There are several points that need to be added to my last post. The first point was suggested by this excerpt from the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush back in October 2000 (and posted recently by Ben Young):
MODERATOR: New question. How would you go about as president deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force, generally?
BUSH: Well, if it's in our vital national interest, and that means whether our territory is threatened or people could be harmed, whether or not the alliances are--our defense alliances are threatened, whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force. Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear. Whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win. Whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped. And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy. I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.
Except for omitting Gen. Colin Powell's point about needing the support of the American people before committing American military force abroad, Bush's response followed the guidelines articulated in the Powell Doctrine. Powell and the Powell Doctrine were both casualties of the American invasion of Iraq. The argument in my last post was that failure in Iraq may well bring back not only the Powell Doctrine but the kind of skepticism about nation-building that Bush expressed so strongly before 9/11 when he and his advisors were following an "ABC" ("Anything But Clinton") foreign policy. (For what it's worth, Bush's approval rating currently stands at 42 percent; at the same point in his presidency, Clinton's approval rating was at 61 percent.) In fact, it seems almost certain that all serious presidential candidates in 2008 will be forced by events in Iraq to make statements very similar to the one Bush made about the use of force in the October 2000 debate.
It may well be that the United States will not even have the option of engaging in nation-building or even humanitarian intervention in the post-Iraq period. Tony Judt wrote recently ("The New World Order," The New York Review of Books, June 15, 2005, 18):
One implication of the shadow falling across the American republic is that the brief era of consensual international intervention is already closing. This has nothing to do with the contradictions or paradoxes of humanitarian undertakings. It is the consequence of the discrediting of the United States. Hard as it may be for Americans to grasp, much of the world no longer sees the U.S. as a force for good. It does the wrong things and has the wrong friends.
Whether a new "Iraq Syndrome" makes addressing the problems caused by weak states, failed states, and collapsed states (the problem is sufficiently widespread to invite efforts to distinguish degrees of corruption, rapacity, and futility) merely inexpedient from a domestic political standpoint or impossible from the standpoint of foreign policy, the impact on national (and international) security could be very damaging. One of the lessons of 9/11--and, before that, the East African embassy bombings and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing--is that failed states are a threat to security. Not only do they fail to protect their own citizens, thereby creating the conditions in which terrorism and ethnic conflict breed, they become hosts for terrorist training camps and other forms of lawlessness. Sometimes failed states welcome terrorists to come and stay awhile (Osama bin Laden built roads and other infrastructure in Sudan and Afghanistan during al Qaeda's sojourns there), but more often their inability to extend the rule of law throughout their territories constitutes a passive invitation for terrorists, drug traffickers, rebel forces, slave traders, and even modern-day pirates to set up shop.
It would be nice to think that the United Nations would be able to fill any void left by a United States left in the throes of an "Iraq Syndrome." After all, the U.N. has been able to bring peace and stability to places as diverse as El Salvador, Mozambique, and East Timor. But the U.N.'s ability to substitute for the United States as a nation-building presence in the world may depend on the true intentions of the Bush Administration and new U.N. ambassador John Bolton toward the organization. Many continue to believe that Bolton's true intent is to try and eviscerate the U.N. That, in combination with an American rejection of all forms of great power responsibility, would leave the world a very insecure place.