I think Shadi Hamid (via Matt, who shares his take) is a little hard on that Peter Baker piece I mentioned yesterday, about how Bush's democracy-promotion agenda has been frustrated by the foreign-policy bureaucracy. For one thing, I don't agree with Hamid's claim that in Baker's telling, "President Bush comes out as a courageous visionary whose wonderful ideas were stilted by the State Department bureaucracy and by the government’s traditional resistance to new ideas." Rather, I think he comes across as a well-meaning, ineffectual, and extremely naive politician whose somewhat dubious ideas were effectively resisted by the State Department bureaucracy (though maybe I'm just reading the piece through the lens of my own biases). Meanwhile, both Matt and Hamid make the point that when Bush really wanted a policy course pursued - namely, the invasion of Iraq - the opposition from the professionals in the State Department and elsewhere was steamrolled. Which is true enough, and I don't think there's any question that invading Iraq was a higher priority for Bush than the larger reorientation of American diplomacy in a more pro-democracy direction. But I think the contrast between how Iraq played out and what's happened to the freedom agenda doesn't just speak to Bush's priorities; it also speaks to the unfortunate truth that it's become easier for an American chief executive to invade a foreign country than to control the more banal, day-to-day workings of his own diplomatic corps.
Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.