Hawaii on the Fourth of July, the Obama Administration rushed available missile defense assets to the islands. But the action seemed hollow given Obama's long range funding plans for missile defense.

Now President Obama has agreed with the Russians to complete a deal that would cut U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by another third, reducing America's nuclear warheads down to 1500. It is not clear how we can be sure that Russia will comply with its side of the bargain.

But this arms control initiative reveals how badly Obama's thinking is frozen deeply in the past, analogously to his unreconstructed Keynesian economic policies from the 1930s. We no longer live in a bipolar world, with America and Russia the only relevant nuclear superpowers. China is now a more powerful threat than Russia with its own nuclear arsenal, and India, Pakistan, North Korea, and soon apparently Iran also pose nuclear dangers. A nuclear deal with Russia alone is not remotely adequate to protect America, even if we could be sure of Russian compliance. Indeed, if we don't successfully counter North Korea and Iran, and President Obama does not seem to be up to that, nuclear proliferation will spread to Japan, South Korea, and throughout the Middle East. In the face of these threats, cutting our own nuclear arsenal down to 1500 warheads, or even less as Obama ultimately advocates, may leave America vulnerable, particularly to attacks aimed at taking out our nuclear arsenal. Joining that policy with cutting missile defense and halting further development of Reagan's SDI initiative reflects a blinkered commitment to hopeless left-wing ideology and could not be more reckless and risky for America's national defense.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and scholar Richard Perle reveal the grave dangers to America posed by President Obama's nuclear disarmament policies in the Wall Street Journal on June 29 ("Our Decaying Nuclear Deterrent"). They note that the Senate has refused to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty for over a decade because it is not verifiable. More important, we need to be able to test our aging nuclear arsenal to be sure it is still effective. After many years of voluntarily maintaining a moratorium on testing (which has not helped to halt nuclear proliferation), we now desperately need to modernize and test our nuclear deterrent to be sure it still works.

Yet, in his Prague speech President Obama announced that he would "immediately and aggressively" pursue ratification of the test ban treaty. Moreover, he and the Democrat Congressional majority refuse to fund long overdue modernization of our nuclear deterrent. Kyl and Perle write:

Robert Gates, who is now Mr. Obama's own secretary of defense, warned in a speech last October that in the absence of a nuclear modernization program, even the most modest of which Congress has repeatedly declined to fund, "At a certain point, it will become impossible to keep extending the life of our arsenal, especially in light of our testing moratorium."

Kyl and Perle endorse the recommendations of a bipartisan Congressional Commission co-chaired by William Perry, Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, and James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Nixon and Ford, which called for urgent funding for modernization and testing of our nuclear deterrent in a report released in May. They write:

There are some who believe that failing to invest adequately in our nuclear deterrent will move us closer to a nuclear free world. In fact, blocking crucial modernization means unilateral disarmament by unilateral obsolescence. This unilateral disarmament will only encourage nuclear proliferation, since our allies will see the danger and our adversaries the opportunity.

Under President Obama's current policies, America will reach the point where it has reduced its nuclear deterrent to 1500 warheads and will not be sure which and how many of those will work, while Iran, China and others are producing new nuclear weapons.

Kyl and Perle conclude:

There is a fashionable notion that if only we and the Russians reduced our nuclear forces, other nations would reduce their existing arsenals or abandon plans to acquire nuclear weapons altogether. This idea, an article of faith of the "soft power" approach to halting nuclear proliferation, assumes that the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be curtailed or abandoned in response to reductions in the American and Russian deterrent forces -- or that India, Pakistan or China would respond with reductions of their own. This is dangerous, wishful thinking…. A robust American nuclear force is an essential discouragement to nuclear proliferators; a weak or uncertain force just the opposite."

While Bush's foreign policy doctrine of promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East is still working to produce huge victories for America and the West, Obama's foreign policy doctrine of negotiating deals with the world's dictators, combined with his flower power nuclear disarmament philosophy, may be the gravest threat America faces today.

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About the Author
Peter Ferrara is Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy at the Heartland Institute, General Counsel of the American Civil Rights Union, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and Senior Policy Advisor on Entitlements and Budget Policy at the National Tax Limitation Foundation. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush.