Second terms, it is said, are characterized by a loss of energy. But most supporters of this president and vice president disagreed vigorously when presented with prognostications of early lame duckery for George W. Bush. This president, they argued, has a vision born after 9/11 and hued to consistently for the last four years. He is a revolutionary, in his way, and revolutionaries do not limp or quack.
But we were wrong. The Bush revolution has indeed lost its energy. The evidence is widespread and disturbing. Whether on the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation, Iraqi constitution-building, or Libyan dictatorship, the rhetoric retains its ring, but it does not resonate through the Department of State, let alone through the region.
To be fair, Iran has been a thorny problem from the outset. Despite stirring rhetoric from the president, his administration has been strangely reluctant to do more than talk about the evils of the mullahs. When the president decided to lean on the soft diplomacy of the so-called EU-3 (France, Germany and the UK), some were perplexed. But given the distractions of Iraq, perhaps it was the path of least resistance.
At least the administration did not sell itself cheap: in exchange for solid support of the EU-3 desire for dialogue and deal-making, the United States insisted that when Iran violated the terms of its deal to cease uranium enrichment (as even the Europeans allowed they would), the Europeans would stand firm in the IAEA Board of Governors (BOG) and refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council.
As we now know, that did not happen. On the contrary, the United States and the EU-3 succeeded in rounding up a majority in the BOG for a referral. But in the face of Russian and Chinese opposition, and weak knees in certain European capitals (Berlin), the US agreed to merely threaten Iran with referral in the September vote.
The lesson to Iran is clear: there will be no serious consequences to your violation of nuclear safeguards. As Syria, Egypt and others in the Arab world contemplate Iran’s fate, they have not missed the message that they too can pursue nuclear weapons with impunity.
The problem in Iraq is more subtle. Because of the ongoing violence, and an increasingly obvious desire to exit Iraq, Bush administration officials have urged Iraqis to move forward with their political process in the face of confusion and disarray. The Iraqi constitution, arguably one of the most important documents for the future of the Middle East, was hustled along. Attempts by Iraqi drafters to slow deliberations and wrangle through problems were nixed by interfering US Embassy officials.
The constitution itself is a flawed document, leaving unresolved vital questions of power- sharing that are evident in both its definition of federalism and the structure of the government. So murky are the things left "to be defined by law" that the foundation is laid for a one-party state if someone emerges with the mandate to exploit it.
Short shrift has been given to the necessary process of educating Iraqis about their rights. When the Iraqi people vote on October 15, most will have no clue how the new constitution differs from the old.
The lesson from Iraq is clear: the United States’ staying power is waning, and the commitment to setting in place the fundamental building blocks of democracy is weak. For Syrians who hate their regime, for Egyptians who consider how to proceed in loosening their president’s tight grip on power, there is a warning in the air. When the going gets tough, the Americans will waver.
One of the starkest betrayals of the ideals of the Bush doctrine is in Libya. In the wake of the Iraq war, Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi calculated that the surest way to elude American gunsights would be to rid himself of the nuclear, missile and chemical weapons programs that had seemed to get Saddam Hussein in so much trouble. This he did, and in an admirably thorough fashion. And it was all he did.
Despite frequent protestations from Washington that the United States cares not only for security but also about the well-being of the Libyan people, in fact the opposite is manifest. Qadhafi has systematically suppressed opposition, torturing and imprisoning critics. This disgraceful behavior has excited barely a murmur from the administration, and senior officials visit regularly and dispense US assistance. Such affirmation of Qadhafi’s draconian rule casts a shadow over the idealistic utterances of the president.
Perhaps the president of the United States is tired. He has good reason to be; but if fatigue results in the dilution of the central tenets of what is now known as the Bush doctrine, then one must question why it was that Bush so desired reelection in 2004. Mixed signals and weakness from the United States throughout the 1990s encouraged al Qaeda in its attacks. We should not fool ourselves that this time will be different.