The Latest Bush Doctrine -- Out With The Old, In With The Old

Make no mistake. President Bush is right. At least, that is, about the basic assumptions behind the new Bush doctrine. We are, as he says, living in a post-containment, post-deterrence, post-Cold War world. So why has the White House chosen to deal with this new reality by traveling back to the future to take on Saddam? It's Us vs. The Evil Empire all over again, only this time with a Middle Eastern accent.

This worldview is mustier than the plot lines on the WB's "Family Affair" remake -- and about as realistic. Our new enemies are shadowy, hard-to-grasp, lurking in sleeper terrorist cells in more than 60 countries -- including the good ol' USA -- armed with dirty nukes, anthrax-laced letters, smallpox spores, and box cutters as weapons of mass destruction. And yet the president is sticking to a simple-minded, binary approach to our national security. Somehow all the world's evildoers have been awarded honorary Iraqi citizenship by Mr. Bush and his saber-rattling support group of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, and Co.

Reducing the protean challenge of eradicating terrorism down to "regime change" in Iraq is another sign of the president's limited ability to handle complexity. Here's how bad it is: Even shrinking the worldwide terrorist threat to an Axis of Evil that included only three of the plethora of countries with terrorist ties proved too complicated for him, so he crossed North Korea and Iran off the list, and indicted Saddam's Iraq as the source of all evil.

Such sledge-hammer reductionism is not only intellectually lazy; it's dangerous. As the recent arrests in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia have shown, our ability to fight -- let alone win -- the war on terrorism depends on the cooperation of countries that are not exactly our closest allies. We need a network of far-flung informants if we are to obtain the splinters of information that will allow us to take the kind of "preemptive action" that truly will protect us from terrorist attacks.

But taking unilateral action against Iraq will only solidify the fragmented opposition, pushing our enemies together (and many of our friends away), and leaving us to go it alone -- not just against Iraq but in the much wider war on terror. "A uniquely American internationalism," indeed.

September 11th proved that, in this much wider war, information is the ultimate weapon. Effective preemption is no longer about who's the strongest; it's about who's the most clued-in. Our safety depends on arming those entrusted with defending our lives and liberty, not with the most powerful nuclear warheads but with the most potent information.

The president's outdated worldview makes his judgment on international affairs highly suspect. And yet we're being asked to simply trust him on Iraq with no more substantial foundation than vague hints about "highly classified" new intelligence on the evil intentions of Saddam. While it's a safe bet that Saddam is up to no good, the case for immediately going to war against him demands a very high standard of proof.

Senior lawmakers from both parties -- including Sens. John McCain and Richard Durbin, and House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi -- who have been given a peek at some of this latest evidence of Iraq's ability to unleash weapons of mass destruction on the world, have reacted with yawns and shrugs. "I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez, while McCain termed his top-secret Rumsfeld briefing "a joke."

It doesn't help matters that the White House has ignored repeated congressional requests to have the CIA produce a National Intelligence Estimate, the agency's most comprehensive level of analysis, on the threat posed by Iraq. Why the hesitancy? Are the president's men afraid that the results won't jibe with their doomsday -- "we're in imminent danger" -- party line?

What makes it even harder to trust without verifying is that Team Bush doesn't exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to telling the truth. Back in 1990, when the first President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney were trying to sell an invasion of Iraq to the world, one of the key selling points was top-secret Pentagon satellite photos that purportedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops ready to storm across the border into the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It sounded ominously convincing, until some Soviet satellite pictures taken at the same time surfaced, revealing an utter absence of Iraqi troops. Twelve years later, the same Dick Cheney is assuring us that today Saddam "constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined." Color me unconvinced.

The "new" Bush Doctrine is actually nothing of the kind. The Cowboy from Crawford taking on the Butcher of Baghdad in Smackdown 2002's main event couldn't be more retro. Like a WWF wrestler, the war promoters in the White House know that the better you work the mike before the match, the better your chances of winning over the crowd. But this war won't be won with mere stage blood. And using post-9/11 emotion to sell a very pre-9/11 vision of the world doesn't make his obsolete outlook any more correct.


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