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A Bush Doctrine, of Sorts

There are many theories bandied about describing a “Bush doctrine.” Some may argue such a term is oxymoronic, but to define the doctrine is not to suggest that it is coherent, strategic or that Bush is even in charge of it. Still, Bush is the man behind the teleprompter. To better understand the doctrine, it would be useful to determine whether it is primarily one man, a cabal or kind of junta behind the curtain operating the teleprompter, but certain patterns in foreign policy can still be pointed out. In the interest of brevity, that discordant collective policy will be referred to as doctrine.

One of the driving elements of the Bush doctrine is self-centered sentimentality. The Bush administration is notably concerned with foreign leaders’ loyalties not to the United States, but rather to itself. When Bush told the world that it is with us or against us, the “us” in that turn of phrase related to him, Cheney, et al, not the country as a whole. Take Pakistan. That country, it turns out, has been the globe’s lead nuclear proliferator. But Musharraf has done so much of the administration’s bidding that Pakistanis often refer to him as Busharraf. Bush, therefore, has put Musharraf squarely in the “with us” category, in keeping with his school-yard perception of the world.

In backing Musharraf, the Bush administration has trespassed the lofty principles it offered as its justification for invading Iraq: bringing democracy and stopping the potentially dangerous spread of weapons of mass destruction. Pakistan’s proliferation puts current and future Americans in potential danger, but he remains the administration’s Busharraf in Pakistan. And that, according to the Bush doctrine, is the prevailing consideration.

The administration also has unsentimental political reasons for sticking by its man in Pakistan. By continuing to back Musharraf, the Bushies are extending the political leadership of Musharraf. In doing so, the Bush administration hopes to have Osama delivered just in time for the November elections. Indeed, the Bush administration has taken Clintonian focus-group policy-making to its apogee. But the administration’s salivation at this prospect has affected its logic. Most serious observers of Pakistan believe the Musharraf regime, if it has information on where Osama is hiding, won’t be giving up this chip for the foreseeable future, for fear (probably founded) that it would subsequently lose its clout with Washington. Which is not to say that Musharraf has been such a bad leader for Pakistan and South Asian stability in the past couple of years. But the chances of Musharraf maintaining his “presidency” until Pakistan holds its 2007 National Assembly elections are looking increasingly poor.

The administration’s support for Musharraf is beginning to contradict the country’s desire for an elected ruler. And elections are the best chance for an orderly leadership succession in Pakistan–which is very much in America’s interests.

“I’ve always been troubled by [the Bush administration’s] dependance on a military leader,” said Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in an interview, adding that America’s singular dependance on Musharraf is having wide-ranging consequences for Pakistan and the region. But again, Musharraf is Bush’s man in Islamabad. One wonders just what Bush has nicknamed him. Perhaps the Big M. (Message to Musharraf, beware of Bush changing that nickname, it could augur a decline in appreciation, just ask Paul O’Neil.)

The administration’s decision to delay the signing of the agreed-upon free-trade agreement with Chile, which opposed the war, was part of that same small-minded sentimentality. (The administration didn’t sign until Chile removed its U.N. envoy, whom the Bushies had been complaining about.) The administration’s attempt to freeze out allies from the primary bidding process in Iraq was motivated by the same sentiment.

Bush & Co. subsequently backpedaled from that stance, after reality collided with their petulance. But the original policy was revealing. While some of the countries that were barred from the contract bidding are putting blood on the line in Afghanistan, others countries that have negligible strategic importance, have made no troop deployments and hold no meaningful ties with America were given full ability to bid. Just how this move could further national interests is far from clear.

If the term Bush doctrine is used often enough, the word doctrine will come to have new connotations. The Clinton administration injected its own ambiguity to our commonly understood definitions. It appears the Bush administration will do the same.

XIMENA ORTIZ is the recipient of the Pulliam Editorial Fellowship, and is writing a book about the policy repercussion of the Iraq war: “The War, According to the World.” She can be reached at:



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