Spain attacks test Bush war doctrine

Spain’s support of the Iraq War didn’t protect it from international terrorism. Why should anyone believe that regime change in Baghdad has made any other nation safer? The March 11 attack is the starkest proof

Spain’s support of the Iraq War didn’t protect it from international terrorism. Why should anyone believe that regime change in Baghdad has made any other nation safer?

The March 11 attack is the starkest proof yet that the so-called Bush Doctrine – concocted to justify the invasion of Iraq – has precious little to do with the worldwide campaign against organized terrorism.

The Madrid attack was stunning not only because of its scale but for its meticulous planning and coordination, and its ominous timing: three days before a general election. The attack struck at the ultimate Achilles’ heel of almost every major city in the modern world: Mass transit. One need only consider that 3.1 million people ride New York City’s subway system every day to comprehend the havoc a Madrid-style attack there could cause.

It forces one to question America’s priorities since Sept. 11, 2001. What has the Bush Doctrine – by which America reserves the right to attack any sovereign nation if doing so is perceived to be in our national-security interest – done to address the threat of terrorism?

Organized terror, for all intent and purpose, is America’s only potent enemy, and the only generalized threat to the Western world. The danger isn’t so much the potential number of casualties, but the fear and disruption that it can wreak on free and open societies.

Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue nations are another threat that shouldn’t be disregarded, but it must be considered a lesser, and very different, threat. That’s because even a rogue nation needs a motivation to launch such a weapon – and there aren’t many scenarios in which such a nation could do so without inviting its own destruction.

The Bush Doctrine is largely toothless in either case. Pre-emptively attacking sovereign nations isn’t likely to crush a terrorist organization that skulks in the shadows; that would be about as practical as bombing a city to kill its roaches.

Nor does pre-emptive war hold much promise against WMDs. There will be times when a tactical strike on a suspected weapons facility would be appropriate, but preemptive general war would more likely compel the target nation to use WMDs as a last resort. The world is lucky that Saddam Hussein had nothing to launch when we attacked.

Even for the worst-case scenario – WMDs in the hands of terrorists – pre-emptive war would have virtually no application, as there would be nothing to preempt. The danger in such a case would already be real and immediate.

In each case, the most effective strategy is consensus and cooperation – sharing intelligence, coordinating security efforts and deploying military assets as needed. But the Bush Doctrine, by its very nature, contradicts this – it’s about American interests, not global cooperation.

Haiti also has tested the logic of the Bush Doctrine. The Bush administration stood by and watched a democratically elected government crumble, neither supporting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide nor pressuring him to make the economic and political reforms his country desperately needs. That presents a confused picture to the world.

The Bush Doctrine also had no apparent application in Liberia, where a popular rebel movement – which sought American help – eventually drove out that country’s own murderous strongman.

So when does the Bush Doctrine apply? Who can tell? A doctrine is supposed to put the world on notice about some limit beyond which America won’t be pushed. Maybe that’s the point of the Bush Doctrine: to leave the world guessing as to what we will do when.

The problem is, this also confuses our allies. Spanish voters, expressing their unhappiness about participating in a preemptive war that ultimately gave them no more security against terrorism, turned one of Bush’s strongest allies out of office.

The world certainly is better off without Hussein, but the March 11 attack casts doubt on whether the world is any safer.

Robert Steinback can be reached at

(c) 2004, The Miami Herald. Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at

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