Gentler document affirms pre-emption

Bush puts more emphasis on diplomacy but stands by strikes

March 17, 2006|By PAUL RICHTER | PAUL RICHTER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's new national security manifesto admits no error and expresses no regret, yet it reflects how an assertive American foreign policy has grown more conciliatory and pragmatic after colliding with messy realities in Iraq and other parts of the world.

The strategy document, issued by the White House this week to update a famously tough 2002 version, reaffirms a U.S. right to use pre-emptive force to eliminate a threat involving weapons of mass destruction. But it emphasizes that military action is a last option, and that diplomacy and collective efforts are the preferred ways to remove threats.

The 49-page document, echoing the idealism of President Bush's second inaugural address, declares that promoting democracy is the surest way to build a better world. Yet, acknowledging that elections have given power to militants such as the Palestinian group Hamas, it concedes that voting alone is not enough and that countries also need to build democratic institutions.

The new version shows an administration "more sensitive to the need to strengthen alliances, work with others, and develop agendas for cooperative action with other main centers of global power," said Donald Daniel, who was recently an adviser to the White House National Security Council, and is a visiting professor at Georgetown University.

Some former members of the administration and foreign policy specialists were not surprised at the changes.

"In their second term, administrations tend to be more multilateral, more pragmatic," said James Dobbins, a veteran diplomat who served as an envoy for the Bush administration. "It's the pattern of everyone, going back to Eisenhower."

The strategy staunchly defends its decision to invade Iraq three years ago. While it acknowledges that U.S. intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons was wrong, "brutal regimes" would always try to hide their weapons programs.

The document singles out Iran, saying that international diplomacy to halt Iran's nuclear enrichment program "must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided." But administration officials said yesterday that talk of confrontation was not intended to signal plans to use military force against Iran.

The report says that the U.S. does not rule out using force before attacks occur, "even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attacks."

Yet it adds that "our strong preference and common practice is to address proliferation concerns through international diplomacy, in concert with key allies and regional partners."

The document goes on in far greater length than its predecessor on the need to strengthen alliances. It mentions American plans to broaden the responsibilities of NATO, to modify the United Nations and to build joint international military and peacekeeping forces.

One Democratic Senate aide said he was shocked and heartened at the "positively Clintonian" ideas, including international cooperation, expressed in the report.

"They came into office saying they wanted an `ABC policy' - anything but Clinton," said the aide, who could not be identified under the rules of his office.

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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