Thursday, June 20, 2002
Is it life? Or is it a video game? That's what I thought when I first saw James Goldsborough's column in today's San Diego Union-Tribune. See, when I went to bed last night, I lived in a form of democracy, a constitutional republic. But, when I woke up this morning I found out that I live in a dictatorship run by George W. Bush. Just like the highly popular simulation "Civilization," apparently, with the click of a button, we changed overnight.
The Bush doctrine, which he announced at a Republican fund-raiser last weekend, is that the United States will take "pre-emptive" action against states and groups that could pose a threat to us.
This is the first example in history of a democratic nation conferring on itself the right to attack those nations it may perceive itself to be threatened by. Tyrannies often have done such things, but that is what makes them tyrannies.
Goldsborough is exaggerating -- the mark of a good columnist. But to liken the "Bush doctrine" to an emerging form of despotism is silly.
Goldsborough's grasp of history is also less than whole. Last I checked, Israel was a democracy and on June 7, 1981, it pre-emptively attacked Iraq, destroying a nuclear power plant -- an act we should probably thank them for -- because 10 years later we weren't facing nukes as we went in to liberate Kuwait.
As the National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg pointed out today, there are plenty of people who perceive every molehill to be a mountain -- Goldsborough is my Exhibit A. Goldberg writes:
Some people spend their whole lives seeing molehills as mountains. And, among this group, there are people living perfectly happy and normal lives who for some reason also believe that we are a hair's-breadth from tyranny. From across the ideological spectrum, these folks imbue comparatively tiny events with profound ideological and historical import. And sometimes they seize on important events, and magnify these to the point of near-biblical prophecy.
Is Goldsborough a sufferer? I think so.
To keep from looking irrational, Bush needed a rationale for his Iraq obsession, and he has found one: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long," is how he explains the principle underlying his doctrine. He has dressed up the rationale of a few weeks ago, when he told a group simply, "I made my mind up that Saddam needs to go."
Actually, Bush just says this to give those Americans with short attention spans something to ponder. If we remember back to the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War, a few things were required of Saddam -- most notably that he give up all weapons of mass destruction, and allow international inspectors to verify the fact. Weapons inspectors were expelled from Iraq several years ago -- a violation of the cease fire. We don't need any other rationale to introduce Saddam to Allah.
To give the attack on Iraq a modicum of respectability, the administration has worked hard to find a link between Iraq and Sept. 11. Unfortunately, it has been forced to admit that there is "no smoking gun," as Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, and "no evidence" of a link, in the words of CIA Director George Tenet.
I'm not really sure why the administration has been issuing these denials, but I suspect politics is the answer. You don't really want that information out there in the media every day if you're not ready to act on it. If Bush, and Rumsfeld and Powell were to all confirm it, there would be clamors for action against Saddam now, and I don't think they're ready for that yet.
Besides, it appears as though Goldsborough's information may be incorrect. Despite whatever administration sources say, the meeting between hijacker/mass-murderer Mohamed Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agent did happen.
"Pre-emptive" warfare is a risky concept because it puts you in the business of causing a conflict that otherwise might not occur. A nation like North Korea has no leverage save bluster, but bluster is a long way from action. During the Cold War, Moscow and China were constantly blustering, but were deterred from action by the risks of U.S. retaliation.
Why would not North Korea or Iraq be deterred as well?
While I will concede that pre-emptive warfare is a risky concept, I don't think that we should disavow it solely for that reason. Why would North Korea and Iraq be different? Well, maybe because of the new possibility of unconventional forms of warfare, i.e. terrorism. If done well, you create, at best a tenuous link with your regime. Such a weak link would give plenty of ammunition for peaceniks and the wimps at the UN to decry any action taken against you.
The Bush doctrine shows no understanding of the causes of quarrels. In the Middle East, a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue would do far more for U.S. security than the overthrow of Saddaam (sic) Hussein. Yet Bush's Mideast policy is a wasteland.
Sometimes causes are irrelevant. Would a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue really increase our security? The Sept. 11 terrorists were mainly Saudis, not Palestinians. The mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, has had little interest in the issue. His main priority was the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. How a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue would affect needing troops in Saudi Arabia escapes me. However, having Saddam out of power would certainly obviate the need to have so many troops in Saudi Arabia. No threat against the flow of oil, no need for the troops.
Sometimes it's good that the government doesn't listen to the pundits.