President Bush has announced a proposed new United States policy allowing pre-emptive military strikes at countries this administration considers dangerous. National Security Advisor, Condeleeza Rice, has been assigned to explain the policy to reporters. This is not therefore just the inflated rhetoric of the State of the Union; Bush wants to make pre-emptive strikes firm national policy. The United States will claim the right to attack any country that prepares weapons of mass destruction. Whether or not that country has committed an act of aggression or attacked anyone else, we may attack it.
The policy is clearly not intended to apply to Western Europe or Russia. There is still an inhibition against attacking other countries governed by white Christian men. Russia is in no danger. Iraq is of course the primary target and the American public is being prepared for that specific assault. Reports are circulating from the Associated Press that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned the president that up to 250,000 soldiers would have to be deployed and that the cost in casualties would be far, far, greater than fighting the Taliban. The report is that the president said, in effect, "Well, get over it."
This new policy has no declared standards, no limits and no trigger except the president’s displeasure. George Bush may decide to take on Iraq because he has a good military reason, or because he wants to avenge his father’s embarrassment. He will not tell Iraq in advance what it must do to avoid attack and he will not tell the American people. Once the attack is begun it is likely that Republican congressional leaders will hold press conferences saying that public resistance is unpatriotic. Democrats will go quiet as they did this spring when the mildest questions provoked Republican outrage.
There is therefore no political party to resist the unilateral declaration of war and no congressional process, no discussion in the open, no debate between conscientious and concerned citizens. There is no test of law, or public opinion, or congressional vote of confidence or any other objective standard to harness the power of a war-minded president. In this case, when a pre-emptive strike happens–and it seems now clear that George Bush intends that it will happen–he will be acting more like an Afghani warlord than an American president. We will cross a line from civilian power restrained by law to military power controlled by one man. Bush will in effect decide for himself who he suspects is making weapons of mass destruction. Since no one can control whom he suspects–it is not possible to prove a negative–any one Bush does not like will be in danger. If a country is not Caucasian and not industrial they ought to be more worried.
The president will not actually know whether Iraq is making weapons of mass destruction. The reason for UN inspections was to find out. The inspectors don’t know. Bush can’t know either. The attack will be based therefore upon surmise and guess. Since surmise is not a good military justification it is likely that the more accurate reason is that he is doing it to finish his father’s war or for political purposes at home.
We are witnessing the beginning of propaganda build up which will likely peak when it will help the president politically. That will be at the climax of the fall Congressional campaigns. Watch, then, in October, for a US invasion of Iraq, without rule of law, without Congressional sanction, without historic restraint. And watch the US cross a line to become a war power, a military state, leaving its civilian and legal restraints behind. It is as if ancient democratic Athens had decided to become like ancient warmongering Sparta, we are being led by a single leader down a path toward the unilateral, arbitrary and subjective use of military power. For 200 years a great many American presidents struggled to keep this from happening, and a great many American boys died to keep it from happening. Now it is happening.