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Bush: Foreign Policy to Take Seriously

by Wall Street Journal Friday, Dec. 13, 2002 at 8:11 PM

GWB to be taken seriously in the foreign policy arena.

Bush: Foreign Policy to Take Seriously

A Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz cabal isn't steamrolling the president.


Monday, December 9, 2002

Unquestionably we are at an historic turning point in American foreign policy, forging a new policy for a new world in a new century. But our traditional elites both at home and abroad remain in intellectual denial.

With great perseverance over 50 years, the U.S. pursued a policy of containing expansion of the Soviet Union, and succeeded spectacularly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This left the United States as a sole superpower but adrift on how to use that position. The first Bush administration blew the termination of the Gulf War, and we dallied through eight years of Bill and Monica.

Then came September 11, 2001, a powerfully clarifying event; the old ways were not enough to protect us. Rising to the challenge, the new Bush administration acted decisively--routing the Taliban, forcing itself as an ally on a hesitant Pakistan, and crippling al Qaeda.

The administration also proclaimed a new doctrine for the world ahead. It announced that in this age of stateless terror and weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. could no longer afford to accept the first blow. Rather, it would use its unmatched power to strike pre-emptively against terrorists and rogue states who harbor them.

Traditional foreign policy elites, especially abroad but also at home, seem capable of understanding this only as an aberration. Often they depict it as a kind of coup, foreign policy hijacked by the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz cabal, steamrolling the wise secretary of state and bamboozling a pliant president. See for example Chris Patten's comments in the Trilateral Commission debate with Richard Perle circulating among policy wonks on both sides of the Atlantic, or Elizabeth Drew's meanderings in the New York Review of Books.

It happens that I'm a member in long standing of the "cabal" now under attack, and in time will present the case that its strain of thought represents the true idealism in foreign affairs. But for today I'd hope to make one thing clear: Just whose policy this is.

The notion that George Bush is a "moron" would seem to have no few sympathizers in the world's chanceries, even though Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's spokesman had to resign after saying it aloud. To cure any such thoughts, read Bob Woodward's new book, "Bush at War." The anecdotes on decision-making in the first months after September 11 make clear that the president was not only in charge, but pushing the process.

More officially, the Bush Doctrine is set out at length in the 31-page strategy statement released by the White House last September. "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" spells out the vision inaugurated in President Bush's commencement address at West Point in June. The NSS was of course an agreed inter-agency document, worked out at the undersecretary level at state, defense and elsewhere. But it was a top-down exercise, driven by the president himself, who insisted the language should be something "the guys in Lubbock could read."

It's important not to parody this document as a thumb in the world's eye. It's full of professions about alliances, international institutions, free markets, foreign aid, AIDs and other good causes. Militarily, it does say the U.S. plans to maintain superiority to dissuade others from matching it, but does anyone advocate helping the Russians or Chinese or Arabs to catch up?

The Bush NSS does depart from the relativism and amorality that often pass for diplomacy. The president's introduction says, "People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children--male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society." American values are universal, in short, and the U.S. will be alert to openings to advance liberty and human dignity. "The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better."

With the last century's battle against totalitarianism successfully concluded, though, "America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones." Specifically, "The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology." And in this kind of world "We cannot let our enemies strike first."

International law has always provided for pre-emption against military forces being mobilized, the strategy statement continues, and "we must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries." Terrorists and rogue states are not susceptible to deterrence, seek access to weapons of mass destruction and deliberately target civilian masses. Against this threat, "the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past."

Now, the NSS is policy as crystallized and promulgated by the president of the United States. Indeed, it's the agreed policy of the sitting American administration, signed on by Colin Powell and Richard Armitage as well as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, not to mention Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney. To be sure, it has intellectual roots in battles against the blame-American-first crowd on one hand and the apostles of narrow realpolitik on the other. But it represents the thinking of, and the team assembled by, George W. Bush.

It is a powerful argument, too, deserving a better answer than ritual incantations of some visionary multinational sovereignty. And by indications such as the recent elections it is a policy supported by the American people, who after September 11 are in no mood to let terrorists strike the first blow.

Mr. Bartley is editor of The Wall Street Journal. His column appears Mondays in the Journal and on

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