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Team 41 is a Threat to the Bush Legacy

By Daniel Henninger

With the appointment of Robert Gates--CIA director from 1991 to 1993--to succeed Don Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, George W. Bush has brought upon himself much talk about sons in the shadow of their fathers. His presidency has turned Shakespearean, allowing all to tell sad stories about kings haunted by the ghosts they have deposed.

Alone, the Gates appointment might have passed as a necessary, post-election expedient. But it is not alone. Pressed for a new direction in Iraq, Mr. Bush routinely draws attention to the imminent post-Thanksgiving report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Survey Group. "Baker" is Jim Baker, who was his father's secretary of state from 1989 to 1992. The ISG's formal charge does not include finding a "way out" of Iraq for Mr. Bush, but all now assume this is what they intend to produce.

The village elders on the Iraq Survey Group who will perform this duty are Lee Hamilton, Vernon Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon Panetta, former Clinton Defense Secretary Bill Perry, former Sens. Chuck Robb and Alan Simpson, and the secretary of defense designate, Robert Gates.

George W. Bush has in no way been an Establishment President. On both taxes and foreign policy, he broke with them, and did so decisively. So he ought not underestimate, with the firing of Don Rumsfeld and the odd selection of his father's CIA director, how much visceral pleasure this brings to the displaced Establishment between Georgetown and Manhattan.

Some Beltway pundits are now writing with smug satisfaction--but not without reason--that this marks the end of the Bush Doctrine, the idea that the U.S. could create opportunities for democratic self-determination in a region such as the Middle East. It is expected that the ISG's recommendation will carry with it the implicit conclusion that this goal has been too ambitious. And that it must give way now to a restoration of realism associated with Bush 41's secretary of state, Mr. Baker; with his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and the former president's CIA director, Mr. Gates. And with the return of established foreign-policy wisdom, the "neocons" associated with Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney and their "failed" ideas will be swept out to sea.

The post-Rumsfeld purge began yesterday. Sen. Joe Biden, now in the majority, announced that U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's stalled confirmation is "going nowhere."

The three or four men who are thinking of seeking the Republican presidential nomination had better focus now on the potential fall of the Bush Doctrine at the hands of the Iraq Survey Group. If they don't, one of them, on the first day of his presidency, will inherit a re-entrenched foreign policy--at State, the CIA and on Wall Street--with a vision of America's role in the world reduced to that of auto-shop fixit men. They "work" the world's problems.

Mr. Bush has joined this ascendant, if sclerotic, conventional wisdom by loading enormous expectations onto Mr. Baker's group. In doing so, he may be backing the country and his successor into a foreign-policy fait accompli that will be difficult to dislodge.

One may reasonably argue at this point about the Bush team's policy decisions in Iraq. Nearby Reuel Marc Gerecht draws attention to the underexamined policy role of Mr. Bush's generals, to whom he has shown remarkable deference. Our own editorials have repeatedly said that the decision in 2003 to replace Gen. Jay Garner with Paul Bremer and abandon the early formation of an Iraqi-led governing structure deprived the Iraqis of desperately needed political experience. Mr. Bush's repeated requests now for patience with the "five-month old" government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki validates that point.

But what has distinguished Mr. Bush's foreign policy, more than the Bush Doctrine itself, was the sense and belief that he would not abandon an ally. You may not like that, and may have just voted against it, but this country's global reputation is as allied with the people of Iraq as it was with the left-behind people of Vietnam. Or in 1991, the Shiites in southern Iraq.

On Feb. 15 of that year, after routing Saddam's army in the south, President George H.W. Bush urged the Iraqi generals and people to "take matters into their own hands" against Saddam. Then on Feb. 27 came the White House order to Gen. Schwarzkopf to stand down and thus forgo the destruction of Saddam's tank army. The Bush 41 team expected Saddam's Baathist generals to finish him off and "stabilize" Iraq. That was realism. The secretary of state was Jim Baker and the deputy national security advisor to Brent Scowcroft was Robert Gates. Shortly, Saddam's systematic, tank-led slaughter began of the Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. In April, U.N. Resolution 688 said the attacks "threaten international peace and security in the region." Mr. Gates acknowledged the miscalculation in the New Yorker last year.

The opinion of the American people matters, and this week's election reflected fatigue with Iraq. We may be seeking a "way out," but if the Iraq Survey Group proposes a solution with the merest whiff of selling out Iraq's popularly elected Shiites, expect crudely realistic leaders in Russia, China, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to conclude they too can downgrade, or obliterate, their own U.S.-oriented democratic groups. Then we can roll back the real end to notions of democratic possibility to the end of World War II. And with Democratic Party assent.

George Bush's foreign policy is at a tipping point. The administration's thinking on Iran and North Korea looks stalemated. He has taken to talking about the need for "fresh eyes" on Iraq. Looking back over the roster of the Iraq Survey Group, I'd say the eyes focused on his foreign-policy legacy, all essentially retired from public life, are anything but fresh. In response to Tuesday's election, House Republicans are about to usher in a younger generation of political thinkers. If he really wants to refresh his presidency, Mr. Bush should start looking in the same direction.

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

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