TRUDY RUBIN President's antiterror policy has lost its way



Forget the hoopla, the charming kids, the hamster story, the heartwarming tale about Mom.
The main question is not whether John Kerry is a nice guy. It's whether his policies are more suited for the country's security needs over the next four years. That's what people were trying to divine from the Democrats' convention in Boston.
After watching "the speech," talking to Kerry foreign policy advisers -- and visiting Iraq three times since the war -- I'd say the answer is yes. Here's why:
The Bush antiterror policy has lost its way. Yes, the president does what he says, but what he says and does has led us into a defensive position in the struggle against terrorism.
Our military is bogged down in a guerrilla war against Iraq that hasn't weakened Al-Qaida. Just the opposite. The terrorist organization has found a new base in an unstable Iraq.
Anti-Americanism in the Mideast has never been greater. Iraq instability and Bush's abandonment of efforts to promote Israel-Palestinian peace are a recruitment ad for Al-Qaida.
A CEO would be ousted if he botched the biggest project of his tenure. Yet not one Bush official has been fired for failing to plan for Iraq's postwar problems.
What needs to be changed first is the attitude in the Oval Office. "I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war," Kerry said in his acceptance speech. He has pledged to return badly needed "credibility" to the White House.
World cynicism
The Bush administration's hype on Iraq -- expanding Saddam Hussein's real threat to the Mideast into a nuclear threat against the U.S. mainland -- has made much of the world cynical about the antiterrorist struggle. Most Europeans and Arabs don't believe in the reality of this battle against Islamist jihadists. That makes the effort much harder.
If the United States is to rally other countries to this long-term goal -- and convince their citizens -- a more credible U.S. leader is required. The world's growing anti-Americanism, which hampers any global alliance against terrorism, is focused on the persona and policies of George W. Bush.
Kerry has stressed over and over that he will rebuild our alliances and repair the breeches within NATO. On Thursday he said, "We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden." He is overly optimistic about what the allies would contribute, especially in Baghdad. But he would have a far better chance than Bush of persuading our NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan, and take on new missions outside Europe. Kerry advisers say he would push for needed reforms in NATO and the United Nations.
In fact, the Bush emphasis on unilateral use of force that has marked his term is reaching a dead end. The Bush doctrine of preemptive war -- the argument that America could change "axis of evil" regimes if it even suspects they may present a future threat -- has proved unsustainable.
With postwar Iraq in trouble and Afghanistan's future in question, the White House can't contemplate war in Iran or North Korea. Despite early saber rattling, the Bush administration has had to resume negotiations to try to curb these countries' nuclear weapons programs -- with the help of European and Asian allies. In effect, Bush has come around to the Kerry school of thought.
In fact, Kerry's strongest argument is that, while force may indeed be necessary, equal emphasis has to be given to other means. "We will deploy every tool in our arsenal -- our economic as well as our military might, our principles as well as our firepower," he said at the convention.
Nuclear material
Kerry has very interesting proposals in an area to which the Bush team has paid far too little attention: securing nuclear material all around the world before it can fall into the hands of terrorists. He has also pledged to do what the Bush administration has not -- pay more attention and put more funds into vital areas of homeland security.
"We shouldn't be leaving our nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection," says Kerry. It is hard to believe that -- as the administration spends tens of billions in Iraq -- it has left hundreds of U.S. chemical and nuclear plants unsecured. Who needs Saddam's supposed chemical weapons when one terrorist attack on a chemical plant could endanger untold numbers of Americans?
This kind of antiterrorism management needs to be changed.
X Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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