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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

The Bush Doctrine: Theory and Practice

William Kristol, Chairman of the Project for the New American Century; editor, The Weekly Standard; media commentator
Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC
October 1, 2003

Opening Remarks and Introduction

Thank you, Bill. It's good to be here. I've always had a high regard for the State Department, ever since I first came to Washington in 1985 to work for Bill Bennett, who was then Secretary of Education for President Reagan. In about a year, I became his chief of staff, and about a year later I think Secretary Shultz invited Secretary Bennett over for a cup of tea; it was very civilized, at 4 p.m., as I recall, in his office upstairs. And I got to come as sort of chief of staff, and I think Charlie Hill sat in with Secretary Shultz. I remember thinking at the time that the State Department was the place to be Secretary--not the Education Department, since we had a rather conventional office building there at 4th and--I don't know, south 4th, wherever it was, C Street, SW, and Secretary Shultz seemed to have rather nicer digs upstairs there on the seventh floor. But I’ve yet to achieve my ambition of actually having a job here. But I think this is probably as close as I am going to get. So I am surprised that Rich Armitage actually let me in the building, but--[laughter]--it's a tribute to--actually it a tribute, a genuine tribute--I really do believe this--to you all, to Bill and to Secretary Powell, that you have an Open Forum, and you have people as diverse as George Soros and me and many others to speak. I always thought when I was in government, both at the Education Department under Reagan and then in the White House in the first Bush administration, that there was too little genuine debate, and there was this attitude in government that once a policy is decided we have to pretend it's infallible and that every execution of it is infallible. And, obviously, when you're in the middle of executing the policy you do have to, in a sense, act that way. You can't be second-guessing everything 8 hours a day. But to have an honest intellectual debate is a good thing, and I hope I can contribute to it just a little bit.

Let me be brief, because you all know this area awfully well, and I'll leave time for comments and questions and objections.

My basic take on the world--Bill said that this was the most radical change, perhaps, the Bush doctrine, in 50 or 60 years. One could argue then its radicalness has been overstated. But I guess the way I would put it is this: It would be surprising if you didn't have a big change in national security policy and national security strategy after the events of 9/11. It would be kind of funny if you just went on with business as usual. Or, to step back and put it a little more broadly, I do think when historians write the history of this period of the last decades, the decades we have all worked in government, they really will say there were three eras: the Cold War era, which obviously began in the late 1940s and ended November 1989 or December 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union; the 1990s, a decade of peace and prosperity, a decade in which a lot of good things actually were accomplished, a decade in which I think some issues were kicked down the road and some tough decisions put off; the 1990s ended on September 11th, 2001, and we really are in a new era. And I think that's the most important thing to understand when looking at American politics today and looking at American foreign policy today, and looking at international affairs today.

Agree or disagree with everything the President has done, agree or disagree with actions of other world actors, we are not going to go back to the way it was in the 1990s, and we are not going to go back to the Cold War era. That doesn't mean that there aren't important lessons to learn from history, obviously. But the notion that we are just going to kind of get over this temporary spasm or get rid of a few terrorist groups and then be able to go back to the way the world looked in the 1990s is as false, I would say, as people who lived--and I am probably a little bit guilty of this--who lied the first part of the 1990s thinking that somehow the Cold War was kind of a natural state of things. We would end up in something like a Cold War-type situation, ultimately, because that's what I--all my lifetime that's what American foreign policy had been shaped around. So, but it's not going to happen.

We are in a new era. We have fundamental choices to make. We are only 2 years into that new era. One of the things one does learn from history by reading about these kinds of transitional periods is that the changes are often abrupt; they are often more radical and more fundamental than people expect. They are very often much more unexpected than people expect. And it's very hard to tell 2 years into a new era what its shape is.

If you want the analogy--I mean, this is particularly appropriate perhaps in this building and in this hall--look at the early years of the Cold War. I mean, you all--many people here probably know more about it than I do, but I recently reread Acheson's memoir. If you look at Marshall's memoirs and other histories, obviously, you can get a sense of it. They were continually surprised. In retrospect it all looks kind of neat, you know: Truman succeeded Roosevelt; we ended World War II; we realized there was this terrible threat from Stalin; we mobilized against the threat; we had the Marshall Plan; we helped Greece and Turkey; the Berlin airlift; in Asia we fought the Korean War. We laid the groundwork for four decades in American foreign policy based on containment-deterrence structures, alliances, 300,000 thousand American troops in Europe, 100,000 American troops in Japan and Korea, et cetera, et cetera. All of it would have been utterly in 1945 or '46 or even '47. No one knew this is what the world was going to look like.

It's very much, in my opinion, to Truman's credit and to Acheson's and Marshall's and others', that they adjusted to this new world. But if you had asked Truman in mid-late 1945 what his presidency was going to be about, he would have said he was--after finishing World War II--he was going to be a domestic policy president, he was going to bring the troops home, he was going to reintegrate them into the economy, he was going to pass the GI bill so they could get educated. He was going to finish a lot of the New Deal agenda in terms of government activism. And that is what he expected to do as president. If you had said to him that he would be remembered by historians primarily as a foreign policy president--the most famous people in his Cabinet would be his Secretaries of State, I guess--Marshall and Acheson--no one expected that at the time, just as no one expected in October of 2000, let's say, that George Bush would be remembered as a foreign policy president. Bush ran as a domestic policy--you know, policy candidate--compassionate conservatism was sort of his contribution, his innovation for American politics. The Bush-Gore campaign was almost entirely about domestic policy. To the degree that foreign policy was debated, Bush seemed a little less interventionist than Gore, as you'll recall- a little more averse to national-building and to peacekeeping; no debate at all on the defense budget; no debate about preemption--no sense that there would be a Bush Doctrine--very little debate about how to fight the war on terror.

The USS Cole was attacked on, I think, it's October 12th, 2000--17 Americans killed, many more wounded in Aden. It's a big story for a day or two in the press. We--at The Weekly Standard, who were quite hawkish on virtually every issue I would say in the 1990s, as today--thought that we were not doing a good job of fighting the war on terror, and put on the cover--had a piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht, who used to work at the agency and had left at this point, a piece, a cover piece which we gave the headline to, "The U.S. At War," with a picture of the USS Cole with a hole in its hull, to try to make the point, you know, that this has to be thought of as a war, not just individual encounters with troublemakers in different parts of the Middle East. But it didn't go anywhere, frankly. A week or two later at The Weekly Standard we were back focusing on Medicare, Social Security, and tax cuts, lockbox, the budget surplus--do you remember that? Well, depressing issues of the 2000 campaign.

It is really startling to go back and read the October 2000 debates between Bush and Gore, and I think when you do you do realize it's just a different world. They look nothing like the October 2004 debates between Bush and Clark or Dean or Gephardt or Kerry or whoever it is will look like. And that's what it means to be in a new era. You know, you go back only 3 years, and it seems as if it was 20 or 30 years. And I really think that's generally speaking the case.

One thing that's striking I mentioned--I saw Secretary Powell about 3 weeks ago here, and he was kind enough to give me a little time, and we were talking about the Cold War analogy, and because he's a great student, as you know, of Marshall, in particular. I think he really views this as his kind of hero--and we were--one thing that struck me reading the memoirs of that period is how chaotic it seemed at the time, and how many zigs and zags there were in policy, how many mistakes were made. Again, one looks back and thinks, Marshall, Acheson, Truman--kind of impressive far-seeing statesmen. But at the time it was chaos. There were bitter interagency fights. I think it's the case that didn't Truman go through--Truman went through three Secretaries of Defense -- you know, I guess it was Secretary of War, I think maybe that the three Secretaries of War or Defense in 2 years. You know, one of them went crazy, and one of them, unfortunately, Forrestal, jumped out of a window and killed himself. Somehow Powell looked more cheerful when I told him this history, but--[laughter]--no, no, just kidding. He looked extremely crestfallen and concerned for people who have been in this difficult job.

But one forgets the bitter interagency fights--Morganthau, Secretary of the Treasury, thought we should turn Germany into a pastoral farmland. No one had any idea that we were going to have a defense budget of $51 billion by 1951. This is one good instance of how much people get surprised. The day the North Koreans invaded in 1950, the Senate was debating the defense budget for that year, and Republicans in the Senate were insisting on taking Truman's budget down from I believe--I think I have these numbers right--$17 billion to $16 billion--a bitter fight about this $1 billion difference. A year later the defense budget was $51 billion. I mean, that's what it means to have big things happen and big surprises happen and big changes get made in policy, and they don't get made with the greatest forethought or planning. We all think now of NSC 68, the greatest planning document in American diplomacy history. It, of course, was sitting, if I am not mistaken, sitting on Truman's desk, or sitting in the White House in any case, when Korea was invaded in 1950. And then Truman signed off on it. So the notion that we had this all planned before the beginning of the Cold War--the truth is Greece and Turkey, Berlin airlift, Marshall Plan, Korea--all that happens before there's any really coherent framework to put it in, and they're pretty much making it up as they go along--doing an impressive job, I would say, of doing so. But I would think it's a useful analogy to the current moment, and useful to reassure some people that life is always chaotic and that you can have on net a successful policy, even if it isn't--doesn't run as smoothly and with as little intra-governmental contention and with as few mistakes as it might.

The Marshall Plan itself, which has been so much in the news recently because of the request for the $87 billion for Iraq--again, we think of this as a farsighted act of statesmanship, which I think it was. But it’s also something of an act of desperation. Read Marshall's speech at Harvard. It's sort of--the tone of it is we have sort of sat around for 2 years not doing what we should have been doing. We've let things get worst or, at least, not get better. And now we really have to step up to the plate before the whole place slides toward communism and toward chaos--not in the way entirely unlike I think the sense that we didn't--weren't as well organized as we should have been after the war, and now we are finally kind of getting our hands around it and doing what has to be done. In any case, I mean, it's a new era. New eras are different. They have all kinds of unanticipated differences, and they should be debated. But they shouldn't be debated in the tone of "How dare you propose a big change?" or, "This worked for the last 50 years, how can we even think of changing it?" Now, something worked 50 years, we shouldn't throw it out cavalierly, but again I think in a new era you have got to expect major changes.

I think one last piece of proof that it's a new era is the fact that even though solution on its surface had nothing to do with institutions like the United Nations, U.S.-European relations, for example, which looked immediately after 9/11 as if they'd get closer, not further away. They've had, obviously--the actions we've taken and others have taken subsequent to 9/11 have had real implications and raised real question marks about Europe, European unity, inter-European relations, U.S.-European relations, the status of the UN Security Council--all these big, big issues which are now I would say in play in a way that very few people would have expected 2 or 3 years ago, which again is what I think is typical of a new era. The ramifications are much greater than one expects by looking narrowly and saying, Well, gee, were attacked by these people from this part of the world, so I guess we'll just go attack back against those people in this part of the world, and that will kind of be- that will be the story. And that's not the whole story, just most of the story.

Now, let me say a word about the actual Bush Doctrine and what I think, what I take to be--and this is based on no inside information just on, obviously, watching what he has said and done, what I take to be the President's fundamental understanding of the world post-9/11. I think his key--one of his key decisions, so to speak , was that you couldn't just fight al Qaeda. I mean, this was not just one group which had unfortunately had gotten very well organized and was able to inflict great damage on us, and we had to go after that group, but we had to a have a broader war on terror. We had to really rethink our entire effort against terrorism but also states that sponsor it or are connected with terrorism. Also given the damage that could be done against states that dealt with terrorism but also had weapons of mass destruction capabilities. So suddenly you get to a much broader agenda, obviously, than simply trying to kill the leadership of al Qaeda and even removing the Taliban government in Afghanistan. I agree with Bush's sense that that made sense, that you couldn't limit--that it would be pointless, or at least that it wouldn't be really responsible to limit one's efforts to just immediate response to the immediate attack. But that did have all kinds of implications. Once you say we are going to have a road war on terror, then you do get to the issue of preemption. I think that's been highlighted a little more than it deserves. I mean, it's not as if we are going around the world preemptively attacking a lot of countries. There's been a total of one instance of it, and that itself is arguably not an incidence of preemption, since it's on Iraq it arguably fits into an older model of violating UN resolutions and us enforcing them. But even if Iraq is an instance of preemption, it's one--no one thinks Afghanistan, I think, is. And that's it actually. So the notion that each of us read in the press that the U.S. is now sort of feverishly looking for countries to attack, that the American public--this is the impression that some get in Europe--I would say that--I was there a couple of months ago debating, and was under the impression that the people I was debating I thought either had or were trying to peddle the American people as sort of sitting around just yearning to go invade a lot of countries--really like the idea of sending a lot of young American men and women into dangerous and unpleasant places to go remove regimes. The truth is, as anyone who knows America knows, that if anything the problem is the opposite. It's rather hard to get the American people to focus on the dangers around the world, especially when they're not immediate and hard to rally them. And I think the President deserves credit for doing pretty well actually, to rally them to sort of meet some of these dangers before they come and meet us.

In any case, the opposition you might say to the old doctrine of deterrence and containment and the new doctrine of preemption is overstated. It's overstated a little bit in the national security strategy itself of September or October 2002. I can see why in a way they wanted to overstate it. They wanted to, I think, shock people in a way, make people think in a fresh way. I don't--I'm not sure whether diplomatically it was a good idea or not to even bother articulating a doctrine of preemption--you don't need the doctrine. You can just do it. It's a traditional right of states, if they're threatened. On the other hand, I think there was a certain utility in forcing a kind of debate and serious consideration of it. I think to be fair to Bush and to Condi Rice and others who pushed this doctrine--if you look at Kofi Annan's speech last week there was a sense that even he, who is not a fan of it, did have to acknowledge that if the U.S. isn't going to do this then the UN has to be serious about dealing with threats before they become totally--before it's too late to deal with them.

So I can defend--though I think it's a close call--whether it was worth laying out the whole doctrine. In any case, there is still an awful lot of containment and deterrence around the world, and those remain extremely important parts of American foreign policy, obviously. Someone shouldn't overdo the contrast. And, incidentally, conversely, the notion that the entire Cold War was fought simply under the rubrics of containment and deterrence isn't quite right either. The Reagan defense build-up wasn't necessary for containment or deterrence. We could blow up the Soviet Union many times over without the intermediate-range missiles in Europe. The Reagan defense build-up was necessary for various reasons, including sort of diplomatic and political strength vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, reassuring our allies, and, ultimately, in Reagan's mind--and here I think he was vindicated--forcing a kind of arms race that the Soviet Union couldn't tolerate. So there was a kind of preemption, and we never had to use the weapons, but a certain kind of, let's say, regime change that Reagan had in mind for his policy that went way beyond traditional containment and deterrence. So I think that contrast is exaggerated. In any case, though, it is a new world, and the question of how often preemption might have to be used, how it could be used, what its relationship to international organizations like the UN or NATO for that matter is, is a very real question.

Bush decided we were in this big war after 9/11. He also decided- and this took him, I think, a little bit longer--that the heart of the problem of, obviously, terror and probably the heart of the problem of dictators developing weapons of mass destruction with one exception is in the Middle East. That was if you had to say what part of the world is going to potentially kill lots and lots of people over the next 5 or 10 or 20 years, it's the Middle East. I mean, Europe is pretty peaceful, thank God, we did the right thing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and there's still some cleaning up to do there, so to speak. But I mean, basically, you're not going to have a huge war coming out of Europe. Russia is problematic but [is] not, I don't think, going to be the source of huge instability. China is a big question mark but still for now reasonably stable, I think, kind of balance of power situation--let's leave aside North Korea for a minute. Africa is very dangerous and very depressing and a tragic situation in many ways but probably doesn't threaten much beyond its own borders.

The Middle East really is sort of the place that will either get better or get worse. And that, I think, was Bush's fundamental judgment after 9/11. Or another way of putting it is his fundamental judgment was you couldn't go on with business as usual in the Middle East--perfectly good motives and reasons, people had made certain judgments about the deals we had to make with certain regimes in the Middle East. We focused--we made deals with various dictators in the Arab world. We decided that was better than the alternative--particularly the Saudis, I would say, but also others. We have tried to contain Saddam, dual containment of Saddam and of Iran. We're working very hard on a peace process between Israel and the Palestinian. Individually some of those policies made sense, but on net I think Bush's judgment was things weren't getting better. Things were getting worse. There was increased extremism, increased anti-Americanism, increased potential for terror and dictators developing weapons of mass destruction coming out of that region. So we needed to fundamentally change our policy toward the Middle East. And that's a very big thing to do to try to bring about what's now often called a transformation of the Middle East. No one thinks it could be done quickly; no one thinks it could be done easily; no one thinks it could be done completely--I wouldn't say. But I guess I would defend that ambition against the alternative, which is somehow to throw up one's hands and assume that the Arab world doesn't ever get better government than they get today, or that somehow the Saudi exportable hobby Islam is just something we have to sit back and accept as if it's a fact of nature and that the radicalization of the entire Islamic world really in Pakistan and Indonesia and places like that is just something we should continue to turn a blind eye to.

My criticism of the Bush Administration on the Middle East is in the way that they haven't been radical enough--not that they have been too radical or too ambitious. In particular, I think, on the Saudis and in some other areas there's been a certain pulling back from the implications of the doctrine, which are not to achieve regime change over night in these places, but to be much more serious about pushing these allies, or so-called allies, or historical allies, to really change their behavior--at least, abroad, if not at home.

Finally, I think the President thought that if there was a war on terror, we had to fight it. He thought the Middle East had to be transformed. That accounts for an awful lot of what we've done on the peace process, Iraq, the pressure on Iran, especially with regard to the nuclear issue, obviously, but also the hopes for regime change there. He also, I think, decided that America's role had to be rethought--America's role in the world. He had run in 2000, as you all know, as something of a sort of American humility--"let's not do too much, let's not spread ourselves too thin" candidate. He certainly reversed himself after 9/11. You know, one can criticize him for that or make fun of him. One could also say, as Truman reversed himself, that, you know, it's very much to be admired and praised that he had the courage to take a fresh look at the world and decide what really had to be done. I think he came to the basic conclusion, which my colleague Bob Kagan and I guess have been arguing for most of--the latter half of the 1990s—that, basically, we face two choices. Either America shapes a more peaceful, a more decent, a more liberal world order or things slide out of control toward chaos and toward destruction.

We underestimate the degree to which the order in all the delicate parts of the world depends on American commitment, both military and diplomatic and economic. I don't minimize diplomatic and economic and political concerns here either. But it's also the case that the military force, the power projection, the force projection, the willingness to use the military--I think, underlies that to a large degree. And I think the President has more or less faced up to that. I know, again, I would criticize him for not doing enough--not for doing too much. It can't be the case that after 9/11 happens the defense budget--or, more importantly, let's say the force structure that you inherited on 9/11 is exactly the right force structure for the future. But that does seem to be the Secretary of Defense's position--you know, 1.45 million men and women under arms is just right. I think it's manifestly inadequate to America's responsibilities around the world. I don't think this is a great crisis. We had a 2.1 million man and woman army and armed services in 1993, certainly 1991, beginning of Clinton. We took it down, as we had to post-Cold War- we took it down probably a little more than we should have. We can go back to 1.6 or 1.7--it's not going to bankrupt the country. We are a wealthy country. We had 2.1 million people in the armed services, and we can go from 1.45 to 1.6. But Shinseki was right, General Shinseki--we are trying to run a 12-division foreign policy with a 10-division army, and we are paying a big price for that in Afghanistan.

I won't come here and tell you about the Foreign Service or the State Department, but except to say that I suspect in principle the same is true. It would be unlikely if we were adequately staffed to do all the things we now have to do in the world based on certain presumptions or premises or the way the world looked in 1999 or 2000 or early 2001. And that's not a criticism of the people who went before; it's just a fact that when something big happens you take on big new responsibilities. You need to make adjustments. And I again would generally--my problem with the Bush Administration isn't that they have been too bold, but if anything that they have been very bold in rhetoric, and very bold in some of their actions in some respects, they haven't really focused as much as they might have on the kinds of institutional changes and innovations and reforms that might be necessary to really deal with this world we're facing and to meet America's responsibilities in this world we're facing. Fundamental judgment--the fundamental judgment I think the President came to, just to conclude, was I would put this way: Contrary to the spirit of his debates with Gore, where as you recall he was critical of the peacekeeping a little bit in Bosnia and Kosovo, where he almost proudly said that, of cours,e he wouldn't have intervened in Rwanda. And Vice President Gore--what I thought at the time actually--political mistake as well as him saying something he didn't believe--went along with Bush, because his political advisers had told the vice president that, you know that it's a loser to say we should have intervened in Rwanda. Of course, I think Gore knows we should have, and I think felt embarrassed to be part of an administration that hadn't--and, of course, we should have. I think it's very striking that now the President and the Vice President and National Security Adviser all speak of Rwanda as an instance where we should have done much more than we did in the 1990s. I think that's a correct reading of history of the 1990s. But it's quite a change from where they were 3 years ago. As I say, I give them credit for that change. And I think their fundamental judgment about the 1990s, and my fundamental judgment of the 1990s, is contrary to all the people who worry about American empire and American hegemony, and we're such a big bully and we're going to intervene everywhere--the fundamental danger of the world remains American timidity, American passivity, American slowness to intervene--not the opposite, not the opposite. In the 1990s--it was certainly the story of the 1990s was not that we were too quick to intervene in the Balkans.

I was part of the first Bush Administration--and it was bad. It was a huge mistake. I think it was a mistake not to finish off Saddam in the first place, because that’s a terrible lesson that you can invade a neighbor and really destroy the country--kill people--and then to get to keep power--albeit with some sanctions on your own country; letting Milosevic run wild in the Balkans in 1991-92, I think, was a terrible mistake. Rwanda was horrible. We were slow in Bosnia; we were slow in Kosovo; we were slow in fighting terror. We were too hesitant--not too strong. And I still think the danger, frankly, to the world is that we will be too hesitant--not that we will be too imperialistic or too aggressive or throwing America's weight around too much. And I do think in fact that that remains-- that to me is what I'm most worried about over the next few years, that we'll get spooked because there are some troubles in Iraq, or because the Middle East is a very complicated place, or because North Korea is a very challenging situation, and we'll decide to go sort of a modified fortress America--we'll defend a few allies, have commitments to them--but, basically, we're not going to mess around in this really messy and unpleasant world there, and we'll just take care of our business and trade with everyone, if they want to trade with us, and not worry too much about sort of preserving a decent world order and improving it where we can. So I think that remains the fundamental danger, not an imperial America that is recklessly intervening everywhere around the world.

One last thought--really a last thought on President Bush. I wasn't a big Bush supporter. I was a McCain supporter in the primaries--something the Bush White House hasn't quite forgotten--laughter]--and, but, you know, I'm obviously a supporter of the Bush Doctrine, a supporter of him as President. I would say this, that I think it was the day before Election Day Bush was campaigning, giving a lunch speech in Kentucky somewhere, and he was talking on education policy, which seemed like a key issue at the time in the presidential election, and Bush was a big proponent of school reform, education reform. And he said it's very important that each American parent, each American father and mother, ask himself or herself the following question: "Is our children learning?" [Laughter] A perfectly reasonable question, I think, as I ask my wife that all the time out in Fairfax County, and I think the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. But everyone laughed, you know, and Bush said, "Well, my English isn't always that great, but I"--you know, he made a good joke out of it, as he's quite good at doing. Later in the day he was sort of telling this story on himself, you know, repeating, "Is our children learning?" And in the evening he gave a speech and he told it again, and everyone laughed, and Bush said, "Yeah, my English isn't always perfect." But then Bush paused and said, "But you know I found in my political career that it's been a great advantage to me," Bush said, "that my opponents have always "misunderestimated" me." [Laughter] And I do think actually when historians look at this period, they might decide that Bush's opponents, both at home and his enemies abroad have "misunderestimated" him. Thank you. [Applause]

MR. KEPPLER: Will you take some questions?

MR. KRISTOL: Yeah.

MR. KEPPLER: I would ask anybody who would like to ask Mr. Kristol a question, if you could come down to the microphone. That way we can get it on the tape for the transcript.

Q: Yes, I have two questions. I understood you to say that our actions in Iraq didn't exactly fit the definition preemptive action, and I wonder if you could just elaborate on that. And my second question is I wonder if you could comment on the fact that the majority of the American public still believes that the Saddam Hussein regime was somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks? Thank you.

MR. KRISTOL: Yeah, on the first, I meant I wasn't--I am perfectly happy to call it preemptive or, more precisely, preemptive war. I just think one could also argue that we're, I'm given that Iraq was in violation of UN resolutions, we had bombed Iraq in 1998 --it wasn't--there was a history there which could allow one to defend it in a more traditional way. But I --so maybe all I'm saying is that the President didn't need to articulate a whole new doctrine of preemption any more than Bill Clinton did in 1998 when he attacked Saddam Hussein's attack with a pretty substantial air attack, obviously. In principle, you know, air attacks and ground attacks I don't think are different. So--and the Clinton administration was committed to and threatened for invasion of Iraq in February of 1998. It was committed to regime change in Iraq. So that's all I meant. But I mean I'll--it's fair enough to say that it was a preemptive war, and insofar as it was kind of a template for the future, it's worth thinking about in those terms.

Yeah, I'm a little suspicious. We keep being told that 65% or 70% of the American people believe that Saddam was directly involved in 9/11. I think so far as I can tell--and I may be--I'd be very curious if anyone else knows any of this--somehow this was all based on one poll question--I think it was an ABC/Washington Post poll which allegedly found this--I mean, I guess they did find it. I'd like to see what the wording of the question is. It's not been my experience--I speak an awful lot around the country--that an awful lot of people think that the 19 hijackers were Iraqi or that Saddam was directly involved with bin Laden, or that Iraq was, you know, behind 9/11. I mean, I think there were clearly some Saddam--some Iraqi connections to, certainly, the terrorist groups. They had been on the State Department list of terrorist sponsors forever--and certainly some connections to al Qaeda. Actually, I even would argue on that that there's been some new discovery since the war that strengthened the sense that Saddam--there's a bit of a terror network working out of or at least linked into Baghdad. But I don't--but I don't think it's true. It's not fair, I don't think, the criticism that somehow Bush has implied this a lot. He really hasn't. I mean, they've been pretty careful of what they've said, I'd say, about the connections between Iraq and terror, and never actually hinged too much for the war in Iraq on that. It really was hinged on the weapons of mass destruction--which is another issue--and, you know, and the whole argument that we went through in September, October, November, December, January at the UN on that. But I'm a little dubious. I'd like to have a fresh poll. Maybe this is something we should commission at the Weekly Standard to go ask the American people really what they think. I think they think Saddam is connected to terrorists; I don't know that they think he was behind 9/11.

Q: Good afternoon. Thank you, sir, for your presentation. My question is concerning, in theory, the difference between preemption and prevention, and do you believe that the Bush Doctrine is--it's okay to use the terms interchangeably? And, also, kind of as a follow up, what kind of ramifications does this have on international law and organizations? Thank you.

MR. KRISTOL: Yeah, and I don't quite know what the national security strategy uses. I mean, I think it's more strictly a preventive war, not a preemptive war, as I understand a preemptive war is Israel in 1967--pretty much certain they're about to be attacked-- attack me first simply so their planes won't be sitting ducks or whatever. This is more a preventive war, where you are acting before, as the President said himself, before the threat becomes so urgent and so imminent that it may be too late.
So I mean I think from a political science point of view--since I once was a political scientist--I think this is a preemptive doctrine that legitimizes in some circumstances preventive war.

Well, I don't know, it depends what you think about--I'm not expert on international law, and it's not clear to me what the status of this would be in international law, and its people I think have suddenly invested in international law, and for that matter international organizations, a kind of importance in the, let's say, governing character that is very new--I mean, very new. It was not a big deal in the late 1990s, but we didn't have UN authorization to go and fight in Kosovo. And certainly lots of things that Clinton threatened or didn't threaten in the 1990s, and certainly before that there was no sense that somehow the UN Security Council--it was necessary as a matter of international law to go to war. So--but I mean it's certainly a fair question that if you are going to have preventive wars, you know, who's going to authorize them? Should--can one country just do it on its own, or should it somehow have to get international sanction? And it would be nice to get international sanction, but I don't think the U.S. as the guarantor of world peace and power can simply wait on that in every instance.

MR. KEPPLER: Charlie?

Q: Thank you, Bill. I made my career in the U.S. Agency for International Development rather than the State Department, so I may come to this a little bit more from the economic side, but I--whereas I used to think that the war of ideas that 9/11 kicked off was sort of the ideas of tolerance against intolerance, but you have made me think that perhaps another divide is between generousness versus ungenerousness, because there is a little bit of a selfishness, don't you think--in America's current policy? And I would have to admit I'm speaking as a boy--as a boy I was on the receiving end of care packages in England, but this country is so rich and so able to do so much, and you have managed to talk for your allotted time without missing deficits or tax reductions which are rather selfish. And I'm wondering how you would sort of square those circles a little bit?

MR. KRISTOL: Well, I think there will be little boys in Iraq that will be the beneficiaries of American aid packages now, just as there were people in Europe after World War II, and I totally support that. And I, in fact, think we have failed, frankly, whether it's Defense's fault and CPA's fault or AID's fault--I mean, you know, we haven't done as good a job as we should have in the immediate reconstruction of Iraq. It's a hard thing to do, admittedly. And, in general, I would support a very generous American foreign policy in terms of development aid and other forms of aid. I think you can make a complicated case of whether government aid--government-to-government aid or private sector aid works better and trade works better than aid, and you know these are all practical questions I'd say about what actually works and what actually helps people. And I don't think it's true about this Administration--this Administration has increased most of the relevant budgets. It has certainly been very bold in terms of tackling AIDS in Africa and other, I think, humanitarian efforts. So there are practical questions about how best to do these things.

But I very much agree if the implication is that you can't be the world's great power and sort of just use force and then sort of step aside. I strongly agree with that. That's why I strongly support it and urged before the President went to the Hill a much more aggressive reconstruction program in Iraq; for example, and I would support similar things elsewhere. I mean, tax cuts for me are a separate issue. I'm sort of agnostic on them in some ways. I think it's an economic policy issue of what you do in a recession and whether it's better to run a deficit now or better to pay for it now, and one can argue that I think fairly both ways. So, no, I don't think--look, a country that just went to--we didn't have to go to war with Iraq. I mean, a country that was willing to do this--and it wasn't an immediate imminent threat to us here on the continental United States. We did it--people can agree or disagree--but I think the motives are good. And I think it shows a kind of generosity, if you will, that we are now staying there, and we are leaving 120,000 troops there who were not having very pleasant duty and are getting shot at. And we are sending in a lot of civilians in there who are also at risk, because now we feel, as we should, a responsibility to help rebuild the place. I also think it's in our enlightened self-interests to obviously make Iraq work as a model for elsewhere in the Middle East, and because it's terribly important I think to American credibility around the world. But it's also the right thing to do, and I find I don't--I would argue that maybe we should be a little more generous than we're being even, but I think that would be part of a broader perspective that embraces a strong U.S. role around the world.

Q: Thank you for coming. I'm Barbara Wolf. I'm a student at American University, and you addressed this question a little bit earlier, but I'd like to get some clear information from you. Resolution 687 requests that another UN resolution for the invasion of Iraq. And the U.S. unilateral action to invade Iraq not only posed a preemptive strike of war, but also an undermining of not only the United Nations but also of international law. How do you think the United States can expect other countries--for example, European countries--to support the United States in other attacks or in postwar reconstruction if they show such an undermining of international law?

MR. KRISTOL: Look, my honest answer is this: If strengthening the United Nations or strengthening international law means leaving Saddam in power to torture and to kill, then I'm for undermining international law and international institutions. I don't think we can expect that much of the Europeans. I didn't agree with Secretary Powell's notion that we should go to the UN and very aggressively push for all this help, because I never expected us to get much. And, frankly, that's fine. They have no obligation to help us. I would feel no obligation--if the French and Germans went to war--let's say out of very good motives--in the Congo, to save lots of lives--but let's say we thought it was imprudent, not necessary. And they went to war and they removed a horrible regime in the Congo and established a reasonable degree of stability and peace as we have in Iraq, and certainly a better life for the people there--and then they came to us and said, Help us--well, it might be in our interests to help them. We might do it out of a certain kind of comity and a certain sense that we'd like to have a stake in what's going on there, too, and we're a big, rich country, so we should help. But we might also say, Look, this was your decision, and we thought it was a mistake, and you take care of that; we'll take care of other things around the world. I have no problem with the French and Germans making that statement. And I think in the future we just need to see, I mean on a somewhat ad hoc basis, either through the UN or through coalitions of the willing, who is willing to do what around the world. But again, I think the Administration--and, again, here they deserve much more credit than they've gotten.

What are the other parts of the axis of evil--North Korea and Iran. In those areas, because Bush was willing to say that military force had to be an option, and that simply letting nuclear proliferation move ahead wasn't acceptable. He has forced the Europeans to be much more serious about Iran than they were before, about a year ago. And I think he's forced to push the Japanese and the South Koreans and probably--let's hope the Chinese--that's a big question--pretty much we're serious about North Korea. So he's got allies there. Now, I don't know whether he'll get a UN resolution on Iran or North Korea, and I don't care. I mean, we can't have a nuclear north--I mean, Kim Jong Il should be removed, and you know it would be a great thing for the people of the world if this really horrible brutal tyrant would go. I'm not sure it's--unfortunately, it's not easy to do. So I'm not saying we should go right ahead and do it tomorrow, but it would be a good thing if it could happen. And if you told me that there was a plausible U.S.--a way for us to do it before doing it, and if you told me that it would damage, you know, frankly some principles of international law, and that international law and international organizations require that he stay in power there to starve another million or two million North Koreans to death, I would say, Well, that's why international law and international organizations don't trump everything else. [Applause.]

Q: Good afternoon. My name is Zayna Belbari (ph), I am visiting from Nashville, Tennessee. I am grateful to be here. Mr. Kristol, you've educated us a lot, and I have so many questions as an Arab and a Muslim living here for 35 years, and I've children, grandchildren.

I'm very concerned--and I learned something today from you about the doctrine of the President. Sitting there and listening to you as an American, we have a big conflict with 1.4 billion people who are Muslims and that fundamentally we're going to go after them, educate them, or invade them. Would it--I mean, if they become Christians today, would that be okay? Because these are the questions I get asked all the time. And if we are thinking that we have less hostility after invading Iraq, I guess our image is worth--the President is 29% of approval in Iraq, and--I guess, 20%--and Mr. Blair is 29%, and 1% approval of our policy in Jordan, which is one of our allies. I'm very concerned as an American, and I mean that sincerely, with the way we are going.

I think we have to look at this picture. Islam has been there and will be there. Everybody is criticizing our Saudi Arabia. This is our holy place regardless of whether we like it or not. It couldn't be the perfect place. But we are going through—[inaudible]-- and I came from there. I was in the 1956 war, the 1967 war, and I came here to protect my family. My son works where--you know what? It's dangerous to be in Washington, because we have a lot of danger in the world. I think we can do better. I grew up with an American school since I was four. I learned to love America, and I came here, and I know we can do better. That new doctrine is very dangerous, and there are a lot of us in this country that want peace and better relationships. [Applause.]

MR. KRISTOL: Well, we would disagree about the--I mean, I am not in favor of a war against Islam, and the President deserves great credit for refusing to embrace that formulation and going out of his way- out of his way right at the beginning after September 11, when it would have been very popular not to, frankly, to go out of his way to repudiate any notion of clash of civilizations or a religious war, to reach out to Arab Americans and to Islamic Americans. Look, we intervened in the 1990s--incidentally, without the sanctions, truthfully, of international law or the United Nations--on behalf of Muslims in Europe. And I supported those interventions, and Secretary Powell, I believe, supported those interventions. We have no war against Islam. I think, in fact, Paul Wolfowitz was Ambassador to Indonesia, the largest, I think, Muslim country in the world, and cares a lot about the future of Indonesia, which is a dicey proposition. And I would argue, in fact, that the Saudi export of Wahabi Islam has been extremely bad for the situation in Indonesia and Malaysia and other countries.

But, look, the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam, I think. I suppose that it's very hard to know how to judge public opinion in lots of parts of the world, especially parts that don't have free governments. But my view is at the end of the day those countries that have dictatorships in the Middle East deserve better. No one thinks they can be changed overnight. But human rights don't stop--you know, at the end of the day; everyone has human rights, whether they're Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu, and we need to stand for that, which doesn't mean that we can automatically change everyone's regimes overnight. But I--and I think, frankly, in terms of the Arab world there are real problems there, and we can't close our eyes to them. They have been articulated most eloquently by dissidents in that world, not by Westerners. We neglected those problems for a long time. We made deals with dictators in that region, which I think were understandable perhaps at the time, motivated by different kinds of "realpolitik" and Cold War theories, but now have become in any case a mistake. So I think, you know, maybe Bush took a short-term hit in terms of popularity in that part of the world for using force, but I think he's done the right thing, and I think at the end of the day we will be more on the side of the people on that part of the world and less on the side of the dictators who are not doing them any favors.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KEPPLER: Ms. Wolf, if you don't mind, we'll let the others ask their first questions. Then we'll give you the last follow-up.

Q: Thank you. As a historian here in the State Department, I appreciate you analogizing this era to the Truman era, because I've been doing a lot of research on my own as well on Truman and recognize that sort of fits and starts--there was no overall policy, I agree with you completely.

My question is actually a little different. It's on--you mentioned Iran. One of your colleagues at Fox News, Dick Morris, mentioned the other night that he feels that our next target--a real ratcheting up the pressure should be on Iran. And I wanted to bring in Syria, as well. What do you feel about those two--our policy toward them? I think--I can think that you are going to say we haven't been tough enough on them, but I'm just curious. Thank you.

MR. KRISTOL: Yeah, well, I think it was certainly a mistake in Syria to--it may be easy to second guess that it was complicated. It was a mistake to sort of seem to put pressure on them or threaten them right after the war in Iraq when we had a lot of leverage and then, at least, seem to back off. And now we discover people are coming across that border to attack Americans. I don't think that--I should think we have enough leverage with Syria to persuade them to not tolerate that. On the other hand, we probably have persuaded them to cool things down on the border, on the Lebanese border with Israel. You know, these are practical questions of whether we're doing a lot privately that I don't know about that's paying off in terms of intelligence cooperation, cooperation on the war on terror, you know, etc., and that's very hard to judge from outside.

I think Iran is a huge problem. It would be a very good thing for the world if we could help the people of Iran free themselves from a government that they don't want to have clearly anymore, that they have repudiated in actual lessons, but that they can't get rid of, and that is racing to get nuclear weapons which not just we, but all the members of the European Union, have agreed poses really an intolerable, I would say, threat to the stability of the Middle East. And, again, we need to be serious about this. What are the real choices on the ground? Not, is it nice to attack other nations or you know wouldn't it be a nicer world if everyone can agree on everything? And I don't need to caricature--I do need to caricature I guess the other point for a you a little bit, but let's--but, no, what is the world--what would the world look like with a nuclear Iran? What does the Middle East look like? What does Turkey do? What do the Saudis do? What does Egypt do? What does Israel do? If Iran decides they can get away with sending a lot of money and supporting Hezbollah and disrupting a potentially promising Israeli-Palestinian peace process, what lesson does that send? It's a very scary prospect, I think, and that's why I do think Iran--and Syria, I think, is frankly a manageable situation. If Iran could go decent, so to speak, if the people of Iran could free themselves of that regime, and we could have a serious conversation with them about why it's not in their interests to go nuclear, you would have a much--beginning of a genuine transformation in the Middle East, if you had a free somewhat democratic federalist Iraq and a free somewhat democratic sort of peaceable Iran that was not the main sponsor of terror around the world, as it is today, that would be a very--that would really be a very important thing to achieve. Now, it's not so easy to achieve, and obviously everyone is working on that, and it may be that we can do it through political and economic pressure; it may be that we need to reserve the possibility of military action--though that's very daunting, obviously, against Iran. But, I think you know, at least, the President has mobilized the Europeans, and we have a serious diplomatic, and allegedly we're going to have serious economic pressure on Iran.

I guess I do agree with the famous foreign policy expert Dick Morris that Iran--if you ask me, in sort of just a common sense what's the biggest threat out there, but also one of the biggest opportunities in terms of world peace and stability--I do think Iran is kind of the biggest question mark now hovering in front of us.

Q: Good afternoon, Sir, and thank you very much for your presentation. My name is Fatia Havil Faquier (ph). I'm from American University. My question is concerning the Islamist organizations. The rise of what is called Islamic organizations or radical or fundamentalist organizations is increasingly flourishing and growing in the Arab Muslim world. Do you think that the U.S. recent policies toward these organizations are constructive? And what do you predict their effect will be in the Arab region in case they failed?

MR. KRISTOL: Well, look, it's very hard, you know, from the outside, or even from the inside, to make really definitive judgments about these very complicated political, cultural, or religious tides and trends, and they are often countervailing ones at the same time. I would simply say this: that, you know, the rise of kind of dangerous radical Islamism, if you want to call it that, has happened over the last 20, 25 years--way before Bush was president, way before the Bush Doctrine. This is what led to 9/11. I don't think it's been caused by U.S. policy since 9/11. And I would argue that, obviously, there's a huge amount of public diplomacy and economic and humanitarian efforts that can be made to try to undercut some of those appeals in that world, and we should be much more aggressive in that, and probably have failed to be sufficiently aggressive in that over the past. But I also think it's the case that at some point if these organizations transition from being just kind of religious organizations or social organizations to actual terrorist organizations, obviously, one has to deal with them, and one has to--you know, Osama bin Laden in his recruiting videos in the 1990s didn't say, Gee, America is a fantastically strong country and a powerful country, and we need to attack it. He said America was a weak force. America pulled out of Somalia when we had 19 casualties. America was intimidated by the bombings in Saudi Arabia and in Africa and Aden. So I do think strength helps in dealing with these threats, but I agree that strength can't be the only part of it. It has to be, as I say, kind of an educational and political strategy as well. But my sense is--and I'm no super expert on the Arab world, a lot of that growth has come in rebellion against the dictatorships in these countries, a sense that they had no chance to express themselves, no chance to help shape the future of these countries. So they have to join various extremists or even terrorist groups, go abroad, et cetera. And I do think that simple political freedom would at least provide an outlet.

Now, it could be dangerous--you could have an election where a very radical fundamentalist group wins, and that's, obviously, a problem that you have to really face up to. But the solution that we embraced in the past, which is, well, let's just forget about freedom and let's just sort of let the dictators keep these guys under control—that, I think we paid a very big price for. I mean, that really is the story of 9/11--you know, people leaving Egypt--Mohammad Atta--people leaving Saudi Arabia. I mean, Atta is a very interesting story--he comes to Hamburg and he's a disaffected sort of middle class kid from Egypt, but not I don't believe in any obvious way a guy who is likely to kill himself and kill thousands of others. And then he's recruited into a Saudi-funded mosque in Hamburg, and that system has to be broken. And it's not just by fighting an aggressive war on terror; it's also our diplomatic and political efforts, but it also does require an aggressive war on terror, I would say.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KEPPLER: We only have time for one more question each, and you'll go first. We are already over schedule.

Q: You've painted a picture of the world as a very dangerous place, and it is, and there's a lot of fires to put out. But it's simply impossible for the United States alone to put them all out. We can't afford it. I don't think we have the military to do it. So don't you think it would be in the best interests of the United States to work as hard as it can to build up alliances to help in the project to put these fires out? And then if we act in ways that undermine these alliances we're acting against our own interests in putting these fires out?

MR. KRISTOL: Yeah, absolutely, and I've been a strong supporter of the alliance structures we have, and I've actually argued for thinking about new ones, especially in Asia, where I think we could beef up our alliance with some of the democracies of Asia. But I'm a strong supporter of NATO, and maybe we should have been more aggressive in using NATO for Afghanistan--that's a sort of practical or tactical question that I think is a little hard to tell. But, no, I think alliance structures are terribly important. No, I think at the end of the day we can't paralyze ourselves by saying that, you know, until everyone is on board we can't do anything--and we are a strong and wealthy country, and it's a privilege to be able to go and put out some of these fires in a sense, as well as an obligation. And I think we can do more than we've done. I mean, we are just not spending that much on defense or on foreign policy, generally, compared to historical measures. We are a lot wealthier than we were in the late 1940s, and we are spending a lot lower percentage if our GDP on defense or, for that matter, on international aid and international diplomacy. And all these things need to be, I think, beefed up an awful lot. But should they be done in conjunction with allies? Sure. Now, how do we structure these alliances, how this work practically, what the relationship of the UN, formal alliance like NATO and coalitions of the willing are, I think is practically a very interesting and challenging question. I guess my bottom line would be, you know, use whichever ones we can use--the more the better on board. But we need to--but it has to--the ultimate judgment is, you know, are you making the world safer or not, not simply sort of, you know, it would be nice to have more international support rather than less. But, no, I very much agree that the alliance structures are important and useful. And, again, I think the Administration has done a pretty good job. I think NATO is stronger, and I think the expansion was a good idea. I think we've done our best to encourage NATO to step up to the plate a little more. I think they've strengthened the Japan-U.S. alliance actually reasonably effective.

Again, though, just one last--it's too long an answer, but one practical problem is just--you know, they need to be--it would be nice to have all these allies who could do stuff, but if they're not willing to spend anything on defense, or have a modern military, they can't do anything--and they really can't, incidentally. I mean, this is--the force or the troops in Iraq--they don't have any troops. They're all busy--they're committed to Bosnia and Kosovo and some in Afghanistan, and that's it. That's the entire--pretty much the entire German military that can be deployed. They can't even deploy themselves because they have to rent Ukrainian planes to deploy. But, and you know France actually has a real military; Britain, obviously. And that's about it. Now, could we use their diplomatic, their economic, their police, their other capabilities? Sure, and I think we're trying to in Iraq, and we are certainly there doing a lot in Africa, and we should maybe push them to do more. But Europe has become very inward looking, and that's I think just a true statement really. I wish it were. I mean, I think American administrations, the Secretary of State, the preceding Secretaries of State, spent a lot of time nagging the Europeans to do more abroad. You know, at some point you have got to do what you've got to do, and if they're there they're there, and if they're not--they're not, they're not.

MR. KEPPLER: Last question, please.

Q: Thank you for taking this second question from me. You were talking about the Middle East posing the region of the greatest threat to the United States and to world peace. You said that the Bush Doctrine was not radical enough and that the United States needs to change its allies' behaviors. You talked about the transformation of the Middle East by using diplomatic, economic, political, and military force. Yesterday former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made a statement at American University, saying that trying to create any kind of utopia is not in the best interests of the world, and this includes not imposing American culture, economy, and democratic government systems onto other governments. What is your comment on that?

MR. KRISTOL: Believe me, I think we are so far from imposing utopia on most of the Middle East, and we're just—[laughter]--but they deserve a little bit better than they've had, you know? And the people of Iraq deserve better. I mean, I would justify Iraq on purely--even, you know, leaving aside terror and weapons of mass destruction--I think I'm a minority on this, but I would have justified Rwanda and Bosnia and Kosovo, too. But there were certainly strategic reasons for that, too. But, no, they deserve better. It's not--I mean, this is a caricature frankly of the Bush Administration. The idea that Bush and Condi, Secretary Powell are these woolly-eyed utopians or just think they can snap their fingers and make the whole world into a Jeffersonian democracy--again, my criticism would be that they are probably a little too reticent about that sometimes, that there's probably more opportunity to help reform those political systems than we realize, because there's an awful lot of indigenous efforts already underway in civil society in these countries toward greater political and other kinds of freedom. But, again, if you ask me--I mean, obviously, at some point one can imagine America that got wildly utopian and wildly overextended and wildly overambitious.

But I would come back and I'll close perhaps with this thought: My greater fear is the opposite, and I think it's a fear that has been borne out by the last, I would say, 13 years of American foreign policy, that the danger for America is that we do too little, not too much. The danger isn't that we are going to go, you know, intervening recklessly all over the world, thinking we can just transform all these countries. The danger is we will take a look, it will get a little hard in Iraq, Africa is a horrible mess, no one--the people in the Middle East don't like us now because we've shown some strength allegedly, and we'll just sort of say, okay, it's too hard. We don't really need to fix those parts of the world. We can function fine without them. We'll get our oil; we'll get our energy. We'll trade with advanced industrial countries that are peaceful, and we'll just decide that, you know, we can live without it. Israel can defend itself. They have got a charge; we can help them a little if we have to, but that's that--just pull out of the Middle East, basically, pull out of Africa, which is a mess. Asia’s a little different because there we can't quite turn away. But even there one could imagine--you know, let Japan--Japan is a hugely wealthy country--they can get a nuclear deterrent--they'll deter North Korea and China and leave them alone. So I remain more worried about American--kind of Fortress America than a utopian America. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

MR. KEPPLER: Thank you for joining us, and hope to see you at the next Secretary's Open Forum.


Released on October 9, 2003

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