Yesterday, Prof. John Mearsheimer Ph.D ’80 spoke about the failure of the Bush Administration’s policy in Iraq in his speech, “Why the Bush Doctrine Crashed and Burned in Iraq.”
Mearsheimer said that the Bush doctrine was predicated on a neo-conservative vision of foreign policy, one that failed as it discounted the power of nationalism.
He began by saying that Iraq will “go down as one of the two great strategic disasters in U.S. history,” Vietnam being the first, and then proceeded to outline the misconceptions that contributed to the creation of the Bush doctrine.
The Bush administration, Mearsheimer said, falsely perceived the nature of the threat to national security by considering terrorist networks, such as Al Qaeda and Hamas, and rogue states, such as Iran and Syria, to be connected in a “seamless web.” While Mearsheimer deemed terrorism a threat in itself, he emphasized that rogue states in the Middle East pursuing nuclear weapons pose an equally potent threat to the United States. The Administration’s great fear was that such states would provide Al Qaeda with weapons.
It was this faulty view, according to Mearsheimer, that resulted in a doctrine with three main elements: unilateralism, Big-Stick diplomacy and regional transformation.
The first tenant, unilateralism, rested on the belief that the United States is so powerful militarily that allies and international institutions are “worse than useless,” he said.
This perception of the preeminence of the American military led to big-stick diplomacy, the willingness to use the military to shape the world in regards to American interests. Mearsheimer said that there are limits to what America can accomplish with its military, but that the Bush doctrine did not take this into account.
He said that the Administration instead believed in the neo-conservative view that “bandwagoning,” which is the idea that a large demonstration of force will make other nations comply, explains international relations.
John-David Brown ’09, a member of the Cornell Democrats, who said that many anti-war arguments are put forth by liberals, found Mearsheimer’s conservative view especially provocative. “I thought it was interesting to hear an anti-war perspective rooted in conservative, realist arguments and his argument that Bush represents neo-conservatives and not true conservatives was very unique,” he said.
According to this neo-conservative viewpoint, once Iraq was dealt with, Iran would end its aggressive stance; Mearsheimer said that big-stick diplomacy allows a country to disregard traditional diplomacy and act unilaterally.
Finally, Mearsheimer said that regional transformation was an incredibly important aspect of the Bush doctrine as he said that the Administration believed that the terrorists “hated us for who we are … therefore, we can change who we are, or we can change who they are.”
The Administration, he continued, was under the impression that once Iraq was a democracy, other nations in the region would slowly become democracies as well and that terrorism would cease to exist.
“Americans,” Mearsheimer said, “believe that democracy is the most powerful political ideology on the face of the earth. It is not, it is nationalism, which makes it impossible to occupy states in the Middle East.”
And it was because of the Doctrine’s disregard of nationalism that it failed, he said.
Mearsheimer said that, even before the invasion, he believed failure in Iraq was “not possible, but inevitable.”
“The idea that you can spread democracy was foolish,” he said, and continued to suggest that democracy might not always be a good idea.
He said Saudi Arabia is an example of when democracy in a country would be negative for the United States.
In his opinion, the current problems in Iraq cannot be solved through increased military involvement and that the best solution is withdrawal.
“Iraq was not only a strategic disaster. It is a moral disaster.”