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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Bill Schneider

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Democracy won, the president is saying to our enemies. You got a problem with that? | Don't call President Bush an isolationist. Some people were tempted to do that during the 2000 campaign, when the Republican candidate criticized Bill Clinton for overextending American commitments and turning the U.S. into "the world's policeman."

In his commencement address June 1 at West Point, the president gave a major foreign-policy speech that extended Washington's commitments and defined a U.S. role in the world that sounds an awful lot like police work. "We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence and law enforcement," he told the graduating class.

In fact, Bush described a far bigger vision than Clinton's. "All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price," the president said. "We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants." Bush's speech sounded a lot like President Harry S. Truman's address to Congress on March 12, 1947, when Truman said: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Truman's speech defined the Truman Doctrine that guided U.S. foreign policy for more than four decades. Bush aimed to do no less in his address last week. He laid out the Bush Doctrine.

Truman's speech was occasioned by an immediate crisis. In the aftermath of World War II, Eastern Europe had come under Soviet domination. Greece and Turkey were in imminent danger of falling to communist subversion.

Truman went before Congress to request $400 million in economic and military assistance for the two countries. Truman added: "I am fully aware of the broad implications involved if the United States extends assistance to Greece and Turkey." Henceforth, the U.S. would assume the burden of leading the free world in a global confrontation with communism. It was a decisive break with the historic pattern of American isolationism. A policy of endless, shadowy confrontation with no prospect of victory in the foreseeable future. The Cold War.

Many doubted the American people would support such a policy. Americans like short wars with clear-cut victories, not long, twilight struggles. But the public confounded the political experts and saw the Cold War through to the end--44 years later.

Last Thursday, the president called for the most dramatic reorganization of government since 1947. That year, the U.S. found itself poorly organized to fight the Cold War. The result was the National Security Act of 1947, a monumental piece of legislation that created institutions that guided the U.S. through the Cold War: the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council. Like the Cold War, the war on terror is a long-term commitment. And a fundamental departure from past policy. Just as in 1947, government has to be reorganized to fight another endless, shadowy confrontation with no prospect of victory in the foreseeable future.

Bush's West Point speech was heard in Washington as an elaborate, coded justification for a U.S. strike against Saddam Hussein. Coded? The president never mentioned Iraq, though the implication was clear when he said: "The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology."

"I think this is a predicate for an attack on Iraq," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the next day. Possibly, although the president continues to insist that "no plans" for such an attack are on his desk.

Was Bush simply trying to dramatize his case against Iraq by dressing it up in grandiose rhetoric? More likely, he was trying to generalize from Iraq to make the case for a broader U.S. mission. Just as Truman did with Greece and Turkey.

What is that mission?

It is nothing less than the defense of civilization against barbarism. "More and more, civilized nations find ourselves on the same side, united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos," Bush said. Who's on Bush's list of "civilized nations"? "The United States, Japan and our Pacific friends, and now all of Europe" made the list. But so did "a new Russia ... our partner in the war against terror." And potentially China, whose "leaders are discovering that economic freedom is the only lasting source of national wealth." And who, in time, the president said, "will find that social and political freedom is the only true source of national greatness."

Who's on the other side? The Islamic world? The president repudiated that idea. "There is no clash of civilizations," he said. "The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedom and opportunities as people in every nation."

On the other side are terrorists and rogue nations whose aim is to throw the civilized world into chaos. Individuals and regimes with evil intentions, not cultures. Many people suspect one reason Bush put North Korea on the "axis of evil," alongside Iraq and Iran, was to keep the list from being exclusively Islamic.

Isn't Bush arguing for the superiority of our values over those of others? Yes. Clearly and nondefensively. No post-modernist relativism here. "The 20th century ended with a single surviving model of human progress," Bush said. One based on "nonnegotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women and private property and free speech and equal justice and religious tolerance." Democracy won, Bush is saying to our enemies. You got a problem with that?

An alliance of the world's great powers looks very much like an alliance to preserve the status quo. That is, after all, why radicals hate us. They see the United States as the world's pre-eminent status-quo power. The U.S. fought wars to reverse acts of aggression and restore the status quo in Kuwait and Kosovo. If you desperately want to change the status quo--as, say, the Palestinians do--then the U.S. is not your ally.

That's where Bush had something new to say. He argued that the U.S. cannot be a status-quo power. It has to position itself as a source of change and hope in the world. "America stands for more than the absence of war," the president said. "We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace by replacing poverty, repression and resentment around the world with hope of a better day." Compassionate internationalism!

In one respect, the Bush Doctrine goes way beyond the Cold War. And that's where it gets controversial. Bush explicitly rejected the Cold War policies of deterrence and containment. Too passive. "We must take the battle to the enemy," the president said, "disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

Before they emerge? Yes. Because the alternative is too dangerous. If Iraq is acquiring weapons of mass destruction and has expressed the intention of using them, do we just stand by and wait for Hussein to commit an atrocity? Do we go after terrorists before they commit a crime, or do we wait for another Sept. 11? Bush ordered the future Army leaders at West Point "to be ready for preemptive action when necessary.' Just like the FBI is now supposed to go after "threats," before any crimes are committed.

Will Americans support the Bush Doctrine? Rhetorically they will, as long as the country feels threatened. But there is not a lot of pressure on the administration to match the rhetoric with action, except from conservatives. The idea of preemptive strikes makes most Americans nervous. Remember, the Cold War became unpopular when it turned into a hot war, in Korea and Vietnam.

"In the world we have entered," the president said June 1, "the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act." In the case of the Truman Doctrine, the test came in Greece and Turkey. They were saved. In the case of the Bush Doctrine, Iraq is shaping up as the crucial test. Bush has to show the world that he's not bluffing.

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12/17/01: Congress' life or death issue
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11/09/01: The mayor of New Yawk and the King of the World
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09/14/01: The American spirit will not wane
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08/13/01: Japan becomes the latest country to see its politics become personalized
08/09/01: Bush backers out to remake prez yet again
07/30/01: Will the GOP's mandate of 1994 finally runs out?
07/23/01: Both political parties are full of ....
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07/09/01: As goes New Jersey, so goes the nation?
07/02/01: Dubya: Like father, like son?
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© 2002, William Schneider