Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Difficulties of Preemptive War

by James Moore

The piece I will be focusing on and responding to is a piece by William Galston. Galston gives his stance on the idea of a preemptive war in Iraq. Galston wrote this piece prior to the United States going to war with Iraq, yet he still fell firmly against going to war with Iraq. Preemptive war is a difficult topic to talk about because it is something that you can never be one hundred percent sure about. A preemptive war is a strike upon a nation or a state that has the ability to attack and you have evidence that they are plotting to attack, so you strike first to prevent the attack from occurring. The latter seems to be the part that I have most concern with. It is difficult to know when a nation or a state is going to attack. If it is a nation alone without the confines of some territory I think it is even more difficult to preemptively strike because, there is no particular place to declare war with. If we do preemptively strike, at anytime, there are some guidelines we should follow in order to show the world that we are not just arbitrarily throwing our weight around. I will give the guidelines that Galston highlights in his paper and show why the war in Iraq, as we all know, was a terrible use of preemptive war.

The first thing that a country should know, before a preemptive strike is even considered, is that the suspecting country has the ability to strike the defending country. This is saying that we should be knowledgeable of the country we are getting ready to attack, meaning we should know whether they have the capability to cause us harm. If we learn that a country has the capability to cause us harm we should go to the second step.

The second thing would be has the country in question had a history of striking other countries and we have a legitimate reason to believe that they are planning an attack against our respective country. This one is going to be difficult to figure out. The country in question is probably not going to give an indication of an attack. This is where I think it is dangerous because it then becomes an assumption and the assumption is based on the evidence. If the evidence is faulty in any way the war would be unjustly provoked. This to me is a serious problem because how do you undo a war. This is why before a preemptive war is begun you must be certain that the country in question has a serious plan for attack not just a thought. The evidence must be substantial such as threats, any kind of evidence of plotting a strategic attack, or weapons that can harm you pointed at your country.

The last option is not a necessity but it is a favorable option which is to include allied countries. Show them that it is not only in our best interest but their best interest as well to go to war with the country in question. You should try and get some sort of consent from the surrounding countries of the country in question and in the case of Iraq the U.N. This gives other countries the idea that you are doing this as a means to make the world a better place. This is not a necessity though we must understand that in some situations we might not have time to consult the other countries and a preemptive strike is needed because the first two requirements are filled. This last step is used to create better relations with the world, as opposed to simply attacking who ever you deem as a threat and not really showing any consistency with your choices. I think this gives the world a bad impression of us because it seems we are just arbitrarily choosing countries and giving different reasoning behind each attack. We as the preemptive striker must show some consistency in our acts and, as I said earlier, not just throw our weight around. If we did this it could have negative affects on the other countries of the world.

Now, let’s go through the war in Iraq and see if it met any of these steps. Were we certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? This would fall under the ability category. We had some belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. There was evidence of chemicals used to make weapons of mass destruction. This to me doesn’t meet require one; you must be certain that the country has the ability to harm your country.

The next step is, has the country had a history of striking other countries and do you have legitimate reasoning to belief that you will be attacked. This one is extremely difficult to answer. Saddam Hussein has never threatened America because; he knew that that would result in his removal from power. We saw this in the Gulf War, according to Galston, where we threaten to remove him from office and he back off. Knowing this why would Hussein send a weapon of mass destruction, assuming he had them, if he knew it would result in his removal? Dick Cheney said “Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network or murderous dictator or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. The risk of inaction are far greater that the risks of action”. We can see that Cheney has already assumed that Iraq has possession of weapons of mass destruction. In Cheney mind we have covered step one. How does he justify step two by saying that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a murderous dictator constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined. This to me does not meet require two. If we use a murderous dictator with weapons of mass destruction for justification for going to war then we had lots of choices. Why exactly did we target Iraq? This one still give me trouble to this date. I have don’t know why we chose Iraq. The Bush administration claims that they are connected with terrorist organizations; again I say we could have picked lots of countries under this justification. Iraq is harboring terrorists, so was America. We trained the individuals that flew the plains into the twin towers. In this case we are training terrorist so we are connected to a terrorist network, therefore we blow ourselves up.

The last step is the one the Bush administration just left out. They made no effort to include other countries. The UN said no, not a good idea. The Bush administration, using there ever so popular middle finger policy with foreign relations, went to war anyway. If we look at the United Nations Charter we see that the only time you have the right to attack is when you are attacked. This is why the UN was against it, but it is not as if they made this up to prevent us from going to war. We signed and were the principal drafters of this document. This has to be appealing to the other countries that see us write one thing and do another that shows how reliable we are to our word.

We have seen examples in the past where America has done its job perfectly for example, when we pushed Iraq out of Kuwait. Iraq had challenged the territorial boundaries of Kuwait so we rightly acted to stop the Iraqi forces from completely taking over. This shows all the countries we are equally giving assistance to all countries in need, which projects a little bit better picture onto the world.

The United States is one of the most powerful nations in the world when it comes to military power. This does not mean we are not vulnerable to attack. In order to prevent these attacks we need to keep a good relation with all the countries of the world. We have to show that we are not the big bully on the play ground, we follow rules just as they should. If they don’t follow the rules there are consequences, if we don’t follow the rules nothing happens. This is why we need to make a solid effort not to break the rules that we had a huge part in creating. If we show the world we are not just arbitrarily throwing our weight around they will get a sense of consistency and they will learn how we act in accordance to the rules, but if act outside of the rules the other countries won’t know what to do. They will be confused because if they act this way they get blown up, if they act that way they get blown up. They get to where the only thing they can do is retaliate. This is why America needs to make a concerted effort in showing obedience to the rules which we set up.


Anonymous jamie mccall said...

My biggest problem with preemption is the same one that you mention. Mainly, it is very hard to ascertain whether a country is going to attack us. Using history seems to be rather unreliable method for determining this, as at one point or another every country has attacked someone else. We could try to determine it through intelligence, but that ends up having problems as well. I’m not really sure there is a good method to use to ever fulfill the requirement that we know a nation is about to attack us. And even if we could - how long would we have to wait to be sure? Do we attack when the enemy is in the planning stage or when the tanks are the border? It would appear as though the first option is most prudent, and yet doing so could mean us committing political suicide on the world's stage, which could cause many long-term problems.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

There are two things to consider about the people that we are reading as pertains to preemption. First off, most, if not all, of these writers are Cold War babies. Walzer, explicitly, is writing at a time when the 'Ruskies' could attack at any moment. This point is extremely important to keep in mind when reading these papers, I think. Mainly due to the fact that they will continue to have those mushroom-cloud images dancing in their collective head while they caution against the use of preemption. Even if preemption may apply in contemporary terms, it would be poor judgement to make preemption a doctrine by which our government consistently holds. While I realize that the Soviet threat is gone, the weapons are out there, and there are plenty of yahoos willing to use them once they get them. Eventually, we will have to fight another Cold War-esque situation... preemption as a doctrine would end us pretty quick.
Now... the second thing. The 'saving of face' issue is , in fact, real. I'm not sure I'd call it suicide of the political sort, nor would I really call it saving face. However, Jimmy-James makes an excellent point as concerns the issue of hypocrisy. If we expect other kids in the playground to play by the rules we wrote, perhaps we should also abide by those rules. It is one of those things that really sticks out in my mind as a red flag when I consider the action against Iraq. Regardless of the arguments over Constitutional law, there is an issue of provoking more hostility toward the playground bully. Eventually, all the little nerdy kids are going to gang up on him... with rocks and lunchboxes.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

My problem with preemptive war is the same that both you and Jamie mention, knowing when a country is going to attack. I also see a problem with knowing when a country has the capability to attack (given Iraq still doesn't fit that example). I think that in modern times it is harder to judge both the capability and probability of another country attacking. In older days it was more certain due to the time it took to move troops and supplies into place. Nowadays troops can be moved into position and launch an attack much faster.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

The glaring problem here is that the UN DID NOT expect Iraq to play by the rules and bitched at us about them. Q:What UN rules did we break? A:We didn't listen to countries that were being paid off, that's right, outright bribes not to attack.
Analogy: A cop busts a car thief who has been paying off the department with profits from the stolen cars. Is the cop at fault? Even if he's told by his corrupt colleagues not to make the arrest? But wait, it's not just one cop acting as a vigilante, its two of the department chiefs (US, UK) who are not being paid off, and 28 other cops (Aus, Jap, Italy, Poland, etc.) that agree that the thief broke the law. Sure, it doesn't win any friends in the department, but then are those the friends you want anyway?
As for why we chose Iraq, has anyone stopped to think that Iran may have been the main target the whole time? We went into Afghanistan (justified), and then into Iraq (under debate) both which happen to sandwich Iran. Granted Iraq has not gone smoothly and messed up the plan, but the "hammer and anvil" strategy is not some alien concept. But, once again, Russia and China don't want to upset Iran because of their oil deals. Thay have already said that they would not support sanctions against Iran.
I think one of the problems is image: you see America as a bully on the playground, I see us as the Hall Monitor in an inner city school.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

Okay, let's say it is justified to ignore any rule we write ourselves and invade whomever we deem to be an imminent threat.

Why not just go after Iran directly? Why the subterfuge?

Yes, I'm going to continue to believe that we are bound by rules we make, REGARDLESS of wether or not we enforce the rules on others. Call me OCD, but I like a little consistency.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

I also have the same problem with preemption that you, Jamie, and Wesley all stated, how can we really know a country is going to attack and using a country's history for attack is also suspect. I do want to point out that Iraq did fit the history part at a point, they did invade Kuwait, and you did mention that. But I also agree that the war in Iraq doesn't fit the bill as much as the Bush administration would like us to believe. I also agree that we should play by the rules that we help make. If the makers of rules don't follow them how can anyone else be expected to follow them? I love your analogy of the bully on the playground. I kept thinking of a parent telling his/her children "Do as I say not as I do." And Mitch is right, if the bully doesn't knock it off eventually he'll fall at the hands of the ones he picks on. As the old saying goes, "The bigger they are the harder they fall." Personally, I hope I'm not around for the aftermath.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

We change rules all the time...Dredd Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson,Prohibition,etc., because they are either wrong or the situation changes to the point where the rules don't apply. Do we want members of the KKK deciding civil rights issues? No. Do we want corrupt, push-over, bribes-in-the-pocket, countries telling us what the rules are? No. As far I know the rules state that Congress declares whether we go to war, and they did. Seems we followed (and enforced)the rules not broke them.
As far as consistency, is it consistent to ignore other countries breaking the rules and then claim that we did by enforcing them?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

Well, you could claim consistancy with the 'UN is not legit, it's corrupt' if it weren't for one thing: our original stated 'reason' for invading Iraq was that they were violating a UN resolution. If it truly is a corrupt and illegitimate institution why in the hell would we go to war to enforce a resolution it passed? There wasn't the shift to the 'UN sucks' position till the White House realized the UN wasn't going to play along. Now I'm not saying the UN is free of problems, but in this case you're trying to have your cake and eat it too.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Actually, it was 17 resolutions, and the "UN sucks" came about not because they wouldn't back us up...but because they were being bribed not to. The oil-for-food corruption wasn't known until this happened. We were trying to enforce UN resolutions that were made before the bribes started. The bribes were made to not enforce the resolutions.
Ice cream too, please. Keep the kool-aid.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Steven Grueshaber said...

If we're going to war with Iraq due to them breaking UN resolutions then we are going to war as a police force. If, on the other hand, we're going to war because we thought they were going to try to nuke us, then it is a preemptive war. So... which is it?

2:10 PM  
Anonymous jeremy page said...

I agree with Rick on this one...although I have concluded that the war in Iraq does not live up to the stipulations needed for a justified preventative war.

Preventative War is truly a subject involving hindsight, I would say that quite a few preventative wars might have been decried at the time they were initiated, but were later justified after all the pieces of the puzzle were connected. Although I don't think Iraq fits, or will fit, this scenario.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"If we're going to war with Iraq due to them breaking UN resolutions then we are going to war as a police force. If, on the other hand, we're going to war because we thought they were going to try to nuke us, then it is a preemptive war. So... which is it?"
I don't see why they are mutually exclusive. Yes, we went to war to enforce UN resolutions, AND knowing that Saddam WAS still working on chem and bio programs and hiding them from inspectors, it was preemptive in the fact that Saddam would be a problem in the near future (as he was in the past).

5:30 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I agree with your preemption. Its hard to justify why one attacks another, but over all you did a good job over assesing your evidence. You never know when a country is going to attack but we should always be on alert. great job

6:19 PM  

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