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A National Security Scorecard for the United States

How do current global attitudes reveal the need for a change in United States national security policy?

July 15, 2003

How do current global attitudes reveal the need for a change in United States national security policy?

The Bush Administration responded smartly to the challenge of September 11. And it rightly extended the pursuit of the al Qaeda terrorists to their home base in Afghanistan, ousting the supporting Taliban regime. That's a clear plus.

But here's the minus: The short-term success of that war has not been matched either by the capture of Osama bin Laden — or by political stability in Afghanistan.

Instead, bin Laden remains at large, the terrorists continue successful attacks — and Afghanistan has faded into a shadowy world of warlords, drug lords and instability.

On the plus side, the Bush Administration confronted Saddam Hussein. They told him to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction — or face the use of force. The military operation undertaken to defeat the Iraqi army and remove Saddam succeeded.

However the objectives of this war went beyond victory in combat. The Defense Department leadership argued that the United States would discover the weapons of mass destruction, would be welcomed as liberators, called for the democratization of Iraq and promised a quick withdrawal and return to accountable civilian rule.

So much for the promises, but now for the minuses: None of this has materialized. First, where is Saddam? Where are his weapons of mass destruction? At best, intelligence information seems to have been misused. At worst, the American public and the United Nations were misled.

Moreover, this is an occupying, not a peacekeeping force. It is proving unpopular and, by-and-large, inept — because untrained — at the task of governing, reconstruction and nation-building. The prospect of Iraqi democracy has been delayed. Local U.S. commanders who manifestly do not understand the situation have resisted even local elections.

Some would award this effort an Incomplete. Even if and when scattered traces of chemical weapons (the only thing fully developed by Iraq) are found, this bumbling exercise deserves an interim F.

Plus: The Bush Administration focused on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with greater intensity than any prior administration. It even devised a piece of a strategy for anticipating the threat of such weapons — a preemptive attack to eliminate the threat.

Minus: The manifestly insincere (given that the administration planned war anyway) and unsuccessful effort to obtain UN Security Council approval for the war in Iraq alienated a substantial proportion of the world's population.

Childish petulance about French and German opposition to the war has enhanced an odious reputation that the United States will do whatever it wants. Those not with us are against us — and could well be victimized in some way.

More broadly, a non-proliferation strategy that consists almost solely of the threat of U.S. military forces seems to be providing an incentive for other nations to acquire nuclear weapons, notably North Korea and Iran. At best, this one-note strategy will weaken international regimes, which have, for years, restrained the acquisition of such weapons, and need to be strengthened.

Here's the plus: The Bush Administration promised to focus on security issues in Asia, a region with growing security problems, an emerging power in China, a potential nuclear power in North Korea and an economically troubled Japan.

Now the minus: With 9/11 and Iraq, most of the attention quickly disappeared from Asia. North Korean nuclear issues have been avoided — or confronted with hollow rhetoric.

The China policy of the United States is unclear. Japan must wonder when we will engage and has begun to worry about whether it needs its own nuclear umbrella. Another incomplete? A D is more appropriate.

Plus: The Bush Administration promised to revitalize alliances with our traditional friends in Asia and Europe. Minus: The administration has apparently decided to ignore Europe. Some worry the administration wants to divide Europe – old from new.

The Europeans should be so lucky. Europe is no longer the centerpiece of U.S. national security strategy, traditional allies are being waved aside — and the NATO alliance is fading into a relationship of convenience.

Plus: Well, there probably is no plus here. Underlying most of the tensions and conflicts in the arc of conflict that stretches from the Middle East to Indonesia is the inequity of the global economy, mixed into a witches' brew of ethnic and religious conflict and state failure.

The administration has made only two promises here, neither yet delivered: A major increase in funding to combat AIDS — and a Millennium Challenge Fund, intended to reward good performers in the developing world. Unfortunately, virtually none of those to be rewarded are in this arc of conflict.

Minus: The administration has not risen to the challenges of a global economy, ethnic or religious conflict in any way.

So what are the Americans — and the world — to make of this record? This is not a winning strategy: There are way too many failing, incomplete or near failing grades. The administration is banking on U.S. dominance for a long time to come without perceiving the reaction this goal is engendering.

If this scorecard is correct, we may see the opposite — growing unhappiness with U.S. dominance and a yearning for a more responsive and engaged American leadership.

Does this mean that it is time for a change?

This is only a partial review of the scorecard. However, both policy and personnel deserve a review, given this track record, if the administration expects to deliver a more secure nation to its successors, whether these latter arrive in 2004 or 2008.