In fact, for all their bloodletting at home, both Saddam and Stalin were cautious when it came to foreign wars. Saddam even had reason to believe he had the tacit consent of Poppy Bush’s White House when he invaded Kuwait.
And it is on this thin reed -- the unique undeterrability of Iraq -- that we are prepared to jettison the doctrine of deterrence (really, of international law itself) for one of pre-emption. As if this shift had no other consequence. As if India could not invoke pre-emption for an attack by its superior nuclear force on Pakistan‘s inferior one. As if China could not invoke pre-emption for an attack upon Taiwan. Once pre-emptive war is the standard, any nation’s apprehensions of its rival can be grounds for war.
So put aside the other objections. Let us, for the sake of argument, not consider the possibility that our going to war on Iraq a will ignite the already inflammatory Middle East, that it could bolster or even bring to power Islamic fundamentalist forces in shaky regimes (for instance, Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons are a matter not of conjecture but established fact). Let us dismiss concerns that the war will make it harder, not easier, to get international cooperation in our efforts to track down al Qaeda. Let‘s not even think about the casualties, U.S., Iraqi and other, that such a war is likely to cause.
Let us focus simply on the changes we will bring to our world by sanctifying the policy of pre-emptive war. It won’t quite mean, to sound a Dostoyevskian note, that anything is permissible. It will merely mean that the most awful form of human endeavor is more likely to occur.
A question worthy of some congressional consideration, one must hope, before our war on Iraq is put to a vote.
The one thing even more dubious than the case for going to war is the timing of the debate. The administration has made very clear that it wants a congressional authorization this fall -- before the elections. National Security Adviser Condi Rice recently told a Sunday talk show that Congress should bestir itself to give Bush a free hand by voting before it adjourns in early October.
Keep in mind that Bush has been in office for 20 months now, during which time the threat posed by Saddam has been ever present. If at any point during that period the administration had been convinced that he posed an immediate threat to the U.S. or its allies, it doubtless would have taken real pre-emptive action. For that matter, no one in the administration is talking about charging into Iraq the day after a congressional authorization passes, either. Amid the torrent of leaks, there‘s been no speculation of military action before Christmas at the earliest.
In short, if the administration believes a congressional vote is of the utmost urgency, might it just have some ulterior motives? Changing the subject away from the economy, say, as the election looms? Forcing Democrats in marginal districts to choose between giving Bush a blank check and casting an unpopular vote? I don’t mean to suggest the administration is unduly preoccupied with elections: In 2000, Bush took power essentially by negating one. Still, assuming they mean to win this one without falling back on Rehnquist and Scalia, it‘s possible they’re thinking of more than just Saddam.