It's perhaps instructive to take a look at the mindset required for a nation to make itself as safe as possible currently, particularly taking into account the difference between the world situation now as compared to that of only 35 or so years ago when the Cold War was deeply entrenched, along with its mantra of MAD (mutually assured destruction) hummed on all sides. Of great significance, also, is the advance in technology, which has resulted in the abilities of agencies, both governmental and private, to employ resources leading to outcomes only dreamed of in earlier times.
Wars are either offensive or defensive in nature, although to be successful defensively, a military enterprise, practically by definition, must become offensive. World Wars I and II and the Korean Conflict are prime examples of defensive operations turned into offensive ones, although the threat of nuclear weaponry impacted the latter and helped cause a stalemate rather than a victory, as was the case in Vietnam, though the supposed stalemate there eventuated in defeat for the United States. Whereas it was honorable once not to attack unless attacked first or at least be the object of a declaration of war, such as the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor or the sinking of American ships by German U-boats prior to WWII, with respect to the former, the watchword now is get them before they get us, using whatever means are necessary.
With respect to Vietnam, the mindset was containment, i.e., engineering a standoff of sorts. This was the approach because the threat of retaliation presented by Communist China and other communist governments precluded a push for all-out victory, for which there is no substitute. A standoff was accomplished in Korea, but that action came at the beginning of the Cold War, while the Viet action culminated in agreements 20 years later, when the world picture, with an obviously aggressive Soviet Union standing astride both great territory and peoples, not to mention nuclear weapons, posed a constant threat to the actual freedom of people in any part of the world.
During the late 70s, the nation's military strength as well as its will to fight deteriorated to the point that the Iranian government was allowed to hold American hostages for some 14 months. Ronald Reagan changed both the military infrastructure and the will, building the former into a formidable (even scary) force while serving notice in places such as Grenada (and the Falklands, with its support of Britain), with regard to the latter, that this country would not just stand and fight, but would attack and fight. By 1989, the Soviets threw in the towel, rescuing their aggressor troops from U.S.-backed Afghanistan and then watching the USSR disintegrate almost overnight.
President G.H.W. Bush maintained the military strength and furthered the get 'em first philosophy in Panama and, much more importantly, in Kuwait, removing Noriega from power and kicking Saddam back into Iraq, successfully fighting Congress and building a UN coalition for that job (though it was for all practical purposes a U.S. action, as was Korea). During the 90s, the Clinton administration allowed the military to suffer again while engaging in accommodation world politics [non-violence at practically any cost], the result being the emergence of groups of Islamic thugs to work their terrorism. After the first bombing of the WTC, in 1993, and subsequent bombings of U.S. installations and/or representatives of the U.S. ranging from barracks to embassies to ships, no significant action was taken, thus not even a defensive posture was engaged.
There comes a time when neither complaints to the toothless United Nations nor vapid diplomacy with any of its members is effective. Upon the heels of 9/11, President Bush went to war with Afghanistan, a nation sponsoring terrorism, even though it was Al Qaeda and not the Taliban-controlled government, at least officially, that had attacked U.S. people and property in as cowardly a way as possible. This was an offensive action taken against a government impinging upon the welfare of the U.S., even though indirectly and certainly unofficially, a new approach.
This approach should have provided a marker for every nation to understand unmistakably. It didn't. Saddam Hussein didn't get it, not realizing that a new era had begun in Washington and that Bush would demand that Iraq live up to its obligations under the agreements made after the Gulf War and obey a multitude of disregarded UN resolutions enacted all through the 90s. Agreeing with that of the U.S., the intelligence communities of governments such as those of Russia, Italy, and Britain affirmed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. In addition, he did not cooperate with UN inspectors entering the country during the winter of 2002-2003, the first since 1998, so President Bush and leaders of several other countries adopted the concept of offensive defense and, not waiting for UN approval, which never would have come, invaded Iraq. The results are noteworthy, the main one being that the marker is unmistakably out there again that Islamic hooliganism will not be tolerated. In his state-of-the-union address on February 2, the president went to some pain to put Syria and Iran on notice that nations that sponsor terrorism do so at their peril.
Indeed, a new era of defense has arrived…preemption…and it seems here to stay as long as George Bush is president.