Preemption vs. Deterence

  In 2003, President Bush, in an address before Congress, stated, “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” a statement which became known as the Bush Doctrine. This statement was later became identified with the policy of preemption, or preventive war against potential aggressors. This was in sharp contrast to the policy of deterrence , the policy of intimidation and power, which had dominated our policies during the cold war. This policy of preemption was justification for our attack on Iraq. It was the right message at the time, for most Americans, because we felt the need to strike back at someone after the attacks of 9/11.

Last week, Condi Rice gave the following speech in Europe:

We are committed to a diplomatic course [to stop Iran’s nuclear program] that should, with enough unity and with enough strength and with enough common purpose, make it possible to convince the Iranian government [to change its course]. . . .

“Let me go right to the crux of the question. The United States of America understands and believes that Iran is not Iraq. The Iraq circumstances had a special character going back for 12 years of suspended hostilities after a war of aggression which Saddam Hussein himself launched. . . .

“It goes without saying that the United States believes and others believe that, in order to be credible, the U.N. Security Council, of course, has to act. . . . The Security Council is the primary and most important institution for the maintenance of peace and stability and security, and it cannot have its word and its will simply ignored by a member state.”

I do understand what she is trying to do; she is trying to assure the Europeans that we will not go off half-cocked, as they think we did do in Iraq, but will expend the appropriate amount of time consulting with them and with the United Nations…and that we shall work with the United Nations in dealing with Iraq. If I were a European leader, I would sigh with relief at the thought that we have, finally, tamed the American President, who they viewed as a cowboy. Perhaps he WILL fit in.

Time will tell if that has, indeed, happened, but the issue of preemption is one that has not sufficiently been debated. What has changed that the previous policy of deterrence, the notion that overwhelming intimidation is sufficient to deter attacks against our country, is no longer feasible under the present circumstances?

In truth, it is questionable if that policy of preemption ever really did exist. Our attack on Iraq was not a preemptive attack; an argument was made to that effect, but it was oversold. The attack on Iraq was an outgrowth of the original Desert Storm War, in which Saddam made specific guarantees in the peace treaty signed at the end of that war that he did not meet. In fact, the evidence was that he was exceeding those guarantees, and our attack was to rectify his breaking of the treaty. The preemptive issue was oversold. Perhaps the administration felt that, without that feeling of urgency, the war could not have been justified to the American public.

Since the war, it has become clear that many of our principle allies in the region , Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc, , while other nations with which we deal on a regular basis, such as China, have been aiding and abetting terrorists. According to the ‘Bush Doctrine,’ we should be dealing with them as enemies, but that is simply not politically feasible, so we continue the fiction and let it pass.

So, the so-called ‘Bush Doctrine’ never really existed…does that mean that preemption, as a policy, has no place?

Iran is a unique situation. While most nations are controlled by leaders who have some sort of survival instinct, for themselves and for their people, Iran’s leaders a apocalyptic fanatics, believers in an end-of-the-world theory of the return of the ‘12th Imam’ It is obvious we can destroy Iran, but that sort of deterrence does not work with a leadership that 1) Believes it has “God on their side, and 2) Actually looks forward to the destruction of their country and the world, as part of their belief in a second coming.

The question then becomes, does Iran pose a threat…and there is virtually no one in the world who thinks that it does not. It is developing the means for creating nuclear bombs and, considering its vision of the future, and its belligerency, it would have no problem using those bombs.

Thus, I see no reason why a rational person would not suggest that this threat needs to be disposed of…and, in fact, the world rather agrees with that notion. The big question is how that threat needs to be disposed of…and here we return to the United Nations.

There is no situation where the intervention of the United Nations resolved a conflict between two nations; at best the United Nations can promise to stand between two warring sides, while tempers cool down, but that is not the type of situation that exists, today, between the world and Iran. Diplomacy is not going to go anywhere…and I doubt if there is anyone who thinks it will.

What is happening is that the world is using the U.N. to dither…hopeing someone will step in and do what everyone knows needs to be done…in fact, hoping that either the United States and/or Israel will preemptively strike Iran. Europe does not have the stomach for that, and it never will. We do…or, at least, until Condi spoke, I thought we did.

The Bush administration is tired…that is obvious. They seem to be avoiding conflict as much as they can, and that is the absolute wrong message to be sending the world. Frankly, I expected Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear capacity in March. It did not do so. It is now going on May, and nothing has changed, except the IAEA has reported to the U.N. what everyone knew six months ago, that Iran is in non-compliance with the resolutions of the United Nations.

The time to act is now. Waiting simply makes everything harder and worse. I think we shall act, within six months…the latest thought is that it will happen in October, ostensibly before the IAEA final report, on October 31 but, more likely, timed for the U.S. election, which is not too late. If so, this will be a preemptive strike, and will not be soon enough for the rest of the world.

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