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Interesting Prediction

January 12th, 2006

I’ve just been re-reading some of my Heinlein, and in his Expanded Universe anthology volume, there’s a very interesting piece called “Where To?” Originally written in 1950, he makes predictions about the year 2000. Prediction #4 reads thus:

It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a “preventive war.” We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.

In a 1965 update, he restates that idea, writing “‘Preventive’ or ‘pre-emptive’ war seems as unlikely as ever, no matter who is in the White House.” Technically, Heinlein was right, in that Iraq happened after the year 2000 (and if you do not consider Vietnam a ‘preventive’ war).

More to the point, Heinlein’s prediction seemed to me to underscore how radically Bush has changed our policy. However, what surprised me even more was how easily Americans seem to have taken to it. I have always assumed that American policy has always been stridently opposed to the concept of first strike, pre-emptive or otherwise (officially, at least). In one of my first blog entries, made in August 2002 (a handmade blog page, before I discovered Movable Type), I wrote:

It would also shred our own values and long-held respected policies, most importantly the policy not to strike first without provocation. And sorry, but an alleged meeting between a terrorist and an Iraqi agent coupled with completely unsubstantiated reports that Saddam could develop nukes “any time now” does not qualify as “provocation.” We do not, as a nation, attack other nations simply because we think that maybe, at some future time, they could attack us in some way. Bush Jr. and Cheney warn about the penalty of waiting for someone to hurt us first, but the reason why we have held exactly that policy for so long is because it is the right thing to do. Would you teach your children to sucker-punch other kids based on the suspicion that the other kid might have started a fight later? Do you go around town shooting people you suspect might at some point break into your home? Sure, the children your kid punches out might be mean, and the people you gun down might be criminals–but it is not how we do things. Believe it or not, we wait for provocation, and then we fight. Not a moment before. We pay a price, as we always do, for our principles, but the price of abandoning those principles would be far higher.

What, am I just totally mistaken about American principles? Did I hear it wrong? I was shocked when John Kerry, in a presidential debate, answered John Lehrer’s question on his approval of a preemptive war with this:

The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.

Now, possibly, Kerry was weaseling out of a direct answer–note how he changed “preemptive war” to “preemptive strike.” But it sure seems like he was in favor of preemptive war, when I was expecting him to take Bush to task for it. Maybe somebody could set me straight on this, but I could swear that America had–proudly–stood by the policy of not initiating a war.

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  1. ykw
    January 13th, 2006 at 04:47 | #1

    I think this is Iraq thing is all about 9/11.

    I think the view in the white house was if there is a chance (e.g. >10%) of something really bad (e.g. wmd), then it is in one’s best interest to go after it, even if that means lots of cost and a high probability of a false alarm (< 90%).

    I think that was the “lesson” of 9/11.

    I think the Iraq false alarm “lesson” negated the 9/11 lesson.

    I think we are back where we were.

  2. Tim Kane
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:57 | #2

    I always saw pre-emptive war, or pre-emptive strike in the way Israel was the first to attack in 1967.

    A very small country, surrounded on all sides by belligerant neighbors, rattling their swords, a democracy strikes first to defend itself.

    In that sense, as commander in chief, I think maybe Kerry was right. The President has that capacity. But its like the nuclear option they talk about in the Senate. You only get to use it one time – you only have one bullet, then it goes away. When the Democrats fillabuster Alito, which I think they will, and probably should, for multiple reasons on multiple levels, thats it, they only get one chance, one time to do that and its gone… well probably gone.

    Another similar situation was the Japanese Army in Manchuria during the 1930s. Without permission from their political superiors they just started war in Manchuria and then later northern China. They knew that the politicians couldn’t make them back down from warfare without causing Japan to lose face and all that would be political suicide. So they did what, as Kerry said, they always had the power to do, though it was certainly ultra virus, if not patently illegal.

    So the President could always send the country out to war pre-emptively. But only under extreme situations. And it should be political suicide in a democracy to do so. But then you have the gulf of Tonkin incident, and then their was the sinking of the Lusitania, and before that the sinkning of the battleship Maine, and all of a sudden you see a patern in American history where the public is manipulated into a frenzy by Journalistic hysteria over an event, and everyone of those was not without its peculiarities, even Pearl Harbor, and it sends this nation off to war. Now I believe WWII was “the good” war and the world hit a fork in the road and made the right move – thanks largely to Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. (I also believe that Republican policies in the 1920s were a direct and root cause of WWII, well at least in Europe).

    The problem is, in a democracy, that should never occur unless in situations like Isreal was in in 1967. This country is so dysfunctional now – the people are out of touch, by design I suspect, with the political apparatus, and vis-versa that a major callamity has to happen to set things aright.

    I was exchanging emails with a women from Sacramento in 2003 and early 2004: her and her husband had picked up and moved lock stock and barrel to Canada. They both came from parents who had taught Civics in high school – and whose grand parents had emigrated from Russia. They believed that the 2000 election was a coup. But, it was only with the passing of the patriot act that confirmed themselves that it was time to move. And right they were.

    Compare America in 12-31- 2005 with 12-31-2000: Two cities evaquated, one City wasted, police state policies and tactics, one after another incident looking like Germany in the early 1930s – if one had made a prediction of what has transpired people would have thought that you were nuts and that this was America.

    What I am getting at, is Bush is doing things and getting away with things because this is not the democracy if once was, if at all. Was 2000 a coup? Probably. 2004? Just as likely. The frog is being brought to a boil slowly so as not to notice that its being cooked. Republicans wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing if they thought that elections might hold them accountable some day soon.

    Part of me says we will never see an unfixed election in my life time. Even if Hillary gets elected it is suspect: She’s from Yale, Bill was from Yale, both the Bush’s are from Yale, and they are all far to comfy and cozy with each other. In my mind we are not a democracy until someone new who didn’t go to yale and isn’t from skull and bones gets elected. I mean someone like Murtha.

    My views sound ratical, but I am old enough to have voted for Reagan Twice and Bush I once. That’s right, I was once republican. I am ashamed to say that now.

  3. Matt
    January 13th, 2006 at 13:37 | #3

    I understand the point you are making. And I believe that without the WMD’s I wouldn’t have thought going to war the most appropriate course of action. Unfortunately, Saddam did everything he could to make us think he had them. He violated the terms of a cease fire agreement, violated UN sanctions, was successful in getting security council nations to conduct illegal business with him, was thumbing his nose at the world. If he didn’t have the WMD’s then why not give unfettered access to Hans Blix? If he is innocent, we shouldn’t have to force him to cooperate. He would be excited about the opportunity to prove to the world that America was wrong, and maintain his power. Hindsight is always 20/20 so I will not act as though I didn’t approve before, and I will say that knowing what we did at the time I believe it was the right course of action.

    I imagine my son not just getting bullied, but getting the piss beat out of him at school. And the administration puts some lame disciplinary action on the bigger kid, which results in the opinion on part of the bully that he has gotten away with it. And subsequent behavior suggesting next time it would be more than a beating. The party responsible for dealing with this bully, the administration, is meanwhile coordinating with said bully to have him be captain of the football team, with full knowledge that he has not changed his behavior. He is still on a daily basis mistreating other kids. I think about the consequence of telling my son he has to wait for whatever this bully or his toadies bring upon him one day. And I think I would tell him to protect himself. If that means proactively beating the piss out of the class bully with a history of violent behavior, and no meaningful corrective action being taken by the administration, then so be it. I won’t tell my son to wait until he is a victim before he sticks up for himself. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, and proactively dealing with a problem when it is most advantageous for yourself, instead of waiting for the problem to blow up in your face, is in my book a viable option.

    Keep in mind that even if we had known there were no WMD’s, we knew what he was doing to his people. Hundreds of thousands murdered. How can we say putting an end to that reign of terror is dishonorable? I would have to say that a policy of no pre-emptive action is a noble ideal and goal. But the other side has to have some semblence of morality or they will use that idealistic policy against us. Most people can be dealt with using conventional methods. But you can’t let those who defy all rule and order run rampant and roughshod over those around them in the name of policy.

    I have to say, this is a great debate topic. Knowing the politicians will say anything, on both sides, muddies the waters of national policy. But often those outside the beltway are well informed, and add a lot to the discussion.

  4. Paul
    January 13th, 2006 at 16:44 | #4

    I have been maintaining for almost two years now that the single biggest thing that the Bush Administration has done in foreign policy was when they changed the official doctrine of the United States to make it easier and more likely that we would start a pre-emptive war.

    International law, such as it is, has always allowed for a nation to pre-emptively strike another nation. The typical situation or scenario where this is hypothesized would be when Nation A is massing troops and supplies on the border, and Nation B has just cause to believe that A is about to attack.

    In that case, B is allowed (under the “rules of war”, if there can be any such thing) to attack A’s troops prior to A actually crossing the border.

    An example would be if the Polish forces had been able to strike the German ones that massed along the border prior to starting WWII.

    Worth noting in this is that each nation is going to declare that the other guy started it. For example, the Germans claimed that Poland had instigated 21 border crossing incidents and attacks, and used that as an excuse for their September 1, 1939 attack on Poland.

    (Of course, usually one side or the other will be exposed as having been the aggressor; in the case above, it turned out that Germany staged the attacks themselves.)

    Anyway, getting back to today. The change in US policy is reflected in official documents and is now known as the Bush Doctrine. In June of 2002, Bush announced these changes.

    I think they’re absolutely horrible. By lowering the standard to basically be “if we think someone might want to attack us in the future”, we have made the barriers to war very low. We might be out there looking for trouble and seeing it at times when it doesn’t really exist- like in the case of pre-war Iraq.

    The fact of the matter is that the utter lack of any WMD in Iraq means that our excursion there was based on false premises, and we could have gone on indefinitely without them ever causing us any problems. We now know that Iraq not only had no WMD, but they also had never directly sponsored terrorist attacks on the US, and we have found essentially zero proof that they even indirectly supported any actions against us.

    Basically, the *only* justification we had for starting war with Iraq is that the Iraqis were not living up to their agreements that ended the first Persian Gulf War. To be frank, in my opinion that lack of cooperation and ignoring the terms of the cease-fire was a valid justification for going to war with Iraq.

    That said, the fact is that if 9/11 hadn’t happened, and the Bush Administration hadn’t successfully linked the 9/11 terrorists with Iraq in the minds of the American public, there is simply NO WAY Bush could have talked the American people into going to war in Iraq. Not on “they’re not letting inspectors in”.

    No, even with that, they had to create fear and hysteria on two counts; they had to get everyone believing that there absolutely positively *were* WMD in Iraq, and they had to get large numbers of people believing that Saddam was somehow in cahoots with Osama.

    This policy change of Bush’s has already led us into one disasterous war, ruined our credibility internationally, cost us hundreds of billions of dollars, and most importantly has cost us thousands of dead and wounded and cost Iraqis tens of thousands of dead and wounded.

    It’s also opened the door to civil war in Iraq, trashed any oil production capacity from there, created problems for Turkey (who is an ally of ours) with the Kurds, and encouraged the Iranians to have an excuse to try and build a nuclear bomb.

    I am convinced that decades from now, historians will look back at Bush’s policy and say that it was sheer madness and idiocy on the part of the United States.

    Seattle, WA

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