The following is an excerpt from "Rogue Policy: Bush and Iran" (pp. 113-131) written by Michael Rubin for The Bush Leadership, the Power of Ideas, and the War on Terror (London: Ashgate, 2012) by David B. MacDonald, Dirk Nabers, and Robert G. Patman.
George W. Bush left office as among the most unpopular American presidents. Both Bush’s supporters and detractors can agree that his presidency was polarizing. For example, supporters like The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol criticized attempts at moderation by the president in 2005, while seeing how alluring accommodation could be: “It’s understandable that Bush would be tempted by such a strategy: Who wants to go down in history as a polarizing president?” Critics lambasted Bush foreign policy for its Manichaean outlook and unilateralism.1 Other detractors complained that officials like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld antagonized both allies and adversaries with blunt rhetoric. Together, critics say, the style and substance of Bush’s cowboy “with us or against us” positions caused Washington to hemorrhage international support in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. As Bush left office, international anti-Americanism was at record levels, even among America’s traditional allies.
Yet, even critics concede that the doctrine of preemption at the core of the 2002 National Security Strategy—the philosophical basis for the Iraq invasion—was not so much new as simply voiced too bluntly. As James Dobbins, a veteran diplomat and Bush’s first special envoy for Afghanistan\ who, after his retirement from government became a frequent critic of Bush’s foreign policy approach, remarked, “Pre-emption again was defensible as a last resort, as an option, but it’s very poor as a basis for declaratory policy.”
The critical reception Bush received is ironic, given the reality of Bush administration policies. Critics attack—and often cherry pick—Bush rhetoric to lambaste the president. However, critics often fail to recognize that the substance of Bush’s policy toward rogue regimes differed little from that of his predecessors. Examination of Bush’s approach toward the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ shows far more continuity with Bill Clinton’s approach than both his supporters and detractors accept. While Bush’s decision in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to invade Iraq polarized debate and defined his legacy, his policy toward the other two axes—Iran and North Korea—show far more continuity with Clinton than difference.
1See, for example, “America on the sidelines,” (editorial), The New York Times, July 29, 2001; and “Listen to Lugar: The senator, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, wants a change in course -- now. Bush should take heed,” (editorial), Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2007.