When President Bush was preparing a speech in September that he hoped would stiffen the spine of the United Nations against Saddam Hussein, the White House released the National Security Strategy, a set of maxims defining the administration’s view of the world and how it wanted to reshape it.
Washington was awash with rumor about precisely when the United States would topple the Iraqi leader and whether it would wait for the United Nations to approve a campaign to do so. Mr. Bush’s critics organized rallies against a war that seemed inevitable as aircraft carriers left for the Persian Gulf and Special Forces were deployed to the Horn of Africa.
Although this surely is not the intention, the National Security Strategy reflects the state of mind of a country that has not decided what it wants to be on the world stage. For the multilateralists, the document devotes a chapter to “cooperation with other main centers of global power.” For the unilateralists, the strategy reserves the U.S. right to act alone. For the peace processors, the strategy pledges to work to cool regional conflicts. For the idealists, the strategy commits the United States to promoting democracy.
But the most telling phrase of the document is in its introduction: “The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better.”
These, of course, are two very different aims. Making the world safe can mean all sorts of things, but it is in the province of ensuring the integrity of borders of existing nation-states, a point of view most associated with the aim of stability. To make the world better opens the possibility of changing those nations, or at least the regimes that rule them.
Herein lies the essential struggle in the Bush administration. For those who prefer to see the world as it is, such as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the war on terrorism should be fought through local police, international banks and national intelligence agencies with cooperation from many nations.
As Mr. Powell said in an interview on National Public Radio on Sept. 27, 2001, “The president has made it very clear that the kinds of things that will probably be most successful in the campaign against terrorism are intelligence-sharing, controlling people going across our borders, financial transactions and how to get at their financial systems. You can’t do this, America, alone. You need coalitions.”
The same week Mr. Powell made these remarks, the Defense Policy Advisory Board (led by hawkish Bush adviser Richard Perle), a panel of largely former high-ranking officials who advise the secretary of defense met to discuss post-Saddam options for Iraq.
This rift was made clearer 10 days earlier at a news conference, when Mr. Powell was asked to respond to comments from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said that the United States would seek to “end” the seven states it had listed as sponsors of terrorism. Mr. Powell responded, “We are after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations, that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interests to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it.”
This is what Mr. Powell has advocated on the inside and out, working to ease tensions with the Saudis and enlist the Iranians as partners in stabilizing Afghanistan. The Powell prescription is simple: The institutions of existing states should be the United States’ proxies against terrorists who are decidedly non-state actors.
The key distinction here is in how Mr. Powell understands the terror phenomenon as something different from a state, whereas those who seek to end governments that sponsor terrorists believe there is little distinction. As one of President Reagan’s secret envoys to Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, Michael Ledeen wrote in his book released in September, “The War Against the Terror Masters,” “Terrorists represent the long arm of regimes.”
For those who see the world as they believe it ought to be, such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, making the world better is part and parcel to making it safer. For the hawks, the war against terrorism is fought with friendly freedom fighters and U.S. soldiers. In their view, the only reliable allies for democracies are similarly minded and structured states.
This internal struggle is perhaps one way to explain the confusing set of signals coming out of the Bush administration with regard to Iraq. Iraq is a threat to the safety of its neighbors and, should Saddam provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, a threat to the United States.
But Iraq is chiefly a threat to its own people. When the president challenged the United Nations to act in the face of Baghdad’s 11 years of defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolutions, he invoked the plight of Iraqi Kurds and Iraq’s Shi’ia population in the south of the country. He invoked the plight of Kuwaiti prisoners of war still not returned to the neighbor Saddam invaded in 1990.
Yet the resolution that passed the Security Council with a unanimous vote attached unspecified consequences in the event that Iraq failed to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, but not with other U.N. resolutions calling on Iraq to treat its people with more dignity. Under the resolution, it is conceivable that the world will be safer when the inspectors’ work is completed, but it will not be necessarily better if Saddam stays in power.
But the Bush administration shows more robust signs toward remaking the world. Richard Haass, the State Department’s director of policy planning, delivered a speech Dec. 4 to the Council on Foreign Relations titled “Towards Greater Democracy in the Muslim World.” In his remarks, he said that if many of the world’s governments in the Islamic world did not embrace the political freedoms most associated with democracy, they would face revolution.
He spoke of a State Department policy that had created an exception for the region, saying it was in the U.S. interest to push Arab and Muslim states to embrace democratic reform.
What is remarkable about the speech is not so much the sentiment but who delivered it. Mr. Haass was the national security adviser in 1991 who advised the current president’s father not to send his army to Baghdad to end the Iraqi regime. Inside the State Department, he has advocated cooperation with Iran the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, according to the State Department in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The fact that Haass, the architect of a policy of Middle East stability would now embrace democracy as the key to that stability is a welcomed and remarkable sea change,” Gary Schmitt, director of the Project for A New American Century, said in an interview.