- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

With deference to young military officers, Gen. George Marshall liked to say that if you got the objectives right, a lieutenant could write the strategy. The nation's newest National Security Strategy was published last week. Regarding that strategy, Marshall's question stands did the administration get the objectives right? Or, will this strategy turn out to be more slogan than substance? If it is more slogan than substance, what does that suggest for how n impending war against Iraq might turn out?
There is absolutely no question about who the enemy is and what the strategic aims of the new strategy are. Unequivocally, "the enemy is terrorism." The basic aim is to defeat the "terrorists and tyrants" who threaten peace and stability on a global basis. To repeat one of the president's favorite phrases, in this fight, "those not with us are against us." And in this battle, "the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively" with military and other forms of force.
Clearly, this document contains more. And, clearly, much is left unstated, particularly how the administration will overcome charges of American unilateralism and arrogance. But, the crucial questions are whether the aims are right, whether the strategy will achieve them and, if Iraq is the test case, how the aftermath of war will turn out.
First, a few facts are important. Regarding the nation's security, this president says what he means and means what he says. He came into office promising to transform the nation's military for the 21st century and to abrogate the Anti-Missile Ballistic Treaty, one of the strategic cornerstones of the Cold War. The first is happening and the second is done. After September 11, he launched a global war on terrorism sending U.S. forces, supported by many others into Afghanistan, to kill, capture or rout the responsible al Qaeda terrorists and to end the Taliban rule. There was no hesitation once the simple warning was ignored and the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden and his followers.
Iraq is clearly in President Bush's gun sights. Saddam Hussein is unquestionably a "terrorist and a tyrant." In Mr. Bush's view, only a regime change will assure disarmament and a future Iraq devoid of weapons of mass destruction and the disposition to use them. Pre-emption applies in the sense that no formal casus belli is needed should the United States attack.
Yet, this very plainspoken statement of strategy is incomplete. As written, the strategy focuses on symptoms not cures. The causes of terrorism are largely treated as secondary matters. The "gravest danger our nation faces" may lie "at the crossroads of radicalism and technology." But the reasons why this enemy is so set on harming America are left unclear. Hence, in a strategic sense, there is no good answer for why the elimination of Saddam will make any real difference in the larger fight against extremism except that the world will be a better place once he is gone.
This conundrum returns to slogans. The global war on terrorism is a fine political phrase. Concise, readily understandable, Americans and others could rally to the aftermath of September 11 and the task of protecting the country from future attack. The flaw however is that terror is a tool and a tactic.
The root causes of terror arise from extremism and the factors causing or metastasizing it. Unless these are addressed, the war on terror will be as difficult to win as wars against drugs, crime, poverty, illiteracy and other societal cancers have been. This condition obtains within the strategy.
The administration argues that the broader causes of extremism from the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian and Indian-Pakistani conflicts to the effects of repressive or autocratic regimes in the Middle East are too difficult to change directly at this stage. Iraq is the surrogate and while ending Saddam's regime may not solve all of these problems, enough will be fixed to allow some breathing room before addressing the others. But the causes and the larger impact on a post Saddam remain unaddressed.
Reaction from abroad is predictable. The United States stands accused of going it alone and worse. But the real danger is the gap in the strategy. Is the threat terror or extremists employing terror? Is the solution eliminating terrorists beginning with Saddam? Or, along with taking on the terrorists, must the causes of extremism that produce the terror also be redressed? If these ends and means are not sorted out, then the extraordinarily bold expectations of the Bush strategy will not be met. Defeating Saddam may be good for the soul. But will we win the peace that follows the war?

Harlan Ullman's latest book is "Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security," on which this article is based.

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