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Thursday, September 12, 2002
Stop Debating Iraq
It is easy to spend hours debating whether or not the United States should go to war with Iraq but doing so is not going to have much effect on what happens.
President George W. Bush and his advisors are determined to attack, invade and conquer Iraq. Already troops are already being positioned near the Iraqi border and the U.S. is conducting shooting practice with Iraqi targets. Bush has said that he will seek the approval of the U.S. Congress before going to war but nobody seriously believes that Congress will deny Bush that authority. The United Nations may or may not give approval but Bush will act as he wants anyway. Short of some surprising development(s) that forces the White House to rethink its plans, it is just a matter of time before war begins.
And if -or should I say when?- it does, Americans will rally behind the troops and public approval for both Bush and the war will skyrocket. Americans may or may not think that attacking Iraq is a good idea but very few will not want the U.S. to lose once war has commenced. If the war does go badly for Uncle Sam and American soldiers die in significant numbers, there will be criticism but it will be almost exclusively of the “we aren’t being hard enough on Iraq” variety. If things go smoothly, criticism will be generally considered too fringe to be worth acknowledging.
Critics of the war on terror are not helping matters by focusing on Iraq. Once the war begins the arguments about whether or not Iraq is a threat to the U.S. will be rendered irrelevant since countries at war are a threat to each other almost by definition and, at least as importantly, their will be no incentive for Saddam Hussein not to attack the U.S. or its allies. In light of all of this, I want to suggest that instead of focusing on Iraq, that opponents of the war on terror begin to focus on the larger goal of the war on terror.
In a June 1 speech before graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, Bush laid out a strategy of using military force to prevent countries or from becoming a threat to the U.S. “[T]he war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act,” Bush said.
This strategy can provide a convenient justification for going after countries, like Iraq, that at least have the potential to develop weapons of mass destruction and which are not friendly to the U.S. even when there is no evidence that these countries actually intend harm on the U.S. Iraq may be the first country to conquered in such a matter but it appears that the White House doesn’t plan on making it the last.
But nobody should mistake this for the actual foreign policy of the U.S. The world is an unpredictable place and just about any country could be an opponent of the U.S. at some point in time. Thus to actually confront threats before they emerge, the U.S. would have to prevent to countries like China, Great Britain, India and Russia, amongst others, from becoming a threat. That is a recipe for going to war with most of the world and say what you will about the Bush administration, they have to realize that this isn’t a workable way of interacting with the world.
The at least publicly unspoken assumption guiding Bush’s polices is that the White House is able discern between those countries that merely could pose a threat in the future and those that actually will. This will likely result in is what has already happened with regard to Iraq; the U.S. picks out a country, demonizes the country and uses its military to make an example of the country to the rest of the world.
Jonah Goldberg of the National Review recently wrote that about a decade ago he heard fellow National Review contributor Michael Ledeen say, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
In this current war, “every ten years or so” is likely to become every year or so. The U.S. is going to have show its strength with at least yearly regularity in order to prevent countries from even becoming a threat. Iraq will not be an isolated incident. Bush’s gambit constitutes regular wars against countries where there is no evidence that they intend harm on the U.S. while leaving other countries that could do harm to U.S. alone. In other words, the U.S. military is going to beat up on certain countries to show it can, not to protect the U.S.
Opponents of U.S. military interventions should begin to point this out as opposed to arguing the specifics of Iraq. In doing so they will be working towards undermining in the public’s mind that taking over countries like Iraq is about protecting the U.S. And they will also be working to avoid a collapse in the movement and a need for intellectual renewal once war with Iraq begins. This war is going to be a long one. The anti-war movement should get ready for a long fight.