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After The Bush Doctrine

The fight for Republican foreign policy.

On the evening of January 29, 2002, President Bushstrode to the podium in Congress to deliver the State of the Union address. His speech was a triumph of triumphalism, with roars and applause punctuating nearly every sound bite. Fresh off a quick and massive victory in Afghanistan, Bush outlined his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Speaking firmly, almost with an auditory swagger, Bush told the public that the war on terrorism had given the United States a new mission. We would hunt down terrorists, destroy regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction, and spread freedom throughout the world. He called for the biggest increase in defense spending in decades. And he promised that he would never leave the United States vulnerable, warning, "I will not wait on events while dangers gather."

In subsequent speeches and documents--most notably, the National Security Strategy released in September 2002--the president outlined what came to be known as the Bush Doctrine. According to the doctrine, the United States would increasingly rely on unilateral power--or so-called coalitions of the willing--to achieve its aims in foreign affairs, rather than looking first to the post-World War II global institutions it had embraced for decades. The United States would increasingly use preemptive force, rather than negotiation, to counter the threat from weapons of mass destruction and rogue regimes. Finally, the United States would place a higher priority on promoting market-oriented democracies around the world as a means of strengthening states whose weaknesses provided a harbor for terrorists.

The Bush Doctrine reached the height of its influence with the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. But the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the rise of a seemingly unexpected insurgency sapped much of its power. Four years after his 2002 State of the Union, the president sounded a strikingly different tone. Speaking before an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., in December 2005, Bush had lost some of his bluster. Much of the prewar intelligence on Iraq was wrong, he admitted, and Iraq would continue to suffer cataclysms of violence. Bush then appealed to history to look on his doctrine kindly, as if acknowledging that he had failed to sell it to his contemporaries: He invoked Harry S Truman. According to Time, Bush had been reading up on the president from Independence, Missouri, who also faced sharp public disapproval during his second term. Truman, Bush noted to the audience, left office unpopular but found his reputation restored by history for refusing to abandon the reconstruction of postwar Japan. "Harry Truman stuck to his guns," Bush said.

For four years after the Bush Doctrine's inception, the GOP had maintained impressive intraparty unity on foreign policy, uniting Christian social conservatives, neoconservatives, traditional realists, and libertarian-minded business Republicans. This was the result of many factors, including Bush's immense personal popularity, a rally-round-the-flag effect from the war on terrorism, the predominance of Iraq over all other foreign policy issues, and the fact that moderates in the Bush administration, such as Colin Powell, were marginalized within the bureaucracy.

But, now, other schools of foreign policy thought are emerging within the GOP. "The Republican consensus on foreign policy has really fallen apart," says Mark Rozell, an expert on the conservative movement at George Mason University. "With the war going so badly, it leads to more [infighting]." Pragmatic Republicans have realized that the Bush Doctrine cannot be easily applied to other foreign policy crises, such as Iran, and potential 2008 presidential candidates have begun thinking through their foreign policy positions. Even the Bush administration's iron internal discipline has rusted, and moderates have grown more powerful. Inside the administration, says one former official, there is a level of combat over foreign policy that did not exist in the last four years, as hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney find they can no longer silence dissenters.

What emerges is unlikely to be either the neoconservatism embraced by Bush administration purists or the realism that has traditionally been its counterpoint. Instead, says John Hulsman, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, there will be a struggle for a new direction, one that acknowledges Bush's democratizing vision but incorporates lessons from the previous eight years. Michael Desch, an expert on conservative foreign policy at Texas A&M, agrees: "Someone in 2008 will have to find some balance." Let the games begin.

Within the party, there are now three emerging camps battling over post-Bush foreign policy. Inside the administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to forge a new direction that steps back from the unilateralism and ad hoc coalition-building of the 2002 National Security Strategy without abandoning the document's principles. "We have to deal with the world as it is, but we don't have to accept the world as it is," Rice has said, a statement that differentiates her from the president, who sometimes seems unwilling to even deal with the world as it is. Rice's vision has evolved into something between her previously realist emphasis on great power relations and the importance of national sovereignty--"I am a realist," she bluntly told National Review in 1999--and the president's transformationalism, which holds that it is more important for the United States to change and improve the world than to respect state borders.

Rice's approach, which essentially accepts the president's goals but not the means of his first term, has three main components. First, the United States cannot discard multilateralism, as the Bush Doctrine suggests. Rather, Washington must revamp alliances and institutions to better fit America's worldview. Second, American diplomats, rather than simply observing and reporting on politics abroad, as traditional realists like Rice's mentor, Brent Scowcroft, might have them do, should act almost like activists, working to transform the societies of even close U.S. allies. Rice has put meat onto this idea of transformational diplomacy, recently announcing that she was shifting diplomats from developed nations to emerging democracies and establishing new one-man posts in important places like Medan, Indonesia. She has also talked tough to friendly countries like Egypt, which she openly rebuked--in front of the Egyptian foreign minister--for arresting opposition leader Ayman Nour. Finally, Rice recognizes that the United States is the world's most powerful moral force and that tarnishing its image--by permitting torture, for example--diminishes Washington's ability to do good. "We care about values, we care about principle," Rice told The Washington Post last year. But we must "take policies that are rooted in those values and make them work on a day-to-day basis."

In part, Rice just has a stronger belief in diplomacy than the neoconservatives, a belief strengthened by her move to Foggy Bottom. (Cabinet officials tend to take on the character of their bureaucracies.) As administration biographer James Mann has noted, Rice has surrounded herself with people, such as Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick, who came of policy-making age in the late '80s and early '90s--a decade or two later than Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. As opposed to the era of detente and the Iranian hostage crisis, when U.S. preeminence was under siege, it was a time, Mann wrote last year, "When policymakers saw firsthand how the U.S. could, through negotiations, bring about far-reaching changes. Those who became involved in foreign policy at that time could afford to take U.S. military predominance for granted and rely on diplomacy to reshape the world."

And, unlike Powell, Rice can actually implement her ideas. The deterioration of Iraq has reduced the appetite for more military adventures. Furthermore, Rice has a close relationship with President Bush.

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The hawks have been weakened in other ways as well. Though Democrats fought the transfer of John Bolton from the State Department to the United Nations, having Bolton out of the interagency process has smoothed the way for Rice. Meanwhile, says James Dobbins, a former administration envoy to Afghanistan, the rise of career civil servants within the Pentagon has tamped down the ideological fervor at Defense. Paul Wolfowitz, formerly the department's number-two, has been replaced by Gordon England, whom Dobbins calls "a smooth, competent manager, rather than someone like Wolfowitz." And the hawks have hurt themselves, too. One former official notes that, after Rumsfeld gave a speech in Singapore last June implicitly questioning the wisdom of engagement with China, experts inside and outside the administration asked him what he would do instead. He didn't have an answer, the former official says.

Perhaps most important, Rice is directing policy at State with a strong hand--a sharp contrast from her management of the National Security Council, which was criticized by many (including me) as ineffective. "She has surrounded herself with a lot more like-minded people [than Powell]," explains former State Department Policy Planning aide Stewart Patrick. And, "at lower levels, a lot of people at State feel more cut out of the process." Rice, unlike Powell, does not brief the deputy assistant secretaries--relatively high-ranking officers--on meetings of administration principals, according to another former State official. Powell's greater tolerance for dissent allowed for creative thinking but also undermined State in its dealings with the more disciplined Pentagon. By contrast, Patrick says, now "the message [within State] is very controlled, so they have a more common front when they approach the interagency."

Rice has used all this leverage to take more control of foreign policy. In the first Bush administration, hawks prevented State Department envoy James Kelly from doing more than reading prepared statements to Pyongyang's diplomats in the six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear program. But Rice, who is skeptical enough of the North Koreans to assuage the president's concerns about Kim Jong Il, has won the freedom from Bush to push real negotiations with the North Koreans--and she has successfully convinced them to commit publicly to dismantling their nuclear weapons program. On a trip to Europe in late autumn, Rice convinced European leaders to boost nato's presence in Afghanistan, even though she faced hostile questions on the continent over the CIA's policy of "extraordinary rendition." On China, Zoellick has led a fruitful, and blunt, dialogue with top Chinese leaders. Admitting that containing China was impossible, Zoellick said that the United States cannot "try to hold China at arm's length" and pushed to institutionalize new high-level bilateral dialogues with Beijing. Then Zoellick pivoted, telling the Chinese that, on certain issues--the trade deficit, for example--Chinese malfeasance will not be tolerated. And, on Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported in October that State proposed expanding diplomatic links with Tehran, and Rice subsequently told Congress that the administration would consider direct contacts with Iran--though, since then, the nuclear crisis has further deteriorated.

Outside the administration, some of Rice's ideas enjoy support. But, because Bush has built support within the party for transformationalism, realists who disparage democratization won't be able to cash in on Rice's rollback of GOP foreign policy thinking. As Scott McConnell of the paleoconservative American Conservative admits, "I don't see an institutional framework that has developed within the Republican Party for a true realist." At the Heritage Foundation, where many wonks chafe at the influence of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Hulsman says he and his colleagues are shopping for potential 2008 candidates and working for "a Truman moment," in which a different GOP foreign policy vision could shelve neoconservatism inside the party.

That candidate could be Senator Chuck Hagel, who has called for an exit strategy in Iraq, pushed for engaging Iran, made initial forays to Iowa and New Hampshire, and meets frequently with Colin Powell, an old friend. True, Hagel is something of a classical realist and might take a more skeptical stance toward, say, Israel, which Bush has ardently supported. But, like Rice, Hagel doesn't shy away from couching ideas in moral rhetoric, calling for an American "commitment to principle" overseas while also insisting that alliances and international institutions can bolster U.S. influence, not degrade it. Hagel also believes that losing the trust of the world only erodes America's moral force. As one Hagel associate says, the senator believes that "America is a city on a hill, but it doesn't [necessarily] come down and intervene in others' affairs."

Hagel is hardly the only GOP senator showing up in early primary states. In October, Sam Brownback visited New Hampshire to assess his viability in a 2008 run. The Kansas senator has said that his campaign would center on the moral and religious issues that have always animated his politics. That focus has led Brownback to embrace foreign policy priorities that differ from Bush's. The president's religiosity, whatever flourishes it may lend his rhetoric, does not necessarily translate into a focus on spiritual issues abroad, but rather what the president sees as a moral approach to more traditional threats, such as rogue states. By contrast, Brownback's evangelical background and current conservative Catholicism (he converted in 2002, while in office) leads him to focus more specifically on promoting religious freedom abroad. His other foreign policy priorities flow from that.

A Brownback associate says the senator's foreign policy will center on preserving religious freedom and addressing suffering so horrific that truly moral people cannot ignore it, including the suffering caused by HIV and other infectious diseases, human trafficking, and sex trafficking. Brownback will tie these topics into Americans' image of their country, says the associate, so that seemingly alien issues resonate with the GOP base. Brownback will "use these to make people think, `What kind of America do we want?'" says one congressional staffer. "It's not always that he makes a case that trafficking is dangerous to the U.S., but that [fighting it] reflects the kind of America you want to live in."

Brownback's vision would be a radical break from many elements of conservatism, especially realism, which has traditionally downplayed substate or nonstate threats like global disease. Even the more interventionist neoconservatives have focused on state threats to U.S. primacy, not global economic and social forces--sometimes to their peril, since, even after September 11, some hawks in the administration were trying to shift the focus from a nonstate threat, Al Qaeda, to a state threat, Iraq. And nearly all Republicans now support the idea, enunciated in the Bush Doctrine, that promoting market-oriented democracies around the world will foster peace. But, by focusing on some of the problems raised by globalization, Brownback implicitly questions whether capitalism, absent other policy initiatives, can resolve certain moral challenges.

In fact, says longtime Republican foreign policy consultant Richard Burt, Brownback's vision could bring him closer to the Democratic Party of the '90s, when foreign policy revolved around issues like human rights and infectious disease. (Some of Brownback's allies on issues like trafficking and disease have been those liberals, like the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who are highly skeptical of the human toll of globalization.) But, unlike Bill Clinton, who saw American leadership of world institutions like the United Nations as the best way to handle transnational threats, Brownback, though respectful of international organizations, is more willing to rely on ad hoc coalitions to achieve his aims. He has done so on Sudan, for example, where Christian conservatives partnered closely with African American groups to raise its profile in the news media. And, unlike Clinton, whose globalization rhetoric had only a limited moral and religious component, Brownback's ideas center on using U.S. power to make global integration more moral--even if that means emphasizing areas of the world with less obvious strategic importance, such as Africa.

Brownback has already begun to act on his vision. In 2004, he led efforts to pass the North Korea Human Rights Act, which formally put Pyongyang's human rights record on Washington's agenda. Brownback talked about the moral basis for the bill and how it reflected America's best image of itself. He also offered a security rationale for the legislation, comparing Pyongyang today to Moscow in the '80s, when Ronald Reagan's tough language helped foster the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States was "condemning [the Soviet Union] or calling it an evil empire, and this regime in North Korea remains evil," Brownback told the Los Angeles Times. Similarly, on Sudan, and in other parts of the Muslim world, Brownback has argued that advocating religious freedom not only reflects America's moral values, but also helps halt the spread of radical Islam.

Though some Republican analysts view his 2008 candidacy as a long shot, Brownback's moralism has won him support from social conservatives, human rights activists, and even moderates who respect his advocacy. Rice's principled neorealism won't fly with social conservatives, who have strongly backed transforming the Middle East and intervening in humanitarian causes. "I don't think there is less enthusiasm in the evangelical community [after Iraq] for transforming the world," says Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. And politicians who reach out to social conservatives on only a few discrete issues, as Bush did in 2000, can no longer succeed. "Our focus groups show evangelical leaders have a big picture," Cizik says, adding that they want a candidate with a broad worldview who applies moral thought to many issues, from climate change to North Korea to immigration.

Even beyond social conservatives, Brownback has begun to make waves. Rolling Stone recently profiled him, highlighting his base of support. Brownback could win backing from American Jewish groups for his staunch support of Israel. And, on North Korea, Brownback has formed a coalition that includes not only social conservatives, but also more hard-nosed geopolitical strategists who see the potential for using human rights to unseat Kim Jong Il--the kind of alliance Bush was able to form in his first term.

In contrast with Hagel and Brownback are Republicans who would take foreign policy in a more nationalist direction. This group includes Senators George Allen and Jon Kyl--both respected foreign policy voices and both potential presidential candidates--who have less tolerance for the moral and transnational issues pushed by Brownback and do not see the need for the multilateralism advocated by Rice. Instead, they focus on state threats and solutions to those threats that the United States can implement unilaterally. That is why one of the nationalists' top security issues, particularly in the '90s, was missile defense.

But, today, the nationalists are concerned chiefly with trade, on which they harbor a degree of protectionism, and immigration, which they would like to curtail severely. Despite occasional deviations, such as the 2002 steel tariffs, Bush and close allies like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tend to take orthodox positions on free trade. Indeed, the Bush Doctrine dubs trade and the creation of market economies abroad essential, and Frist was rated a "free trader" by the libertarian Cato Institute. Bush's immigration initiative, meanwhile, centers on a guest-worker program that essentially grants amnesty to migrants who entered the country illegally. Free trade and open immigration are supported by the party's pro-business faction, as well as by moderates like Hagel and Rice.

This leaves a gap that either Kyl or Allen could fill by appealing to growing public anti-immigration sentiment and economic insecurity. Marshall Wittman, a former staffer for John McCain who now works at the Progressive Policy Institute, says there's room within the GOP for a nationalist who will "take a position more skeptical of the guestworker program." And several congressional staffers say that, in the wake of this summer's furor over the potential Chinese purchase of U.S. oil company Unocal, members of Congress increasingly complain the White House has been too lenient on trade issues with China.

On immigration, one GOP foreign policy specialist with close knowledge of both senators says that Kyl is "more inclined to creating a framework for immigration before we talk about letting people in." Indeed, in sharp contrast to McCain--who favors finding a way for illegal immigrants to works toward full citizenship--Kyl, his fellow senator from Arizona, has proposed an initiative that would tighten border security and force foreign workers to return home before they could apply to work in the United States. This is the opposite of Bush's idea, which would allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status while simultaneously trying to regulate new immigration and bolster security. Meanwhile, several GOP strategists say that, in the run-up to the 2006 and 2008 elections, Allen is also likely to make opposition to liberal guest-worker programs a centerpiece of his agenda. Allen, says Robert Holsworth of Virginia Commonwealth University, "will be much more nationalist on immigration and trade than Bush."

But nationalists like Kyl and Allen differ from paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, who espouse a xenophobic isolationism. GOP consultants say that, because the party needs the Latino vote--a constituency courted by Bush--it would be difficult for Buchanan or firebrand Representative Tom Tancredo to move the party in a completely nativist direction. Indeed, these new nationalists express skepticism of trade or immigration without blaming immigrants or foreign workers for America's economic problems. They do this, says one congressional staffer, by emphasizing the security benefits of tougher immigration restrictions, arguing that open borders could contribute to terrorism, rather than the ways in which immigration undermines America's economy and culture, as paleocons do.

This approach applies to trade as well. Kyl and Allen couch their trade initiatives in mercantilist security rhetoric, rather than the winners-and-losers-of-globalization rhetoric favored by leftist critics of trade and the job-loss critique offered by paleocons. This framing resonates with two groups of Republicans: economic protectionists and security hawks. In mid-November, Allen quietly signed a letter to Bill Frist threatening to block budget negotiations if Congress repealed the Byrd Amendment, a protectionist measure that the World Trade Organization has declared illegal. And Allen has taken the lead of the hawkish Senate Taiwan Caucus and has used his position on the Foreign Relations Committee to argue that free trade with China, and China's consequent intellectual property violations and state interference in its economy, are harming U.S. high-tech research and America's search for energy resources, both vital to U.S. security. Along similar lines, Kyl has questioned the conventional wisdom that, since China was granted permanent normal trade relations in 2002, Washington cannot step back from growing economic integration with Beijing. At a mid-2005 congressional hearing on U.S.-China relations, Kyl demanded that Bush officials enunciate specific steps to punish China, and he questioned the administration's inaction on Beijing's "violation of rules."

The growth of these three schools of thought, however, does not mean the Bush Doctrine is dead; true believers remain in the party and in the administration itself. Cheney still has the president's ear, and he doesn't back down easily--he replaced former confidante I. Lewis Libby with the equally hard-line David Addington. Bush himself never publicly wavers from the idea of transforming the Middle East, and the new National Intelligence Strategy, released in October, again enshrines preemption and democracy promotion as U.S. policy. More broadly, neoconservatives have become deeply ingrained within the administration. The powerful American Enterprise Institute (AEI), once home to a broad range of Republicans, is increasingly dominated by neoconservative thinkers. Meanwhile, the Project for the New American Century, which was one of the earliest advocates of military action against Iraq, has begun to wind down, having served its purpose of injecting neoconservatism into the GOP bloodstream.

And then there is McCain, probably the best chance for believers in the 2002 National Security Strategy to keep their vision alive. Ironically, despite his past clashes with the Bush court, McCain is probably the truest heir to Bush's foreign policy doctrine. Unlike Rice, McCain does not blend realism and transformationalism; his democratizing instincts run deep. In the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, it was McCain who talked of democratization and preemption, focusing on the idea of "rogue-state rollback." In a recent speech at AEI, it was McCain who not only refused the idea of an exit strategy for Iraq, but also called for at least 10,000 more troops on the ground. "The promotion of democracy has been central to McCain, going back a decade. I'd be surprised if he downplayed it in any way," says one Republican strategist.

McCain hews closer to Bush in other ways as well. Unlike the nationalists or even Brownback, McCain is as pure a free trader as the president. Indeed, McCain has enjoyed a 100 percent rating from the Cato Institute, topping even Frist, and he was an advocate of nafta and a skeptic of offshore tax breaks. What's more, unlike Rice, McCain tends to be more skeptical of international institutions and multilateralism. He has vociferously criticized the United Nations: In the '90s, McCain supported paying dues to the United Nations only after significant reforms, and he voted against the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. More recently, McCain prodded the White House to take an extremely tough stance on Iran. And, unlike Brownback, he tends to be skeptical of religious and moralist foreign policy that emphasizes spiritual issues abroad, especially when it focuses on regions of the world not germane to core U.S. interests.

In a presidential campaign, selling a continuation of the Bush Doctrine to a Republican base scarred by Iraq and moving toward nationalism might seem a tall order. McCain's personal popularity could help him during the Republican primaries, but Richard Burt, the veteran GOP foreign policy analyst, says there are other ways the senator could tweak the Bush Doctrine to make it saleable, while remaining a committed proponent. McCain will have to talk about democratization as part of a larger strategy that appeals to Republicans, Burt says--a strategy of "maintenance of regional balances and nonproliferation--and, in that process, you can nudge peaceful change [in the Middle East] along toward greater openness." But, unless he, too, wants to rely on the public's memory of Truman's success in Japan, he'll have to fight for it.

By Joshua Kurlantzick