- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

When President Bush first talked about the war on terrorism that had been thrust upon us September 11, he said it would be prolonged and unconventional. Surely he was right in that assessment. One year on, as the nation assesses our current war status, it is obvious that much remains to be done. The National Journal issued an elaborate first-year report card for the president that included even such microscopic categories as movie theater safety. While assembling detailed project lists will surely help official Washington in its chores for Year 2, it is also useful to step back and view the larger landscape of war preparedness. We are struck by four large presidential accomplishments that have received little positive comment.

When, in the next several weeks, Congress votes overwhelmingly to approve the president's war plans against Iraq, the president will have gained a national endorsement of his decision to replace our 50-year defense doctrine of containment and deterrence with the new doctrine of pre-emption. This is an extraordinary accomplishment. It took President Harry S. Truman about three years to develop and gain government-wide support for his strategy for dealing with Stalin's communism. Faced with a new type of enemy requiring a new strategic doctrine, it will have taken Mr. Bush barely a year to gain endorsement and application of that new strategic doctrine.

Similarly, Congress also will vote before it leaves town in October for most of the president's proposal to reorganize our homeland security bureaucracies. While this huge project will undoubtedly be modified many times in the coming years (and the practical benefits of reorganized homeland security probably will not be realized for a few a years), moving it from concept to enactment in only a year is also a triumph. The 1947 reorganization of the armed forces was in its planning stages as early as 1944 once again, taking about three years to gain initial enactment.

The third foundation-laying success for the president involves war-fighting doctrine. Ever since Civil War Gen. U.S. Grant developed the strategy of the big battalion winning by attrition due to vastly superior material and human resources the Army has resisted any alternative strategic doctrine. But in the past year, Mr. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have introduced an alternative doctrine that relies on light, mobile, highly skilled special forces combined with air power and real-time information processing. This stubbornly resisted innovation, which proved so successful in Afghanistan, is likely to prove invaluable in the coming decades as our fighting forces hop-scotch the globe suppressing the terrorist menace.

The fourth triumph of the president's first year of leadership in this war remains, if anything, the most controversial of his decisions. He authorized Attorney General John Ashcroft to round up thousands of Arab and other Muslim men in the days after September 11. While the vast majority of the detainees were guilty of nothing more than being in administrative noncompliance with their immigration status, our sources indicate that some very bad actors were also swept up in that dragnet. It is likely (though not provable in a court of law) that subsequent terrorist acts were thereby thwarted.

Inexplicably, in rating the president's first-year successes and failures, he is given no credit for the single most important success: avoiding (as of this writing) a second strike on our soil. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans probably are alive today because of that controversial roundup (combined with the round-the-clock labors of our unfairly discredited intelligence services agents). The president had to balance the unfairness to the many largely innocent Muslim men against the chance to stop the few terrorists. He acted quickly and decisively, and he has taken much harsh criticism for that decision. We commend him for it.

It would be foolish to under-rate what lies before us. And no one can know what untaken steps may be regretted in the future. But, whether fully by design or combined with alert responses to events, Mr. Bush has in the first war year not only denied al Qaeda its secure base in Afghanistan, he also laid the foundations for future successful war-fighting.


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