Thoughts on the Eve of War

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Rod Dreher, writing on National Review Online, lavishes praise on the ultimatum speech delivered by George Bush on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Although Dreher notes seven “high points,” only three will be considered here. (“High points” is in quotes because it is as sensible to look for high points in Bush’s speech as it is to look for high points in cheerleading. As with cheerleading, Bush’s speeches tend to be thoughtless repetitions of mantras and incantations designed to sound pleasing to the foolish. But I digress).

First, Dreher quotes Mr Bush to the effect that: ‘Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course for safety. … This danger will be removed.’ Dreher adds that: “America is not going to sit around waiting to be hit again; we’re going to do something about it.”

To which one can only respond: do something about what? It is not at all clear.

Worse, assuming for the sake of argument that Iraq poses a danger to the citizens of the United States, will an invasion of Iraq produce “safety” for American citizens? If anything, it appears that an invasion will make Americans more despised – and thereby more likely to be subject to terrorist attacks.

Second, Dreher writes that: “America is coming not as the conqueror of the Iraqi people, but as their liberator.”

Puh-lease. Unless I missed it (and I have not), there have been no requests by massive numbers of Iraqis (that democracy thing, you recall) for the Bush Administration to replace the Iraqi government.

Indeed, in a debate held March 13 between students at Davidson College in North Carolina and at the University of Baghdad, the Iraqi students were clearly unhappy at the notion of the United States generously proposing to “give” the Iraqis a new government.

As one female Iraqi student stated with regard to Iraqi views of social change:

Yes, there are things we want to change. I, for example, would like to see cleaner streets. But right now, were focusing on major changes. We’re focusing on a war, we’re focusing on surviving a blockade. It’s just like when the tragedy of 9/11 happened, you stopped criticizing the government, you stopped criticizing everything in general. It was a crisis. And that’s exactly what we have right now.

How odd. How would Americans feel about a Chinese proposal to “give” America a new constitution? Except for those persons who are complete and total collaborationists, one imagines that most Americans would be angry at such an idea.

The United States, then, cannot reasonably claim to be “liberating” the Iraqi people.

Finally, Dreher closed with the following (Mr Bush’s words are in single quotation marks):

Given the realities of the world we live in today, there is more risk in not acting against tyrants like Saddam than in acting. The president recalled the 9/11 surprise attacks, and said that given the existence of [weapons of mass destruction], ‘a policy of appeasement can bring forth a destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.’ America’s enemies today don’t play by the old rules. ‘Responding to those enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense; it is suicide.’ (I hope the Pope was listening to that.)

How does one quantify the risk of invading Iraq against the risk of not invading Iraq? Although Mr Dreher does not explain, it would seem that we must balance: (a) the prospect of reasonably certain, long-lasting hatred of the United States in the Arab world, and the significantly increased potential to encourage future terrorist acts against Americans; against (b) the hypothetical possibility that Iraq might attack the United States in some way.

In which case, the risks of invading do not outweigh the risks of pursuing peaceful resolution.

Moreover, how does Mr Bush distinguish between: (a) legitimate self-defense; and (b) suicidal self-defense? Or is it always suicidal to defend against an attack after one is actually attacked? If so, then to not hit first is to commit suicide. Pretzel logic, anyone?

One wonders why, although North Korea appears to have nuclear weapons capable of reaching California, Mr Bush is not preparing to invade North Korea, if waiting until one is attacked is “suicidal.”

Also, Messrs Bush and Dreher fail to explain what it would mean to “appease” Saddam Hussein. Has he made any demands on the United States, or on neighboring countries, for territory? There is no contemporary Neville Chamberlain, dear sirs. There is a difference between: (a) not attacking Iraq militarily; and (b) appeasing Iraq.

As for Mr Dreher’s comment about the Pope, I am willing to bet that John Paul II listened to the words of the successor to John Hanson. I cannot imagine, however, that the Pontiff could have been impressed.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2003 David Dieteman

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