Following the liberation of Baghdad, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, “President George W. Bush has made a fatal change in the foreign policy of the United States. He has repudiated the strategy that won the Cold War—the combination of containment and deterrence … The Bush Doctrine reverses all that. The essence of our new strategy is military: to strike a potential enemy, unilaterally if necessary, before he has a chance to strike us.”
Bush had already answered this criticism before Schlesinger articulated it. Deterrence, he observed, was meaningless when dealing with “shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.” Containment was impossible “when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.” The Bush Doctrine was thus more than just a military strategy to pre-empt terrorist attacks. It was – as its critics protested — a political strategy of regime change which was designed to disarm terror-supporting states and create an international environment that would be inhospitable to terrorist agendas.
This was indeed a dramatic departure from past American policies in the Middle East, which had preferred “containment” to “liberation.” Traditional diplomacies tolerated repressive states focusing only on their external policies. During the Cold War this realpolitik had aroused the ire of the left, which was perennially outraged by Washington’s engagement with despotic rulers who supported America’s anti-Communist agendas. Thus, Washington’s defense of its authoritarian ally, the Shah of Iran had earned the passionate contempt of radicals and liberals alike.
The irony of the left’s complaints about this policy was that the Shah was in fact a modernizer who promoted the equality of women, and whose social progressivism was the principal cause of the Islamic revolution that overthrew him. President Jimmy Carter’s liberal aversion to the Shah’s regime helped to undermine its rule and pave the way for the Ayatollah Khomeni and the Islamic revolution that created the very enemies America faces today.
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