Balancing War and Vision

At its best when conducting war and other foreign ventures, the US has usually exported both fear and hope.

It defeated most of its 20th-century enemies, creating respect and awe for its might. But it also brought an idealistic vision to foreign lands. The latter was sometimes naive, as when US Sen. Kenneth Wherry stated in a 1940 speech: "With God's help, we will lift Shanghai up and up, ever up, until it is just like Kansas City!"

Still, that balance of might and vision is largely missing as President Bush steps closer to war with Iraq. He does plan to uplift Iraq, even somehow turning it into a shining model of Middle East democracy. But for now even the prospect of a preemptive war on Iraq - ridding it of terrorist weapons and a terrorism-exporting dictator, but without UN approval - has generated far more fear than hope.

Much of that fear is simply uncertainty. How would a war change Arab nations, boost Al Qaeda-style terrorism, or erode international norms built up in the UN? What happens to the vital Europe-US alliance?

This imbalance of more-war, less- vision is understandable under a president who's vowed absolute security for every American against an unusual threat. Only lately, though, has Mr. Bush spelled out a concrete vision for a postwar world.

Outside the UN, for instance, he sees a "vast network of freedom-loving countries" to fight terrorism. At his summit yesterday with the leaders of Britain and Spain, he's creating new alliances with like-minded European nations. On Thursday, he promised a diplomatic "road map" to create a Palestinian state, the best hope for Middle East peace.

Simply criticizing the current world order - finding the UN "irrelevant" or labeling France and Germany "old Europe" - is not a vision. And invoking religious terms in speeches about Iraq can tend to divide as much as unite. Rather, support for war would be firmer if more people saw a vision of a better world behind it.

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