Magazine article The American Conservative

Containing the Bush Doctrine

Magazine article The American Conservative

Containing the Bush Doctrine

Article excerpt

[Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror, Ian Shapiro, Princeton University Press, 208 pages]Containing the Bush Doctrine

IAN SHAPIRO, the Sterling professor of poUtical science at Yale University and director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, is a man skeptical of doctrinaire thinking, whether in the academy or in government. In Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory, a groundbreaking book he wrote with his colleague Donald Greene in 1994, Shapiro chaUenged the overly ambitious claims of proponents of this approach who attempted to reduce poUtical science to the assumptions of economics and the logic of mathematics.

In his latest book, Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror, Shapiro turns his critical eye from dogmatic thinking in the ivory tower to the Bush administration's doctrine of unilateral and offensive war against world terrorism. He rejects the president's claim that the war on terror can only be won by going on the attack, hunting down terrorists around the globe, toppling the dictators and rogue regimes that abet them, and implanting democracies in their place. Rather, he argues that the Cold War strategy of containment, suitably updated, not only provides a better strategy for winning the war, but is also more compatible with our own democratic values and institutions here at home.

This is a reasonable argument - particularly in hght of the fact that the Bush adnúnistrations approach is clearly not succeeding in Iraq. The much-touted surge seems thus far to be producing only a surge in American casualties. Afghanistan, which once seemed the poster chUd for the Bush Doctrine, now teeters on the brink of chaos, with the Taliban resurgent and our NATO allies increasingly skittish. The Taliban's old ally al-Qaeda - incomprehensibly still led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman alZawahiri almost six years after 9/1 1 - remains active around the world, from the caves of the Hindu Kush to the streets of Londonistan. Furthermore, you do not have to be a doctrinaire liber- tarian to fear that the Bush administration's methods in the war on terror seriously impinge on our liberties.

It's clearly time for a new strategy-or more accurately, a return to a tried and true approach - and Shapiro's call for a greater realism in American foreign policy in the "long war" is worth heeding. Containment, in Shapiro's formulation, is an approach to protecting American national security that, first, does not depend upon U.S. military supremacy, but rather relies on the combined power of allies and the natural advantages of staying on the defense. Second, a containment policy would be discriminant, not global, in the assessment of what interests we need to actively defend. Shapiro makes a compelling case that such as strategy is more likely to succeed in managing the threat from international terrorism without alienating the rest of the world through unilateralism and undermining our democratic poiltical system at home. Given the sensibility of his proposal and how few fellow travelers we have in the campaign to steer American foreign policy in a more sensible direction, I ought to rest content with a fulsome endorsement of the book.

But because Shapiro aims both to analyze the sources of the Bush Doctrine as well as nudge the next administration in a different direction, it is important to ask whether his diagnosis of the problem - Republican intellectual hegemony due to a the Democrats' lack of ideas - is sound and his prescription - a Democratic president animated by anew approach - is feasible. On both counts, I am skeptical.

The root of the problem, in Shapiro's reading, is that after 9/1 1 only the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies offered a coherent worldview that both explained why the attacks on the United States occurred - "they hate us because we're free" - and provided the core idea for future policies to prevent a repetition of them - "go on the offensive to spread democracy in the Middle East. …

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