This time it's different

Posted: Jun 13, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The other day Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was mewling about how he would not politicize President George W. Bush's efforts against international terrorism. "I am certainly confident that the administration would not politicize this issue," he concluded, even as he attempted to politicize the issue. Ever since the angelic Daschle became Senate leader, I have witnessed his intensely controlled demeanor and speculated as to what medication he might be on. He always seems to be suppressing seething emotions that one associates with the terminally immature. Surely at this perilous moment in American history, it is time he act as an adult. The government faces a mighty challenge. 2002 is beginning to have the feel of another epochal year in American geopolitical history, 1947. That was the year when President Harry Truman had to acknowledge publicly through speech and policy revisions that America was no longer floating free of the entanglements of world politics. We could no longer be indifferent to Europe and Asia. The brief peace established by Russia and the Western Allies in defeating Nazism and Fascism had ended. The Western powers (which is to say, disarmed America and devastated Europe) were faced with an entirely new and unforeseen kind of war against the world's last standing totalitarian state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Aided by supremely intelligent and resolute advisers, Truman, by the end of 1947, had completely reworked his government and its focus. He had announced the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe, after answering Britain's call to replace London as guarantor of Greek independence. He had established the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council. All over the world our diplomats were busy establishing and fortifying friendly relationships with foreign countries -- relationships that America had eschewed since George Washington's Farewell Address. The Army, Navy and Air Force were gathered into a single establishment under a secretary of defense, and military budgets stopped declining and began to grow. Finally, the memo of a little-known State Department officer, George Kennan, became the blueprint for a new foreign policy, called Containment. It defined our posture throughout the Cold War until Ronald Reagan challenged Moscow to bankrupt itself in an arms race. A judicious reading of the news stories of the past few months suggests that the vigorous reordering of Washington's priorities seen in 1947 is being attempted again in 2002. The havoc that Islamic terrorists have brought to the Middle East, to Israel, to Palestine and to Lebanon makes it clear that our present reordering of priorities is of the utmost importance. In the past couple of weeks, the tempo of change in Washington has actually picked up. While Daschle pouts and simpers, President Bush has overseen a girding up of our diplomatic, intelligence and military forces to defend the entire civilized world against Islamic terrorists. It is an effort reminiscent of 1947's launch of the Cold War; and, as in 1947, we have no alternative but to confront our new enemies. Our diplomats are busy worldwide preparing friendly nations to accept and assist in the eventual elimination of Saddam Hussein. Washington is active in the Middle East to bring peace and security to Israel's borders with the possibility of a Palestinian state once the Palestinians have rid themselves of Yasser Arafat's kind of treachery. In Pakistan and India, Washington is equally energetic in creating new relationships. At home, the president has announced a new Cabinet position for homeland security. The position will break down divisions in authority between foreign intelligence-gathering authorities and domestic intelligence-gathering authorities. Such divisions kept the CIA and the FBI from cooperating in the past. They further bureaucratized and impeded the kind of intelligence that is crucial to prevent future Sept.11s. The president's plan is ambitious and probably not ambitious enough. Probably both the CIA and FBI should be shedding intelligence-gathering bureaus and handing them over to the new homeland security agency. At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has introduced reforms almost as energetic as the 1947 reforms that created his position. The military no longer contemplates merely conventional and nuclear warfare but now also contemplates special ops warfare. Weapons systems have to be changed along with budgets. Special ops fighting units have to be improved, while older units remain prepared for duty. Both the military and our intelligence community have to anticipate the calculations of lunatics. That was not a problem for us in 1947. The problems posed by the Soviets in 1947 were clearer if more frightening than those posed by Islamic terrorists. Moscow was on the path to nuclear capability, but once Stalin departed, reason reigned in Moscow. The terrorists lack the Soviets' might but they also lack the Soviets' essential sanity. That is why 2002's most recent policy change is particularly welcome. The Bush administration is about to formalize a new "strike first" military stance towards terrorists and rogue states. Informed by good intelligence, the next time a threat against us is mounted, America will not have to wait to strike -- either in the hills of Afghanistan or in Iraq.