As US forces prepare for a possible war to unseat Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has formally put the world on notice that its approach to Iraq is not the exception but rather the rule of a new US national security doctrine.
The strategy envisions a more robust, global role for the US military in eliminating threats from terrorists, "rogue" states, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), making the case for preemptive strikes, even absent clear signs of an imminent attack.
The policy holds key implications for the shape and scope of the US military, and may add fresh impetus to current Pentagon efforts to bolster and expand the counterterrorism work of its elite Special Operations units, secure new basing arrangements in remote corners of the world, and enhance its long-range precision strike capabilities.
Echoing the Bush administration's mantra that the "best defense is a good offense," it reaffirms the goal of US military superiority and calls on the Pentagon to give the president more options for exercising it. "The goal must be to provide the President with a wider range of military options to discourage aggression or any form of coercion against the United States, our allies, or our friends," reads the document, which is required by Congress and was released Friday by The White House.
Underpinning the strategy is the claim that America, with its "unprecedented and unequaled strength and influence" has a responsibility to lead and that its actions will "help make the world not just safer but better."
By promoting values that are "right and true for all people," such as the rule of law, free speech, and religious tolerance, Washington will act with just cause, it asserts.
Yet in recognition that a bolder projection of US military strength could encourage other countries to follow suit, it warns nations against using "preemption as a pretext for aggression."
The strategy underscores the need to transform the US military from being structured to deter massive-yet-static cold war-era armies. Instead, it calls for a force that is more agile, better integrated, and poised globally to counter hard-to-predict threats.
Specifically, it warns that the war on terrorism will extend to "battlefields" beyond Afghanistan, noting that "thousands of trained terrorists remain at large" on several other continents. The top US priority is to "disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations of global reach," it says.
Already, the Pentagon is preparing to improve its reach and coordination in fighting terrorism around the world by assigning broader responsibility to the Tampa. Fla.-based Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which oversees elite Army, Navy and Air Force commando units trained for unconventional warfare and counterterrorism.
SOCOM has "a global perspective," compared with the US regional commanders, who cover distinct sections of the world, says Michael Vickers of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Regarding "rogue" regimes, the doctrine goes beyond Iraq, stating US forces must be ready to stop any such state and its "terrorist clients" before they can threaten America or its allies with WMD.
In an implicit warning to Pyongyang, North Korea is listed as a rogue state for proliferating ballistic missiles and seeking WMD. But Iran, a third country labeled by President Bush as part of the "axis of evil," is not mentioned by name. Senior Pentagon officials have recently stated that US military action is less likely against Iran because of an expectation that the regime will collapse due to internal opposition.
Broadly, the doctrine says the the US military must be ready for more rapid, long-distance deployments to deal with unexpected contingencies around the world.
For example, just as the Afghanistan campaign required rapid negotiation of basing agreements in remote regions of Central Asia, the United States will need to establish new bases and "temporary access arrangements" beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, it says.
To quickly reach distant corners of the world, the US military must also expand its "long-range precision strike capabilities" and train and equip its forces to become swifter and more maneuverable a prime goal of the Army's current modernization drive.