The Changing Face of Preemptive War The Bush administration issued a revised version of the national strategy last week, reaffirming the policy of preemption, but putting greater emphasis on traditional doctrines of deterrence and containment. Guests discuss the Bush Doctrine, the recent national strategy document and the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq.
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The Changing Face of Preemptive War

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The Changing Face of Preemptive War

The Changing Face of Preemptive War

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From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION. Last week, the Bush Administration presented its national security strategy. There are revisions from four years ago, but as National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley explained, the policy continues to emphasize preemption.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (United States National Security Advisor): Under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.

CONAN: The challenges of Iran and China, the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, preemption and national strategy, plus a political history of presidential censure. and your letters on credit scores. It's the TALK OF THE NATION after the news.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week, the White House announced an update of the national security strategy. Its first presentation four years ago placed new emphasis on preemption. After 9/11, the president told the graduating class at West Point the traditional doctrines of containment and deterrence were not enough. If weapons of mass destruction were provided to terrorists, he said, we might never know where the attack came from.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.

CONAN: In last week's update of the Bush Administration's national security strategy, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the U.S. must retain the option to strike first.

Mr. HADLEY: The doctrine of preemption remains sound and must remain an integral part of our national security strategy. If necessary, the strategy states, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack.

CONAN: Today, a look at what's changed and what hasn't in the Bush doctrine. And, with the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the challenge of Iran and North Korea, whether the emphasis on preemption serves the country's best interests. Later in the program, a history lesson on presidential censure and your letters on credit scores. But first, reexamining the doctrine of preemption. If you have questions of how preemption is defined, when it's appropriate, or where the bar should be set for the use of force, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The email address is Washington Post. And Peter, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. PETER BAKER (White House correspondent for the Washington Post): Good afternoon, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks. As we heard in that clip from National Security Advisor Hadley, the White House gave no ground on its decision to order a preemptive strike on Iraq three years ago, and reaffirms preemption as a central part of its national strategy.

Mr. BAKER: Right. That's exactly right. But what's interesting is, actually, Steve Hadley, in this speech, also distinguished between what he views as preemptive war and Iraq. He said, look, in fact, actually, Iraq isn't really preemptive war, because we had twelve years of, you know, diplomacy, U.N. Security Council resolutions, in effect, really, an on-going war, if you will, with the airplane strikes and so forth. So, they're trying to cut it both ways in that sense. But a lot of people look at Iraq as holding a lot of lessons for the concept of preemptive war. We made an assumption about what another country's assumptions and capabilities were, and that turned out to be wrong. And that's at the heart of what preemptive war is.

CONAN: And Stephen Hadley did acknowledge there were errors in intelligence.

Mr. BAKER: He did, yes, but instead of saying that the concept of preemptive war is therefore suspect or flawed, he says the problem is better intelligence. What we need to do is, in fact, have a better sense of what these other countries have potential to have threats to us are all about. And they've done that, to some extent, reorganizing the intelligence community, and they hope, are improving the kind of information gathering that they are putting together in the government.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, specifically in the context of Iran, this version of the national security strategy had a lot more to say than it did four years ago.

Mr. BAKER: Well, that's right. This version of the strategy is about a third longer than what we saw in September 2002, and it's much more explicit about a number of countries, obviously Iran being number one. In fact, it defines Iran as perhaps the most serious challenge by any single nation to the United States today, which is a very evocative phrase, one that had also been used by Secretary of State Rice in Congressional testimony a week before. It also said that the preference, if the United States is to solve this through diplomatic means, but if diplomacy didn't work, it would lead to confrontation. It didn't tell us what confrontation meant. Steve Hadley was asked about this after his speech last week, does the reaffirmation of preemption, is that done with Iran particularly in mind? He says no, not specifically. But obviously in Tehran they looked at that document very carefully.

CONAN: Interestingly, I don't think the document had much to say at all about North Korea.

Mr. BAKER: Not as much about North Korea. It did, you know, lay out, of course, the complaint against North Korea, the hermit regime and the nuclear program it has. North Korea, of course, unlike Iran, actually admits to building nuclear weapons. It says it has them, and our intelligence community believes that's a correct claim. So the difference is around, of course, is they're not building nuclear weapons, although we've accused them of doing that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The President was asked about Iran today, at his news conference at the White House earlier today, and he said, well, we're focusing on diplomacy now. He mentioned the EU-3, that's Britain, France, and Germany, the countries that are involved in negotiations, the importance of presenting a united front to Iran, explaining, but he said, ultimately, the world cannot accept Iran with nuclear weapons. That would be dangerous for the world. Then we get back to questions about preemption.

Mr. BAKER: Right. Exactly. And he also said, yesterday, in Cleveland, he was asked a question that he turned around into a discussion of Iran, and mentioned how the new President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had talked about the idea of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. And said this is a threat to our friend and a threat to world peace, and I'm going to reiterate here that we use our military might to defend and protect our friend Israel. So, you know, it was a pretty tough line yesterday, and obviously today you can make the logical leap to where this goes if diplomacy doesn't work.

CONAN: And we're talking a lot about preemption. That was obviously, the emphasis was new four years ago, its reassertion was important last week. It's not all that's mentioned in the document though. Hardly.

Mr. BAKER: No, not at all. Of course, what's interesting me about this document as well, it much more thematically incorporates the president's goal of spreading democracy, of ending tyranny, throughout the various chapters, throughout the chapter on economics, and the chapter on alliances, and the chapter on, you know, rogue states, and so forth. This message is now interwoven throughout U.S. foreign policy as is defined by this document. It also talks about Russia and China in ways that got some attention. It was less sanguine about Russian democracy now, four years later. President Bush is no longer looking into Vladimir Putin's soul the way he did in 2001, and it warns China that it needs to be a more responsible actor on the world stage and encourage political freedom, not just economic freedom.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is

JAMES (Caller): Hello, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Hi. Sure.

JAMES: I was calling, um, I heard the president yesterday, some of what he had to say in Cleveland, and one of the things he does in, you know, he'll respond to a question by saying something else that he wanted to say instead. And one of the things he said a couple of different times was that one of the reasons we want to spread democracy around the world is because democracies don't start wars. It seems to me counterintuitive, if democracies don't start wars, and we're going to be preemptively starting wars, that this is a policy that has any coherence.

CONAN: I think the idea is that democracies don't start wars with each other, and we'll grant the exception of Athens and Syracuse, Peter Baker, but is that what the President's talking about in terms of...

Mr. BAKER: Yeah, that's right. I think what he's talking about is the democratic Germany and the democratic France are living next to each other, side by side now for 60 years, without any problems, whereas, you know, of course, prior to World War II, when you had one of the two, a dictatorship, that was a threat to world security. So...

JAMES: Well, I bet I could point to a democratic, you know, Palestine, and democrat Israel, living next to one another, and that's, all sorts of new problems have arisen as a result.

Mr. BAKER: Well, that's an interesting point, you know, I guess we could argue about how democratic the Palestinian territories have been, for very long, but you make a good point.

JAMES (Caller): They weren't democratic now or a year ago...

Mr. BAKER: Sure, mm-hmm.

JAMES: The other question I had, it's entirely unrelated, but it is a historical question and I am a historian by training. It seems to me that if you allow preemption as just sort of an acceptable doctrine, if we'll remember in 1941 the Japanese, of course, believed that their interests were so threatened in Southeast Asia by the United States that they started a preemptive war and since then, most of us have thought that was a really bad idea.

CONAN: Including the Japanese.

JAMES: Including the Japanese.

Mr. BAKER: Well, the document specifically says that no other country should use the concept of preemptive war as an excuse for aggression, in effect. So, I guess they feel like they've taken care of it with that sentiment, but you're right, one country's view of preemption is another country's view of aggression.

JAMES: Well, and how does that fit our preemptive war against Iraq, then?

Mr. BAKER: Yeah, well, I think you would get different answers depending on different people.

CONAN: And we're going to discuss that in a few moments when we get to views of the James, but thank you very much for the question, we appreciate it.

JAMES caller: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Thank you for laughing at historical jokes, we appreciate that. I wanted to ask you, Peter Baker, four years ago this was quite definitely the run up to the start of the war against Iraq or the tone of the National Security Strategy was decidedly hawkish. Does that same tone exist this time around?

Mr. BAKER: Well, I think the circumstances are different, obviously. This is an administration right now that to some degree or another has been humbled by the experience of the last few years, both domestically and internationally. It's an administration that cares a lot more about multilateralism and working with allies than it did in the fall of 2002. One thing that's notable in this document this time around is its very strong emphasis on the idea of working with other countries. They say in face with one line they say, while America can accomplish some things by itself, anything of lasting value has to be done in tandem with others. So, you know, the tone is a little different, the circumstances are different, and I don't think we're on the verge of war in the way that we were obviously in September 2002.

CONAN: And might one of the lessons of Iraq, therefore be seen as the emphasis on the EU3 in negotiations with Iran and the six party talks with North Korea?

Mr. BAKER: Yeah, we're taking a different approach right now with both North Korea and Iran. Now, you know, the administration would argue that they tried diplomacy through 12 years, and in fact, President Bush was commenting on this yesterday in Cleveland, he said, look the difference between Iran and Iraq is that, you know, Iraq had been going on for a long time by the time I came into office and Iran was still at the very early stages. Now that, of course, begs the question, does he see another 10, 12 years of diplomacy dealing with Iran before some sort of movement through some sort of moment of truce, some sort of confrontation or in fact would the timetable be more accelerated?

CONAN: And it remains to be seen of course intelligent estimates, which are all that we've got at this point, don't make it clear at what point Iran might be on the threshold of achieving nuclear weapons.

Mr. BAKER: Yeah, and there are differences of opinion about that, and there are different thresholds to consider. There's a threshold between the time at which they are able to make a bomb and the time that they are able to get the fissile material, the time that they have, you know, achieved the engineering breakthrough, and the time that they are actually physically at the point of putting together bombs. And different people will argue different things about which of those points are most important to head off.

CONAN: Peter Baker, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. BAKER: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Peter Baker, White House Correspondent for The Washington Post joined us from their studios here in Washington, D.C. When we come back we'll joined by Gary Schmitt, the Director of the American Enterprise Institute's Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, and by John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago. Strategic Policy and Preemption, it's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley presented the 2006 National Security Strategy Report. It reaffirmed the doctrine of preemption. Today we're talking about that, and if you have questions about how that is defined, how it might be used, our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is Science and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. He's the author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, and he joins us from the studio there on the campus at the University of Chicago. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. JOHN MEARSHEIMER (Professor of Political Science, co-director of the Program on International Security Policy, University of Chicago): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Also with us is Gary Schmitt, resident scholar and director of the American Enterprise Institute's Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, and it's nice to have you with us as well.

Mr. GARY SCHMITT (Resident Scholar and Director of the American Enterprise Institute's Program on Advanced Strategic Studies): Thank you. My sound level from you is very, very low.

CONAN: We'll get the engineer to boost it for you, is that a little bit better?

Mr. SCHMITT: That's great. Thank you.

CONAN: All right, great. John Mearsheimer, let me start with you. I think we have to make sure that we're all agreed on what preemption actually means. Of course, it's always been part of American policy, every country's policy, if another country's massing troops on your border, you don't have to wait for them to attack to go ahead and start a conflict, but this preemption policy is somewhat different.

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: Well, there's a distinction between preemption and preventive war, and what the Bush administration is talking about is preventive war, and they have mislabeled it preemptive war. There is no one who is against a preemptive war and in fact, just war theory and international law both allow for a preemptive war, which is a case where one side is about to attack another side, and you simply get in the first blow. There's no problem with that and the war in Iraq and a possible war against Iran have nothing to do with preemption. It has to do with preventive war, and that's where you see a reasonably long-term threat developing and you decide to go in and take care of that threat before it's fully manifested. So, this should really be called a debate all about preventive war.

CONAN: And, Gary Schmitt, the president says 9/11 changed all these calculations, that what John Mearsheimer calls preventive war, and what he calls preemptive war, is something that has to be retained as an option.

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, I think that the president thinks that everything has changed, I think that is wrong. I think, for example, deterennce is still alive and well in various parts of the world that we're engaged in, but on the other hand, the president is on the fundamental point which is that this new nexus between terrorism and the desire for weapons of mass destruction and the nexus between that and the rogue regimes that either harbor the terrorists or potentially provide the weapons of mass destruction, that is relatively new when it comes to state, international concerns. So, I don't think the president really means that everything has changed, it just means that in this particular incident that this is a new phenomenon that we have to take account of.

CONAN: Mm-hmmm. And John Mearsheimer, do the old policies, containment, deterrence, do those address this nexus that Gary Schmitt's talking bout?

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I don't buy the argument there's a nexus because the nexus implies that rogue states, like Iraq under Saddam Hussein or Iran under the Ayatollahs, is going to give weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, to terrorists. I don't think that's going to happen. So, I separate the two out. Now with regard to terrorist organizations like Al-Qaida, I do not think deterrents will work, and I think therefore we have to find Al-Qaida and destroy Al-Qaida. Containment, deterrents doesn't work there, but with regard to rogue states like Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, I think you basically have two choices with regard to how you deal with them: one is containment and the other is preventive war. Now if you could convince me that the costs of a preventive war are low and the benefits are high, I'd prefer preventive war over containment, because you'd excise the problem instead of just containing it. But the problem is, as we've discovered in Iraq, that preventative war doesn't work. And therefore, although containment is not a perfect strategy, it's the preferable strategy because it is the least bad alternative. So, I think with regard to rogue states, I'll take containment over preventive war. But with regard to the terrorists themselves, organization like Al-Qaida, containment won't work. We have to find our adversaries and destroy them.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Gary Schmitt, this nexus, you believe it does exist?

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, I think Professor Mearsheimer is right. I mean, the likelihood of a rogue state taking the chance to give a terrorist organization weapons of mass destruction and not paying the cost for that means that, I think that likelihood is pretty low. On the other hand, if you're an elected official when things are, even if there are very low odds, you still have to take them seriously, and for example, in the case of Iran, this is a state that clearly thinks of the United States as its enemy, think of Israel and some of our allies as enemies, and ultimately talks about eliminating them. So, if you're sitting in the White House you do have to make these calculation of costs and benefits, but on the other hand you have to take seriously what people say and the potential for what they might do based upon what they say.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved again. Let's turn to Tom and Tom's calling from Little Rock, Arkansas. Tom?

TOM (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Yes, Tom, are you there?

TOM: Yes, yes, I am. My question is what are they considered criteria for preemptive strike and how can they trust and information gathering system that's already proved itself totally faulty?

CONAN: Yeah, Gary Schmitt, intelligence, certainly a major problem in the run up to Iraq.

Mr. SCHMITT: Yeah, and it's going to remain a problem. The intelligence community doesn't have a great record on these things, and that's something that, again, elected officials are going to have to worry about. Now having said that, I think there are really sort of two key sort of issues here. One is, the truth is on some of these issues on when you're talking about weapons programs and the like, the difficulty is going to be is that the intelligence you need to solidify your decision making has to come very early in the cycle so that you can act before, you know, the country down the road of actually having developed something or knows how to do it. So in fact, you intelligence in going to be most iffy precisely at the time you're trying to make that judgment. The second thing I would say though, is I'm kind of struck by the degree to which, despite the clear fact that intelligence community got it wrong on Iraq, I am struck by the degree to which Europe and our allies still take seriously the problem posed by Iran's nuclear program. So, you know, in one hand, you would have expected, you know, more caution, and I think you're seeing that in the diplomacy and the tactics we're trying to get...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SCHMITT: ...'round the back way. On the other hand there aren't very few people that doubt that Iran's weapons program is a real one, so I'm a little bit struck by the degree to which Iraq actually hasn't been much for the precedent to move us away from this kind of discussion.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Tom, thanks very much. Here's an e-mail question from Mark in Greenville, North Carolina. I just don't get our policy of doctrine of preemption. If we can preempt threats using military force, why on earth shouldn't other countries be able to do so? John Mearsheimer?

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: Well, the fact is that virtually any country on the face of the earth that is facing preemption, an imminent attack, is going to try and get in the first blow. So, there's no question about that. Again, the issue here is a preventive war. And the reason that the United States can countenance a preventive war and other states around the globe cannot countenance a preventive war, for the most part, is because we are so powerful. The United States has military might that's unprecedented in the history of the world and this gives us the option of thinking seriously about running all around the globe and launching preventive wars where we think it suits our interest. There's hardly any other state, if any state in the system, that could do that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But Gary Schmitt, theoretically at least China, you know, North Korea for that matter, other states could adopt this principle.

Mr. SCHMITT: Yeah, they could, and the precedent for doing this is obviously one that has to be taken in consideration. I mean, one of the problems of international law, in fact, is that it tries to apply, you know, the same standards, you know, for every kind of state despite the state's intentions or its own behavior. So, you know, this is a difficulty, but on the other hand, I think the truth is we're not running around in the world actively seeking to preempt this or that, and so the precedent actually is a pretty limited one.

CONAN: Let's turn now to Mike. Mike's calling us from Davis, California.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MIKE: I'm a little bit disturbed by the fact that no one is addressing the morality of the choice. It seems to me, you know, aside from the, A, historical nature of this conversation, considering that we've intervened several times, I mean, my knowledge of history isn't that strong, but I know that we were installing the Shah in the '50s, and you know you can go through talking about our intervention in other places, but from my perspective, it's not a moral choice. I mean, I think that, you know, why, for instance, let's pose the question, if you could eliminate all other countries, I mean, is the only thing that's keeping us from doing that the fact that we can't do it? Would it be a moral choice if we could do it? At what point do you draw the line? So that's, you know, that's my concern, that it's really not, from my perspective, a moral choice.

CONAN: John Mearsheimer, the morality of preemptive war as you describe it.

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: It's an excellent question. First of all, with regard to preemptive war, as I tried to make clear early, there is no question that a preemptive war is morally correct. Just war theory and international law both allow for preemptive war. It's preventative war which is prohibited both by international law and by just war theory. But I would make the argument that under certain circumstances, a preventative war might make good sense. For example, I would have been willing in 1936 to launch a preventive war against Germany when it remilitarized the Rhineland. I think that would have made good sense. And the reason is that I believe that the survival of a state has to be the ultimate goal. And if there are circumstances where you think your survival is likely to be threatened by a particular state, then I think that a preventive war is justified on moral grounds, although that is not allowed by just war theory and international law, as I said before.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Gary Schmitt, I was interested in your views on this.

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, I'm always struck, I mean, obviously, these are difficult issues and difficult questions, and they're matters of applying principles to very concrete circumstances and good judgment is always required. I think it's not true that, I mean, it's just not true, even Michael Walters is probably the leading liberal just war theorist in the United States today has argued in favor of preventive wars. He did so ironically, back in the days when Clinton was acting like he was going to take action against Iraq, as well. So, that's one thing. The real core question or issue is simply what's the price your citizens are going to pay if you don't act? I mean, you have a duty and an obligation, a moral duty as a leader, to protect your citizens, and particularly in a decent society like ours, and if there's a higher price to be paid for not acting, then I think any wise statesman is going to look at preemption or preventive war as a viable alternative and a moral one.

CONAN: Mike, thanks for the call.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking today with Gary Schmitt, director of AEI's Program on Advanced Strategic Studies. He's with us on the phone from his office here in Washington, and with John Mearsheimer, professor of political science, University of Chicago, who is with us from the studios at the University of Chicago. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. You can also send us email, go now to Joe. Joe is calling from Nashville.

JOE (Caller): Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOE: I would think that just the absurdity of what's happened in Iraq would be enough to dissuade any of us from believing that preemptive war leads to anything but more war. My question is, no one questions the military might of the United States, but we've proven colossally bad at post-preemptive war, reconstruction effort. In other words, what do you put in place after you totally trash whatever was there to begin with? And I think Iraq is again a perfect example.

CONAN: Gary Schmitt?

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, I agree. I think if you're going to engage in preemption or preventive war, you've going to have to, you've got to be prepared for what follows on, either even more military action, and/or state building and nation building, and frankly, the administration has botched the latter quite enormously. And I think they think they should be criticized for it, and a great deal of pressure should continue to be put on them to get it right.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And John Mearsheimer, would you agree with what I think Colin Powell once called, you break it, you bought it?

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: Yeah, I think there's no question that Colin Powell was on the money, and that we underestimated the dimensions of that problem, and now we're living with the aftermath. But I think the key question on the table is whether or not you believe that we could have done the occupation right and succeeded in Iraq. I personally believe, although I can't prove it, that there was no way we could have made the occupation work. I think in an age of nationalism, it's almost impossible for a country like the United States to occupy a country in the Arab and Islamic world for any sustainable period of time and transform its politics.

JOE: Doesn't this refute the whole idea of preemptive regime change going forward in the future?

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: Not necessarily. I mean, you could have a case where a country like Iran, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and there's lots of evidence that it's about to attack you, in which case, you would want to get in the first strike. Might be the point sometime in the future that we have evidence that North Korea is intending to attack Japan or South Korea, and we may want to strike first, in which case we'd have to live with the occupation afterwards. But nevertheless, we would be compelled to do it.I think it's highly unlikely that that would happen, but you don't want to take either preemption or preventive war off the boards by any means.

CONAN: Joe, thank you.

JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get in one last call. Ron, from San Diego.

RON (Caller): Hi. I'm in the Navy. I just returned from deployment over there in support of that particular conflict. It's a little depressing to hear these guys talk in the past tense, as if there's no way that this will succeed. But I did want to comment about some very good points made by the professor and the distinction on the war, but somebody said we have the military might that's unprecedented in the history of the world. I got to disagree with that, because we are seriously degraded and add to that this preemptive war or this war of prevention has seriously degraded our military capabilities, to the point where if a real war came along, you know, we were attacked or some kind of other conflict in Europe or East Asia or something, because of the effects of this conflict, this quagmire we're in right now, we would have serious problems prosecuting that.

CONAN: Quick comment? First from John Mearsheimer.

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: I think there's no question that we're pinned down in Iraq, and because we're pinned down in Iraq, we don't have a lot of maneuver room in other places around the globe. But I don't think that what has happened in Iraq has in any meaningful way degraded our military capabilities. Our air and naval and nuclear forces remain as fearsome as ever, and our army has performed admirably, as have the Marines in Iraq. I mean, there is a danger that those forces could be damaged if we stay there for a few more years and continue to run them in at the numbers that we have been. But at the moment we are, I believe, as powerful as ever, although we are pinned down for sure.

CONAN: Ron, thanks very much. I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. John Mearsheimer, thank you for being with us today.

Mr. MEARSHEIMER: My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago, the author of the Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Gary Schmitt, we appreciate your time, as well.

Mr. SCHMITT: You're welcome.

CONAN: Gary Schmitt, director of the program on advanced strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He joined us from his office here in Washington, D.C.

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