Don't Panic October 02 2002

The president recently issued a report on U.S. military strategy. What does the report say?

For a president who once referred to the people of Greece as Grecians, writing a congressionally mandated report on international strategy was no doubt a daunting task. I suspect Bush might have reconsidered running for president had he known there'd be homework.

Fortunately, the White House isn't like Yale; Congress doesn't subtract points if Bush gets help from the smart kids. So after a couple of games of Battleship, just to get in the mood, Bush and his Pentagon friends sat down and wrote the report. They called it "The National Security Strategy of the United States." Response to the report has been mixed. For example, Senate Democrats complain that Bush used a 14-point font in order to make the report seem longer.

Font notwithstanding, Bush's report is a doozy. It's been called the biggest change in U.S. military strategy since the beginning of the Cold War. Here are some key points:

Pre-emption. Under current international law, if Mexico went on a tequila binge, got really hammered and threatened to attack Arizona, the U.S. would be within its rights to put a hurting on Mexico. Under Bush's new strategy, though, the U.S. will attack a potential enemy before it even becomes a threat. In other words, as soon as Mexico starts cutting limes, we'd hit 'em. It's a violation of international law and, to stretch the tequila analogy past its limit, it opens a can of worms. If the principle of "attack potential enemies first" becomes the international norm, then when does it stop? China might attack Taiwan. India might nuke Pakistan. Hell, someone might go ahead and attack us. After all, if we've just said that we'll attack anyone whom we think might attack us, don't they have the right to attack us for the same reason?

Treaties. The report states that our old strategy of using treaties to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of rogue states (defined as countries that wear dark clothes, quiet shoes and capes) doesn't work. Now we're just gonna abandon the treaties we don't like, and stick with pre-emption (see above) and the Star Wars missile shield. Never mind that treaties and nuclear deterrence have successfully kept the peace for 50 years. And never mind that, in all tests so far, the Star Wars missile shield has proven about as effective at blocking missiles as a Star Wars VHS tape.

Stay on Top. Bush's strategy calls for the U.S. to maintain its overwhelming military superiority over every other country in the world. In theory, I'm all for that. As a citizen of the U.S., I prefer that the best missiles in the world aren't pointed at me. But a strategy of "let's be on top forever" is doomed. If Bush had bothered to visit Europe before he was president, he might've noticed that the Roman Empire — as powerful in its day as the U.S. is now — exists only as ruins. Other nations will eventually catch up to us, so declaring our intention to be the most powerful nation in the world in perpetuity isn't a policy so much as a stupid boast designed to impress hawkish voters. Unfortunately, the boast (combined with our pre-emptive strike policy) is only going to make other countries work extra hard to build up an arsenal that will deter or defeat us.

So let's summarize: If we don't like you, we'll attack you — international law and treaties be damned. So why is it again that foreigners resent us?


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