July 27, 2006
Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia, Venezuela, and now Israel: At a moment when President Bush is facing an unusual combination of severe challenges to U.S. interests around the world, many conservatives are beginning to question his approach to foreign policy. George Will and William F. Buckley are among the leading conservative intellectuals who have lost all patience with Bush's neo-Wilsonian push for global democratization. The Washington Post details the complaints by many Republican legislators that Bush is being too timid on Iran and North Korea. Iran and North Korea have gleefully thumbed their nose at the world with their continued defiance on ballistic missiles and WMDs, and yet the United States has taken no serious action in response. To a large extent, the distancing from the White House by Capitol Hill Republicans is for political self-protection, as the latter grow anxious at the approach of the November elections.
Beyond that, however, is the growing realization that American foreign policy goals, as presently articulated, probably cannot be achieved with the means available at our government's disposal. Bush's push for democratization in the Middle East and elsewhere has ground to a virtual halt, with war-torn Lebanon being the most glaring example. Our military is badly overstretched in Iraq, our economy is struggling to absorb the oil price shock of the past year, and our diplomats are exhausted from countless hours of fruitless discussions with our allies in Europe and Asia. Unless I am mistaken, President Bush has not uttered the words "stay the course" in several months. My own view of U.S. prospects has become more sober in the last few months, but the gloom of Will, Buckley, and others like them may be premature. Politics has a fascinating tendency to sudden reversals of recent trends, and the White House may have been laying low in recent weeks to prepare for some surprise move to regain the strategic initiative.
Even if he does recover his footing in foreign policy, however, President Bush will still have to recalibrate our goals to reflect our diminished capacity to influence world events. This will be the biggest challenge yet faced by Condoleeza Rice: to apply her formidable brain power to the problem of how to neutralize the most pressing threats we face without risking even deeper commitment of U.S. military forces overseas, which we can ill afford. The patience of the American people is waning, and the risk of an isolationistic backlash is growing. I have a hunch the solution lies in greater use of intelligence operatives and elite special forces units.