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A calculated risk

Despite opposition on Iraq, Bush sticks to new doctrine

Despite opposition on Iraq, Bush sticks to new doctrine

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The following is a text adaptation of a joint CNN Presents/New York Times special report, "Showdown: Iraq."

(CNN) -- The change had been brewing for months -- triggered on September 11, evolving as the Bush administration's position on Iraq toughened, then put down on paper as official U.S. policy.

For years, the United States portrayed itself as a powerful yet peace-loving nation, willing to flex its military might on behalf of liberty and justice but not as an aggressor, and ideally not alone.

But this position was too dangerous to maintain in the 21st century, the Bush administration contended.

With the mid-September release of "The National Military Strategy for the United States of America," perhaps America's most important strategic document since the 1950 definition of U.S. policy in the Cold War, President Bush outlined a new "first strike" policy -- in simple terms, get your enemy before he gets you.

"The United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past," Bush wrote. "We cannot let our enemies strike first."

That means taking action against hostile forces like Iraq, he said, even when multinational groups like the United Nations balk.

"As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed," wrote Bush.

An intense debate

The president enjoys widespread popularity at home, in part due to his public support for his fight against terrorism. But this new policy and its most immediate application -- military action against Iraq, whether backed by the United Nations or based on indisputable proof that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction -- has been the subject of intense debate.

Some Democrats have challenged Bush's approach, with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, saying the stance "divides the world at a time we should be uniting against Saddam."

Only a few international leaders, led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, have wholeheartedly backed Bush on Iraq.

"The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running," Blair said on September 23.

But Blair faces opposition even from within his own party on joining a war and in Germany, anti-war sentiment helped Chancellor Gerhard Schroder win re-election after he spoke forcefully against a preemptive war. In several Islamic countries, leaders worry that supporting the United States could trigger a backlash at home.

Bush deflected some of the criticism by taking his case to the United Nations. But an international coalition is by no means a done deal.

Critics also say a preemptive strike against Iraq might legitimize similar actions by other countries, like India or Pakistan -- nuclear neighbors who have fought three wars in the past 50 years and view each other with mutual distrust.

A serious policy change

start quote"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge." end quote
-- --Bush to graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June.

During the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy was steered by NSC-68, a once-classified National Security Council document written in 1950. The United States would confront the Soviet Union, the memo stated, with "a rapid and sustained build-up of the political, economic and military strength [i.e. an arms race] of the free world" in order to convince communists of the Western world's resolve and, in so doing, prevent direct military confrontations.

The policy became known as "containment." When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, some experts credited this policy -- in particular, the Soviets' expensive effort to match the massive U.S. arms build-up in the 1980s -- with helping the United States "win" the Cold War.

In the subsequent years, Washington found itself looking for new ways to counter its new enemies, who proved hard to detect and harder to contain. The September 11 attacks, led by religious extremists united by a cause but not a country, underscored the new world order.

The 33-page report released this month outlines the White House's plan to address these new challenges. It calls on the United States to adapt its armed forces and launch preemptive strikes against terrorist groups and hostile states that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction.

The document reflects policy arguments made by administration officials since September 11, 2001 and in support of military action against Iraq. The policy aims, they say, to prevent future terrorist strikes akin to September 11 or deadly chemical, biological or nuclear attacks by going on the offensive.

"We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge," Bush told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June.

Opposition abounds

Many worldwide have criticized the prospect of attacking a person, group or state without certifiable proof of wrongdoing or, at least, an international mandate.

In Germany, long one of the United States' closest allies, a polling expert estimated that 80 percent of Germans oppose military action against Saddam -- a popular wave that Schroeder rode to victory this month. Up to 150 members of Britain's Parliament signed a petition against military action, and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis has also denounced the prospect of armed confrontation.

Jordan's King Abdullah, backed up by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, urged dialogue with Saddam, saying that attacking Iraq would be a "catastrophe" for a Middle East region already unsettled because of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the U.S. support for Israel.

Other nations, including U.N. Security Council permanent members France and China, have said the United Nations should sanction any confrontation with Iraq -- a rebuke of Bush's unilateral approach.

Several U.S. Democrats have voiced concern that the good will and unity Bush forged in his address to the U.N. General Assembly could be lost if Washington attacks Saddam without U.N. approval. Coupled with the Bush administration's perceived isolation on environmental and economic issues, Democrats fear other nations will view the United States as self-righteous and imperialistic or feel empowered to take unilateral military action themselves.

"In just one year, the president has somehow squandered the international outpouring of sympathy, good will and solidarity that followed [September 11] and converted it into anger and apprehension aimed much more at the United States than at the terrorist network," said former Vice President Al Gore, Bush's Democratic challenger in the 2000 presidential election.

"He is proclaiming a new, uniquely American right to pre-emptively attack whomever he may deem represents a potential future threat," said Gore. "If other nations assert the same right, then the rule of law will quickly be replaced by the reign of fear -- any nation that perceives circumstances that could eventually lead to an imminent threat would be justified under this approach in taking military action against another nation."

For Bush, the "first-strike" approach is a gamble, but one that he's apparently willing to take. Compiling irrefutable evidence and garnering total international support can be a lengthy and, at times, impossible endeavor. The risk of inaction, he contends, is far too great.

For now, Iraq is the world's burning question. Will U.N. weapons inspectors return with unfettered access? Will Saddam stall the process to buy time for his regime? And will other nations accept the doctrine of preemptive war?

For Bush, September 11 was a warning that waiting too long can be a greater risk than taking decisive action.

"What our enemies have begun, we will finish," Bush said in his address to the nation on September 11, 2002.

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