A strategy for security

    On Sept. 20, President George W. Bush sent his plan for the United States’ national security strategy to Congress. The plan, for some reason, is sparking an entirely unjustified furor.

    The paper is long, detailed and covers a wide variety of topics relating to U.S. foreign policy. What is at issue appears to be section five, which is titled “”Prevent[ing] Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destructon.””

    In this section, Bush describes the changing nature of international conflict — specifically, the ways that threats against the United States have changed after the Cold War and after Sept. 11. It’s well known that we are no longer threatened by other superpowers, but by terrorists and rogue states, so why is it so shocking that our threat-response plan would change as well?

    What’s ruffling so many feathers is Bush’s unsurprising move away from the antiquated policy of acting in defense only, and toward a more proactive, preemptive foreign policy. This policy is entirely in line with the reality of potential attacks that face us.

    As we saw on Sept. 11, if we give terrorists the opportunity to strike first, thousands of innocent civilian lives could be lost. If the government receives reliable intelligence that a terrorist agency, a nation which supports terrorism or a rogue state is prepared to make an imminent attack against our country, our government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Why does it make sense to have a foreign policy that dictates that the president must stand by and wait for Americans to die before he can act against agressors?

    Another major justification for a defense-only military and foreign policy strategy is that merely the threat of an attack should be enough to deter most nations, whose rulers are obviously as concerned about protecting their citizens as would be the American president. However, this is clearly not the case with countries and organizations whose citizens are themselves willing to die in order to pursue their mindless desire to kill Americans. Anyone who is willing to commit suicide to kill their enemy is not going to be impressed by the threat of retribution; they must be dealt with before they can cause harm to Americans and their allies.

    Furthermore, publicly announcing that we are willing to make preemptive strikes against agents that threaten us shows both our enemies and allies that we mean business, and will not tolerate waffling or noncompliance.

    Critics of the new strategy are afraid that this policy will turn the United States into a bull in the global china shop, wantonly attacking any nation that upsets us, whether we are legitimately provoked or not. This is hardly reasonable. Clearly, the Bush administration is full of military experts who are well aware of the dangers inherent in undertaking any sort of aggressive action, and would not do so without knowing that the benefits of such an attack would outweigh any potential detractions.

    Also, they say that striking first could potentially cause more trouble than it’s worth, by causing terrified countries or terrorist agencies to lash out with weapons of mass destruction. However, if a preemptive strike is conducted efficiently, quickly and under the advisement of well-collected intelligence, such fears are baseless. But what is essential is that Bush have the authority and flexibility to do whatever is necessary — without hindering bickering from Congress or hesitation motivated by a concern for public opinion. Lawmakers and the public must understand that the president has to be able to act decisively if the country is to be kept safe.

    Lastly, critics often say that preemptive strikes mark such a dramatic departure from previous U.S. foreign policy that the change is unthinkable and clearly motivated by a need to justify an attack on Iraq. Ignorance is the only explanation for this: Even President Clinton, hardly the most hawkish of 20th century presidents, launched a preemptive strike against none other than al Qaeda in 1998.

    Bush said in the strategy, “”History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.”” In other words, those who are serious about protecting Americans and promoting peace worldwide will not be afraid to use a little muscle when necessary — before damage is done to our way of life.

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