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In US security plan, more realism

Bush's tempered National Security Strategy, issued this week, lists Iran as a top threat.

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At the three-year mark of an Iraq war that has proved much more difficult and costly than the Bush administration anticipated, the White House released a National Security Strategy report that stands by its approach of "preemptive war."

In the National Security Council's first such report since September 2002, the White House reasserted the principle of self-defense that guided its decisionmaking when President Bush gave the go-ahead for the Iraq war on March 19, 2003.

"When the consequences of an attack with WMD [weapons of mass destruction] are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize," the report said. But it also acknowledged that several investigations concluded that prewar intelligence on WMD in Iraq proved wrong and that "we must learn from this experience if we are to counter successfully the very real threat of proliferation."

Such a reassertion reflects the habits of an administration known for staying on message and not admitting fault, analysts say. Still, there are signs of evolution: The report puts greater stress on an approach administration officials call "effective diplomacy" - with the aim of encouraging "transformational democracy" - than it did in 2002.

"The administration we have today is not the administration that came into office," says Jon Wolfsthal, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's no longer a [neoconservative] government, it's a realistic government."

He cites the new stress on involving allies, as well as diplomatic maneuvers on Iran and North Korea.

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