Donald Lambro

In the post 9/11 era, Bush wisely established "an important idea that is still controversial but which I think has worked. That is, in an age where there are people who want to do damage to us through terrorist tactics, you want to be aggressive in trying to find out what might happen before it happens and then stop it from happening -- that is, take preventive action," he said.

"And that's an uncomfortable idea for people, particularly when the act of prevention takes place in some other country; even if it takes place in this country, it has its problems," he said.

Bush's preemptive doctrine is based in large part on electronic-surveillance intercepts here and abroad, sometimes without a court order, which drew strong opposition from civil-liberty groups and his critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

But Shultz credited Bush's preemptive surveillance doctrine for keeping the United States safe and warned that our country would be a lot less safe if the Obama administration chooses a different approach.

"I think that's an important idea that if ignored will cause us harm. It's something we have to stick with," he added. On other issues, Shultz had this to say:

-- On Obama's plans to begin withdrawing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months and the risks in doing that:

"I don't think he knows at this point what the risks are 16 months from now. One would hope that conditions would be such that we could begin withdrawing troops by that time. You don't know whether conditions will be such in 16 months that we will be comfortable in having most of our troops withdrawn. Maybe they will be, and I hope that will be so.

"But I do think that if you set a (withdrawal) date, you make it harder because you give your adversary something to play against. I think, personally, that's a mistake," he said.

-- On North Korea's refusal to let international inspectors conduct tests for nuclear materials, Shultz said they couldn't be trusted.

"The North Korean action is part of a pattern in the way they behave. They are endless bargainers. There is no such thing as a firm agreement with them. You make an agreement, you make a compromise, and then they immediately break it in some fashion."

As Obama and the Democrats get ready to take charge of America's foreign policy and national security, they still have a lot to prove. Up until Election Day, polls showed that many Americans had doubts about their ability to keep America safe.

They would do well to heed George Shultz's cautionary advice that "the world still remains a very dangerous place."


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.