Even though the Pentagon’s emerging war plan to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein will apparently require far fewer forces than evicting Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, the Pentagon plans to mobilize an equal number of National Guard and Reserve personnel (250,000). Why? To protect civilian targets in the United States and military bases abroad.

That seemingly prudent precaution raises a larger question: Has Bush’s national security policy turned “national security” on its head?

People from all political persuasions could probably agree that the first responsibility of the national security policy of any government is to ensure the security of its citizens and territory. Logically, policies should not be undertaken that would undermine this core objective, especially when they might serve only peripheral interests or address only vague threats in the future. Yet Bush’s policy of launching an unprovoked invasion against a small, relatively poor nation that has never attacked the United States and shows no sign of doing so soon--and would have no incentive to do so in the future unless provoked (according to the CIA)--could actually endanger the citizens and territory that it purports to protect.

Most of official Washington is afraid to tell the emperor he has no clothes, but the robust deployment of Guard and Reserve forces to guard the home front indicates that the bureaucracies have a cloak ready.

When backed into a corner and threatened with extinction, Hussein would have every incentive to commission attacks in the United States using Iraqi intelligence agents or radical terrorist groups. More frightening, Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, which heretofore he has been deterred from using against a superpower that can retaliate with thousands of nuclear warheads. Yet Hussein has no real incentive not to use chemical or biological weapons, or provide them to terrorists, should all-out war ensue. Understandably, the U.S. government likes to keep this horrifying possibility quiet, but the massive planned deployment of Guard and Reserve forces reveals the government’s fears.

And fear we should. U.S. military intervention results in retaliatory terrorism. According to the U.S. State Department, 1991, the year of the Gulf War, saw the most international terrorist attacks since the end of the Cold War. A disproportionate share of those incidents occurred during the war itself--January and February of that year. Many of the incidents in 1991 were acts committed in perceived solidarity with the Iraqi cause. In 2002 or 2003, in the wake of an unprovoked attack on a Moslem country, an inflamed radical Islamic world could perpetrate a repeat performance of 1991. And, of course, Hussein--who was not faced with extinction in 1991 and who has heretofore supported terrorist groups that do not focus their attacks on the United States and never given them weapons of mass destruction--could become much more active in striking the United States either directly or indirectly through surrogates.

Why is Bush endangering the U.S. homeland to go after a petty third world thug in a faraway land that has been effectively contained for more than a decade Because during the Cold War the United States intervened often in the Third World and pushed its defense perimeter ever forward to check Soviet expansionism. After the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy remained on autopilot. Official Washington became comfortable with the outdated interventionism of the past.

The events of 9/11 should have jarred the nation into a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of such an activist policy. With the demise of the Soviet superpower rival, the advantages of getting mired in disputes in faraway lands diminished greatly. The retaliatory attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in protest of the “infidel” U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, the land of Islam’s most holy sites, should have been a wake-up call to the U.S. government that worrying about the security of other nations could endanger the citizens and territory of the United States.

But the 9/11 attacks seem to have had the opposite effect on the Bush administration. For instance, it issued a national security statement that said “the best defense is a good offense“ and has proceeded to enlarge the already overextended U.S. defense perimeter. The administration sent troops to Yemen, Georgia, and the Philippines, established military bases in several countries in central Asia and will expand NATO and probably attack Iraq.

Yet on Sept. 11 nimble terrorists penetrated all the layers of the forward defenses and attacked the core. The Bush administration should realize that enmeshing ourselves further overseas by unnecessarily attacking and occupying Iraq could paint a bull’s eye on the American people.