Throughout the history of the U.S. through countless administrations, Republican and Democrat, war has always been a last resort to violence, not a first response to political and democratic turmoil. Our current president has presented the nation with a new doctrine, justifying preemptive U.S. strikes against any regime that the administration fears is a threat to attack the U.S. or our allies, most currently aimed at Iraq.
An American campaign of preemptive strikes to overthrow the Iraqi regime would be an unjust, aggressive, imperialist war and have potentially disastrous effects on our alliances, the existing international system, and the prospect of general peace and stability in the world.
When questioning the legality of a war one would ask if it is an act of aggression or self-defense. There are criteria for judging actions as such, called the just war criteria that seeks to determine under what conditions and by what means war is morally justifiable (Donald L. Davidson). Based on general international politics and the just war criteria an unwritten contemporary understanding as to what is permissible to justify a preemptive war can be established.
One must give reasonable evidence that the action was necessary, forced upon the initiators by its opponent, and that it was the lesser evil; that the dangers averted by war outweighed those by inaction. This requires that the treat be clear and imminent, prompt action is required to meet it. Direct, threatening party initiated the conflict in specific concrete ways, entitling one to act preemptively. Critical, vital interests of those acting preemptively face unacceptable harm and danger. And unmanageable, not able to be deterred, or dealt with by other peaceful means (Neta C. Crawford). This criterion is open to interpretation but represents a general accepted international opinion of what determines the illegitimacy or justifiability of a preemptive war.
In their attempt prove a clear and imminent threat from Iraq the administration, president, and supporters persistently insist that Sadaam Hussein has long wanted weapons of mass destruction (herein referred to as WMD) and tried to develop them, prevented U.N. inspectors from returning to Iraq since 1998, therefore he may already be close to acquiring said weapons thus cause for the U.S. to stop him before he succeeds.
Upon closer look, this proves the opposite of what is required, that the threat is neither clear nor imminent. All that this indicates is that we simply do not know whether Iraq has developed WMD, whether it will, or when. It is unfortunate we do not seem interested in finding out. The administration does not know whether there is as clear and imminent threat from Iraq, cannot prove one exists, and resists proposals for finding out because the answer might undermine their plans for war.
The administration and advocates for preemptive war deduce a direct; specific, concrete focused at the U.S. threat from Sadaam’s criminal record, evil character, and the fact he used poison gas during his war with Iran, and against his own people in the 1980’s and the brutal repression he has resorted to since. So if and when he gets WMD he could and would use them against the U.S. or its allies in the region.
This argument ignores certain inconvenient facts. The U.S. supported Iraq in its war against Iran, and turned a blind eye to use of chemical weapons. Never at that time did the U.S. consider the attack on Iran or the atrocities committed under its guise grounds for overthrow. The people who Sadaam brutally repressed were mainly Kurds who the U.S. encouraged to rise up then failed to support. These statements fail in proving what there supposed to, that the threat from Iraq is; concrete, specific, and directed against the U.S. or any U.S. allies.
The administration attempts to prove the threat from Iraq as critical; vital interest face unacceptable harm and danger by repeatedly invoking the memory of 9/11, the war on terrorism, the right of the American people to security against terrifying new threats revealed by the attack, and the duty of the government to provide that security at any and all costs. And presenting the possibility that Sadaam, if he gets control of nuclear or other weapons will supply them to terrorists for use against the U.S. All of which lay the groundwork for a new unprecedented American Doctrine repeatedly proclaimed, that the U.S. has a right to prevent WMD from coming in to the hands of evil, hostile regimes by any means necessary.
These arguments undercut the case for preemptive war. The threat of international terrorism, even if it were the critical danger the administration claims it to be, does not stem from Hussein or Iraq and will not be met by ousting him. No viable connection between Hussein and Al Queda has been made. Most evidence points the other way, Sadaam has good selfish reasons to fear radical Islamic and terrorist activities even more so than other governments including our own (Shane Seegers). Why would a ruler obsessed with maintaining his power collaborate with some of his most dangerous enemies?
The claim that the Iraqi threat is un-manageable; unable to be deterred or dealt with peacefully is almost as absurd as the administrations implausible claim that the United States a superpower with a historically unprecedented stature of unchallenged military superiority and dominance is threatened by an impoverished, ruined, and insecure, third world nation half way across the globe.
One must concede that the administrations arguments are correct, be it in a limited sense. If our basic problem is that Sadaam is an evil ruler with hostile and dangerous attitudes and purposes, and if the only solution to that problem we will accept is to get rid of him right now then the problem truly is irreconcilable by peaceful measures. All of our past methods of dealing with him have failed if that is our criteria, conciliation and appeasement, war and crushing defeat, extreme economic, political and military sanctions, and now massive overt threats. All failures? Only if the criteria is that he is still a villain and in power. But is this the American way? That any ruler we consider evil and hostile represents a danger to peace and American interests and security so much so that he must be overthrown by American military power.
When dealing with real, major evils and threats both to the U.S. and the world such as those manifested by the Soviet Union or China and their allies, we have won not by waging war, our euphemism for regime change, but by deterring opponents from aggression and relying on outliving them, proving the superiority of our own system, and ultimately inducing peaceful change (Neta C. Crawford). That is the American way.
The U.S. is declaring not verbally but with its overwhelming armed force that a state may “justly- launch a war against another much smaller and weaker state even though it cannot prove that the enemy represents a clear, imminent, direct, and critical threat, or prove that the threat could not be deterred or managed by peaceful means other than war. This completely subverts all previous standards for judging the legitimacy of a resort to war. It would in actuality justify almost any attack by any other for almost any reason. This is neither a theoretical nor academic point. The American example and standard for preemptive war, if carried out, would invite imitation and emulation and will no doubt get it (Carrie Benzschawel). America should heed the words of Immanuel Kant “So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world (The Critique of Judgment, 98).””
Beyond the basic sense that this will be an unjustified, unnecessary war and that regardless of how it turns out militarily, it will have bad long range political consequences and strain our relationship with Europe and our other allies who have special reasons for concern.
Within many European states there are large Muslim communities and a U.S. attack would affect their domestic politics. Europe’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world geographically, historically, and culturally, and mostly economically are much closer than ours. So the repercussions of a war, mainly oil shock would be far worse for them. The U.S. is treading into critical areas where other nations have much more at stake than America. And if that is so for Europeans than it goes ten fold for the countries of the Middle East, Israel excluded.
Many explain away this opposition as instinctive anti-Americanism, envy of American power, cynicism and world despair. Before disregarding the concerns of our European allies as such America should listen to logician Morris Cohn “First if you can, refute my arguments, then if you must, impugn my motives (Readings in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy: Vol II., 476).”” What Europeans really fear is what they see as an ignorant and arrogant American recklessness in the use of power increasingly evidenced by this administration especially on this issue.
When the U.S. makes publicly clear that it intends to launch military action to overthrow the current regime in a key state with which Europe has important relations regardless of what its alliance partners and other friends think of the idea, it diminishes the core of the alliance system as a joint instrument for security, peace and freedom as nothing else has done in the past (William Galston).
The unilateral American Planning of preemptive war against Iraq concerns the central collective security purposes of NATO and the UN and their ability for joint action and alliance in critical situations. It will just not work for the administration to say as it often has, that it will be glad to consult with its European allies but will do whatever it considers necessary for the defense of American interests regardless of what anyone else thinks. This undermines the most essential element of any alliance relationship, that allies must exert influence on the foreign policy of their partners and that the joint alliance policy must take into account the concerns of all the partners (William Galston). The current administrations stand on Iraq flatly contradicts that basic requirement for a durable alliance. This will not necessarily mean the formal end of NATO or the UN but it will mean their hollowing out and loss of any real standing or value.
Americas power and position are strong enough and its margin of error wide enough that it can get away with a good deal of “internationalism a la carte (Robert Kuttner)- calling for support when it wants it, going its own way when it wishes, and insisting on having its way as the leader. But there are limits and on this critical issue the United States could well overstep them.
The administrations core argument is not that nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are inherently illegal and dangerous and should be banned universally by the international community (Robert Scheer). We could not argue that without condemning ourselves along with our friends as we are notoriously the largest possessor of such weapons and have no intentions of giving them up. The argument is that states like Iraq because they have undemocratic governments, unjust social structures, dangerous ideologies, and criminal leaders all according to American criteria have no inherent right to seek or possess the same weapons of mass destruction that law abiding democratic states posses. And deserve to be restrained, punished and finally militarily overthrown by the U.S. if they persist in developing them regardless of what other states think of it.
We are declaring that there is one law for the United States and other nations of which it approves, and another law for all the rest, thereby denying these countries their rights as sovereign independent nations. This was once known as imperialism, simply and centrally the exercise of final authority and decision making power by one government over another government foreign to itself (“Imperialism: Classic Imperialism-).
This is the relationship between America and Iraq that this war intends and is designed to establish. We intend to use armed forces against Iraq in order to acquire the power to decide who shall rule Iraq, what kind of government it will have, what kind of weapons it will develop for its own security, what kind of foreign policy it will have, what side and what stance it will take on crucial issues regarding its region, even what kind of economy it will develop and what kind of educational and social systems it will establish under American tutelage. Even if we claim and truly believe that we are doing this for noble ends, liberation, democracy, capitalism, human rights, it is still imperialistic nonetheless.
Before venturing into war we must thoroughly examine all the consequences and repercussions of fighting an unjust, unnecessary, and unwise war, under the guise of a new American doctrine of imperialism.
Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesmen who yields to war fever must realize than once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. (Sir Winston Churchill)
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Churchill, Winston S. My Early Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996
Cohen, Morris R., and Felix S. Cohen. Readings in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy: Vol II. Beard Books Inc, 2002.
Crawford, Neta C. “The Best Defense.” Boston Review. Feb 2003. 25 Feb. 2003 .
Davidson, Donald L. “The Just-War Criteria: A Contemporary Description.” Nuclear Weapons and the American Churches. USA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2000. 19- 35. 20 Feb. 2003 .
Galston, William. “Perils of Preemptive War.” The American Prospect Vol.13 no 17 2002: 25 Feb. 2003 .
Immanuel Kant. The Critique of Judgement. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1990.
“Imperialism: Classic Imperialism.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. ©1994, on Infoplease.com ©2002 Family Education Network. 21 Feb. 2003 .
Kuttner, Robert. “Free Fall.” The American Prospect Online. 27 Aug. 2001. 22 Jan. 2003. .
Scheer, Robert. “Bush Jumps the Gun With Preemptive Strikes.” Los Angeles Times. 24 Sept. 2002. 29 Jan. 2003 .
Seegers, Shane. “Target Iraq-No.” Madison Review. 07 Oct. 2002. 29 Jan. 2003 .