(Opinion): Perils of Bush's pre-emptive war doctrine

by George Lopez

Another view: George A. Lopezp. In a speech last week before the Air Force Association, Vice President Dick Cheney reasserted the Bush administration’s doctrine of the pre-emptive use of military force against terrorists and those who harbor them. Unlike his remarks earlier in the week linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, this major pronouncement attracted no critical comment. The silence should be dismaying to all concerned about the future of U.S. foreign policy.p. The Bush administration moved the “new” doctrine of pre-emptive war to the center of U.S. security policy in the aftermath of 9/11. With the Iraq war as test case, President Bush summarily rejected the successful deterrent that coercive economic sanctions, intrusive inspections and strangling containment had provided the U.S. Quick military victory reinforced thinking that pre-emptive force is optimal in dealing with tyranny, terrorism, weapons proliferation and other threats to U.S. security.p. Unfortunately, neither pundits, politicians nor journalists are willing to consider the failure to find prohibited weapons in Iraq as sufficient grounds for challenging the credibility of pre-emptive war policy. But beyond this reality, other reasons for questioning pre-emption abound.p. First, pre-emption is neither new nor innovative as a response to 9/11. Rather, it is a once-discredited notion championed by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz in the last days of the first Bush administration. When excerpts of his draft document outlining plans for an action against Iraq were published in The New York Times, an embarrassed administration shelved the plan.p. Wolfowitz’s resurrection combined with post-9/11 national numbing to result in the re-emergence of pre-emption. Only Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., appears concerned by the constitutional controversy pre-emption begs regarding congressional authority to wage war.p. Second, pre-emption actually imperils U.S. efforts to defeat al-Qaida and like-minded terrorists who threaten our way of life. Its aura has made the U.S. hesitant to use economic and diplomatic means to engage states amenable to change and fuller compliance with antiterrorism mandates. Trapped by prior, tired labels of “rogue” states and relying on the threat of pre-emptive attack, the administration has neither seized nor created opportunities to strike a new relationship with Iran or Syria when openings with each have been possible.p. Similarly, the administration’s ever-expanding definition of terrorism has obfuscated the very different environments from which terrorists emerge and operate. To win a war on terrorism does not require an attack on all terrorist groups everywhere. In fact, the metaphor of an open-ended war has obscured the fact that suppressing terrorism will take years of patient, unspectacular civilian cooperation with other countries in areas such as intelligence sharing, police work, tracing financial flows and border controls.p. U.S. policy needs less grandstanding about pre-emptive military strikes and more analysis that distinguishes among groups whose terror is based on local, historic and negotiable political struggles apart from those aimed at America.p. Instead, the tone in Washington is that those attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah are all one and the same. A successful campaign against the terrorism that most threatens us will require coordinated international efforts to bankrupt terrorist networks and the pursuit of foreign policies that address the grievances that motivate political extremism.p. Finally, a strategy of pre-emption wreaks havoc on the international order, especially when other nations adopt the same principle. In October 2002, Russia declared a policy of pre-emption against Chechen rebels. And on Wednesday, the defense minister stated that Russia would use a pre-emptive strike if its national interests demanded it. In April 2003, India argued that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and support of terrorists in Kashmir made it a more suitable target for pre-emptive attack than Iraq.p. The use of military force is sometimes necessary, especially in dealing with extremist terrorism. But administration strategies of muscular unilateralism and pre-emption have become a stubborn ideology that both skews the meaning of recent events and eschews a variety of proven multilateral means for advancing U.S. security.p. The new strategy has aroused animosity abroad and reduced the trust and cooperation of U.S. allies. In Iraq we see how pre-emption breeds resentment, fosters countervailing coalitions and overburdens resources. Pre-emption’s irony is that the new reliance on unilateral military force makes the United States less, not more, secure.p. p. Lopez is director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

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