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The NIE and Remembering Things Lost
The NIE and Remembering Things Lost
I find it surprising that nearly every conservative commentator out there is decrying the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program.
Thursday, December 13,2007 01:55
by Shadi Hamid Democracy Arsenal

I find it surprising that nearly every conservative commentator out there is decrying the NIE on Iran"s nuclear program. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, the NIE actually confirms something that Republicans have often claimed: that the massive show of force in 2003 frightened other countries into giving up their nuclear programs, and forced a change of "good behavior." Libya is exhibit A, and is one of the few things that can be counted in the Bush administration"s almost nonexistent "win" column (but even that, in the final analysis, was far from a victory, since Libya has now been added to the much larger, nearly endless column of brutal dictatorships that we like or sort of like and that we provide moral, political, or military support to).

Anyway, let"s quickly backtrack to 2003. It"s worth remembering that, at this point, the Bush administration"s foreign policy was far from a failure. It"s difficult to imagine it now, but there was a time when it seemed like the administration might very well usher in a revolutionary shift in U.S. foreign policy, one that, while often quite frightening, also exhibited a number of commendable qualities, among them a willingness to discard a five-decade long bipartisan Middle East policy that had helped give rise to Islamic terrorism and extremism, an occasional but still impressive ability to engage in creative, long-term thinking on tough issues (the belief that democracy promotion was key to undermining the terrorist threat), and a willingness to experiment with innovative programming (MEPI and the Millennium Challenge Account). Although I personally don"t think it should be added to the list, I suppose there"s something to be said for how the use of force, in the right circumstances, may deter adversaries from engaging in risky, aggressive behavior.

All of which to say is that if things had had taken a different course from that point on, the Bush administration"s legacy could have been judged a mixed bag, one with both positive and negative elements. However, today, the verdict is and will be much harsher - that this administration, as far as foreign policy is concerned, is one of the worst in American history. The decline and fall of George W. Bush, then, is both tragic and somewhat vexing. As I"ve said before - and this may anger some - I remember telling one of my friends in Jordan in early 2005 (and, trust me, I hated saying it) that in 10 or 15 years, we will look back and we might have to admit to ourselves that the Bush administration was the best thing that happened to the Middle East. Yes, I know, it"s crazy.

But I think the general point holds - in the span of less than three years, the Bush administration went from being the "best thing" to being the worst thing that could have happened to the Middle East. It was a precipitous fall, and it"s worth remembering what we"ve lost in the process. The public appetite for a "revolutionary" foreign policy is all but gone. But a revolutionary foreign policy, at this time in our history, might very well have been what was needed. But, then again, after the disaster of the Bush administration, even a thoroughly mediocre foreign policy will seem revolutionary. And perhaps that will be enough.


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