Pre-emptive war is an unmistakable error
By Charles M. Madigan -- Published May 8, 2007
We have made a big mistake.
It's not the war in Iraq. I think that is a consequence of our big mistake that seems to be proving with every passing week the degree of our error.
It seems that the early presidential campaign has landed on the question of how quickly we can disconnect from Iraq and bring our troops home.
That is a compelling debate with no easy solutions. It defies "cut-and-run" simplicities on all sides and raises deep questions about the obligations a world power takes on when it goes to war. But as complex as that is, it is not the big problem.
The big problem is the strategy the U.S. embraced with the arrival of the Bush administration to replace deterrence, a Cold War policy that had clearly outlived its usefulness as the Soviet threat cracked, shattered and then disappeared.
Boiled down, it amounts to pre-emptive war. Defuse threats before they cause damage.
It seemed like a good substitute on paper, particularly in light of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Bush administration argued, in an important change of direction, that American foreign policy should be aimed at identifying and eliminating these threats.
It might actually have worked, briefly, in Afghanistan, when a CIA-designed reaction led to the ousting of the Taliban, the rousting of Al Qaeda and establishment of what seemed at the time to be a friendlier, more acceptable government. It's not so clear how well that worked now.
The Taliban have revived themselves. The poppy harvest is healthy and moving toward its catastrophic market. The nation is clearly not safely under friendly control.
And yet, we have a crop of GOP presidential candidates competing to make the most hyperbolic statements conceivable about how they would love to kill Osama bin Laden.
It has been almost six years, and he's not dead yet.
At the same time, the war in Iraq has become a rolling, painful, expensive and bloody disaster for us and for the Iraqis. (MG) Quite a bit more painful, expensive and bloody a disaster for the Iraqis than for us - kudos to Madigan for including the Iraqis in the calculus of the misery pain and suffering this war of choice has rendered ... It was constructed on a foundation of bad intelligence, lies and hyperbole. As that has become apparent, support for President Bush, and for the conflict, has withered.
On occasion, someone pops from the woodwork to argue that the war was necessary, that there were weapons of mass destruction, that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was genuine. But those arguments have been roundly disproved many times now.
At the heart of all of these problems, I suggest, is the thought that we can use pre-emptive warfare to make the world a safer place. A strong case must be made to carry a nation into war. The record on Iraq shows clearly how propaganda, flawed intelligence and a longing for revenge combined to put us in exactly the wrong place.
When I was back there listening to Rush Limbaugh,
And watching Fox TV
Someone put for the proposition to me that
We can use pre-emptive warfare to make the world a safer place.
Use pre-emptive warfare to make the world a safer place!
Use preemptive warfare to make the world a safer place?
You CANNOT use preemptive warfare
to make the world a safer place!
Pre-emptive war doesn't work.
If the candidates for the White House really want to begin a crucial political debate,
(MG) No one in the media really want to begin a crucial political debate ... too much fun to cover it as a horse race, where Clarence Page can derisively dismiss the dem front runners "performances" as designed to make no early mistakes ...
it should center on what America's role in the world should be.
Picking the next target and fabricating a foundation for a military campaign isn't going to work.
(MG) But Edwards, Clinton and Obama indeed already HAVE picked the next target and are fabricating a foundation for the next military campaign -- that would be Iran -- allegedly, the most dangerous rogue nation on the face of the planet ... they might even get a bomb ... a big one ..
The government's credibility is shattered.
Even assuming good intentions,
(MG) In mathematics, this is what one would call a VERY powerful assumption ...
there is nothing in the pre-emptive war theory that would have identified and stopped a handful of terrorists who had scoped out the weak spots in the American security network.
(MG) But there WERE voices that sounded about the dangers of Bin Laden and al Quaida -- the Clinton administration wanted to warn the Bush administration of such dangers ... same with Richard Clarke, same with Scheur ...
They flew passenger planes right through them.
We also seem to have forgotten lessons that warriors have been learning ever since the British taught the French the bloody effectiveness of the longbow. It's a mistake to keep trying to fight the last war.
(MG) There are any number of military analysts, authors, instructors at the various war colleges who speak to the issue of "fourth generation warfare" which is characterized by non-state actors, working in concert with all the tools of modern civilization, internet, military tactics and training, bomb-making, propaganda etc, etc, to use terror to achieve political ends ... such non-state actors include (but are not limited to) Columbian drug lords, Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles, the Jamaican and Russian and Bulgarian mafias, The Crips, the Bloods, the Arrayan nation, the Klan ... a never ending list ... the theory is well known ... it's just that ... well, the US military insists on fighting the LAW WAR WE WON, which would have been the big one ... WWII ... but, fighting fourth generation warfare is NOT sexy (using shock and awe might dazzle the client base ... Joe and Jill 6-pack watching CNN or Faux News, but bombing the hell out of innocent civilians puts the militarily strong ones at a serious moral disadvantage ... in 4GW, weakness is a strength
(MG) It would be far more accurate to state that "What we CREATED is impassioned, angry locals with car bombs ... "
We went to Iraq with enough cast iron and high explosives to defeat the Germans again or at least put a dent in the Russians. It was the army we had, unfortunately.
What we found is impassioned, angry locals with car bombs and homemade explosives and an apparently unlimited supply of suicide bombers.
We can win that war by killing everybody,
(MG) In the 1968 republican presidential primary, this was Ronald Reagan's solution to winning the invasion and occupation of Vietnam ... bomb the country into a parking lot ...
the price we get to pay for beginning a conflict in which the enemy and the innocents are mixed so closely together.
(MG) I suggest further that we CREATE enemies out of the innocents ...
There are no smart bombs that can target a teenager in a suicide vest without killing everyone within shrapnel distance.
Add all of this up and what you might conclude is that the theory of pre-emptive war doesn't work against small groups of ideologues and fanatics who are willing to die to make their point. We really do need a different kind of military to cope with the challenges of the dangerous, modern world.
(MG) What is needed is international cooperation, and also, quite frankly, addressing the root causes that attract terrorists to their sponsoring organizations ... we need to eradicate hunger, thirst, stop the exploitation of the impoverished people's of this earth and their lands ... we need to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, be hospitable to the foreigner, and take care of the widows and orphans ... the libreral project writ large ... on the pages of the Book of Exodus, echoed down through the voices of the Old Testament Prophets, and lived fully in the life of Jesus, the carpenter, the teacher, the healer, the rabbi it really is not all that complicated.
But before the nation resolves that, it must find a new definition for its role in the world. That should be the challenge that candidates wrestle with on the campaign trail.(MG) Yes, this nation must find a new definition for its role in the world, otherwise, we may rest afraid ... that the world will find a new definition for our role in it ... and it will NOT be as a leader ... but as a pariah.
Our use of military force in Iraq was wrong.
It could take many years to find a decent way to extract our soldiers from that nightmare. The focus should be on making sure it doesn't happen again.
(MG) But as long as we continue to elect presidents who appoint secretaries of state such as Madeline Albright, who state unabashedly and without irony, "What's the point in having the world's mightiest military if you can't use it once in a while" until we start to elect people of far reaching vision, compassion and humanity, who understand the Might Does Not Make Right -- that IF a foreign power MIGHT attack us, this does not make it right for us to attack them preemptively, until that day ... the U.S. will plunge headlong again and again and again and again into these bloody forays which inflict untold misery upon the targets (the weak and the weaker to begin with) .. I'm quite sure that the next republican regime that gets elected (or appointed) to the office of the POTUS in conjunction with the military brass will take from the Iraq invasion and occupation this lesson ... the GAP (Great American Public) needs at least 15 years to develop enough historical amnesia to invade, occupy and destroy another third world power ... even though that too will fail .. again, and again and again and again.
(MG) And the world is bigger than we, the U.S. is. Do we not understand vulnerable our nation has become to the whims and vagaries of international markets, or international finance? And if the world were to reject the U.S. dollar as the petroleum trading standard .. well, THEN a major financial crisis would loom for the lower 80% of the U.S. population ... but, we've been there before .. seen it, done it ... only when the will of WE THE PEOPLE can be implemented will these asinine wars of choice cease ... The GAP has NEVER supported a war of choice without first being sold on that war of choice ... the first act of all such wars is a political act ... the convince the U.S. population of the need to fight it ... via propaganda. Hitlerize the leader of the target country, overstate its threat to security, hope its people are dark skinned ... and watch it go round, again and again.