In a 49-page national security report, the president said diplomacy is the U.S. preference in halting the spread of nuclear and other heinous weapons.
"The president believes that we must remember the clearest lesson of Sept. 11: that the United States of America must confront threats before they fully materialize," national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.
"The president's strategy affirms that the doctrine of preemption remains sound and must remain an integral part of our national security strategy," Hadley said. "If necessary, the strategy states, under longstanding principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."
Titled "National Security Strategy," the report summarizes Mr. Bush's plan for protecting America and directing U.S. relations with other nations. It is an updated version of a report the president issued in 2002.
The latest report makes it clear he hasn't changed his mind, even though no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
"When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. ... The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same," Mr. Bush wrote.
In his remarks, Hadley conceded, "We need better intelligence." Responding to questions about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Hadley told a Washington audience, "We obviously did not have the intelligence we needed." But he strongly defended the "prudent" use of pre-emptive force despite the failure to uncover any WMD in Iraq, CBS News correspondent Peter Maer reports.
The report had harsh words for Iran. It accused the regime of supporting terrorists, threatening Israel and disrupting democratic reform in Iraq. Mr. Bush said diplomacy to halt Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons work must prevail to avert a conflict.
"This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided," Mr. Bush said.
He did not say what would happen if international negotiations with Iran failed. The Bush administration currently is working to persuade Russia and China to support a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Iran end its uranium enrichment program.
Hadley said Iran was "finally beginning to listen" to international criticism of its behavior. Hadley said Iran has to understand that the situation is "not just an issue between them and the 'great Satan,' the U.S." but between Iran and the international community.
Mr. Bush also had tough words for North Korea, which he said poses a serious nuclear proliferation challenge, counterfeits U.S. currency, traffics in narcotics, threatens its neighbors and starves its people.
"The North Korean regime needs to change these polices, open up its political system and afford freedom to its people," Mr. Bush said. "In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct."
The president issued rebukes to Russia and China and called Syria a tyranny that harbors terrorists and sponsors terrorist activity.
On Russia, Mr. Bush said recent trends show a waning commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions. "Strengthening our relationship will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts," he said.
The United States also is nudging China down a road of reform and openness.
"China's leaders must realize, however, that they cannot stay on this peaceful path while holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world," he wrote.
He said these "old ways" include enlarging China's military in a non-transparent way, expanding trade, yet seeking to direct markets rather than opening them up, and supporting energy-rich nations without regard to their misrule or misbehavior at home or abroad.
In 2002, when he sent his first report to Congress, Mr. Bush was struggling to persuade U.S. allies to join an offensive to topple Saddam Hussein.
Since then, the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan was replaced by a freely elected government. In Iraq, citizens voted in the nation's first free election, a constitution was passed by referendum and nearly 12 million Iraqis elected a permanent government.
Challenges remain in Iraq, where sectarian violence threatens the fragile government and the U.S. death toll has topped 2,300.
The report is laden with strategies for advancing democracy across the globe, a theme of Mr. Bush's second inaugural address.
The president said his administration was advancing this goal by holding high-level meetings at the White House with democratic reformers in repressive nations; using foreign aid to support fair elections, women's rights and religious freedom; and pushing to abolish human trafficking.
Countering suggestions that he favors a go-it-alone approach to foreign policy, Mr. Bush emphasized multilateral problem-solving.
"Many of the problems we face — from the threat of pandemic disease to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to terrorism, to human trafficking, to natural disasters — reach across borders," he said.
"Effective multinational efforts are essential to solve these problems. Yet history has shown that only when we do our part will others do theirs. America must continue to lead."