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April 18, 2004 - Preemption and Semantics

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The policy of preemption discussed here….



Over at the Washington Times see Political fusillades by Walter Williams....

His point?


Fighting terrorism as well as rogue dictators requires a policy of pre-emption.  During the 1930s, there should have been a pre-emptive strike on Nazi Germany.  If Britain and France had the guts to do that, 60 million lives lost in World War II might have been spared.  After World War II, when we held a monopoly on nuclear weapons, we should have told the Soviet Union that if it started making nuclear weapons we'd bomb its facilities.  We would have avoided Soviet adventurism and trillions of dollars fighting a Cold War.  Today, we should give axis-of-evil member North Korea notice to destroy its nuclear weapons or we'll do it for them.


And a riposte from the irreverent Digby over at Hullabaloo:


Well, it would be nice if our intelligence services could find their way out of a paper bag and provide us with, you know, real information about threats before we go around blowing shit up, but why sweat the small stuff? 

I do like this new crystal ball theory of history, though.  Just think, if France and Britain had pre-emptively "struck" Germany they could have prevented WWII.  If we had pre-emptively "struck" the Soviets we could have prevented the Cold War.  And presumably if the British had pre-emptively invaded France they could have prevented the Napoleonic Wars, too.  But, I have to suppose that by "strike" he means some kind of magical incantation that paralyzes the population, because otherwise he's talking about starting wars and that usually means that those who are "struck," strike back.  Which also means that unless you are willing to nuke the population or occupy it with an iron hand indefinitely, a war is going to result when somebody strikes.  He apparently thinks that's fine it's just best if we do the starting. 

But, not to worry.  I think he also believes that the world will be so impressed by our ability to accurately foretell who is and isn't a threat that they'll just take our word for it and capitulate before we are forced to get really ugly.  America is omnipotent and the sooner everybody gets with the program the safer they'll all be.  That's what our great success in Iraq is all about.  And it's working beautifully. 


Hey, this “what if” history is just silly.  Life would indeed be better if we knew just what would happen in the future, so we wouldn’t take certain actions or we actually would definitely take specific other actions.  Take it from someone who has been divorced twice.  It’s true. 


But we don’t know.  And what would be the challenge if we did?  And there are always those “unintended consequences.”  Assume we had made a preemptive strike on Nazi Germany in the mid-thirties, or better yet, had covertly assassinated Hitler’s mother years before that so that particular fellow had never been born?  What would we have had as an alternative?  What would have happened?  One doesn’t know.


Heck, you do your best with what you actually do know, and that’s hard enough as it is.


I suppose this all comes down to one’s need for control.  Some people have more need for that than others, even if this “anticipate the future and control the future” business is more often than not an illusion.


It is rather unfortunate that the neoconservatives who direct George Bush’s thoughts and actions do not see this as an illusion at all.

Semantics and Responsibility



Chas W. Freeman Jr. was our ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, assistant secretary of Defense (1993-94) and is now president of the Middle East Policy Council.  He sent a message about the Iraq war to an email discussion group of foreign affairs experts earlier this month after visiting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The following excerpts appeared in the Washington Post this weekend.


See The Cost of 'Arrogant Daydreams'

Sunday, April 18, 2004, The Washington Post, Page B05


Here’s the opening -


The view in the region, from which I have just returned, is that by destroying the Iraqi state the U.S. made it almost impossible to accomplish regime change, as opposed to regime removal, in Baghdad.  No one regrets the end of Saddam's tyranny, but Iraq over the past year is viewed as an Arab zone of anarchy under foreign occupation.  No one believes that what will be transferred to the Iraqi Governing Council on July 1 is "sovereignty."


Thus the mid-summer situation will be one in which an Iraqi native civilian authority with little or no legitimacy is asked to coexist with an intensely unpopular foreign occupation force over which it has no control.  Few believe this dysfunctional arrangement will be up to managing an increasingly dangerous situation. 


Many believe that the only thing now saving Iraq from civil war is the increasing unity of ordinary Iraqis against the occupation.  This unity increasingly transcends religious schisms.  It is drawing religious fanatics into alliance with secular nationalists.  ("My brother and I against my cousin; my cousin and I against a stranger.")  A new crop of home-grown Iraqi jihadis is, many fear, forging anti-American alliances with trans-regional and possibly global reach.  (Shia with Hezbollah; Sunnis with Hamas; both, somewhat warily, with al Qaeda and its affiliates.)


The most charitable characterization of the Iraqi Governing Council (widely known as "Ahmed Chalabi and the Twenty Thieves") is that they are opportunists.  Most observers believe that, once cut loose from direct association with the U.S., such men will find the temptation to engage in demagoguery against the U.S. occupation irresistible.  The forecast in the region is an escalating guerrilla war against U.S. forces, coupled with the progressive collapse of the successor regime to the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority], and conjoined with jockeying for position in the civil war to follow U.S. military withdrawal. 


Ah, what does he know?  Would you trust his expertise before you’d trust the superb confidence of Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and the rest of the theorists who said we HAD to do this?  Just asking, here….


This fellow’s point?


…In the broader context, one might ponder a few possible lessons: Military triumph does not necessarily equate to political victory.  Wars end only when the defeated accept defeat, not when the victor declares victory.  A victory that does not produce peace can be much more costly than protracted confrontation that accomplishes deterrence.  Arrogant daydreams that inspire military actions can become humiliating nightmares that produce political debacles.


Well, we don’t make mistakes.  Our president couldn’t think of a single one he’s made when asked that last week at the press conference.


I sense a disconnect.


But it may all come down to simply a matter of the words you use.


John DeBlasio is a major in the Army Reserve Civil Affairs branch and recently completed a fourteen-month deployment to the Middle East with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and the U.S. embassy in Jordan.


The Post also published this from him:


The War: What We're Missing

John DeBlasio, Sunday, April 18, 2004; Page B01


Here’s what he’s getting at:


Ever since the initial planning phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we Americans have struggled with the single most important question about our role in Iraq: Are we "occupiers" or "liberators"?


President Bush framed the issue both ways during his news conference last Tuesday.  "We're not an imperial power, as nations such as Japan and Germany can attest.  We are a liberating power," he said in his opening remarks, enunciating the administration's main theme.  But in response to a question, he said of the Iraqis, "[T]hey're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either."


Well, that’s a tad confusing.  Which is it, and is it just a matter of semantics, just silly words?  DeBlasio say there is a bit more to it than that.


In October 2002, the Defense Department's general counsel ruled that, under international law, we would be responsible as an occupying force after invading Iraq.  Otherwise, it would have been the job of coalition forces, as "liberators," to quickly hand over power to a legitimate government that would assume the legal responsibility for governing the country and its people.  In an occupation, we would assume the legal responsibility to guarantee the security and well-being of the Iraqi people.  That was also part of the premise of U.N. Resolution 1483, which lifted sanctions in Iraq and further defined our role as occupiers.


Well, since Bush took office we have made it clear that international laws are for others to follow, not us, and the UN is a bunch of pansies like those limp-wristed French and all that sort of thing.


The words don’t matter.


But yes, we sort of avoid the label of “occupier” as it doesn’t feel right, even if the president slips and uses the term.  Hey, at least he’s been pretty good at avoiding the term “crusade” for the last year or two.  But we have, in avoiding the “occupier” label, kind of avoided some things –  we avoided “zeroing in on the potential for humanitarian catastrophes instead of the administrative and security issues that became paramount following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.”


Oh well, at least we don’t think of ourselves as (shudder) “occupiers.” 


And thus we owe no one anything.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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