|June 22, 2002||atimes.com|
Preemption's the new buzz word
By Marc Erikson
Bob Woodward wrote it in the Washington Post (June 17), so it's got to be true: US President Bush early this year signed an intelligence order directing the CIA to undertake a comprehensive, covert-action program to topple Saddam Hussein, including authority to use lethal force to capture the Iraqi president ... and, should he pull a gun, to kill him (in self-defense).
What beats me is why anyone should consider this news. Bush has said in so many words so many times that he wants to get rid of Saddam, and he is hardly going to do it on his own. What's more interesting is why "informed sources" leaked this non-news to Woodward at this time. But that, too, doesn't require great investigative reporting skills or "Deep Throat"-type information to figure out: after a hot Middle East war-process phase and the more recent South Asia nuclear scare, the Bush administration is anxious to get back on target with the war on terror(ism), in danger of being derailed by sideshows. The press obliged and gave the new push ample publicity. So did Congress. Democratic Senate majority leader Tom Daschle last weekend declared himself all in favor of preemptive action against Saddam.
"Preemptive" is the key term. Bush has tasked his national security team to formalize a strategy of preemptive action - including military attack - by end-August and National Security Adviser Condi Rice thinks that won't be hard to come by. "It didn't take long for this [concept] to gel," she said on a Sunday talk show, after "looking at the growing dangers of weapons of mass destruction, at how the terrorists networks operate."
Bush himself had given the cue in his June 1 West Point US Military Academy commencement address:
"For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment ... But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence - the promise of massive retaliation against nations - means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.
"If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long ... We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge ... And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."
Unhappily, there is quite a bit wrong with this "new thinking", this whole new "preemption thing" as George Bush Senior might have called it.
Firstly, of course, it's not new. Preemptive attack, whether based on truthful and realistic assessment of clear and present danger and in a defensive posture or as an excuse for premeditated aggression, pervades all of military history from ancient times to the most recent period. Cimon of Athens practiced it against the Persians when he destroyed their fleet in the 5th century BC, then-Colonel George Washington against the French at Fort Duquesne in 1754 in an action that started the French and Indian War, Hitler with Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union and Japan against the US at Pearl Harbor in 1941, Israel against Egypt in the Six-Day War of 1967, and again in 1981 with the destruction of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.
Secondly, since the concept isn't new (though it may be new to a historically illiterate George W), why elevate it to the status of "new" National Security Strategy? Preemptive attack is defined in the "DOD [US Department of Defense] Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms" (Joint Publication 1-02, Joint Doctrine Division, J-7, Joint Staff) as "An attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent." Perhaps that definition provides a clue to why a new strategy is needed.
"Incontrovertible evidence"? "Imminent attack"? I'd suggest that anyone in the Bush administration would be hard pressed to come up with proof positive meeting such criteria to justify preemptive military action against Iraq. Does Iraq possess or is it making weapons of mass destruction? Probably yes, on both counts. Is it about to use them against the US or a close US ally? That's rather more doubtful. As Senator Joseph Biden, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, points out, "For example, the Chinese have a [weapons of mass destruction] capacity. Does the president have the right to preemptively go strike the Chinese, the communist regime? The answer's no." So, a new strategic doctrine is needed to make plausible and justify preemption even if evidence for imminent attack (or even intent to do so) is lacking. It'll be interesting to see how the August strategy paper will accomplish that - or get around such issues as raised by Peter W Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia and now a professor at the National War College, who worries about what happens if the new American doctrine spreads uncontrolled. "If India adopted the American doctrine of preemption, it risks a nuclear war, with devastating consequences for the world. It's a tricky business."
Another worrier is Secretary of State Colin Powell who warns of the perils of preemptive strikes, noting that intelligence concerning potential threats is not always reliable and the rest of the world would demand evidence that the attack was justified. But he bravely adds that military strikes, once ordered, must not be half-hearted measures: "If you have a preemption option, a target, you should do it in a way that removes the threat, that is decisive." As for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he isn't worried a bit and remains his unflappable self: "You can call that [new strategy] defense, as I do, or you can call it preemptive, but ... [pause] ... it is what it is," he told a news conference.
Enough of the strategizing. Reality is this: Bush wants to get rid of Saddam, badly. But as Bob Woodward - more usefully - reports, though the administration has already allocated tens of millions of dollars to the covert program to that effect, CIA Director George J Tenet has told Bush and his war cabinet that CIA efforts alone, without accompanying military action, probably have only about a 10 to 20 percent chance of succeeding. The Pentagon says the military option would require an invasion force of 200,000 to 250,000.
So, there you have it. For want of an intelligence capability to depose Saddam, there's an 80 to 90 percent chance that a quarter million GIs will be thrown into battle to do the job. Careful, though, before you bewail a gut-wrenching dilemma or blame the CIA. What the US lacks more than a competent foreign intelligence agency is intelligence pure and simple in the highest places.
I agree that the Saddam tyranny should be brought to an end, but no more so than several other Arab tyrannies, notably that of the corrupt clan that rules Saudi Arabia and - through its global sponsorship of a radical (and radically backward) late-18th century sectarian form of Islam, Wahabbism - has spawned more Islamic terrorists, notably a certain Osama bin Laden, and wrought more evil than Saddam could likely dream of. The strategic opportunities and alliances to contain and uproot this evil ( along with the Saddam dictatorship and that of Iran's medievalist mullahs) now exist. Through the Russia-NATO Council, the Russian Federation has firmly tied itself to the US and the West. NATO member Turkey, after a bout with Islamic fundamentalism, is politically and economically on the mend and a reliable ally in the war on terrorism. Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel, have leaders who know that fundamentalism and the claim of Wahabbi jihadis to represent the true Islam are threats to the very integrity of their nations. The joint political, economic and religious-cultural potential of this alliance, if properly marshalled and unleashed, is not only an ample counter-force to fundamentalism and tyranny, but has every opportunity of dealing them a decisive and lasting defeat.
Russia and the former Central Asian republics of the USSR have the oil and gas resources to challenge the OPEC cartel and render it ineffective. Moderate Islam has the moral and intellectual resources to challenge and castigate fundamentalism. But preemptive military action against Iraq not justified by proof of clear and present danger of Iraqi or Iraqi-sponsored aggression has the very real potential of undoing an alliance that can win.
Will Gulf War, take two, come anyway? George Bush Senior has resigned from the Saudi-beholden Carlyle Group run by former CIA and Pentagon big-whig Frank Carlucci (also a Princeton college buddy of Donald Rumsfeld) and the Carlyle and Saudi-sponsored Middle East Policy Council that over years has exercised undue influence over US Middle East policy, has come under more than a bit of a cloud and scrutiny recently. Along with that, the Saudi-beholden "Arabists" in the State Department and the CIA have been losing some of their clout. As such "moral hazard" in high US national security policy circles is attenuating, perhaps there is a chance of retargeting and of giving not newfangled preemption and war, but longer-term more effective and principled political and economic coercion a chance.
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