A hard sell

By law, the president is supposed to present a revised National Security Strategy annually. Since the last time was 2002, the timing of this latest assessment is significant.

Clearly, President Bush meant to turn up the heat on Iran at a crucial point when that nation is considering whether to proceed with a nuclear weapons program. “We face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,” he said.

This was far stronger language than he used for the six other “despotic systems” he singled out — North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Burma.

The administration is becoming impatient with diplomatic efforts to convince Iran to give up its weapons program and allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities. “This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided,” Bush said. It’s hard to read that as anything other than a threat, but Tehran should hardly be surprised with its own threat to cause the U.S. “harm and pain” and the reckless musings of its president about wiping other nations off the map.

The heart of the document is a restatement of his 2002 security policy shift from deterrence and containment to pre-emptive strikes in the face of gathering threats.

“If necessary, however, under longstanding principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur _ even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize,” the president said.

Two points are in order here. In the aftermath of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction debacle and ensuing chaos, Bush will face an American public deeply skeptical of any further military adventures. He may no longer have the credibility to convince the country of a serious threat.

And as the swift and overwhelming military victories showed, we do strikes, pre-emptive or otherwise, really well. It’s the aftermath where we’re not doing so well. Afghanistan is still not stable and Iraq is a mess. Ousting regimes is not a problem; what comes after is, and perhaps that’s what our national security strategy should address.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)