January 20, 2004 | National Review Online

On Offense: Bush’s “forward strategy.”

Think of Tuesday night's speech as the third part of a trilogy. In his 2002 State of the Union, President Bush forged Iraq, Iran, and North Korea into an “Axis of Evil” that must not be allowed to successfully develop weapons of mass destruction. In his 2003 SOTU, the president narrowed his focus, making the case for removing one section of that axis: Saddam Hussein.

And this year, Mr. Bush offered no apologies for taking America to war and for liberating Iraq. On the contrary, he pledged to do whatever is necessary to defeat all the terrorists and “outlaw regimes” that threaten us.

“As part of the offensive against terror,” he said, “we are…confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger. “

Victory will require addressing the root causes of terrorism — which is not poverty or globalization or the proliferation of fast-food restaurants, but oppression and the absence of freedom and consensual governance.

“We have not come all this way — through tragedy, and trial, and war — only to falter and leave our work unfinished,” he said. “Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same of us.” He added: “Above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.”

To help accomplish that, Mr. Bush said that “the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian — and soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region.” Promising signs, but let's wait and see what sort of content they produce before declaring their mission on track, much less accomplished.

He said he also would double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy to about $80 billion, with about half of those funds dedicated to programs in the Middle East. We'll want to watch how wisely and effectively the NED spends that money.

Almost half the address was devoted to national security, the war on terrorism, and the “forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East” — a clear measure of the president's priorities.

He repeated phrases and themes he has used before, e.g. “forward strategy of freedom,” “thugs and assassins,” “keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes” — a demonstration of consistency as well as a way to force the media to focus on what is new.

The president said: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.” The moderator of a BBC radio program on which I had been invited thought that was a slap at the United Nations. I suggested it was aimed at Howard Dean's premise that the U.S. should not deploy troops without the U.N.'s blessing.

A left-wing Indian international-affairs professor joining in from New Delhi saw the remark as an example of American arrogance. I pointed out that the government of India does not usually ask permission of anyone before striking back at the terrorists who sometimes cross its borders. Surely the U.S. should enjoy the same sovereign right to self-defense. He didn't like that.

Mr. Bush's harshest implicit rebuttal to his antiwar opponents — including all the Democratic presidential candidates except Dick Gephardt, now exited from the race, and Joe Lieberman, probably not in it much longer — was this: “I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime — a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, tried, convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States — and war is what they got.”

The president concluded with words that will forever mark him as a member that dreaded species — the “neoconservatives”: “America is a Nation with a mission — and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace — a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great Republic will lead the cause of freedom.”

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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