How strange that those who want America to adopt a policy of preemption forget which country is the overwhelming superpower and which is the impoverished third-world wreck. They should relax: The U.S. is well able to defend itself without going to war.
Mr. Babbin suggests that Washington view Iraq as Britain and France should have viewed Germany in 1936. Obviously a little historical knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Britain and France were bereft of friends in a divided continent, facing Europe’s most populous and industrialized state, which had defeated France in 1871 and nearly beaten a global coalition in World War I. In contrast, America, the planet’s strongest military power, can obliterate any adversary and is allied with every major industrialized state. It need not fear Baghdad, an impoverished hellhole with an obsolescent conventional force and a desire for weapons of mass destruction that, even if fulfilled, would never match Washington’s arsenal.
Saddam is evil, but nothing suggests that he is suicidal. Saddam never wanted to be an enemy of America: Indeed, two decades ago he was our ally when he fought Iran. He surely would like America to stay out of any conflict — why else discuss Washington’s view of his dispute with Kuwait? But he wasn’t interested then and has no interest now in attacking the U.S.
True, Baghdad might like to dominate the region, but it first has to survive in a tough neighborhood. Look at a map.
There’s Israel, a regional superpower armed with an estimated 200 nuclear weapons. No wonder that Baghdad has never attacked Israel other than during the Gulf War, when Iraq sought to split the allied coalition. And even then Saddam did not use chemical or biological weapons.
There’s Iran, a more populous neighbor that bullied Iraq under both the shah and the mullahs. There’s Turkey, with a military that has destroyed its Kurdish rebellion, dominated Greece, and brought Syria to heel. Then toss in Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Dreaming of Babylon redux can’t make it so.
Support for terrorists is not the same as support for terrorists who attack America. Hamas and Hezbollah murder, but they are focused on Israel, not the U.S. Is that evil? Yes. Is it a threat to America? No.
There are many brutal terrorists in the world, from the IRA in Northern Ireland to the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines to the Laskar Jihad in Indonesia. Indeed, the bloodiest force which has most commonly relied on suicide bombings is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. They are all evil. However, they are not all enemies of America.
As for al Qaeda, desperate attempts to link its attacks on America have come to naught. Even Britain’s Tony Blair has acknowledged that the tie can’t be proved.
And as much as Saddam might like to hit the U.S., whether through al Qaeda or some other way, he knows that he would face catastrophic retaliation for doing so. He could never assume that cooperation with al Qaeda would not be discovered; he knows that he would be suspected in any attack; he is more interested in living than in killing Americans. But all that would change if Washington attacks.
As much as Saddam would like to develop nuclear weapons, he is not believed to possess fissionable material. So, Mr. Babbin worries, Iraq might buy weapons from North Korea and Pakistan. Pakistan, it should be noted, already has helped Pyongyang develop its bomb.
This raises the question why Washington is focused on Iraq when it believes that its own ally — an unstable dictatorship linked to Islamic radicals — is busy arming anti-American regimes? The most serious threats to America are outside, not inside, Baghdad. The Bush Administration has become fixated on a state that has been contained and deterred while ignoring others that pose much greater risks.
The bottom line for Mr. Babbin is that if we don’t bomb Iraq now, we might not be able to bomb it later. That’s an extraordinary basis for a purported republic with limited ambitions to go to war. Never before in America’s history has it expected to be able to attack any other nation at any time that it desired.
Certainly not during the Cold War. Then Washington faced nuclear-armed China and Russia. Preemption was suggested against both states (and tried, with conventional weapons, against the latter). But the U.S., almost certainly wisely, chose deterrence over war.
If preemption has become Washington’s new foreign policy goal, it means almost endless war. There’s North Korea and Pakistan. Perhaps a future, even more radical Hindu government, in India with nuclear weapons. A stronger, more hostile China threatening Taiwan. A left-wing nationalist government in Brazil considering pursuing nuclear weapons. And so on.
The U.S. must decide what kind of nation it desires to be. A globe-spanning empire prepared to meddle and make war to advance ever more distant goals. Or a republic determined to avoid unnecessary conflicts while remaining ready to destroy any threat to its survival and vital interests.
— Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation.