President Bush is once again restating his doctrine of preemptive strikes against terrorists in the latest National Security Strategy.
In a 49-page national security report, the president said diplomacy is the U.S. preference in halting the spread of nuclear and other heinous weapons.
“If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur — even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack,” Bush wrote.
Unfortunately, the Bush Doctrine is the only valid option we have under the current circumstances. The policies of containment were designed to halt the expansion of the Soviet Union – a state led by more or less rational actors. The old theories of realism don’t apply to a world in which non-state and non-rational actors can get their hands on some of the world’s deadliest weapons. We can’t “contain” al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups as those groups have already spread across the globe. Mohammad Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers trained here in the United States. Before that, they were engineering students in Hamburg, Germany. How can we contain an enemy that has no set home?
Nor can we trust that we’ll be able to prevent every attack using conventional means. One successful attack – especially an attack with nuclear or biological weapons – could bring down the US economy or render an entire city uninhabitable for years. The human and economic costs of such an attack would be massive – the victims would not be strictly confined to the effected city but everyone in related industries. The September 11 attacks devastated the travel industry to the point where they’ve yet to truly recover. The total costs of 9/11 have been estimated at over a trillion dollars in lost capital. We cannot play defense – we’d have to stop every attack and the enemy would only have to pull off one.
America needs a vigorous and proactive policy on national defense in an age of terrorism. We have no other options that don’t involve a massive risk to this country and its citizens. The first obligation of the state is the protection of its citizens – salus populi suprema lex – and not having a strike-first policy against terrorism would be dereliction of duty.
The intelligence failures in Iraq have, for some, diminished the threat of WMDs – but those weapons do exist, and terrorists are seeking them. The greatest danger we face in our time is the threat of a terrorist group getting their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. The Bush Doctrine, Iraq aside, remains the right strategic doctrine for our times and treats the threats we face with the seriousness they demand.