Taking on the Evil Axis; Bush Doctrine to Go Down in History

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The Bush Doctrine, though still a work in progress, will certainly be recorded as one that changed America's course in history. Just as the Monroe Doctrine set out boundaries for the presence of European powers in the Americas, the Bush Doctrine sets out the boundaries that terrorists and the nations that support them cannot cross. The difficulty for President Bush, and for us, is that at the moment we probably do not have the capability to carry it out.

From the last dustup with the Brits in 1812 to the attacks of September 11, America has generally forsworn striking at any nation that had not attacked us first. But war, and the means by which it is fought, have changed so drastically that the Bush Doctrine now makes equally dramatic changes to our basic strategy. Accusing someone of planning a "pre-emptive strike" was a Cold War obscene insult, because it was the label for unprovoked use of nuclear weapons. Now, pre-emptive action - not pre-emptive nuclear attack - is an essential means to deal with threats that are not deterred by our strengths, even the possibility of nuclear counterattack. Until the war on the Taliban began last October, terrorists - including terrorist nations - had reason to doubt we would act decisively even after an attack. Now Mr. Bush has wisely changed the equation.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea - Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" - know we have them in our sights. Each is a formidable adversary. If anything is clear - to them as well as us - we lack the forces to deal with them all at once. It will have to be one at a time. Now that the Afghanistan campaign is almost over, it is reasonable to ask, what's next? There is no clear answer. The decision will have to be based on two factors: How urgent is their threat to us, and what are we capable of doing about it?

As much as Iran and Iraq may be alike, North Korea is part of a very different equation. It is not a home for Islamicist terror, but it is supplying terrorist nations with ballistic missiles and other weapons that make them so much greater a threat. Russia, China and Japan all will influence any war with North Korea, which both raises the stakes and complicates the problem. There may be other ways to stanch the flow of North Korean weapons. Hugely dangerous now, it may - like the Soviet Union - die of its own inadequacies. We can try to wait them out.

Iran and Iraq seem to be competing with each other to be next target. Iran is aiding and sheltering fugitive al Qaeda and Taliban troops and leaders. They train, arm and finance terrorists, including Hamas and others. If the Taliban and al Qaeda are able to resume operations because of Iran's help, we may have to pay the butcher's bill for Afghanistan a second time. Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs have gone forward since 1998 without U.N. inspection. Iraq certainly has biological weapons such as anthrax and probably smallpox and chemical weapons, probably including VX gas, one of the world's most deadly substances. …