January 21, 2004 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

Compassionate Counter-Proliferation

President George W. Bush's warning in his State of the Union Address that America refuses to live under the shadow of the threat of weapons of mass destruction serves notice to the leaders of those countries that they can not rest easy if they continue to support terrorism and procure terror weapons. Last night's State of the Union speech clearly commits the Bush Administration to a policy of compassionate counter-proliferation. The outlaw regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria ignore this at their own peril.

Foreign policy and security issues once again dominated the President's speech, but his text lacked some of the dramatic rhetoric of the last two years'. Unlike in 2002, when he sought to mobilize a nation traumatized by September 11 against an "axis of evil" that combined pursuit of weapons of mass destruction with support of terrorism, and last year, when he laid out the case for disarming Iraq, this year's speech was more of a review of past accomplishments.

The President recounted several victories in the war against terrorism including the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the chief planners of the September 11 attacks, and Hanbali, the planner of the Bali bombing, and repeated his promise that "One by one, we will bring these terrorists to justice." He recalled the overthrow of the Taliban regime that had protected Osama bin Laden's plotters and restated the American commitment to put Afghanistan on the path to democracy.

The President outlined the benefits of the war against Iraq, noting that Saddam Hussein "was found in a hole and now sits in a prison cell" and that 45 of Iraq's top 55 officials had been killed or captured. He proclaimed that "the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place" and Iraq could become a positive force in an unstable region. And he reminded his audience that if Saddam had not been overthrown, his regime still would pose a threat to the American people, the Iraqi people, and neighboring countries. In contrast, Bush introduced the new President of Iraq's Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, who sat in the place of honor next to the First Lady, and told him: "Sir, America stands with you."

The Iraq War also helped prompt Libya to unilaterally surrender its weapons of mass destruction through diplomatic negotiations. The President argued that for diplomacy to be effective, it must be credible and "No one can now doubt the word of America." He firmly restated his administration's commitment "to keeping the world's most dangerous weapons from the world's most dangerous regimes," and called on other regimes to follow Libya's example.

The President rejected the false calls for "internationalization" of the war in Iraq and noted that more than 30 allies had committed troops to help stabilize postwar Iraq. To those critics who rejected the use of force without first securing U.N. approval, he bluntly proclaimed, "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country," earning one of the longest and loudest standing ovations of the night.

The President also took issue with those who doubted the need for a war against terrorism, saying, "It is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers." Instead, he promised American servicemen that his administration "will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror."

Significantly, The President did not utter the phrase "Axis of Evil" which was coined in his 2002 speech. And he stressed the need to export democracy as a long-term antidote to terrorism, calling for a doubling of the budget of the National Endowment of Democracy. Perhaps he has become a "kinder, gentler" leader like his father did toward the end of his first term. He did note that "different threats require different strategies," a remark that suggests that the remaining members of the Axis of Evil, Iran and North Korea (and Syria, which is an unindicted co-conspirator) will not necessarily face the same relentless frontal attack as Iraq did.

James A. Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy