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Obama and the Reagan Doctrine

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In his debate with John McCain, Barack Obama's attempted to portray the Bush administration as a complete failure both in domestic and foreign policy. This argument, however, is running into one big problem: Bush's Iraq policy appears to be succeeding.


How embarrassing! Well, at least the Democrats can try to make sure that no one finds out about this. Obama attempted to change the subject by saying that Afghanistan, not Iraq, is the central front of the war on terror. But Afghanistan was merely the launching pad for 9/11. The terrorists went to Afghanistan because they got rent-free terrorist training facilities. None of the hijackers or their planners actually came from Afghanistan. Every single one of them was from the Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Moreover, Afghanistan has only minor strategic significance compared to Iraq. Iraq’s neighbors include Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Islamic radicals, who have controlled Iran for a generation, fully understand the importance of winning a second major state in the Middle East. With Iran and Iraq in their control, they can then turn their sights to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No wonder Bin Laden and his associates have declared Iraq the central front of the war on terror, the launching pad for a new world war. Obama, by contrast, still regards the Taliban as the vanguard of global jihad. This shows Obama as being both naïve and out of date.

During his foreign trip a few weeks ago, Obama tried to take advantage of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's statement that America should work out a withdrawal plan for Iraq. Obama triumphantly declared that now is the time for Iraqis to work out their own destiny. Obama failed to mention, however, that if he had been president, Iraq would still be ruled by Saddam Hussein. The only destiny that Obama would have consigned Iraq to is oppression, torture, and mass graves.


To understand what is going on in Iraq, we must distinguish between two approaches: the Bush doctrine and the Reagan doctrine. Unlike the Bush doctrine--which seemed to require invasion and occupation--the Reagan doctrine was one of assisted non-intervention. Reagan believed that people in foreign countries should fight for their own freedom. We do not fight for them. But if they are willing to fight, we are willing to help. And so in Afghanistan, in Nicaragua, in Angola and to some extent in Ethiopia, Reagan supported rebels who sought liberation from Marxist tyranny. For intance, Reagan supplied Stinger missiles to the Afghani mujaheedin who were fighting to repel the Soviet invasion of that country. Reagan did not, however, send large numbers of American troops to Afghanistan.

Now in Bush's defense it should be said that the Reagan doctrine could not have worked in Iraq. Unlike in Afghanistan, which the mujaheedin turned into a Soviet "bleeding wound," there was no Iraqi resistance that could substantially threaten Saddam Hussein. Bush's choice was either for America to get rid of Hussein, or to leave Hussein in power. But from the beginning the administration understood that, even in Iraq, over time the Bush doctrine must metamorphose into the Reagan doctrine.

It has taken longer than expected. But that's because Saddam's Baathist minority--let's call them the Saddamites--ran not only the government but the entire society. So it has been quite a process to train a Shia elected government to learn to govern a nation in which they were victimized for a quarter century. Slowly, however, the Iraqis have been rising to the task, assisted by able U.S. forces under the competent leadership of General Petraeus.


So now, finally, Iraqis are getting to the position where they can defend their own country and fight for their own freedom. This is what "success" means in Iraq: not the end of the insurgency, or the end of terrorism, but a situation in which Iraqis take the helm and America moves into a supporting role. Of course America is going to get out of Iraq. The only question is whether we will leave recklessly, precipitously, with the risk of escalating violence and chaos and perhaps even a return of the Saddamites. This seems to be the approach the Obama Democrats want. The other option is to leave cautiously, deliberately, in a way that leaves Iraq a self-governing society, the only pro-American Muslim democracy in the Middle East.

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