Bush Restates Terror Strategy

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By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; 9:42 AM

President Bush issued a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled U.S. experience in Iraq.

The long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."

The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States.

The preemption doctrine generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficient to justify preventive war.

In his revised version, Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

Such language could be seen as provocative at a time when the United States and its European allies have brought Iran before the U.N. Security Council to answer allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons. At a news conference in January, Bush described an Iran with nuclear arms as a "grave threat to the security of the world."

In a letter introducing the new strategy document, Bush also said, "We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead of being at their mercy."

Some security specialists criticized the continued commitment to preemption.

"Preemption is and always will be a potentially useful tool, but it's not something you want to trot out and throw in everybody's face," said Harlan Ullman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To have a strategy on preemption and make it central is a huge error."

A military attack against Iran, for instance, could be "foolish," Ullman said, and it would be better to seek other ways to influence its behavior. "I think most states are deterrable."

Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has written on the 2002 strategy, said the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the strict sense is not an example of preemptive war, because it was preceded by 12 years of low-grade conflict and was essentially the completion of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Still, he said, recent problems there contain lessons for those who would advocate preemptive war elsewhere. A military strike is not enough, he said; building a sustainable, responsible state in place of a rogue nation is the real challenge.


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