Though it took a bit of doing to haul Vice President George Bush aboard and to straighten out some confusion in the president's first comments, the Shultz Doctrine on counterterrorism has been proclaimed to be administration policy. With Shultz himself, it appears to approach the level of a fierce fixation. Just before leaving for Indira Gandhi's funeral, he was actually shouting his insistence that we "wake up" to terrorism as "an international form of warfare . . . directed largely against us and our way of life."
Shultz wants us to realize that counterterrorism requires the use of "overt power," which means "active prevention, preemption and retaliation." It means a "potential for loss of life of some of our fighting men and the loss of life of some innocent people."
Events are working strongly in support of public consciousness-raising without Shultz's wake-up call. The assassination of Indira Gandhi competes for news attention with a growing case in the Italian court against Bulgaria and, by implication, the Soviet Union for the attempt on the life of the pope. Awareness of a growing menace, on a global scale, is not the problem.
The problem remains what to do about it. And the real question is how the American public, aroused by the administration's demands for public understanding, will actually respond when it does come to understand not only the enormous complexity but the high level of hypocrisy in "the moral and strategic necessity of action" that Shultz would have us accept.
On the face of it, Shultz made an appealing case in his speech in New York City last week. His aim is nothing less than to "put an end to violent attacks against innocent people." It would be America not being pushed around.
But Shultz is not offering an occasional uplift. He is asking for a "broad public consensus" on a program over which the public will exercise no control. He wants a blank check for any kind of military action the government thinks is indicated at any time.
But the American public and Congress are going to be asking a lot of questions. Shultz says the United States has the "capability and the techniques to use power to fight the war against terrorism." But he doesn't tell us why these skills were not put into practice in Lebanon. The president has told us: we simply didn't know enough about the location of the targets or the danger to innocent civilians to respond.
Shultz says we will be selective so as to avoid "a cycle of escalating violence beyond our control." Yet that is exactly what leading authorities predict will happen as a consequence of any counterterrorism measures that bear the fingerprints of the U.S. government. Shultz says we will not abandon our democratic respect for individual rights. But the same authorities are certain that an acknowledged U.S. antiterrorist campaign would bring terrorism to the United States on a scale that would require countermeasures that would threaten civil liberties.
The secretary promises he will "not allow ourselves to descend to the level of barbarism that terrorism represents." But the evidence of a Bulgarian connection to the attempt to kill the pope is matched by growing evidence of a CIA connection with a campaign of terrorism by the counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua.
I am not suggesting that incitement to assassinate Sandinistas is of the same magnitude as a Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. But the principle is not so different. The Shultz Doctrine is asking the American public to accept the practice of fighting fire with fire. We would be saying to states that support terrorism: If you won't be more like us in the way you seek to advance your interests, we will be more like you.
I wish I had a prescription to go with this diagnosis of what strikes me as wrong about the administration's approach to the challenge posed by the forms of violence that fall into the category of terrorist acts. But then nobody really does; even the most surgical, Entebbe-type operations have not rid Israel of terrorism's scourge.
What does seem safe to say is that there is no sweeping, dogmatic, this- is-it remedy available. Yet that is precisely what Shultz is putting forth. "We cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations," he says. He's right about that. Hamlet's handwringing had to do with suicide.
If Shultz wants a Shakespearean metaphor, he would be closer to the hard question with Macbeth, whose handwringing had to do with incremental homicide. Macbeth, as it turned out, had the right doubts: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." That same "if" is what makes counterterrorism on the scale and of the nature proposed by Shultz a wonder-drug approach to a global sickness that can only be dealt with by long, difficult and painful treatment.