- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2008

President Bush Tuesday said Pakistan has been told that U.S. troops will take whatever steps they deem necessary to defend themselves, as he defended his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes as part of the war on terror.

“We have made it clear to Pakistan - and to all our partners - that we will do what is necessary to protect American troops and the American people,” said Mr. Bush, wading into touchy relations between the United States and Pakistan.

The Middle Eastern nation has protested U.S. missile strikes against al Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil, with its Foreign Ministry arguing that the attacks violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Mr. Bush spoke at the U.S. Military Academy, saying the search for al Qaeda’s top leaders continues. “The day will come when they receive the justice they deserve,” he said.

Six years after he announced his pre-emptive strike doctrine at West Point, Mr. Bush returned to tell the cadets his policy is central to the terrorism-fighting strategy he leaves to the next administration.

“If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. So we made clear that hostile regimes sponsoring terror or pursuing weapons of mass destruction would be held to account,” he said.

He said he also made the decision to discredit Islamic extremism as an ideology as a part of his strategy.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Monday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, writing about the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, said Western nations are partly responsible for the fanaticism.

“These militants did not arise from whole cloth,” he wrote. “Pakistan was an ally of the West throughout the cold war. The world worked to exploit religion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by empowering the most fanatic extremists as an instrument of destruction of a superpower. The strategy worked, but its legacy was the creation of an extremist militia with its own dynamic.”

He said that with 150,000 Pakistani troops fighting in the region bordering Afghanistan, his nation is “on the frontlines of the war on terrorism.”

Mr. Bush, in his speech, said Pakistan, too, has been a victim of terrorism.

He said the key challenge for the U.S. military in the future will be “ungoverned spaces” - places like the tribal regions inside Afghanistan where governments struggle for control.

The president acknowledged his efforts to spread freedom “are unfolding slowly and unevenly,” but he said he takes encouragement from political progress in Iraq.