White House Reaffirms ‘First Strike’ Doctrine

U.S. Pres. George W. Bush issued his second-term National Security Strategy Thursday, a document outlining the administration’s strategy for using diplomatic, economic, and military tools to deal with global challenges.

Ironically, the 47-page document that outlines a series of "successes" and "extraordinary progress in the expansion of freedom, democracy, and human dignity" since 2002 makes few references to the one issue that most clearly defines the Bush presidency – the war in Iraq.

However, it confirms that the U.S. is involved in a long-term war against terrorism – a war it believes it is winning – considers preemptive strikes against countries that might threaten the U.S., as outlined in 2002, a legitimate response, and singles out Iran as the country posing the "greatest challenge" to the U.S.

In a letter introducing the National Security Strategy (NSS), Pres. Bush said: "The ideals that have inspired our history – freedom, democracy, and human dignity – are increasingly inspiring individuals and nations throughout the world… We choose leadership over isolationism and the pursuit of free trade and open markets over protectionism."

"We choose to deal with challenges now rather than leaving them for future generations. We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead of being at their mercy."

According to the White House, the NSS, which "explains how we are working to protect the American people, advance American interests, enhance global security, and expand global liberty and prosperity [rests] upon two pillars":

"The first pillar is promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity – working to end tyranny, to promote effective democracies, and to extend prosperity through free and fair trade and wise development policies."

"The second pillar of the strategy is confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies."

The National Security Strategy asserts that the "war on terrorism" is a protracted struggle, and, "In the short run, the fight involves using military force and other instruments of national power to kill or capture the terrorists, deny them safe haven or control of any nation, prevent them from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and cut off their sources of support."

"In the long run, winning the war on terror means winning the battle of ideas, for it is ideas that can turn the disenchanted into murderers willing to kill innocent victims," it adds.

And in a nod toward a possible strike against Iran, which was recently referred to the U.N. Security Council for refusing to abandon its nuclear program, the NSS states that the U.S. is "committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous people."

The report reinforces the importance of the World Trade Organization’s so-called Doha Development Agenda, as well as regional and bilateral free trade agreements.

And it calls for developing "agendas for cooperative action with the other centers of global power." According to the NSS, unlike the "ideological struggles of the 20th century which saw the great powers divided by ideology as well as by national interest…. the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century that finds the great powers all on the same side – opposing the terrorists."

"Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past," it asserts. "The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option. We cannot let our enemies strike first."

The release of the National Security Strategy comes at a time when the administration is being buried by an avalanche of bad news, both at home and abroad. Despite having launched yet another series of speeches aimed at winning the U.S. public’s support for his Iraq venture, the president’s poll ratings continue to plummet, having recently hit the lowest numbers of his presidency.

The administration has also come under heavy fire from Congress for supporting a now-collapsed deal that would have handed over terminal operations at six U.S. ports to a Dubai-based company, giving an opening to Democrats gearing up for the midterm elections here to attack Bush on national security.

And a poll released Wednesday by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found that just 28 percent of respondents were confident that the U.S. will succeed in its aims in Iraq, down from 40 percent 18 months ago.

On Monday, in remarks that appeared to disagree with the assessments of other administration spokespersons, Bush said that, "By their response over the past two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world that they want a future of freedom and peace. We’re helping Iraqis build a strong democracy so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency marginalized."

Interestingly, the NSS was released only days after Knight Ridder News Service pointed out that the U.S. military "have dramatically increased airstrikes in Iraq during the past five months, a change of tactics that may foreshadow how the United States plans to battle a still-strong insurgency while reducing the number of U.S. ground troops serving here."

On Thursday, the Pentagon launched its largest air campaign against the Iraqi insurgency since the 2003 invasion, targeting a "suspected insurgent operating area" northeast of the city of Samarra with more than 50 aircraft and 1,500 U.S. and Iraqi ground forces.

Earlier this week, Gen. John Abizaid, the Army general overseeing U.S. military operations in Iraq, told a House of Representatives subcommittee that he could not rule out the possibility that the U.S. would maintain a permanent military presence in the country.

"Clearly our long-term vision for a military presence in the region requires a robust counter-terrorist capability," Abizaid told the House Subcommittee. "No doubt there is a need for some presence in the region over time primarily to help people help themselves through this period of extremists versus moderates."

Abizaid also pointed out that the United States and its allies have a vital interest in the oil-rich region. "Ultimately it comes down to the free flow of goods and resources on which the prosperity of our own nation and everybody else in the world depend," he said.

At a speech today to the U.S. Institute of Peace, Stephen Hadley, the president’s national security advisor, said that, "The doctrine of preemption remains sound and must remain an integral part of our national security strategy."

Hadley added: "We do not rule out the use of force before the enemy strikes."