Mutually Assured Pre-Emption



For those wondering about the veracity of Vladimir Putin’s sudden peculiar claim that Russian intelligence, sometime after the 9-11 attacks, had passed along to the Bush administration a vague warning that Iraq might be planning “terror” attacks against the U.S., there is another explanation besides the one put forth in the June 21 issue of CounterPunch by Gary Leupp, who suggests Putin is just currying favor with Bush by trying to help him out of a domestic political jam.

And this alternate explanation should cause Bush, John Kerry, and indeed every American, to think long and hard about the much ballyhooed Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The Bush Doctrine, recall, is that America (and by extension every country on the globe) has the absolute right to attack a foreign foe if the government believes the U.S. is in danger of imminent attack.

Now, put aside the important question of whether Iraq really was planning some “imminent” attack on the U.S. back in the fall of 2001-something for which there is absolutely no evidence.

Who was, in the fall of 2001, without a doubt planning an imminent attack?

Bingo! It was the U.S., which almost before the smoke cleared at the World Trade Center ruins, was hard at work plotting a full-scale war against Iraq.

The point to remember is that according to the logic of the new Bush Doctrine, and indeed under established international law, whatever we may think about Saddam Hussein, Iraq had every right to take pre-emptive measures to counter the imminent U.S. threat posed by Bush’s war preparations.

As to the legality of those presumptive measures, it would all depend upon what it might have been that Iraq was allegedly planning.

As I wrote in an earlier CounterPunch column (April 2, 2003, “Legitimizing Terrorism? Making America Safer… for Iraq Fighters”), international law experts say that if Iraqi agents in the U.S. had attacked military, or even certain strategic civilian targets (for example, CIA headquarters, the Pentagon, a military base, an oil storage facility, a communications center, or a government building of any kind), and if the perpetrators of the attack wore military uniforms during any action, it could be properly considered not an act of terror, but an act of war.

What’s sauce for the goose, as the saying goes, is sauce for the gander.

Odds are that this talk of an Iraq attack in 2002 is all nonsense-just a case of one leader helping another in trouble. But the American public nonetheless should take note.

All this anti-terrorism stuff, and particularly the doctrine of pre-emptive war, to which John Kerry has added his endorsement, carries with it some nasty baggage.

If other countries (North Korea, for example, or Iran, come to mind) were to learn that the U.S. was planning an attack, they would be within their rights to act pre-emptively.

For that matter, as long as the U.S. continues to battle insurgents in Iraq, the doctrine of reciprocity means that embattled Iraqi insurgents are entitled to respond in kind-both within Iraq and also against American interests abroad and in the U.S. itself. If they were to do this, their actions would have to be defined as acts of war, not of terror, which could limit America’s punishment options.

The American public, and certainly Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, need to think this all through very carefully, instead of just talking tough about terror. The expansive and unending so-called “War on Terror” begun with such bluster by the Bush administration in the wake of 9-11, far from making America safer, is inviting those nations which we threaten to take not just retaliatory, but even pre-emptive action themselves against us.

Putin’s claim concerning Saddam Hussein’s alleged terror plans may well be bogus, but the logic behind his having been planning something to counter America’s war plans could well lead other threatened leaders to think along similar lines.

Is this what we want happening?

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of Counterpunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” to be published this fall by Common Courage Press.


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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