|Bush Tells West Point Graduates Terror War Is in Early Stages
May 27 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush, marking the fourth anniversary of his doctrine of preemptive military force, said the war against terrorism is in its early stages and will rival the Cold War in its length and difficulty.
"The war began on my watch, but it's going to end on your watch," Bush said in a commencement address today to 861 graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. "One day the world will celebrate your achievements," he said, acknowledging "setbacks and challenges" in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Bush alluded to Iran and Syria as governments that aren't adopting democratic principles. "The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom, and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation," he said.
Bush compared the spread of communism during the Cold War to the more recent rise of Islamic radicalism, recalling the pressure Democratic President Harry Truman was under sending troops around the world in a "struggle between tyranny and freedom."
"Like America in Truman's day, we are laying the foundation for victory," Bush said. Terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction post a threat "as great as the Soviet Union."
Today's West Point graduates were the first to enter the elite Army school after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Speaking at the academy in June 2002, Bush said the Cold War policy of deterrence "means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks" and America must "be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." Ten months later the U.S. invaded Iraq and toppled its then-leader Saddam Hussein.
No Second Thoughts
Bush and other administration officials have said they had no second thoughts about the results of the preemption policy, even though no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons were found in Iraq after dictator Hussein was deposed.
Bush defended his policy in his weekly radio address today, saying that the formation of Iraq's new, democratic government is a milestone in the fight against terrorism. "We can expect the terrorists to continue bombing and killing, but something fundamental has changed," Bush said. "The terrorists are now fighting a free and constitutional government."
The number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq since Bush announced May 1, 2003, an end to major combat operations totaled 2,316 as of May 25, according to Pentagon figures. In and around Afghanistan, U.S. combat deaths totaled 235.
"The fundamental principles underlying the Bush administration's stated approach to Iraq were sound," said Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "The execution was not."
Outside Iraq, Bush's policy has had limited success in the Middle East, experts said.
Libya agreed in December 2003 to end programs to make nuclear and chemical weapons and permitted inspectors, leading the U.S. to lift economic sanctions. While Syria bowed to United Nations demands in September 2004 to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, the government in Damascus continues to support Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia the U.S. considers a terrorist group. Egypt, which receives about $2 billion in U.S. aid per year, drew U.S. criticism when it jailed opposition leaders earlier this month.
"In terms of the successes, it did raise the issue that there is a problem about how the U.S. and other major countries deal with terrorists who might have access to weapons of mass destruction," said Esther Brimmer, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
The number of countries that promote free societies rose to 89 in 2005 from 86 in the year before Bush took office, while the number that restrict freedoms fell to 45 last year from 48 in 2000, according to a survey by Freedom House, a nonprofit group in Washington that gets three-quarters of its funding from the U.S. government.
"If by preemption we mean going after terrorists in Afghanistan and worldwide, we need to do so and have done so effectively," said Ashton Carter, a Harvard University professor who was an assistant secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. "But President Bush meant preempting rogue governments, and there the record is dismal."
Bush's refusal to rule out military force hasn't deterred countries the U.S. calls sponsors of terrorism or developers of nuclear weapons from defying the international community's efforts get them to stop.
North Korea, Iran
North Korea has refused to return to the six-nation talks on its nuclear program until the U.S. removes economic sanctions imposed last year. Talks in Beijing in November ended without an agreement after negotiators in September called for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on May 25 insisted his country has the right to develop atomic energy, saying any aggressor who tries to thwart the nuclear program will be faced with a "historic slap."
In March, the Bush administration updated its national security strategy, maintaining the preemption doctrine and saying in a 49-page foreign policy paper that Iran and its nuclear ambitions are the biggest future challenges to the U.S. "We will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse consequences of their bad conduct," the administration said of the Iranian government.
Bush's preemption policy had the unintended consequence of generating "sympathy" for countries such as North Korea, said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Articulating this concept made the world even more nervous about the Iraq war because everyone wanted to know, `who's next?"' O'Hanlon said. "But by a sitting president, already seen as too prone to unilateralism and the use of force, I think it has clearly been a failure in terms of serving our nation's interests."