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Bush Describes Tough Foreign Policy Vision

Government: Doctrine submitted to Congress emphasizes the need for preemptive attacks and reserves the right for U.S. to take unilateral action.

September 21, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Bush formally laid out his strategic global doctrine Friday, advancing "a distinctly American internationalism" that asserts the right to launch preemptive attacks on terrorists and regimes whose weapons of mass destruction pose a threat to the United States.

The president also declared his intention to dissuade potential rivals from trying to equal or surpass America's military might.

The toughly worded 31-page document pulls together the major themes of Bush's foreign policy addresses in the year since the Sept. 11 attacks. It was sent to Congress to meet a 1986 law that requires such an assessment from each president.

But Bush's plan drew special attention because of the highly charged atmosphere surrounding his administration's effort to enlist the United Nations in a new confrontation with Iraq. He also used the document to spell out his view of U.S. strategy in a post-Cold War world where terrorists, rather than other superpowers, are thought to pose the biggest threat to America. Bush made clear that he believes the Cold War tactics of containment and deterrence are no longer adequate to protect U.S. interests.

"Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents," the document said.

"In the Cold War, weapons of mass destruction were considered weapons of last resort whose use risked the destruction of those who used them. Today, our enemies see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of choice."

Vowing to take unilateral action against perceived threats, the Bush administration pledged to protect the United States and its interests abroad "by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders."

"While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.... "

By articulating an aggressive, go-it-alone-if-necessary doctrine, Bush distanced himself from his recent predecessors, including his father, the 41st president.

"He's at the start of a new era," said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas. "It's comparable to what happened on President Truman's watch at the beginning of the Cold War and containment."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other top administration officials argued Friday that Bush's first-strike doctrine is a long-standing U.S. option. But Buchanan disagreed.

"It is really a significant departure, not just from the containment doctrine but from widely accepted American principles such as: America will not strike first," Buchanan said. "And to elevate it to the status of a doctrine--without incorporating specific examples of a clear and present danger--that's a novelty. It's going to take a while to sell it to the foreign policy establishment."

On Capitol Hill, some Democrats were skeptical.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) accused the Bush administration of having a "political personality disorder."

"They've moved from enforceable treaties as an American strategy to military invasion as a nonproliferation strategy," he said.

Said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a potential candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination: "I'm not at all convinced that the new doctrine from the administration--which seems to ignore the fact that we live in a globalized world where allies and partnerships are more important than ever--will actually advance our interests."

Kerry termed it a "highly ideological doctrine."

But Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) praised the Bush doctrine, noting that it also stresses the need for alliances.

"The notion is, preserving the peace requires us to work carefully with the great powers," he said.

The national security policy statements sent to Congress by previous presidents have been routine and have drawn little attention, said John Lewis Gaddis, a foreign policy scholar at Yale.

"There were really no definable crises forcing a reassessment of the grand strategy," he said. "But Bush clearly is thinking about revisions of the grand strategy."

The forceful words in the document are also likely to rankle some U.S. allies, who were already reluctant to join Bush's campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

There was little official reaction around the world to the document as of late Friday. But the question of use of force against Iraq has become a major issue in the neck-and-neck German campaign for chancellor that culminates in elections Sunday. French and Russian leaders have made clear their insistence on a multinational approach based on international law.

Bush's policy declaration was nearly a year in the making. The process took on new significance after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, White House officials said.

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