So here’s the dilemma: For six months – on radio, TV and in print – you argue against the proposed war in Iraq. It’s unnecessary, it’s unwise, it’s even dangerous. And then the president of the United States ignores your advice, as well as that of America’s oldest allies, and decides to go war anyway. What do you do?
That’s no dilemma. That’s easy. You root for your country. You support our brave men and women in uniform. And I do. For now, the debate is over. Americans are united. We are one country, at war. I’m cheering for the United States. I want my team to win, even if I’m not crazy about the contest they’re engaged in.
In the short term, there’s no doubt the mighty United States will prevail. In a battle between a giant and a midget, nobody bets on the midget. As Americans, we all want a swift, sure victory: Saddam Hussein deposed, the Iraqi people liberated, a minimum number of casualties, and our sons and daughters back home soon and safe. That is our prayer.
At the same time, you don’t change your opinion about the war. A leopard can’t change his spots – and shouldn’t even try, if he wants to preserve any credibility. In the long term, there are still questions about the wisdom of this war in Iraq. Those questions don’t disappear once the shooting starts.
Most questions revolve around the radically new foreign policy outlined by President Bush in his address to the nation on March 17, following his return from the summit of friends in the Azores. Whether you agree with the war or not, you must admit that Bush’s speech was one for the history books. It marked the beginning of a whole new direction for the United States and the world. It was the first day of the new American Empire.
During the Cold War, we practiced containment and fought only wars of self-defense. No longer. Under the new Bush doctrine, containment is out the window. And we now fight preemptive wars: striking another country before it strikes us first; or preventive wars: invading another country before it develops the capacity to strike first. Iraq is just the first of many.
As a national strategy, it is very bold – just the opposite of the “humble” foreign policy promised by candidate George W. Bush in 2000. In effect, as the world’s only superpower, with the most powerful military machine in history, the United States announces that we will go anywhere, anytime, to take out anybody we think might someday be a threat to somebody. We have the right to do so, and we will.
Bold, yes. But also very risky. Because such unilateralism is bound to generate more hatred of the United States, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, and to trigger more acts of terror against Americans, both at home and abroad.
On that point, President Bush is dead wrong. “The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed,” he assured the American people. In fact, we can expect just the opposite. Even before bombs started dropping, the New York Times reported that al-Qaida and other organizations were using the war in Iraq to recruit a whole new generation of young terrorists in the United States, Europe and Africa. The war in Iraq will produce more acts of terrorism, not fewer.
It’s a risky strategy for another reason. In foreign policy, there is not one set of rules for the United States and a different set for everybody else. If it’s OK for the U.S. to launch a preemptive strike, it’s also OK for India or Pakistan. In fact, following the Bush doctrine, North Korea’s loony dictator, Kim Jong Il, has already announced his right to strike first.
As Walter Cronkite told an audience at Wisconsin’s Drew University this week: “Every little country in the world that has a border conflict with another little country … they now have a great example from the United States.”
So, fasten your seat belts. We’re heading into dangerous territory. It’s the New World Order. It’s the new American Empire. And it all starts in Iraq.
In the short run, it’s a war whose successful conclusion we will soon celebrate. In the long run, it’s a war whose disastrous consequences we will live to regret.