"What should we do, let Iran build nuclear bombs and drop them on us? We should go after them with a vengeance." These are the e-mailed ideas of a man who favors attacking Iran pre-emptively. The public utterances of our leaders are not far different.
Pre-emptive attacks on account of distant imagined threats are aggressive attacks, pure and simple. They are what Hitler did. They are what Israel has done in bombing Iraq and Syria. They are what the U.S. did in Iraq.
Our leaders are slightly more sophisticated in their thought. They know that the greatest risk facing Americans is not a nuclear-tipped missile attack by Iran. It is detonation of a smuggled nuclear bomb. They fear that Iran will disperse nuclear weapons to Islamic terrorists who will use them against Americans.
Determined antagonists can hunt down sources of fissile materials and nuclear technology now, even without Iran. Every so often, the press reports that the CIA has wind of a bomb smuggled into the U.S. Our leaders and others have warned us again and again of the significant chance of a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city within the next 10 years. An American Hiroshima or much worse is no longer a remote prospect.
Why has this happened? Apart from minor frictions, we in North America have lived peacefully with the Islamic world since Columbus landed. There is nothing inherent in the Islamic religion that set it on a jihad against Americans over the past 400 years. The Islamic peoples of the world never had a generalized hatred of us or our freedoms.
Our problems arose in the last 50—60 years. Terrorists tell us plainly that their beefs with the U.S. are political. It is plain that American foreign policy has triggered a terrorist counter-reaction. The U.S. for a variety of reasons has intervened in foreign countries. Instead of greater security, we are getting greater insecurity.
There are only two ways to go in the Middle East: get out or get in deeper. Getting out is wiser. That will reduce the threats. Getting out requires that America reverse course. This course was set in 1787 but the ship of state didn’t set its full sails until 1898 and the Spanish-American War. Since then, the ship has become a Titanic speeding along as it heads for its iceberg. Changing course is the only way to avoid the collision and sinking of the ship.
The alternative to getting out is to get in deeper, such as by attacking Iran and Syria. Bush, Cheney, and Rice have opted for this course. The U.S. Congress has for years taken an anti-Iran stance.
What will be the result of getting in deeper? Under the best of circumstances, the U.S. will be involved in occupations that will last a very long time. The U.S. stayed for 50 years in the Philippines. It has been in Korea and other places around the world for 50—60 years and counting. Bush has said that the war on terror will take 100 years.
These occupations will have the goal of remaking the politics of Middle Eastern societies. They will be very costly. The Iraq War tab is now put at 2 trillion dollars after only 4 years. There will surely be local resistance movements in those countries. The occupations will attract foreign elements as in Iraq. We will see bloody campaigns that make the Philippines look like everyday riots. In time, the U.S. may produce reliable allies. This is under the very best of circumstances.
Under all other circumstances, far worse outcomes will occur. We can expect at least 100 years and more of war. The U.S. will be at the mercy of foreign nations upon whom it depends for financing. The U.S. will be at the mercy of any nation that arms and foments local rebellions in the occupied countries. Al-Qaeda and other similar movements will be able to recruit a new army of anti-U.S. soldiers. Attempts to blow up U.S. cities will intensify. The U.S. in its classic historic form will collapse. In fact, the U.S. has already substantially transformed itself from a classic liberal republic into an empire. This process will intensify. The U.S. will become more brutal at home and more brutal abroad.
And for what? What do we get out of all of this?
Americans live in a glass house. We should stop throwing stones immediately. We should get out, not get in deeper.
The tragedy is that our leaders and too many of us cannot even think in terms of anything else. No American leader has seriously entertained any other conception except interventionism for a century.
They and many of us are all blind captives of a basic misconception: idealism in international relations. With good intentions that are leading us to hell, we are looking for the war to end all wars, or the international institution like the UN that will insure world peace, or the extension of democracies so as to insure peace, or some other program such that the human race lives happily ever after.
We think that we can do good by intervening overseas or by making war. We are trying to achieve the Kingdom of God using the Kingdom of Satan, and we don’t even know it.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.