In the last quarter of 2001, George Bush staked out a position of absolute moral clarity. He didn't make his case as bluntly or honestly as he perhaps could have, but the final moral position was a very defensible one, and that was this: that it was not enough to declare war on the individuals who had attacked us and their allies, that we were instead going to initiate yet another of those always-ill-conceived Wars on Nouns, the Global War on Terror. Had he made the case with more self-honesty than is traditional in international diplomacy, it would have gone something like this.
When the Russians detonated their first nuclear bomb in 1949, both the US and the USSR did some simple math and both came to the same conclusion. There was no way for two empires, one based on an ideology of the worldwide spread of monopoly capitalism and one based on the worldwide spread of soviet communism, could ever not be at war. But in a world where both of those empires were equipped with weapons where every single weapon that got through the other side's defenses would kill at least half of a good sized city, those two empires must never ever let their inescapable war become an open, declared, shooting war. Thus was born something that some of you are too young to remember, that you've only read about in school: a Cold War. And as the two sides tiptoed around each other, looking to see which tactics would and wouldn't escalate the conflict to the point where the Cold War would "go hot" (nuclear), they reached an informal consensus, taught in the top schools on both continents but never written in any kind of a formal treaty.
While it was fully understood that each side would try to diplomatically convert or militarily conquer each others' allies and conquests, there was an agreed upon mechanism to do this that was sufficiently deniable that neither side would feel forced to respond with a few thousand warheads. For any given enemy-allied country that a side was targeting, they would provide economic aid and spoken and written encouragement to the enemy-allied country's internal political opposition. If that opposition could use that support to rally sufficient military support to stage a coup d'etat, then it was taken as permissible for the new government, if it could hold out long enough, to slowly ratchet up its ties with the side that supported the new government, the then opposition, eventually flipping alliance. Of course, the same rules also allowed the government that was under such siege to request any economic or military aid from their original allies, too. Where coup d'etat was not possible, there was a zone on the fringe of the two "spheres of influence" that was sufficiently "in play," mostly south of the equator, that the side that wanted a governmental change might get away with shipping not just money to the opposition, but actual weapons. It was insanely dangerous, but just barely possible, to also turn the other way while the opposition used money you gave them to hire mercenaries and/or gangsters to fight for the opposition, and as long as it was done with sufficient discretion, to even send in spies to train the opposition in the tactics of guerrilla warfare. The name of the game was "destabilization." We wouldn't call it that any more, mostly. Now we'd call it by a much more honest name: state sponsored terrorism. And you bet your life that the US sponsored more terrorist groups, inside USSR-allied countries, than even exist in the world today. (But, I grant, not any more than the USSR sponsored inside US-allied countries.)
On September 11th, 2001, almost 3000 Americans died in a coordinated series of nearly-simultaneous attacks by state sponsored terrorists. But these weren't just any state sponsored terrorists. These were, in no small part, our own state sponsored terrorists, turning on us. After the USSR got away with supporting a coup d'etat in Afghanistan, the US kept them from consolidating their successful destabilization of Afghanistan by funding an alliance of religious jihadis. Our own spies traveled to training camps in Pakistan to train them in guerrilla warfare. When that turned out to be insufficient, when the USSR was able to take advantage of their much shorter supply lines to crush the jihadis, we escalated further by sending them our then most advanced, most state of the art anti-aircraft shoulder-launched missiles. (Fortunately those missiles had malfunctioning battery packs, made right here in Missouri by a crooked defense contractor, that have long since died, or else 9/11 could have been even worse than it was.) That turned the tide, and the rapidly rising casualty counts forced the Soviets to retreat in a public humiliation so thorough that it was probably the single most important factor in the US victory in the Cold War, or if not the #1 then certainly in the top three. While Soviet destabilization clearly worked well for them in Vietnam, if you look at places where the Cold War escalated to state sponsored terrorism, the US was clearly and unambiguously the best. The Russians tried it in Angola, and lost. We tried it in Nicaragua, and won. They tried it in the Philippines, and lost. We tried it in Afghanistan, and won. In fact, this is the real reason why US policy is so officially psychotically enraged over Cuba: not only is it the just about the only nation where Soviet state sponsored terrorists won, but as a nation directly on our border, it was one where they shouldn't have even been able to get away with trying it, a violation of the "spheres of influence" rule of thumb, which is why it's at the top of the list of places where World War III very nearly started.
When the US and the USSR wrote the book on state sponsored terrorism, it was clearly and and unambiguously seen as the only plausible alternative. There were only two other paths the Cold War could have taken. We could have fought it with nukes. Or we could have not fought it, could have instead spent all eternity building up bigger and bigger arsenals until sooner or later the inevitable misunderstanding or accident killed us all. So we fought it with the safest weapons we had at our disposal. But on September 11th, 2001, 12 years after the Cold War was over, those "weapons" came back and bit us, hard. And so George Bush stood up in front of the world and, without every actually admitting that it was our own policy come back to haunt us, declared the Bush Doctrine: terrorists, state sponsored or otherwise, are now the enemy of all mankind. Any nation that sponsors terrorism from now on is guilty of the crimes their terrorists commit. (Past supporters of terrorism were, since 9/11 hadn't happened yet back then so they and we couldn't have foreseen the Bush Doctrine, given a quiet amnesty.) Any nation that allows terrorists to operate openly, any nation that declines to either use their own army or allow in one of ours to root out any obvious and open terrorist training camps, arsenals, or other facilities will also be treated as if they were state sponsors of those terrorists.
It was a militarily risky strategy, committing us to a lot of potential open-ended conflicts. It was a diplomatically risky strategy, demanding that the rest of the world give up the very tactic that had made us "the world's only superpower," to believe us that our demand that they forswear the policy that had built our success was motivated by contrition and moral clarity on our part rather than any desire on our part to stay on top. It was also, for similar reasons, a deeply hypocritical demand. But the attack on the World Trade Center inspired such moral revulsion on the rest of the world, even among many of the leaders of our enemies, that with the exception of Afghanistan, all of the world's governments signed off, in one way or another, on the Bush Doctrine. Not many months later, that Afghanistan government no longer existed except as a band of wanted criminals hiding in the mountains.
Since then, though, the United States has gotten itself involved in a war in Iraq that has, exactly as we were warned by everybody in the region, destabilized both our enemies and our allies by stirring up old hatreds. While the risk of a world-wide nuclear conflagration isn't quite there, the risk of a war taking at least a third of the world's oil capacity offline for the duration is provoking the same urge, on all sides, to fight that war with some means other than armies on the march. That's the same temptation that created the state sponsored terrorist as a weapon of Cold War from 1949 to 1989. But in our new world of moral clarity about the evils of state sponsored terrorism, about how disgusting it is to violate the spirit of the Geneva Conventions by waging a war almost all of whose casualties are civilians, about how insanely immoral and stupid it is to fund terrorists against your enemies who could easily, tomorrow, come back and do to your own civilians what you're paying them to do to other people's civilians today, the United States government should absolutely know better than to succumb to that temptation. It should absolutely know to set an example to the rest of the world by visibly and obviously and loudly not giving in to that temptation.
It should, anyway. It doesn't, though.