Every president submits to Congress a document comprehensively explaining the administration's foreign policy. For the Bush administration, this routine paper is the government's first explanation of its reaction to a vastly changed world. The preamble to Bush's "National Security Strategy of the United States" reads:

Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence. … Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger America. Now, shadowy networks of individuals can bring great chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank.

The 35-page document has received attention from the media, ethicists, and world leaders because it provides the president's moral, historical, and intellectual rationale for using preemptive military action to deter terrorism.

"We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best," the document reads. "History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, calls the security strategy paper a "historic moment."

"This is going to be looked back upon as the definitive shift from a post-Cold War drift to a significant and important strategy for peace and freedom in the 21st century," he told Christianity Today. "I think the President's strategy is a necessary response to the radically altered strategic situation where you have rogue states using terrorists as cat's paws to go out and do terrible damage to innocent civilian populations."

Rich Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals' vice president of government affairs, says that though the document does not "come out and talk in moral arguments," ethical matters do adequately frame the strategy.

"Is this a dangerous policy that the Bush administration has undertaken?" Cizik says. " I don't think so. I don't believe that just-war thinking rules out preemptive military action on the basis of a future threat. There is plenty of just-war foundation for this."

He says that Bush, in the strategy document and in speeches, has adequately explained the moral justification of attacking Iraq. However, it may not be enough. "Has he done it foundationally? Yes," Cizik says. "But has he spelled it out explicitly? That is another question. He's going to have to in order to win over some evangelicals. They are split over this."

Land says the entire paper reflects just-war theory. "I don't think there is anything troublesome for Christians in this because the preamble makes it clear that our goal is freedom for the whole world," he says.

Jim Skillen of the Center for Public Justice, says the complete implications of the administration's security strategy are complicated. "I cannot wholly endorse or denounce it," he told CT. "It is trying to address a highly ambiguous situation but as a whole I think the document is more problematic than healthy."

He fears that the security checks and balances of the past are now being scrapped with the rationale that terrorism changes everything. If the U.S. launches a unilateral attack on Iraq, the precendent may be established that "in the case of rogue states, the U.S. and presumably any other powerful country, has a right to take preemptive action even if it is not evident to the wider world of nations that an immediate threat is posed."

In standard policy framework of the past, Skillen says, preemptive action sought to disarm the means by which a country was intending harm. The proposed plans of the Bush administration speak of "regime change." Skillen says this is similar to comparing neutralizing hostile tanks posed on the border to wiping out a government.

"With respect to the longstanding authority of a state to take preemptive action to defend itself against obvious plans of an enemy to attack, the new policy goes way beyond it," he says. "To claim the right to be able to end a regime compared to defending one's own country against a regime's ability to inflict violence is something new and has to be debated. I don't see how it can be justified on the older terms."

The strategy also poses serious questions of the United States' role in the world at large and within the U.N. Security Council. He says that fears of the U.S. acting as an empirical authority may be legitimate.

"It looks to me like there are elements in this strategy document that imply that the U.S. is now going to look at the whole world and make sure that no power can stand in its way and it will take preemptive action as necessary," Skillen said. "These would then have to be the terms on which the U.N., if it has any operational authority in the future, would have to operate under. Other nations would, in that case, have to assume that there is a single government, that of the United States, that claims a kind of ultimate international authority to decide the direction in which the whole globe would have to go."

Todd Hertz is assistant online editor for Christianity Today.