Monday, March 11, 2002

OUR PARADIGM WAS ALL TORE UP: The Bush Doctrine is simple: "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." It's foundation is simple too: terrorism isn't a unique, supra- or extra-national phenomenon; it can be accounted for by the traditional regime of international relation. But this simple doctrine, based on this obvious observation, cut a Gordion knot that had bedeviled American leaders some twenty years. Force is the essence of state power. Yes, states wield economic, cultural, and diplomatic power, but these are derivative of the military force that keeps trade routes open, international borders sacrosanct, and diplomats alive. States use force openly and directly with armies, secretly and indirectly with intelligence agencies, paramilitary groups, and proxies. However states use force, the main limitation on it is the cost of retaliation. You invade my country, I'll invade yours. Fear of retaliation limited states even when they resorted to proxy armies: the Russians and Americans fought each others proxies in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but never fought each other. But the United States didn't follow this model when dealing with terrorism. Except for Libya in 1986, states sponsored repeated terrorist attacks against the United States -- seizing our embassy in Tehran; killing Marines, diplomats, and other officials in Beirut; repeated hijackings and killings of American citizens abroad; bombing the World Trade Center, our embassies, a warship -- but never faced direct retaliation by our government. Our failure to respond didn't make sense. The terrorists were clearly proxies for states like Libya, Syria, and Iran. They weren't perfect analogs to Cold War proxies. Some had multiple client states, and much of state support consisted in leaving the terrorists alone, although states supplied weapons and intelligence too. But they were close enough: like Cold War proxies, terrorists could not function effectively without a backbone of state military, intelligence, and political support. In fact, terrorists were worse than Cold War proxies because they attacked us directly, anywhere, any time, killing Americans abroad, then at home. But if terrorists fit the model of state proxies, their kind of war did not fit our model of international relations. We regarded war as a means of last resort, to be used only for immediate self-defense. This model had two consequences. First, we did not attack states except when we had hard, smoking-gun evidence of their involvement in terrorist acts. Second, we did not retaliate except in "hot blood," while a terrorist attack was still immediate. So in 1986 we attacked Libya within weeks of the discotheque bombing after getting pretty hard evidence of direct state involvement, but after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing we didn't retaliate immediately, because we didn't have hard evidence of state involvement, and we didn't retaliate when we did have hard evidence, because the heat of the moment had passed. Since we usually didn't get hard evidence of state involvement until months or years after terrorist attacks, we repeated the latter pattern of non-retaliation again and again. Presidents from Carter to Clinton didn't fail to retaliate because they were stupid or cowardly; they failed because their model of international relations and the proper use of force couldn't account for what was essentially war in slow motion. So we treated state action as private action, and muddled along with criminal investigations, diplomatic maneuvers, and occasional and limited military strikes. The genius of terrorist states was to perceive and exploit our failure of imagination. Muddling through wasn't especially effective, but since the stakes were relatively small in terms of lives lost, it was affordable. The terrorists raised the stakes by the thousands on September 11, and now it's not. The model didn't work, so the President redesigned it. He cut through the Gordion knot by recognizing the reality that a certain states seeks the common end of our destruction and use the common means of terrorism. Since we know they harbor terrorists, we won't require of ourselves hard evidence of direct state participation. It is enough that a state knowingly harbors a terrorist group to justify the ultimatum of cooperation or war. Since we know they're allied against us, we won't limit our retaliation to the particular sponsor of a particular terrorist; each state allied against us gets copied on each ultimatum. In the short term, the Bush Doctrine means more war. Destroying the Taliban made small states like Yemen see the light, but Iran, Iraq, and Syria are unpersuaded. But in the long term, the Bush Doctrine promises stability precisely because it makes every act of international terrorism a casus bellli between states. Terrorist states have made war on us because the benefits outweighed the costs. War begat economic sanctions, diplomatic wrangling, and criminal investigation, instead of death and captivity. The Bush Doctrine resets the balance. War begets war, period. That equation won't prevent war with states led by madmen or gamblers; it never has. But it will prevent war with nations lead by more or less rational actors, and end regimes led by leaders who aren't. That's an effective policy, and after September 11, we can't afford anything less.

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