President George W. Bush will go down in American history as one of America's greatest presidents. I stated this at the height of his popularity after 9/11 and at the depths of his unpopularity in the middle of Iraq. It was true on 9/12/2001 and it has equal, if not greater, veracity today.
Bush's unwillingness to speak on foreign policy, a topic so critical during his administration, makes the news articles concerning his remarks this month at The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Fund all the more noteworthy. News reports quoted the president commenting on Iran. (It should be noted that any recording of the speech was prohibited, as Bush continues to maintain caution over criticizing the current president.)
Reports from the speech have focused on two statements: "The United States' foreign policy must be clear eyed; and understand that until the form of government changes in Iran, it is unlikely that their intentions toward Israel will change," and regarding recent diplomatic moves with Iran to "not believe in Iran's peaceful intentions until they can irrevocably prove that it's true."
This short quotation is, in a nutshell, the essence of the Bush Doctrine. Relations and diplomacy with Iran are not simply a quantitative equation about uranium enrichment and the number of centrifuges. Bush's statement reminds us that there was a national security strategy under his administration and it was based on the fundamental premise that world affairs cannot be advanced until democracy is advanced. This is democracy in its full comprehensive sense, not merely having elections, but having a true civil society based on liberty under law.
In visionary tones, Bush's speech to the World Economic Forum of 2008 reverberates five years later: "We must stand with the good and decent people of Iran and Syria, who deserve so much better than the life they have today." There will be no change in the fundamental and long lasting relationship between the United States and these two countries until there is both democracy and civil society in both. There may be pauses in the violence, there may be moments of thaw, but there will always be a state of hostility and terrorism abroad, and human rights abuses internally, until these regimes are consigned to the ash heap of history.
It is the West's penchant for worshiping at the altar of "the deal," "the agreement," "the negotiation" that is the problem; the intractability of these dictatorships is so rigid, that any deal, some deal, is better than nothing. It is a prescription that is not only a disaster for us, but disaster for the populations sentenced to such tyranny in those countries. It is neither moral nor just for the United States to engage in deal-making with evil regimes that abuse their own populations, and threaten our allies, like Israel, directly. This was what the Bush administration understood and acted upon.
There was another part of Bush's speech that has received lesser attention, which according to news reports addressed the current trajectory of the United States in foreign affairs as "lurching towards isolationism." Bush was fearful that America was giving up its duty to "stand up for peace and democracy." This was Bush's goal while he was president; it was a goal whose roots go back to the founding of the country and a goal that has echoed off many of the men who have occupied the White House from both parties, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Unlike the current administration, the Bush years crystallized behind a combination of realist and liberal actions and values: preemption, prevention, primacy and democracy promotion. It was clear, visionary, and just. Bush created it as a battle cry that chose war in order to bequeath a lasting and real peace – not a truce, not an armistice and not a false appeasement to tyranny.
Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, former Fulbright scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and author of "The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future," among other books.You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.