- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

President Bush’s May 27 commencement address to the 2006 West Point graduating class made it clear he knows the War on Terror will grind on for years.

Last year, I criticized the Bush administration for neglecting — at least in public — the “multi-administration” character of the War on Terror. In the July 25, 2005, issue of the Weekly Standard, I wrote:

“Al Qaeda’s jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. In the early 1990s, our enemies began proselytizing London and New York mosques and, in doing so, began planting cadres throughout the world. Even if Washington leads a successful global counterterror war, many of these cadres will unfortunately turn gray before it’s over. That means a multi-administration war. … The Bush administration has not done that — at least, not in any focused and sustained fashion.”

Mr. Bush’s speech indicates he intends to build a multi-administration policy framework to fight a long war of ideological and political attrition — a strategic vision that will survive the whipsaw of the U.S. presidential political cycle.

Harry Truman prepared America for the Cold War — and at West Point, Mr. Bush compared our time to that of Truman, circa 1950. Mr. Bush noted “Truman laid the foundation for freedom’s victory in the Cold War.” Then he said his own administration is “laying the foundation for victory” in our new long war.

The Cold War analogy only goes so far. Mr. Bush noted that while “mutually assured destruction” (with nuclear weapons) worked on the Soviet Union, it won’t work on Islamist terrorist, though there are “important similarities. … Like the Cold War, we are fighting the followers of a murderous ideology.”

Strategic “containment” stopped the Soviets’ murderous ideology because — as Russians — they had a nation-state to lose. Al Qaeda’s Salafist (Islamo-fascist) ideology poses a different problem. The Arab Muslim world’s long-term political and economic failure seeds the discontent on which al Qaeda-type terrorists thrive. Salafism frees its faithful from responsibility by blaming everyone else for eight centuries of decline.

Mr. Bush believes Muslim nations — and everyone else — can make modernity work. At West Point, Mr. Bush dubbed America’s new strategy as “a forward strategy of freedom.” He argued American security depends “on the advance of freedom” in other nations and noted “accommodation” in the Middle East “did nothing to make us safe.”

A “forward strategy of freedom” means fostering development of states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. This strategy requires nation-building. Since the 2000 presidential campaign, the Bush administration has done a necessary 180-degree turn on nation-building. Mr. Bush entered office disdaining it. September 11, 2001, changed that calculus.

The September 11 terrorist attacks made it clear economic and political development — expanding the sphere of economically and politically liberal states — is key to America’s 21st-century security. What Al Toffler called the “slow” and “fast” worlds became the Pentagon’s world of “gaps” and “cores.” “Gaps” with Muslim populations were most critical, but every “gap” dictatorship can provide a terrorist haven in exchange for cash.

Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of “heavy-lifting” nation-building. These “first efforts” may prove the most difficult. Every major war has a bitter learning curve.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “transformational diplomacy” is another tool for a “liberation” strategy. Miss Rice intends to pursue “proactive” diplomacy, where on-the-ground diplomats identify emerging social and political currents, economic prospects and new leaders so they can better shape future circumstances. Miss Rice’s diplomacy is more “people-to-people” than “elite-to-elite.” With instant communications a strategic fact, this diplomatic focus is critical.

In April 1950, the “unpopular” Truman administration produced NSC-68, a strategic study that shaped U.S. foreign policy for five decades. In 1953, the Eisenhower administration “tested” NSC-68 with a secret analysis commissioned by President Eisenhower (the Solarium project). The Eisenhower group ratified NSC-68’s basic containment strategy.

Eisenhower understood defeating the Soviets required sustained and steady U.S. leadership. The United States was the only free nation capable of organizing, facilitating and coordinating a global campaign against aggressive, imperial communist tyranny.

In the 21st century, defeating Islamo-fascism — another imperial tyranny and utopian ideology — will require the same sustained effort.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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