The Blog

What's Next in the War on Terrorism?

William Kristol's prepared testimony for the February 7, 2002 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

11:01 PM, Feb 6, 2002 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Over the past few months, the president's views of "our mission and our moment" have progressed further still. On November 6, he assured the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism that the United States would wage war on terror "until we're rid of it." He also saw the potential threat of terrorists armed with chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear weapons: "We will not wait for the authors of mass murder to gain the weapons of mass destruction." And shortly afterward, the president shifted his emphasis from terrorist groups to terror-loving states: "If you develop weapons of mass destruction [with which] you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable."

The State of the Union address marked the maturation of the Bush Doctrine. This war, according to the president, has "two great objectives." The first is defeating terrorism. The second objective, marking the most significant declaration by an American president in almost 20 years, is an unequivocal rejection of the international status quo. "The United States of America," said President Bush, "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

And President Bush singled out three regimes, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, as enemies; they constitute an "axis of evil" that poses "a grave and growing danger." Nor will he "stand by, as peril draws closer and closer." Time, he said, "is not on our side." The president is thus willing to act preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally. This is a matter of American self-defense.

The Bush Doctrine seeks to eliminate these weapons and the dictatorial regimes that would use them. The president also seeks to challenge tyranny in general. "No nation is exempt," the president said, from the "true and unchanging" American principles of liberty and justice. Moreover, our role with respect to those principles will not be passive. According to the president, "America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world, including the Islamic world," and will do so because it is the only lasting way to build "a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror." This is now a strategic imperative as much as a moral one.

The president's words augur a fundamental departure from the U.S. policies of the past decade, from the pseudo-sophisticated "realism" of the first Bush Administration or the evasive "multilateralism" of the Clinton years. The Bush Doctrine rests on a revived commitment to the principles of liberal democracy and the restoration of American military power.

If the president has defined a new goal--or reminded us of what Americans have always regarded as our true purpose in the world--how do we get there? The president and his lieutenants have suggested answers to what the next steps should be.

Since September 11, we have all understood that this will be a large and long war. Already it is being waged on a variety of fronts. The campaign in Afghanistan is far from complete. The Taliban has been routed, al Qaeda's safe haven destroyed. But while bin Laden is on the run, he is still on the loose. The initial battles have been successful, but true victory in Afghanistan will be measured in the long-term effort to create a viable and stable state that protects individual liberties and promotes justice. Nor can victory in Afghanistan be ensured without securing Pakistan.

The campaign against al Qaeda now is taking American soldiers into Southeast Asia. More than 600 troops have been deployed to the Philippines to help the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in its war against the Abu Sayyaf group of Muslim extremists. Singapore and Malaysia both have arrested terrorists with al Qaeda connections and the Bush Administration is stepping up pressure on the Indonesian government to do the same. The trail is also likely to lead into Somalia and elsewhere in Africa.

The presence of North Korea in President Bush's "axis of evil" underscores his larger view of this war. The administration previously has taken somewhat contradictory stands on North Korea, first suggesting it would overturn the Clinton Administration's policy and then to maintain it. North Korea may be impoverished and isolated, but it is extremely dangerous. American policy must be to change the North Korean regime, not simply to contain it and coexist with it.

The president also makes it clear that he regards the Middle East as occupying the central front in this war, and that the problem is political, not religious. What links Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the mullahs in Tehran is a common hatred of America and a desire to drive America out of the region. President Bush wishes to promote the principles of liberty and justice especially in the Islamic world.