June 13, 2011 | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bush Foreign Policy Settles into Weird State of Denial

It's an alarming sign for U.S. foreign policy when Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden says, as he did last month on NBC's Meet the Press, that, personally, he believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but officially he stands by the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that maybe they aren't.

So America sails on, under the fiction that nothing dramatic need be done, despite Hayden's further warning that in Iran, “the development of fissile material, the development of delivery systems, continue apace.”

Likewise, the administration's special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz, warned in a Jan. 17 speech that the Six-Party Talks with North Korea have failed. That, too, was shrugged off by the administration as his personal opinion. His speech was briefly posted on the State Department Web site, then deleted.

In this final year of the Bush presidency, what was once a doctrine of preemption has given way to the weird presumption that threats that Washington does not officially acknowledge somehow won't hurt us. Nowhere is this approach more marked than at the State Department, whence Secretary Condoleezza Rice is betting her legacy – and the president's – on dreams of dialogue that have little to do with realities.

In Rice-world, North Korea's nuclear ventures can be stopped with Six-Party Talks, Iran's nuclear quest can be contained by U.N. resolutions, and peace in the Middle East can be built up by downplaying Palestinian terrorism in order to clinch the umpteenth “peace” deal between the Palestinians and Israelis.

These fantasies are a strange counterpoint to the surge in Iraq, where the administration has correctly understood that America must win. But the current Bush policy, with Rice working the pedals and levers, seems by now to be that Iraq will be the exception, not the rule. Taking the war on terror to Iraq and Afghanistan was the hallmark of the first Bush term. In its deterrent effects, this approach goes far to explain why America has for more than six years escaped another Sept. 11. But on other fronts, in this second Bush term, appeasement has become the mantra.

The regimes of North Korea and Iran are no less malign than when Bush correctly classed them in 2002 as charter members of the “axis of evil.” Nor has Saudi Arabia ceased its export of poisonous Wahhabi teachings. But from the White House, there is no more talk about regime change, or sending murderous ideologies to history's “unmarked graveyard of discarded lies.” The thrust today is to send aid to the government of North Korea, slap Iran on the wrist, haggle with Palestinian terror-sponsors, sell arms to the Saudis, and engage them all in the language of euphemisms.

Thus, for instance, does the administration now seem wedded to the February 2007 North Korea disarmament deal, in which, as it turns out in practice, Pyongyang promises and America delivers. North Korea, now way past the December 2007 deadline for making a full declaration of its entire nuclear program, has just conducted new missile tests. The response from the White House – as if Kim Jong Il had spilled his cognac – is that such behavior is “not constructive.”

Iran's rulers have abetted terrorism in Iraq, threatened to annihilate Israel, thumbed their noses at every U.N. resolution meant to stop their nuclear projects, and last year played a humiliating game of catch-and-release with British hostages – for which Tehran paid no penalty. The White House response has been to default via the State Department to the United Nations, where last month the Security Council, having explicitly nixed the use of force against Iran, added a third Iran sanctions resolution to the two that have failed already.

These are the policies of Sept. 10. Once again, America is inviting its enemies to miscalculate that this is a country that will not defend its own interests. That's not the way to create a legacy of peace. It's the road to the makings of a wider war.

Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Iran North Korea