In my last article ("Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here") I touched on an issue that was raised in the first presidential debate when Jim Lehrer asked both candidates for their opinions as to what single issue represented the gravest threat to America’s national security. Both candidates responded that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was clearly the most serious.
In that piece, I briefly stated my opinion that the much more imminent threat was the fall-out from the ideology of global interventionism that has captivated the elites of both political parties. That resulted in considerable email feedback, and prompted me to ponder the issue more in-depth.
It may seem a bit odd, and perhaps ironic, that the greatest danger to America derives from the attitudes of our own rulers, but I am nevertheless convinced that this is so. Since the end of the cold war, America’s elites have become imbued with the idea that we are "the last remaining superpower" and that we should strive for "benevolent world hegemony." This policy has numerous inevitable negative repercussions with which we are now coping on a daily basis.
There is further irony to be found when one realizes that this attitude is totally at odds with our nation’s past history and character. Clearly, even a cursory reading of the opinions of our Founders indicates that they believed that America should be an example to all, but should otherwise eschew "going forth in search of monsters to destroy."
Having discarded the sage advice of our Founders, the current political elites have placed our nation in a serious jeopardy that is significantly worse than would otherwise be the case…far more so than would result from the proliferation of WMDs alone
I base this opinion on several conclusions:
#1 The doctrine of pre-emption is pointless, since we cannot prevent WMD proliferation
Part of the messiah complex that haunts our rulers’ psyche is the idea that our government is omnipotent. Listening to the debates, it quickly became clear to me that our leaders believe that literally everything is achievable by our government. The feds now hold that every imaginable issue, both domestic and foreign, can be addressed and perfected by the actions of Washington. They acknowledge literally no limitations on that power. Even the suggestion of practical limits draws angry retorts of "defeatism" and "lack of imagination and willpower." Despite repeated failures, from the war on drugs to the ongoing basket-case of our federalized public schools, our politicos persist in this grand delusion.
But the realities of WMDs are much more complex. Whether any of us like it or not, WMDs will continue to become more widespread. The technology for developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is spreading to all corners of the globe. This process cannot be reversed. Any well-trained microbiologist can manufacture bioweapons in a small, discrete lab which can be hidden almost anywhere. Chemical weapons manufacturing is almost as easy and nearly as undetectable.
If we embrace an ideology that any nation developing such weapons should be threatened or invaded, we will quickly find ourselves in a futile, quixotic crusade that is destined to fail. Even ideal intelligence will frequently be incorrect. September 11 and the intelligence debacle concerning Iraqi WMDs demonstrates that intelligence is usually far from ideal.
Attempts to appoint ourselves the global WMD police will result in our becoming the planetary bully and busybody, since such a role can only be accomplished by policies deemed humiliating and intrusive by the rest of the globe.
This will not be successful in containing the spread of these weapons, but it will be successful in breeding enormous hatred and contempt for America and consequently seriously imperil the safety of our citizenry.
#2 Dictators and WMDs: Just because they have them doesn’t mean they’ll use them
One of the major arguments for our new role as globocop is the argument that dictators who gain access to WMDs will likely use them against us. Thus, we have no choice but to act aggressively against any despot who we believe is developing them.
This is simply not true.
Adolf Hitler, for instance, possessed a large stockpile of chemical weapons throughout WW II. But even up to the bitter end, he did not deploy them. Joseph Stalin had huge stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Yet he never used them against the United States either.
And Hitler and Stalin were pretty bad actors, even as dictators go.
The most obvious reason that they did not use WMDs was that they feared retaliation. While dictators are evil, they are usually not flagrantly suicidal. Saddam’s use of WMDs against the United States, for instance, would have been the signing of his own (and Iraq’s) death warrant. He knew this, and consequently never utilized them.
Thus, we need not prosecute an endless series of pre-emptive wars against any nation suspected of building WMDs just to avoid having them used against us.
Deterrence works, and it’s a lot more reasonable of a foreign policy than condemning our nation to the endless warfare which the doctrine of pre-emption necessitates.
While one can argue that any given dictator might use WMDs against America, one can also create scenarios for virtually any danger. Who is to say that rogue Russian soldiers might not launch a missile against us? Perhaps the Chinese will accidentally launch one? Perhaps Pakistan’s government will be overthrown and replaced by Islamic militants, who will subsequently gain control of their nuclear arsenal? There can be no end to speculation as to what might happen anywhere at anytime. And a foreign policy founded on such speculation literally implies war without end.
#3 Aggressive warmongering often incites that which it is designed to prevent.
The Middle East is currently experiencing a high fever of militant Islamism. This is occurring for a wide variety of reasons and has been the subject of much debate. But whatever the cause, one thing is clear: Fundamentalist Islam is not a credible, long-term ideology around which a modern nation can be constructed. A productive economy with prosperous citizens cannot be sustained by the tenets of radical Islam. It is destined to fail, just like communism was destined to fail.
This fever will pass.
The only real issue is how we will interact with the Middle East as it goes through this period of crisis, and what the resulting repercussions will be.
Aggressive American militarism aimed at Muslim countries will be profoundly counterproductive for both the indigenous forces of modernity found there and for America’s own safety and security.
Take the example of Iran. That nation was the first to enter the long, dark tunnel of Muslim Fundamentalism. The rise of the mullah-dominated government occurred back in the 1970s, after the fall of the Shah. By the 1990s, the clear majority of the population had become totally disillusioned with this form of government and was clamoring for change. Riots were breaking out and the fundamentalists appeared to be losing their grip on power.
We were on the cusp of a profound moment in history. The first nation to have an Islamist government (in modern times) was becoming increasingly destabilized by its own population’s demand for reform and modernity.
Then along came the neocons.
Once President Bush started his "axis of evil" malarkey, the surging demands for reform in Iran immediately subsided. After Bush invaded Iraq and continued to threaten Iran, the people of Iran rallied nationalistically behind their government. They closed ranks against an external threat, as people always do. Those reformers who are still active in Iran are widely discredited for their associations with America.
A crucial moment in history was lost. The American people would have been much better off had our government stayed out of Iran altogether and allowed events to take their natural course. The people of the Middle East may well then have occupied a front-row seat from which to watch a fundamentalist nation making the transition to true democracy.
Instead, the mullahs are now more entrenched than ever.
Our bellicose jihad against WMDs has profoundly worsened the situation there because the reinvigorated and hostile Iranian government is now nearing the final stages of building nuclear weapons.
Our militarism has achieved the exact opposite of its stated intent.
#4 The doctrine of unilateral pre-emption cannot credibly be claimed solely by America
In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, the much-reviled Jacques Chirac vehemently stated that the doctrine of unilateral pre-emption would introduce a catastrophic instability into the world system.
Even a casual analysis demonstrates this to be true. President Bush is essentially claiming that America may invade any nation at any time on the mere suspicion of developing WMDs.
This brings up two obvious problems.
First, what gives America the right to arbitrarily decide that other sovereign nations may not possess these weapons? It may be self-evident to the Washington elite that Algeria or Brazil should not build nuclear weapons, but are they not justified in asking just who made America the Big Boss? We have nukes, as do many other nations…so why can’t they?
Second, why can’t other nations who feel threatened by a neighboring country invoke the same unilateral pre-emption that Bush claims? India has a real concern about Pakistan’s nuclear program. The Middle East is rife with mistrust and feuds between various governments, as is Africa and parts of Asia. Last month, South Korea admitted to having performed experiments to develop weapons-grade nuclear material. Should North Korea now invade the South based on pre-emptive defense?
Since Bush did what he did, he has set a terrible example for the rest of the planet. And he has opened a Pandora’s Box which will spew forth many horrible things in the future.
#5 America is acting in ways which are guaranteed to produce mass casualties now for the purpose of preventing hypothetical ones in the future.
Using the doctrine of pre-emption, the Bush Administration has embarked on the invasion of Iraq and has threatened similar action against a host of other nations from Iran to North Korea. The essence of the argument behind this doctrine is that America can no longer wait for rogue nations to develop WMDs, since they may use these weapons against us directly or give them to terrorist groups. This argument was best enunciated by NSC advisor Condoleezza Rice when she famously stated that we "don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
The problem with this argument is that it virtually guarantees that America will become involved in a variety of preventative wars. These wars will have immediate, predictable casualty rates for both American soldiers and the citizens of those lands which we invade. The Iraq War, for instance, has already resulted in over 1000 American battle deaths, several times that many injuries, and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.
This creates a morally inexcusable "casualty algebra" that is the inevitable consequence of this doctrine. We are embarking on these wars because of the hypothetical possibility that America may suffer thousands of casualties from a WMD attack sometime in the indefinite future. But in so doing, we are causing thousands of actual casualties now. And given the difficulty in deploying many WMDs (particularly biological and chemical weapons), our invasion of Iraq may well have already killed more civilians than would be lost in a hypothetical terror attack.
The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died thus far in this war were innocent human beings. Their death is very real, while the probability that Saddam would have used WMDs against us (even if he did, in fact, have them) must be considered very remote.
This policy is thus deeply intellectually flawed and morally indefensible.
The ideology of interventionism in general, and the doctrine of pre-emption in particular, are America’s single greatest national security threat.
The Founding Fathers were vehement in their belief that American should "extend the hand of friendship and commerce to all, but entangling alliances with none." They believed that the purpose of our government was to "ensure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity." A nation dedicated to this policy would not likely be the target of a terror attack since groups involved in various disputes would have no real reason to do so.
The current elite culture in America has totally abandoned this doctrine. We now station American troops in over 100 nations scattered all across the globe. We have inserted ourselves into parochial conflicts in every inhabited continent on the planet. We have claimed the unilateral right to strike anywhere at anytime, even when we are not being explicitly threatened.
Consequently, America is now seen as a belligerent in all of these wars. Thus, we have given the antagonists in these conflicts the motive to launch attacks against us. And since we cannot ultimately prevent the proliferation of WMDs, our foreign policy has drastically increased the possibility that we will suffer a mass terror attack.
Even more tragic is the fact that our government, having engaged in these policies, is now trying to prevent just such an attack by militarizing our society and stripping Americans of their Constitutional rights. In what can only be described as a horrible "feedback loop," our government is depriving us of our precious liberties in order prevent attacks which that very same government’s policies have gone so far to provoke.
And as icing on the cake, the doctrine of interventionism is helping to hurtle our nation towards bankruptcy. The cost of a global military, various pre-emptive wars, and homeland security have helped to explode our annual deficit to nearly trillion dollars per year.
Our nation’s reputation, finances, and liberty are thus all being compromised by this pernicious ideology. And taken together, it easily represents the gravest threat to our Republic and our way of life…far greater than the development of WMDs by various remote nations ever could.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.