WASHINGTON -- Americans concerned about President Bush's single-minded campaign for a pre-emptive military attack against Iraq should read his new report to Congress spelling out a "National Security Strategy" for this country.
It serves notice that he intends his prospective actions in Iraq not to be some one-shot gambit but rather the opening volley of an ongoing superpower policy against terrorism and purveyors of weapons of mass destruction in a new, more perilous world.
One who did take a good look at the report, former Vice President Al Gore, was moved afterward to break the virtual code of silence among Democrats about Mr. Bush's Iraq plans with a withering assault charging the president with a dangerous diversion of focus from the war on terrorism.
The report, required annually from presidents, makes no bones about Mr. Bush's determination to act with allies if possible and without them if necessary. In it, he launches "a distinctly American internationalism" that he says has been made imperative by the nature of the threat from "rogue states."
It declares no longer valid the successful Cold War strategy of deterrence through "mutual assured destruction" in which U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals deterred a superpower war for more than half a century and contained Soviet expansionism.
"In the Cold War," the report says, "weapons of mass destruction were considered weapons of last resort whose use risked the destruction of those who used them. Today, our enemies see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of choice. For rogue states, these weapons are tools of intimidation and military aggression against their neighbors.
"These weapons may also allow these states to attempt to blackmail the United States and our allies to prevent us from deterring or repelling the aggressive behavior of such states. Such states also see these weapons as their best means of overcoming the conventional superiority of the United States."
In effect, the statement endorses a view expressed in the spring by former President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz, that the age-old strategy of "hot pursuit" against an attacker must be superseded with "hot pre-emption" against would-be users of weapons of mass destruction.
The report combines military muscle-flexing with a grandiose design for global democracy-building in which America's "unparalleled military strength" and ideals will be used "to help make the world not just safer but better."
Mr. Bush says notably that the country "is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations." But nowhere in the report is there any reference to Congress' constitutional role in making foreign policy or declaring war.
The president has gone to the United Nations and has asked Congress for a war-making resolution as a demonstration of solidarity. His legal advisers, however, have repeatedly said he needs no additional authorization from either body for unilateral action, if it comes to that.
Thus, if Mr. Bush's requested resolution on Iraq is an open-ended blank check in the manner of President Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution in the Vietnam War, this "National Security Strategy" report is all the more so.
In specifying a right of the United States as the world's unquestioned superpower to take pre-emptive military action wherever and whenever it sees fit, the report inevitably projects a global "bully boy" image that is already a source of foreign dislike and fear. And how will this country be able to protest if others use "hot pre-emption" as a reason or pretext for settling disputes?
Congress seems on the verge of rolling over for the Bush war resolution with few voices seriously questioning its open-ended nature. This report on a new Bush doctrine of pre-emption should persuade Congress to take a more measured look, as Mr. Gore has done, at where this president intends to go in foreign policy.
Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.