The world may be about to find out if the swift U.S. victory in Iraq was a one-shot war against a uniquely dangerous foe or just the opening salvo in a new Bush doctrine of U.S. political and economic supremacy.

The first clue will be administration’s policy toward Syria.

The outlines of a Bush doctrine were laid out in a White House paper called “The National Security Strategy,” issued in September. The paper proclaimed that the U.S. system of democracy and free enterprise is the model “for all people everywhere,” and it embraced three new principles – permanent military superiority, a willingness to act unilaterally and pre-emptive warfare – as instruments of defense policy.

What does it mean?

But what this language means in practice is still unknown. President Bush portrayed the war on Iraq as a necessary strike to dislodge a particularly evil regime that posed a threat to the United States, and no one in the Bush administration has actually threatened military action against Syria.

But the administration has turned its diplomatic guns on Syria, which was not a charter member of Bush’s “axis of evil.” If the United States were to attack Syria, which the administration says it has no plans to do, it will be seen – at least in other countries if not at home – as confirmation of a Bush doctrine of rolling military conquest, even a new imperialism.

The conservative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has accused the administration of pursuing a “hegemonic internationalism,” or world dominance. In Paris, the radical Le Monde Diplomatique said that a “U.S. motive is world supremacy. … These right-wing ideologues seek to transform the U.S. into a new military state. They have embraced the ambitions of all empires – reshaping the globe, redrawing frontiers and policing the world’s people.”

Washington has accused Syria of harboring Iraqi officials, sending war materiel to Iraq and letting foreign fighters cross its border into Iraq. Syria has denied the charges, and many world leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, have criticized the U.S. statements. Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, warned the United States to “cool down.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell, while repeating the administration’s accusations, said “there is no war plan to go and attack someone else, either for the purpose of overthrowing their leadership or for the purpose of imposing democratic values.”

Nevertheless, “Washington’s anti-Syrian drumbeat” will only encourage America’s critics, said the British newspaper The Guardian. “Here, they will argue … are George Bush’s next targets: Damascus today, Tehran and Pyongyang tomorrow as a victorious America tackles tyrants and proliferators across the globe unfettered either by the U.N. or by willing allies.”

The roots of these fears lie in the National Security Strategy paper and in the evidence of a strong neoconservative influence on that document.

The paper began with a ringing statement that there is “a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise,” and that the United States has the duty to promote that model around the world.

Critics have used that wording to accuse the administration of wanting to impose a one-size-fits-all American model on the world. But most of their criticism has been aimed at the military parts of the paper, including an insistence on a military superiority.

The paper rejected the Cold War concepts of deterrence and containment of enemies, in favor of pre-emptive attack.

“Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy,” it said. Terrorism presents new threats “and, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed. … The U.S. will, if necessary, act pre-emptively.”

The paper recognized that pre-emptive warfare, such as the attack on Iraq, violates international law, which insists on “an imminent threat” as justification for any first strike. But it argued that the law should be changed, by “adapting the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.”

In addition, the paper blessed the principle of unilateralism in defense of the nation. It said the United States preferred to act with allies but “will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively.”

If the paper amounts to a Bush doctrine, its outlines were seen in the Iraq war – the emphasis on Saddam Hussein’s terrorist connections, the plans to install a democracy in Iraq, the pre-emptive nature of the attack and the refusal to be bound by the disapproval of the United Nations or America’s traditional allies.

The paper’s neoconservative roots lie in the fact that many of its ideas first appeared a decade ago in a Pentagon document, “Defense Strategy for the 1990s,” which was commissioned by Dick Cheney, then the defense secretary and now the vice president. It was written by aides Paul Wolfowitz, I. Lewis Libby, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and other neoconservatives who have become leading advisers and policymakers in this administration. Another co-author was Powell.

The document was published in the waning days of the first Bush administration. The Clinton administration ignored it, but its authors polished and honed it in seminars and op-ed articles through the 1990s. During that time, Wolfowitz – now deputy defense secretary – and others wrote articles singling out Iraq as first target of the doctrine, and they came into this Bush administration openly committed to Saddam’s ouster.

The framers of the doctrine also focused on threats from Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. Syria was seldom mentioned.

The doctrine also foresaw the strains in the Atlantic Alliance that the unilateralism have created. George Friedman, head of Dallas-based Stratfor, a security think tank, wrote more than a year ago about an “emerging Bush doctrine” that divided the world into allies and foes.

“Historical relationships are of significance only to the extent that the ally is prepared to materially aid the U.S. in defending its physical security,” he wrote. “If European allies cannot countenance an attack on an Iraq, then what will they support?”

(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-27-03 0603EDT

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