On January 29, 2002, Bush delivered a State of the Union address. During the speech, the president listed Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," and he accused the nations of threatening world peace by supporting terrorism, intimidating neighboring states, and seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This marked the beginning of a broad diplomatic, political, and military effort to make a case for war against Iraq if it did not comply with existing UN resolutions. Bush stated,
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens—leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections—then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.
Fresh from toppling the Taliban regime, Bush's address declared to the world that the United States would be increasingly aggressive in seeking to counter threats to global peace. Bush announced, "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer."
The codification of Bush's more aggressive security was the National Security Strategy of the United States, published in September 2002. The document was developed by the National Security Council and articulated a policy that became known as the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine rejected reactive security policies and embraced preemptive military strikes as a means to forestall threats to the United States. Under the Bush Doctrine, the United States declared that it would attack enemies or potential enemies in order to prevent them from harming the United States or its allies. The Bush Doctrine was the means by which the president’s 2002 State of the Union Address was put into practice. The National Security Strategy contended, "To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression."
Tom Lansford is academic dean and professor of political science at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, Long Beach, MS. His published works include A Bitter Harvest: US Foreign Policy and Afghanistan; Theodore Roosevelt: A Political Life; and To Protect and Defend: US Homeland Security Policy.