The Pitfalls of Ambiguity

The conventional history of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy has traced the ascendancy of the neoconservative ideologues in his administration to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the ensuing “War on Terror,” the invasion of Iraq, and regime-change schemes in the Middle East.  The common assumption among analysts is that, were it not for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the White House’s approach to the world would have followed the more traditional and realist stance adopted by former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.  If it were not for September 11 (it is supposed), the neocons would not have been able to hijack U.S. foreign policy and reorient it toward its current global hegemonic direction.  Most observers assume, moreover, that the foreign-policy hardliners in the Bush administration have focused much of their attention on the Middle East, a preoccupation that reflects their concerns with Israel’s security as well as their obsession with Saddam Hussein and the mullahs in Tehran, and their long-term grand strategy of establishing a Pax Americana in the region.  Yet the fact that the neoconservatives were emerging as leading players in devising and implementing President Bush’s foreign policy was obvious well before September 11.  It had nothing to do with Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East.

Rather, it was in...

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