Published on VDARE.com on April 26, 2003
Insight on the News - Symposium
Q: Will pre-emptive war, such as in Iraq, make the United States safer in the long term?
No: This policy creates instability and isolates the U.S. from its allies.
The United States is more at risk as a result of President George W. Bush's new policy of pre-emptive attack. Consider just a few reasons for the decline in America's safety.
A policy of pre-emptive attack creates instability by encouraging other countries to adopt the same strategy. The policy easily can be a guise for other agendas: control over oil, enhancing the safety of an ally, reconstruction contracts for a political donor base or a messianic militarism determined to impose "American exceptionalism" on the rest of the world. Once other countries believe or suspect that such motives are the reasons for U.S. pre-emptive attacks, those countries will form alliances that will isolate the United States from former allies.
Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Norman Podhoretz and other neoconservatives have indicated that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is but the opening step of a plan for cleansing the Muslim Middle East. On April 2, former CIA director James Woolsey said the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the beginning of World War IV, a war that will last many years while "we move toward a new Middle East."
Such a war is likely to create unity and alliances among Muslim states. An alliance could form between Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan. Both countries are believed to harbor far more terrorists and al-Qaeda operatives than Iraq. A pre-emptive attack on a nuclear-armed adversary could require the United States to use nuclear weapons. Such action would isolate the United States, alarm other powers and possibly subject the United States itself to pre-emptive attack from Russia, China and "old Europe" - all of which could be said to be harboring terrorists in their large Muslim populations. We should not forget that Russia possesses nuclear missiles capable of destroying the United States and that China, thanks to former president Bill Clinton and U.S. defense firms, possesses the technology for nuclear-weapon capability equal to our own.
A case for pre-emptive attack rests on propaganda, assumptions and intelligence information that may be false. Iraq may not possess weapons of mass destruction. The predicted Shiite uprising against Saddam Hussein has not occurred; indeed, Shiite leaders have forbidden an uprising. Their goal is to replace Saddam, a secular ruler, with Islamic rule modeled on Iran, not with American democracy. If the Shiite majority succeeds, the United States will be less safe as a result of overthrowing Saddam's secular rule.
Misinformation abounds within the American public. Polls indicate that 50 percent of Americans believe that Iraqis hijacked the airliners that were crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon. If Americans, with their free press, can be so misinformed, imagine the misconceptions possible in the Middle East, Russia and China. Once the United States adopts a policy of attacking countries based on unproven suspicions, every country becomes a potential target, thus provoking pre-emptive attack against this country.
International law is a nebulous concept. Regardless, the United States has spent the last half-century building support for world order and enlisting world opinion behind its foreign policy. Having poured authority into the United Nations, the United States now has defied its own creation and acted unilaterally in the face of world opinion. This gives America's enemies propaganda with which to brand the United States an outlaw nation. It is difficult for a country perceived as an outlaw to convince the world that it has a moral case for pre-emptive war. If Muslims respond to the invasion of Iraq with more terror, much of world opinion will believe that the United States shares the blame. The sympathy and cooperation enjoyed by the United States since Sept. 11 have been squandered.
The loss of good will makes our country less safe. On March 27, Samir Ragab, chairman of the Egyptian Gazette, editorialized: "The U.S. has just shown its true colors. And the world can rest assured that both the U.S. and Israel are one and the same thing. Their common objective is to enfeeble Arabs and tear their nations to pieces." The Gazette, established in 1880, is not a radical Islamic newspaper, and Ragab is not a known anti-American. His editorial indicates that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has hurt America's standing with moderate Muslims. Reporting from Jakarta on March 26, Reuters said that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has disillusioned American-educated Muslim elites throughout Asia. Moderate Muslims in the Middle East and pro-American ones in Asia are washing their hands of us. By attacking Iraq, the United States has achieved the "Palestinization" of the Muslim world. The consequence will be more terror. On March 31, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said: "This war will have horrible consequences. Instead of having one [Osama] bin Laden, we will have 100 bin Ladens."
Another aspect of U.S. safety is threatened by pre-emptive war. The Founding Fathers realized that not all enemies are foreign. What keeps U.S. citizens safe is adherence to the U.S. Constitution. Losing any part of the Constitution is precedent for losing other parts. Congress - the American people's representative - now has lost the constitutional right to declare war.
In the past the U.S. has fought war without declaring it, as in Vietnam. But Vietnam was a "proxy war" fought to contain communist expansion without directly confronting communist states, which could have provoked nuclear holocaust. There was no such danger in attacking Iraq. Moreover, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not a surprise attack, but a war that the U.S. publicly initiated. There is no excuse in this instance for circumventing a congressional declaration of war. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is the result of a presidential decision and personal ultimatum. Bush has initiated a war in a manner that expands the powers of his office to give the president attributes of a Caesar.
Pre-emptive war is the foreign-policy version of Jeremy Bentham's proposal pre-emptively to arrest citizens who might commit crimes in the future. Bentham "proved" that it served "the greatest interest of the greatest number" to round up people who fit profiles predisposed to commit criminal acts. How would such citizens be identified? The same way that we "know" which countries are going to attack us in the future: by assumption, probability, speculation and bad information, such as the forged nuclear documents offered as proof that Iraq has a nuclear-weapons program. Fairfax County, Va., police recently used pre-emptive reasoning when they arrested bar patrons on the grounds that some might later be guilty of driving under the influence.
Arresting people before they commit crimes is a violation of mens rea - the principle that there can be no crime without intent - and a violation of actus rea - the principle that a criminal act must occur before an arrest can take place. These principles are foundations of Anglo-American law. Once people can be arrested for suspected future misdeeds, liberty is dead. Similarly, pre-emptive war is based in surmise.
Pre-emptive war commits the United States to empire. It was Rome's policy to subdue potential enemies in advance by constructing an empire. Empire cost the Roman citizens their republic, destroyed the power of the Roman senate and brought crushing taxation, inflation, division and resentments. Finding themselves overextended, Romans withdrew from their far-flung posts. Their enemies followed them back to Rome and, ultimately, the ancient city was sacked and plundered.
Pre-emptive war is a recipe for Armageddon. Each time the U.S. pre-emptively attacks a future enemy, new enemies will be created. This is especially the case in the Middle East. Such an aggressive policy likely will lead to the reinstatement of conscription in the United States and the militarization of the entire country. To understand why, consider the miscalculations and difficulties evident by the fifth day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
It is difficult to imagine a more inviting target for attack than Iraq, a divided country containing three mutually hostile groups - Kurds, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Iraq's army has outmoded weapons and has been weakened by defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and 12 years of embargoes and bombings. Saddam does not control his whole country or Iraq's airspace. To remain in power, he has had to resurrect the tribes and to govern through tribal leaders in the manner of medieval kings governing through their "agents," counts and dukes.
Yet, by the fifth day of the invasion, it was obvious that the war was not going to be a cakewalk for the United States. U.S. generals began complaining that their warnings were ignored and that sufficient forces were not committed to the invasion, and reinforcements were sent. If a quarter-million-man, high-tech army supported by a powerful navy and unquestionable air superiority is in sufficient force, what happens when we attack a unified, more populous Muslim state? What happens if U.S. aggression unites the Muslims and they come to one another's aid? What would have been the fate of our army in Iraq if Syria, Iran and Turkey had joined the fray?
Prior to the next pre-emptive attack, even the tamed political U.S. generals will put their foot down and demand "sufficient" forces so that there is no question about the outcome. Whose sons, grandsons, brothers and fathers will provide these forces? Whose taxes will pay the enormous cost? Will critics of U.S. pre-emptive wars be silenced by knocks on the door from "Homeland Security"?
Meanwhile, on U.S. soil other wars are being lost. The Bush tax cut, which was to restore the economy, has been sacrificed to the war. The Supreme Court has just refused to hear a case that would have questioned the right of government to spy on citizens. And the silent invasion of America by 1 million illegal immigrants per annum continues unabated. How is a country that is not capable of defending its own borders made safe by sending its army halfway around the world to confront ancient and unresolvable animosities?
When Americans realize the recklessness behind the pre-emptive attack on Iraq, they will feel very unsafe indeed.
Roberts is chairman of the Institute for Political Economy, a research fellow at the Independent Institute and a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He served as assistant secretary of the Treasury from 1981-82. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, his columns are nationally syndicated by Creator's Syndicate in Los Angeles.