THE USES OF AMERICAN POWER
Chicago Tribune: The Sept. 11 attacks mean that George W. Bush will forever be associated with the war against Al-Qaida in particular and terrorism in general. But in the aftermath, the president has developed a broader agenda than defeating Osama bin Laden and his legions. He thinks those attacks demand not only a shift in the focus of our foreign and defense policy, but a rethinking of its basic assumptions.
The "Bush Doctrine," as it has been dubbed, was codified last week in an official statement, "The National Security Strategy of the United States." Its most notable innovation, an emphasis on pre-emptive action against our enemies, has been on view for months.
President Bush forcefully outlined this approach in a speech last June at West Point, when he declared, "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act." The administration's demands for "regime change" in Iraq have rested on its stated belief that Saddam Hussein must be prevented from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, by force if need be.
Much of the rationale for this policy is indisputable. Al-Qaida -- a diffuse, secretive and deadly enemy -- presents a vastly different danger than traditional military rivals.
With no fixed address or leadership, an organization like this one may hope to strike the United States with impunity. Unlike the Soviet Union, it has no traditional army that can be defeated on the battlefield; it has no public governing apparatus that can be coerced or destroyed. And because they employ operatives who see suicide attacks as the path to paradise, such groups may not be deterred by the fear of retaliation.
In dealing with terrorists, pre-emption is therefore critical. The same goes for governments that give them support and refuge. It's now clear that the United States should have taken decisive military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after bin Laden relocated there to plot attacks on American targets.
The question is whether the same approach is called for in countering other potential threats, including Iraq. Certainly the United States and other nations ought to strive to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of aggressive tyrants. But even rogue states are generally susceptible to the same policy of containment and deterrence that preserved our security through decades of nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union.
The administration says it will feel free to defang perceived threats with or without international support. Sometimes unilateral action may be necessary. But as the sole superpower, we have an obligation to take seriously the views of our allies and the United Nations. If we antagonize large elements of the world community, we will lose friends we need for causes ranging from battling terrorism to expanding free trade.
America's unsurpassed military power is a tool that can be used for many worthwhile ends, as it should be. But it's a finite resource that also needs to be reserved for occasions when nothing else will work.