This is how George W. Bush announced his doctrine in his Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People on September 20, 2001:
“Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
In that speech, President Bush had the political courage to present the truth, however unpleasant, to the American people. He was prepared to make difficult decisions, to take measures that would involve great risks and subject him to public criticism.
To clear thinking Americans, September 11th was the single day of horror that alerted us to the grave dangers that are now facing our world. Those Americans understand that had Al Qaeda possessed an atomic device on September 11th, the city of New York would not exist today. They realize that we could have been grieving not for thousands of dead, but for millions.
But for others, in our own country and around the world, the power of imagination is apparently not so acute. It appears that these people will have to once again see the unimaginable materialize in front of their eyes before they are willing to do what must be done. For how else can one explain opposition to President Bush’s plan to dismantle Sadaam Hussein’s regime?
If you intend to defeat the Mafia, you don’t just go after the foot-solder who carried out the last attack, or even stop with the apprehension of the particular don who sent him. You go after the entire network of organized crime. All the families, all the organizations – all of them.
Likewise, if you intend to defeat terror, you do not just go after the terrorists who carried out the last attack, or even the particular regime that sent them. You go after the entire network of terror. All the regimes that support terror, all the organizations that they harbor – all of them.
Doing this always entails the need to act before additional attacks are carried out. When the security of a nation is endangered, a responsible government has to take the actions that are necessary to protect its citizens and eliminate the threat that confronts them. Sometimes this requires preemption.
In the history of democracies, preemption has always been the most difficult choice. Because at the time of decision, you can never prove the naysayers wrong. You can never show them the great catastrophe that was avoided by preemptive action.
Yet we now know that had the democracies taken preemptive action to bring down Hitler’s regime in the 1930s, the worst horrors in history could have been avoided.
But the most compelling case for preemption against Sadaam’s regime was not made by the powerful words of President Bush but by the savage actions of the terrorists on September 11th. Their wake up call from hell has opened our eyes to the horrors that await us tomorrow if we fail to act today.
To defeat the terroists, people will have to show civic courage. The citizens of a democracy threatened by terrorism must see themselves, in a certain sense, as soldiers in a common battle. They must not pressure their government to surrender to terrorism. If we seriously want to win the war against terrorism, people must be prepared to endure sacrifice and even, should there be the loss of loved ones, immeasurable pain.