As a young Marine Corps officer, I was sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that was part of our nation’s strategy to contain communism and eventually to win the Cold War. For nearly fifty years, American security policy centered on deterrence of a well-known enemy and the development of contingency responses to a possible Soviet attack against the United States or our European allies. Our involvement in Southeast Asia was considered part of this larger strategy that allowed for well-crafted and rehearsed foreign policy and military responses.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have lost much of the predictability that had defined the international system and U.S. national security since World War II. But the end of the Cold War has also left the United States in a unique position to assert moral leadership, assure stability, and help shape an international order favoring democracy and prosperity. That has required prudence and care not to overstretch the boundaries of our superpower status.
Yet the tragic events of September 11, 2001, shattered notions of predictability and have thoroughly altered the way we will live our lives. They have also illustrated that America’s global vision is not shared uniformly in all parts of the world. Today, we are faced with new challenges and a new war. Unfortunately, the “war on terrorism” obscures many of the underlying problems we face going forward. Terrorism is not an ideology comparable to communism, nor is it a political movement; it is a technique used to achieve various political or military results.
Consequently, we cannot simply assume that the tactics and strategies that served us well during the Cold War will also be appropriate to address new security realities. Our government failed to define correctly the