TCS Daily

A Doctrine Is Born

By Ken Adelman - June 5, 2002 12:00 AM

I knew something big was coming up when Presidential Counselor Karl Rove's office called last Friday with a "heads up." The President's commencement speech at West Point would be of interest, the White House knew, since some of my previous columns had urged "preemption" as the new policy for America abroad.

Sure enough, on Saturday "preemption" became the new guiding principle of U.S. security policy. That stated policy must soon be implemented, or the fledgling doctrine will amount to a passing curiosity rather than a strategic necessity.

To give a quickie history lesson: Last century, we waged epic battles for civilization against the twin barbarisms of Nazism and Communism with the guiding principles of "unconditional surrender," and then "containment" and "deterrence."

Conditions no longer warrant these doctrines, since our foes and their methods have radically changed.

Preemption acknowledges that acts of terrorism against civilians are too horrendous to wait until their completion. Vigorous action is needed before the dastardly crimes are perpetuated. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize," President Bush told the West Point cadets, and the world, "we will have waited too long."

"Containment" and "deterrence" worked wonders when the prime aggressors we faced had a specific face, and address. Again the President made that point: "Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."

Even now, the identity of all those responsible even for September 11th remains unknown. Sure, among them was Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers. But they undoubtedly had lots of intermediaries we still cannot identify.

Moreover, such doctrines presume rationality and a desire for self-preservation. Leaders in the Kremlin knew that an attack against us, our friends and allies, would unleash a devastating reaction. Hence we could rely upon deterrence while waiting out the inevitability of Soviet decay. As George F. Kennan wrote so presciently, over time communism's rot would erode that system and the power upon which it rested.

Today's conditions differ fundamentally. The terrorists' world won't rot much further over time, as it's already pretty rotten.

Regardless, they care little about their societies. Rather, they are filled with inexplicable bile against civilization, and divine justification from the Koran.

Hence no form of deterrence works now. Terrorists don't fear their own death, but indeed welcome it -- with all those brown-eyed virgins awaiting them in the afterlife.

Other traditional foreign policy approaches are similarly outdated. That first enunciated by John Quincy Adams -- of America leading merely by example -- has become utopian, if not silly. "We cannot defend America and our friends," said his successor Bush last Saturday, "by hoping for the best."

Nor is the twentieth century tool of U.S. national security -- international arms agreements -- of any help. Again, President Bush: "We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign nonproliferation treaties and then systematically break them."

In that long-ago world before September 11, 2001, preemption seemed frightfully dangerous. Hence President Clinton could refuse to seize, or have slain, Osama bin Laden three times in the 1990s (according to the London Sunday Times) without debate (though with much regret now).

The world realized the high cost of that traditional approach on 9/11. We now know better, and must act better.

Hence, "preemption" as explained by President Bush at West Point: "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act."

Once proclaimed, the new doctrine will itself be attacked. Critics can blast preemption far more easily than containment and deterrence, which were, after all, primarily defensive and passive.

Now our guiding principle is primarily aggressive and pro-active. We decide when we must move to combat potential terrorists. The level of evidence, timing, and scale of our attacks will be disputed.

"Match the word to the action, the action to the word," Hamlet advises. Likewise, the words of preemption must lead to action, beginning with the world's most probable supplier of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists -- Saddam Hussein.

Having had the honor of first hearing the new U.S. security policy, those West Point graduating cadets now have the duty of implementing it. So much depends upon that happening.



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