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Experts Assess Legacy of "Bush Doctrine"

Analysts have begun to speculate on the historical impact of U.S. President George W. Bush's stated policy of refusing to distinguish terrorist threats from their state backers and dealing with new threats before they fully arise, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Feb. 12, 2004).

The president first articulated the policy, which would ultimately be known as the "Bush Doctrine," in a 2002 speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act," he said then (Donna Cassata, Associated Press I/Google News, Dec. 9).

The doctrine has faced increasing scrutiny since that time, due partly to the U.S. failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration claimed to exist in Iraq before leading an invasion of the Middle Eastern state in 2003 (see GSN, Dec. 8). Bush defended the policy in another speech at West Point today (Ben Feller, Associated Press II/Google News, Dec. 9).

"The major war to come of the doctrine was Iraq and that was less than a success," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history and public affairs professor. Zelizer contended that even the Bush administration has abandoned the doctrine by negotiating with U.S. antagonists such as North Korea.

Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione characterized the policy as "a complete failure," arguing that Iraq, Iran and North Korea all pose more trouble for the United States than they did at the beginning of Bush's term.

However, Heritage Foundation defense expert James Carafano said the doctrine did not mark a significant departure from earlier U.S. policy. "The Bush Doctrine was incredibly mainstream," he said.

Political opponents prevented the administration from advancing its goals under the policy, Carafano contended, comparing the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War.

"Criticizing [Vietnam] became OK because of Tet," he said. "Criticizing Iraq became OK because of no WMDs" (Cassata, Associated Press I).

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