New (improved) world order

September 22, 2002

PRESIDENT BUSH'S threat to make war on Iraq comes straight from the playbook of newly released post-Sept. 11 national security policy.

Over the decade since the fall of the Soviet Union, the nation moved from Cold War deterrence to superpower cooperation. Now Mr. Bush says the threat from terrorism is so outside the bounds of traditional geopolitical calculations that the United States has to strike at it first wherever possible.

He is indeed correct that the devastating attacks on our country by a small band of suicidal thugs who lived among us for months call for a much different way of viewing national security threats. Even the "new world order" of his father's day -- when Russia was transformed from foe to friend and partner in policing rogue states -- now seems quaint.

But the tone of Mr. Bush's new national security strategy is alarmingly trigger-happy. As he's demonstrating with Iraq, the president's tactic is to pick his target and make a plan of attack. He'll always try, he says, to round up a posse, but he's more than ready to go it alone.

This marks a fundamental shift from his father's era -- and that of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton -- that seems foolhardy. Going it alone, especially on a first strike, should be a last resort. Whatever aftershocks the world might have to absorb from the calamity that results will be much easier to deal with as a united front.

And what about the example a first-strike policy sets for Russia, Israel and India? How can Mr. Bush urge them to do what we say and not what we do in refraining from attacks on nations they perceive as threats?

Fighting terrorism networks requires more cooperation than ever between government officials.

The president makes the point clearly in his 31-page strategy document that having the biggest army, the latest weapons and the most dynamic economy isn't enough to make this country invulnerable to resourceful enemies who won't be deterred by strength.

Information about terrorist activities may be the most potent weapon against them. That requires a global network of friendly spies working toward the same end.

The president's national security strategy reflects his party's faith in the power of economic growth to help failing nations become strong enough to expel the terrorists in their midst. He calls for cutting taxes, easing regulation and limiting lawsuits in those countries just as he does here.

Mr. Bush gives short shrift to the global environmental policies that played a larger role in the security strategy of the Clinton years. He makes a mistake, however, in dismissing air quality, water quality and other environmental concerns as less critical than fiscal policy to global security.

Some day, the new world order may be all about finding a clean place to live.

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