Difficulties of Preemptive War
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.