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Thursday, July 24

9-11 report has Washington pondering its place in the world

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - The capital of the free world is torn by two competing world views: one that positions the United States as sole protector of its destiny, and another that says the United States cannot - and should not - go it alone.

Never was that more apparent than on Thursday, a busy day of review and reassessment of the world since Sept. 11, 2001.

A new congressional report scalded U.S. intelligence operations prior to the terrorist attacks of that day, including the alleged role of Saudi financiers in a terror network in the United States. The Bush administration continued its counterattack defending the legitimacy of the war in Iraq, in part by having Vice President Dick Cheney give a speech saying the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime was so clear and present that action was necessary. Democrats, meanwhile, reiterated claims that the United States could no longer afford to conduct foreign policy without substantial help.

President Bush argues the United States has ample allies in the war on terror and said this week more than two dozen countries had signed up to help in Iraq's reconstruction. But a vast majority of the troops on the ground there are Americans.

And since 9-11, Bush's politics and rhetoric have shifted substantially toward unilateral projection of American power anywhere in the world if that is what it takes. It is far from the ``humble'' foreign policy Bush promised when he accepted the Republican nomination for president two years ago next month.

But Bush and his allies have also consistently argued that Sept. 11 changed everything - most notably the need for the United States to confront perceived threats before they hit home.

``Those unwilling or unable to stop terrorist activity by dealing with it will be forced to deal with its aftermath,'' wrote Ed Gillespie, who on Friday will be named the new Republican National Chairman, in a memo this week to GOP leaders. ``Our choice is confronting terrorists in Baghdad or Boston, in Kabul or Kansas City.''

He said Democrats ``are coalescing behind an `aftermath policy' toward potential threats that is naive in the post 9-11 world.''

Gillespie was responding to a rising crescendo of criticism from Democrats who have seized on revelations that some of the intelligence information that Bush used to build support for war against Iraq was false or disputed.

Bush critics have used these reports to question the purpose or timing of the war. Others have said that while Bush may have had the military might to defeat Iraq in war, it is clear the United States needs humanitarian and diplomatic assistance in stabilizing the country. But, these critics fear, Bush is either too proud or too set on a unilateralist course to ask for more help.

Bush's critics have said the postwar Iraq news has illustrated that Bush's foreign policy is anything but humble, and that it threatens to isolate the United States as an arrogant superpower and perhaps even more of a target of terrorists than before.

Citing previous actions, including the United States walking away from a global environmental treaty, Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt this week issued a harsh criticism of Bush's world view even though he supported a resolution allowing Bush to send troops to Iraq.

``There is a pattern of deciding that we can go it alone on all these things, that we don't need to collaborate, that we don't need to cooperate, that we don't need to listen to anybody,'' the Missouri congressman told Gannett News Service and USA TODAY.

Bush's policy, Gephardt said, ``I don't think in the long run ... is helping us be more secure, it is not helping our economy, it is not helping any of our vital interests.''

But in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, Cheney portrayed Bush as a tough commander in chief willing to make difficult decisions to protect the United States in this new age of terror.

Citing widely circulated prewar intelligence reports, Cheney said there was no doubt Saddam had an ``active'' chemical and biological weapons program and was likely to have produced nuclear weapons by the end of the decade.

``To shrug off such a warning would have been irresponsible to the extreme,'' Cheney said.