Terrorism and US Global Strategy
As the sole superpower, the United States is in the unique position to choose a foreign policy that best supports its interests. After September 11, 2001, defending itself against terrorism is clearly one of the most significant items in US national interests. Once the immediate peril in Afghanistan had been neutralized by spring 2002, choosing a grand strategy became imperative in determining the course that would best mitigate risks of major terrorist strikes against the United States. At one extreme, US policymakers could continue and augment the post-Cold War strategy of establishing global preponderance, through continued and enhanced engagement in hot spots around the world, and forcing an American solution on regional issues. At the other extreme, US foreign policy would be completely revamped, with wasteful alliances and engagements disbanded, and a laser-like focus shifted towards the still-gathering storm of anti-US terrorist forces operating around the world.
With only a few weeks apparently remaining before US forces strike Iraq and force a change in a regime that may have never had anything to do with Al Qaeda. It is apparent that the choice has been made, that US preponderance is going to be pursued aggressively. There are other signs too: the active mediation in the Indian subcontinent last summer, when US intermediaries intervened in tensions by dissuading India from destroying Pakistani terrorist camps that also house Al Qaeda sympathizers, and shrill rhetoric against the "axis of evil", which has driven an already paranoid North Korea to rattling its nuclear sabre, and has driven Iran to alliances with Russia on nuclear reactors and with Pakistan and India on security and economic issues.
Espousing global preponderance, conjuring up an "axis of evil", and attacking non-nuclear nations that don't do the US bidding, are the idiot's guide to resolving the much more complex problem of international terrorism, which is currently focused to a large part on the US. The easy answers may translate into a 2004 victory for President Bush, and help him distract from problems he would rather not face. But they won't help him with the economy, and won't make Americans secure from international terrorists. Iraq was after all well-cornered, with only suspect ties to Islamic terrorist groups, and with no history of WMD proliferation. A terrorist is far more likely to get his WMD from Pakistan or North Korea.
The problem is that in President Bush's my way or the highway style, he hasn't tolerated any debate on the cost-benefit ratios of the strategy of preponderance versus international restraint with a narrower focus on national interests. By artificially postponing conflict in the Indian subcontinent, he allows the same reservoir of terrorists to flourish that contributed to September 11. By keeping troops in South Korea, and encircling North Korea with nuclear weapons, he continues and exacerbates North Korean paranoia about the United States. If the US takes on South Korea's job of defending itself, why shouldn't the North Koreans ignore their southern cousins and threaten the US instead? Instead of withdrawing Cold War-era troops from Europe, and freeing the continent to develop its own security mechanisms, President Bush continues to maintain wasteful military resources in the region that could be better utilized elsewhere, especially in fighting terrorist camps still active in Pakistan.
Would "freeing" Iraq improve the security situation in the US? Unlike the theory of preponderance, international restraint more intelligently suggests that a nation should carefully chose its battles, and that entanglement in foreign conflicts which are not pertinent to strategic interests is counter-productive. Eliminating Saddam and his WMD may deter a couple of would be dictators, but it will more likely create a large population around the world that is bent on harming the US, and will convince many nations to look for the nuclear wand that has allowed Pakistan and North Korea to keep the US at arms length. International restraint is of course the more difficult path to travel, especially for a poll-conscious administration that is too focused on short-term gains, and a little too masculine to look for cerebral solutions. In the meanwhile we can count on the international terrorism threat to continue to grow for the United States as well as the rest of the world.