SOTU Roundup: The Wall Street Journal

Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol explain how Bush II is different Bush I and Clinton:

The first Bush administration brought to Iraq a set of beliefs that prompted it to act aggressively in defense of America’s vital interest in Kuwait, but also left it wary of toppling Saddam Hussein and indifferent to the fate of his victims. The men who decided on the aims of the Gulf War were self-declared “realists,” who believed that foreign policy should be grounded in vital interests–oil wells, strategic chokepoints, and, most of all, regional stability. Their preference for order over liberty extended even to the Soviet Union, where national security advisor Brent Scowcroft found it “painful to watch Yeltsin rip the Soviet Union brick by brick away from Gorbachev.” In China, the Bush team reacted to the massacre in Tiananmen Square by excusing the communist regime in Beijing. And in the former Yugoslavia, the president justified American inaction by likening the bloodshed to a “hiccup.”

It was in Iraq, however, that the Bush team’s foreign policy philosophy manifested itself most clearly. Once Kuwait was liberated, the Bush team redirected its energies toward ensuring Iraqi “stability”–even if it had to be enforced by Saddam Hussein. He proceeded to slaughter thousands of Iraqi civilians who Mr. Bush had exhorted to revolt, but to whom the U.S. now turned a blind eye. Twelve years later, we are still living with the consequences of such “realism.”

Partisan Republican complaints aside, Clinton’s strategy was little more than an extension of that of George H W Bush, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker III, a point made clear by Kaplan & Kristol. You could argue that Clinton was more feckless, and I’d agree — but “containment” and “stability” were buzzwords in the first Bush Administration no less than in Clinton’s.

And what does W have to say about those buzzwords? Read on:

Realists and liberals approach the world from different directions, but when it comes to Iraq, both ended up in the same place: generating excuses for inaction. President Bush, by contrast, does not speak of merely containing or disarming Iraq. He intends to liberate Iraq by force, and create democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship. Moreover, he insists that these principles apply to American foreign policy more broadly. A century of fighting dictators has finally alerted U.S. policy makers to the fact that the character of regimes determines their conduct abroad–their willingness to resort to aggression, their determination to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and their relationships with terrorist groups.

Hence, the Bush strategy enshrines “regime change”–the insistence that when it comes to dealing with tyrannical regimes like Iraq, Iran, and, yes, North Korea, the U.S. should seek transformation, not coexistence, as a primary aim of U.S. foreign policy. As such, it commits the U.S. to the task of maintaining and enforcing a decent world order. Just as it was with the Bush team’s predecessors, Iraq will be the first major test of this administration’s strategy.

And, they conclude, it won’t be the last.

Allow me to conclude with an Instapundit “indeed.”