"America is at war."
Those are the grim opening words from U.S. President George Bush's new National Security Strategy, the document that will guide American military thinking for the remainder of his term in office.
More than four years after the 9/11 terror attacks, as Americans are tiring of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, United States military policy-makers offer no relief.
Quite the opposite. Bush is struggling to rally skeptical Americans to his bellicose view of the world, by arguing that Islamic extremists pose a comparable threat to the vast Fascist war machines of World War II, and the Soviet Communist empire.
"The 20th century witnessed the triumph of freedom over the threats of fascism and communism," says the security text, unveiled last week. "Yet a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion."
While few will argue that Al Qaeda and its ilk do pose a lethal threat that must be suppressed, this hyperbole undercuts Bush's case.
Some 50 million people died in World War II. And a Cold War nuclear conflict could have annihilated many more in a few hours.
By those standards, Al Qaeda is a criminal nuisance, nothing more.
This restatement of American policy, with a new focus on Iran as the most urgent threat in view, should serve as a caution to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new government to adopt a cautious approach to U.S. attitudes to perceived Islamic threats in Bush's last years in office.
Americans are beginning to wonder, which is one of the main reasons why Bush's popular support is at a record low.
Few deny that Tehran is a worry, with its nuclear ambitions, hostility toward Israel and support for terror. But Bush appears to be overstating the threat, as he did toward Iraq to justify his invasion. United Nations diplomacy, not American force, offers the best hope of changing Iran's obnoxious policies.
The security statement does have a positive side. It affirms that the U.S. bolsters its own security by promoting democracy and economic growth abroad. That it must seek out partners to cope with challenges like pandemics and terror. And that easing global poverty is a must.
But Washington continues, unwisely, to insist on its right to launch preventive wars "even if uncertainty remains" about the significance of the threat. That argument served as a pretext for regime change in Iraq.
And Washington threatens to attack non-nuclear-armed foes with nuclear weapons, while demanding that North Korea and Iran forsake such weapons. That is hypocrisy. Worse, it encourages their folly.
All in all, the National Security Strategy, version 2006, is an amber light to Ottawa, and to the world. Pay attention to what's going on.
© 2006 The Toronto Star