February 29, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

No evidence of WMDs required

It would have been convenient for the sake of the so-called "Bush Doctrine" for David Kay and his team of American inspectors - or Hans Blix and his team from the United Nations - to have found evidence of an active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq.

It would have been convenient if the president and his team could point to huge stockpiles of weapons in Iraq as proof they were right to topple the government of Saddam Hussein before he could unleash these weapons on the free world - or sell them to terrorists with equally evil intentions.

It would have been convenient . . . but not necessary.

The Bush Doctrine - part of which acknowledges that pre-emptive military strikes are sometimes necessary - never depended on the discovery of a cache of weapons for validation. It never depended on Saddam's willful snubbing of U.N. resolutions. It never depended, in fact, on a pre-emptive attack against Iraq.

Which is good, since the cache of weapons never materialized, the United Nations demonstrated it was completely unwilling to put teeth into its myriad resolutions, and the attack on Iraq wasn't pre-emptive.

That's right. The attack of last March marked a turning point in a struggle that dated to 1990, when Saddam chose to defy the U.N. Security Council's calls to remove his troops from Kuwait. The 17 resolutions he defied thereafter flowed from this conflict and his refusal to abide by the terms of his surrender. Failure to enforce the resolutions would have signaled to leaders everywhere that the United Nations and, more importantly, even the United States had lost the will to enforce their resolutions.

Some claim we had Saddam "in a box" - that sanctions were working and war was unnecessary. How were sanctions working? Saddam kept a team of scientists on hand to resume WMD programs the minute the West looked the other way. His oppression and mass murder continued unchecked. The United States spent billions on its "no-fly zones" in the north and south, which ensured the Iraqi people would continue to starve even as their leader continued to build palaces and other monuments to himself.

This seeming unwillingness to truly enforce the will of the American or international community could only have encouraged Osama bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban before the attacks of 9/11. The United States had offered little or no response to a series of less-spectacular attacks on its interests in recent years - the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, the attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. On Sept. 11, 2001, we paid for this unwillingness to act.

In response, President Bush unveiled the Bush Doctrine, which holds that the United States would engage - militarily, and pre-emptively if necessary - rogue nations that support terrorists and develop weapons of mass destruction. He put the world on alert with his "Axis of Evil" speech, then ordered American forces to target terrorists in Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Today, WMDs or no WMDs, no one in the world doubts our resolve to defend our interests. No one doubts that when Bush says that states - with their territory, access to the diplomatic community and resources - that assist non-state-actors, such as al-Qaida, in the formation, training and basing of terrorist networks or in the development, transport or sale of WMDs, will face the most severe of consequences. Ask those who led Afghanistan and Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001. If you can find them.

Besides, as foreign-policy expert Max Boot points out in a recent article in The Weekly Standard, there is much more to the Bush Doctrine than attacking countries we fear might harm us in the future. "Just look at the chapter headings of the [Bush] strategy," he writes. "Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity," "Strengthen Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism" and "Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy" are just a few.

The idea is to not only oppose terrorists and the states that support them, but to change societies in ways that make it harder to recruit terrorists. That means more democracy and less oppression; more freedom and less poverty; more education and less indoctrination.

Bomb 1st, ask questions later

There is nothing new about this. Pre-emption has a long and generally respectable history, and it is the right of every responsible world leader who senses danger to his people. The Israelis bombed a key nuclear power plant in Iraq in 1981 - an attack that probably prevented Saddam from having a nuke or two ready when our soldiers arrived in 1991. We pre-emptively invaded Grenada in the 1980s and blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis of the early 1960s.

And given the technology that will drive wars in the future, Boot is probably right about another thing: Pre-emptive warfare didn't become part of the past in Iraq. More likely, it's part of the future.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

First appeared in the Arizona Republic.