On Point

From Cold War Containment to "A Forward Strategy for Freedom"

by Austin Bay
June 7, 2006

President George W. Bush's May 27 commencement address to the 2006 West Point graduating class made it clear he knows the War on Terror will grind on for years.

Last year, I criticized the Bush administration for neglecting -- at least in public -- the "multi-administration" character of the War on Terror. In the July 25, 2005, issue of The Weekly Standard, I wrote:

"Al-Qaida's jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. In the early 1990s, our enemies began proselytizing London and New York mosques and, in doing so, began planting cadres throughout the world. Even if Washington leads a successful global counter-terror war, many of these cadres will unfortunately turn gray before it's over. That means a multi-administration war. ... The Bush administration has not done that -- at least, not in any focused and sustained fashion."

Bush's speech indicates he intends to build a multi-administration policy framework to fight a long war of ideological and political attrition -- a strategic vision that will survive the whipsaw of the U.S. presidential political cycle.

Harry Truman prepared America for the Cold War -- and at West Point, Bush compared our moment in time to that of Truman, circa 1950. Bush pointed out that "Truman laid the foundation for freedom's victory in the Cold War." Then he said his own administration is "laying the foundation for victory" in our new long war.

The Cold War analogy only goes so far. Bush noted that while "mutually assured destruction" (with nuclear weapons) worked on the Soviet Union, it won't work on Islamist terrorist, though there are "important similarities. ... Like the Cold War, we are fighting the followers of a murderous ideology."

Strategic "containment" stopped the Soviets' murderous ideology because the Soviets -- as Russians -- had a nation-state to lose. Al-Qaida's Salafist (Islamo-fascist) ideology presents a different problem. The Arab Muslim world's long-term political and economic failure seeds the discontent on which al-Qaida-type terrorists thrive. Salafism frees its faithful from responsibility by blaming everyone else for eight centuries of decline.

Bush believes Muslim nations -- and everyone else -- can make modernity work. At West Point, Bush dubbed America's new strategy as "a forward strategy of freedom." Bush argued American security depends "on the advance of freedom" in other nations and pointed out that "accommodation" in the Middle East "did nothing to make us safe."

A "forward strategy of freedom" means fostering the development of states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. Implementing that strategy means nation-building. Since the 2000 presidential campaign, the Bush administration has done a necessary 180 on nation-building. Bush entered office disdaining it. Sept. 11 changed that calculus.

Sept. 11 made it clear that economic and political development -- the expansion of the sphere of economically and politically liberal states -- is key to America's 21st century security. What Al Toffler called the "slow" and "fast" worlds became the Pentagon's world of "gaps" and "cores." "Gaps" with Muslim populations were the most critical, but every "gap" dictatorship can also provide haven to terrorists in exchange for cash.

Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of "heavy-lifting" nation-building. These "first efforts" may prove to be the most difficult. Every major war has a bitter learning curve.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's "transformational diplomacy" is another tool for implementing a "liberation" strategy. Rice intends to pursue "proactive" diplomacy, where on-the-ground diplomats identify emerging social and political currents, economic prospects and new leaders so that they can better shape future circumstances. Rice's diplomacy is more "people-to-people" than "elite-to-elite." With instant communications a strategic fact, this diplomatic focus is critical.

In April 1950, the "unpopular" Truman administration produced NSC-68, a strategic study that shaped U.S. foreign policy for five decades. In 1953, the Eisenhower administration "tested" NSC-68 with a secret analysis commissioned by President Eisenhower (the Solarium project). Ike's group ratified NSC-68's basic strategy of containment.

Ike understood defeating the Soviets required sustained and steady U.S. leadership. The United States was the only free nation capable of organizing, facilitating and coordinating a global campaign against aggressive, imperial communist tyranny.

In the 21st century, defeating Islamo-fascism -- another imperial tyranny and utopian ideology -- will require the same sustained effort.

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