- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

President Bush's State of the Union speech is having the effect of pulling a reluctant world friend, foe and otherwise into a post- deconstructionist era. He has turned the light of objective reality onto an international scene that, for a generation, has been obscured by the fog of illusion, spin, propaganda, political correctness and academic mind games that have been sapping objective meaning from human thought.

The world has not been moved simply by his stark phrases: "The U.S. will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons … time is not on our side … I will not wait on events."

No, what is changing the world's thought process is the fact that those statements were made by the president of the United States with an 83 percent approval rating and the military, legal and political power to change at his command the political face of the planet. And one other thing: From Baghdad to Berlin to Boston, every sentient being believes that Mr. Bush means what he has said. The day of the lotus-eaters is ending.

This rediscovered ethos of realism is brilliantly (and presciently) elaborated in Robert Kaplan's new book, "Warrior Politics," which was completed just prior to September 11. If Machiavelli dedicated his masterpiece, "The Prince," to Lorenzo, duke of Urbino, it would seem that Mr. Kaplan's book should be dedicated to George W. Bush.

If one wishes to understand the world that Mr. Bush is leading us into, read Mr. Kaplan. He argues for a "morality of consequence" in international relations rather than a Kantian "morality of intentions." He quotes Thomas Hobbes for the assertion that virtue is rooted in fear. "The sum of virtue is to be sociable with them that will be sociable, and formidable to them that will not." That is the president's point precisely regarding Iraq, Iran and North Korea, inter alia.

Mr. Kaplan reminds us, however, that the Athenians lost everything to the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War because, their "general extraordinary success made them confuse their strength with their hopes. They were blinded by their high opinion of themselves … and thinking that their greatness would last forever, they believed they could act with impunity." This caveat is a useful antidote to triumphalism.

But the world owes Mr. Bush an enormous debt of gratitude for beginning to shake the cobwebs from its eyes. It was past time to recognize, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this week, that in an age when terrorists can deliver chemical, biological or nuclear carnage on the world, retaliation is no longer a wise military policy. We have been forced by the terrorists into an age of pre-emptive war. That was the sober message of the president's historic address.

It is not surprising, given the enormity of that change in strategic thinking, that in the week since the speech our European allies have not yet taken in its full meaning. They are still defensive both in their strategy and their psychology. As my old boss, Newt Gingrich, used to say: We are in a paradigm shift.

It will take a while for our friends (and probably our enemies) to think through the implications of a United States committed to use all its power to change dangerous potentialities. My guess is our enemies will get it first. There is nothing like that old Hobbesian fear to set a mind straight.

So, it is not surprising that Russia is rejecting the idea of a change of regime in Iraq, or that the British challenge the grounds for our fear of Iran. Of course a British member of Parliament, the liberal foreign policy spokesman Menzies Campbell, pronounces that "action against Iraq requires uncontrovertible evidence in order to act." Until a week ago, that was standard operating procedure. Now the measure must be reasonable suspicion.

Nor is it surprising that Saddam Hussein is trying to avoid decisive U.S. action by a foolish charm offensive that seeks to deny us a pretext to strike and minimizes our international support. (For example, he will soon let Switzerland open up its embassy in Iraq that has been closed for 11 years.) Somehow, I don't think that will be a decisive factor for the president. Mr. Bush is in the process of demonstrating what Robert Kaplan characterized as the "mark of a great statesmen." He is "willing to confront evil with force at propitious moments."

But, as our friends think through the new reality, we should listen to them. We are powerful, but we are not all-powerful. We are increasingly wise, but we are not all-knowing. It may well turn out that our allies can help the president pick the "propitious moment."


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