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Taking the War Beyond Terrorism

From the January 31, 2002 Washington Post: During the State of the Union, George W. Bush articulated a new foreign policy for America.

9:30 AM, Jan 31, 2002 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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IT'S NOT very often that a president articulates a new foreign policy for the United States. On Tuesday night, President Bush did just that.

On the evening of September 11, the president had--appropriately--responded to the attack on the United States by vowing to bring to justice "those who are behind these evil acts," along with those who harbored them.

By September 20, when he addressed Congress, the president had concluded that we were at war not just with the particular terrorists responsible for September 11, but with terrorism--with "every terrorist group of global reach" and with those "nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism."

Six weeks later, the president had moved further in thinking through the implications of "our mission and our moment." On November 6, the president assured the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism that we were determined to fight the evil of terrorism "until we're rid of it." But he added: "We will not wait for the authors of mass murder to gain the weapons of mass destruction." This was the first public mention by the president of weapons of mass destruction in the context of the war on terrorism.

Over the next few weeks, the emphasis shifted further, from the threat of terrorists gaining weapons of mass destruction to the threat of terror-loving regimes seeking such weapons: "If you develop weapons of mass destruction [with which] you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable."

Tuesday night marked the completion of the development of the Bush Doctrine. The war, the president said, has "two great objectives." The first is defeating terrorism. The second is preventing "the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world." Or, put slightly differently, it is "to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction."

The president named three such regimes, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, which, he said, "pose a grave and growing danger." So much for our previous diplomatic efforts with North Korea. So much for the claim that Iraq has been successfully kept "in a box." So much for our new "constructive" relationship with Iran. No. These regimes constitute a growing danger, the president asserted--breaking definitively with the complacency of his predecessor and the wishfulness of his own State Department. And "time is not on our side."

The president did not shy away from drawing the implications. He would not "wait on events, while dangers gather." He would not "stand by, as peril draws closer and closer." And then, in the most significant sentence spoken by an American president in almost twenty years: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

It's worth noting that the word "terrorism" entirely disappeared from this, the climactic paragraph of the speech. Of course it's true that the dangerous regimes that are developing weapons of mass destruction also support terrorism, so a nexus of terror and weapons of mass destruction exists. Still, this second aspect of the war on terror goes beyond terror. It is a war against dangerous tyrannies seeking weapons of mass destruction. And it will be a pre-emptive and unilateral war, if necessary.

In fact, since "no nation is exempt" from the "true and unchanging" principles of liberty and justice, American foreign policy can be said to be at war with tyranny in general--though not as urgently as we are at war with dangerously hostile tyrannies, and with a greater chance of using diplomatic and political rather than military means to achieve regime change.

On Tuesday night, then, George W. Bush showed that he understood that our task is not merely to uproot terrorism, and then go back to the status quo ante. Nor is our task simply to manage and contain the threats of hostile tyrannies with weapons of mass destruction. It is to act decisively to remove these threats to our liberty, and to our civilization.

And more. Our task, in this "decisive decade in the history of liberty," is to promote the principles of liberty and justice around the world--including in the Islamic world.

In 1947, Harry Truman reversed a post-World War II policy of withdrawal from Europe, and committed the United States to containing and resisting the Soviet Union. In 1981, Ronald Reagan reversed a failed policy of detente and committed us to seek victory over communism. On Tuesday night, George W. Bush put an end to a decade of temporizing and timidity, and committed the nation to removing the threat of hostile tyrannies seeking weapons of mass destruction. This task is comparable to Truman's and Reagan's. It will not be easy or painless. But it is worthy of a great nation.

William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.