ROOT CAUSES….Max Boot is confused:

For the last five years the standard critique of Bush administration foreign policy has run as follows: The president did a great job of rallying the nation after 9/11 and of toppling the Taliban. But then he blundered by invading Iraq and trying to spread democracy at gunpoint. He should have concentrated on working with other countries to track down terrorists.

The reality ? or so it seems to me ? is nearly the opposite. Bush has done a good job of capturing or killing “evil-doers,” but he hasn’t done enough to addresses the root causes of their actions.

Is this really the “standard critique” of Bush? Not that I’ve noticed. In the blogs and magazines I read, the standard critique is pretty much exactly the one Boot makes: that Bush has adopted a purely military approach to fighting terrorism instead of figuring out a real plan to eliminate jihadist support in the Arab world ? a broader project that’s an absolute prerequisite for keeping their ranks from growing faster than we can kill them off.

In fact, I’d say the conventional wisdom these days may have tilted a bit dangerously in exactly the opposite direction from the one Boot observes: namely that we’ve done such a good a job of killing off al-Qaeda leaders that the organization is now virtually dead. Check out John Mueller’s argument in Foreign Affairs, for example, or James Fallows’ recent piece in the Atlantic. I appreciate these arguments, but I guess I’m not convinced that al-Qaeda is completely ready for the scrapheap of history yet.

More to the point, though, Boot makes the standard neocon argument: killing bad guys is great, but democracy promotion is Job 1. I’ve never really gotten this. I mean, I’m in favor of democracy as much as the next guy, but I’m also in favor of a free press, equal rights for women, fair trials, religious tolerance, a free market economy, universal education, and a dozen other liberal institutions that seem like keys to a decent society. Why the fetishism of democracy above all the rest? And why the continued support for a president who likes to talk about this stuff but rather plainly doesn’t really believe it?

Another one of those mysteries of life, I suppose. Perhaps Boot can explain it in his next column.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of conventional wisdom, have you noticed that “root causes” have now become a routine talking point among conservatives? Remember when liberals were mocked as weak-kneed appeasers for even bringing up the subject? Good times.

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