When President Bush's National Security Strategy of the United States was published after September 11, only two of its nine passages received much attention. And as the war in Iraq inched closer, the United States' move toward using preemptive strikes if necessary, as outlined in Section V of that document, was singled out for the harshest criticism.
The President's National Security Strategy is offered as evidence of his draconian intentions, which, when weighted down with his persistent mention of God, good and evil, creates for many the picture of a zealot who pursues the Holy Grail of Pax Americana, damn the consequences.
But of the nine sections, the two that have received the most criticism are among the easiest to defend. The administration deserves credit for boldly confronting a changed world. They have fashioned a far-reaching, post-Cold War strategy that, with more debate and elaboration, could be the foundation of sound national security policy. Could be.
The two sections of the National Security Strategy that have almost exclusively drawn attention. Section V, as mentioned, addresses the challenges of WMD and ends with: "To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." And Section IX asserts: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." This section offers little more than a statement of fact. So what's all the fuss?
If you listen to the hysterical critics, the problem, really, is that it was Bush's idea. But they have so vigorously argued against preemption that they have completely missed the bigger problems that riddle the remainder of the document -- and the passages they might agree with on solving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Any Bush idea, too many critics seem to say, is a bad idea. This is just plain lazy, as this document is far too complex to be rejected out of hand.
The case for preemption can be made, but the analysis of the secondary effects of the policy is incomplete. Perhaps it can be blamed on Congress's inability of late to debate anything about national security, but the issue should never have been allowed to just hang there. It needs work, and now that the war has all but ended, it should be debated. What criteria need to be met to launch a preemptive strike? Do we need to offer evidence to anyone, like the United Nations or even the American public? And how will we make the moral case that the U.S., alone among the nations of the world, can launch such strikes? As in the rest of our government, adequate checks and balances are needed.
I find plenty of the ideas in this document silly, but preemptive strikes and military supremacy don't reach that level. No, my concerns center on passages like the one in Section VI, on economic development and free markets. Here the authors announce their intentions to use "economic engagement" to foster pro-growth regulatory policies to encourage business investment. (Sounds like the usual "whatever business says" approach to me.) Meanwhile, the authors turn around and specify the need to reduce greenhouse emissions by 18 percent over the next 10 years. Huh? If they've figured out a way to protect the environment and satisfy business, that'd be great. But there's no evidence of such a solution here.
The document also includes several truly nutty declarations. We learn that our national security depends on "tax policies -- particularly lower marginal tax rates -- that improve incentives for work and investment." Brilliant -- lower taxes will bring peace on Earth. The section on human dignity isn't much better. It specifies an abiding "respect for private property." Here we see no mention of public space or even the need to associate respect for private property with public good, which, of course, has historically served to justify granting corporations the same rights that individuals are guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. And throughout the document, we see the terms "democracy" and "unregulated free enterprise" used interchangeably, as if they were one and the same. All this all adds up to an endorsement of unrestrained globalism -- an ideology that needs to be seriously challenged.
Unfortunately, because of all the cynicism and hysteria regarding preemptive strikes, Pax Americana and Bush's motivation, perhaps the document's most vital section has been all but ignored. That is Section IV, which commits the U.S. to work with others "to defuse regional conflicts." The Palestinian-Israeli conflict draws special attention here. After lamenting "the toll of human suffering" caused by the conflict, the strategy makes unequivocal the solution: "There can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine living beside Israel in peace and security."
The President doesn't make creation of a Palestinian state dependent on an end to terrorism. In this document at least, the issues are dissociated. And the statement then continues: "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop."
The administration has finally reached the conclusion that more thoughtful Israelis reached sometime ago: The two-state solution begins with the end of the settlement construction.
And here's a twist. Bush's very own national security strategy requires that he break ranks with opponents of a two-state solution: Ariel Sharon and Bush's own American Zionist supporters. And what will he say to his political base, the religious right, including the Southern Baptist Convention, which is on record in support of even more settlements?
If his critics weren't so mired in the policy of preemption -- which does need work -- they might be able to focus on the complexity that runs throughout this important document. And they might even notice that they're not that far from the administration's position when it comes to Israel-Palestine.
Publication date: 04/24/03