The Road to Unilateral Pre-emption

When Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and their aides decided to make Arik Sharon’s foreign, security and military policy America’s foreign, security and military policy, they may not have foreseen where this would take us. In the months after the events of 9-11, “pre-emption,”–unilateral if necessary– was proclaimed to be the way in which we would in the future deal with potential foreign threats to our national security.

Henceforth, we alone would decide whether, how and when to take the necessary military action to “take out” such threats. The UN Charter did not apply; NATO was irrelevant. Even the Geneva Conventions, which had guided the conduct of American soldiers for 150 years, would be ignored if they impeded operations. The torture convention? Scrapped. Sometime around 2002-2003, the U.S. adopted Israel’s security policy, and the rest of the world became the West Bank and Gaza. Iraq, it was decided, would be the first test case.

So now we have pre-empted. Our laser guided bombs and our 19, 20 and 21 year old soldiers have acquitted themselves remarkably well, in that they have achieved what they were manufactured and trained, respectively, to do. The war fighting is pretty well finished. The embedded American and British journalists have done what they were expected to do: they have recorded and reported in detail each triumph as it occurred, live and in color.

Now come the problems. The urban areas of Iraq have more people in them than Israel, the West Bank and Gaza combined. After more than a decade of infrastructure decline under the UN sanctions, they have just been decimated by American/British bombs and soldiers. Over 10 million people in those urban areas are starting to suffer and die in large numbers.

Many of them have no power or water, and little food or sanitation facilities. Their hospitals and health centers have exhausted their meager supplies of medicines or have been destroyed or looted. The 10 million do have weapons and ammunition, however, and scores to settle among each other. So, without police authorities to intervene, they are starting to loot and kill each other in violent waves of disorder and anarchy. The International Committee of the Red Cross, present through the worst of the fighting in Somalia, Angola and the Congo, have begun to withdraw from much of Baghdad.

The journalists are still doing their jobs, and are reporting the human cost of pre-emption, live and in color, to a very attentive audience in the Middle East, Europe and the rest of the world. The vast majority of that audience opposed the war from the beginning, of course, and feel little responsibility for what they are reading and watching, as they do not believe they were consulted through diplomatic means, the United Nations, NATO, etc., in the run-up to the invasion.

The American/British soldiers, too, are still doing their jobs, to the best of their ability. But their training and the laser guided bombs are largely ineffective to deal with urban anarchy. And they are beginning to realize that while they were equipped with superior everything: preparation, weapons, transport, communications, macro-intelligence, etc., they were sent in to do a job lacking several very important things–situational awareness; context; history.

If the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Iraq develops as now appears, the microphones and cameras will be in place to cover mass population flows, as people in the many tens or hundreds of thousands move into the countryside and toward Iraq’s borders, fleeing not war-fighting, but revenge killings, civil disorder, disease, hunger and thirst. The face of pre-emption, which had been that of handsome, confident 19, 20 and 21 year old soldiers, will soon be–is already–that of dirty, terrified women and wounded or dead children.

Gone are the special supplements in the newspapers with pictures of mobile howitzers and stealth aircraft. We no longer want to be reminded of what they can do, so our media have stopped doing it. Gone is the icon of the falling statue. Very quickly. In the place of these graphics are new, hard questions. It won’t even make a great deal of difference if a few canisters of nerve gas or anthrax are found in the ground. The writers and pundits will be asking the questions.

Why Iraq, and why now? Why “shock and awe,” instead of diplomacy and containment? Why did we not foresee the humanitarian outcome of the invasion, and plan the peace, when we planned the war? How did Iraq–and perhaps soon much of the Middle East–become America’s West Bank and Gaza? Are pariah states obliged to attack first, or do nations become pariah states when they attack first? Why are we beginning to hear so much about Syria and Iran from the White House and Defense Department–are they next?

Which brings us back to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and their aides, and the supplanting of U.S. foreign and security policy with Arik Sharon’s. How, by whom, and by what process did that happen? Whose are the individual faces of pre-emption?

The State of Israel has practiced pre-emption in its most virulent form–unilateral pre-emption–for decades. If America does continue to apply this doctrine we will discover, as Israel has, that it is destructive of our most important foreign relations, and the international laws and institutions which support those relations. The Bush Administration has done this in the name of internal security and will find, as has Israel, that unilateral pre-emption is the antithesis of internal security….it is in fact the road to isolation.

In the coming months, as the fighting and chaos continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld urgently make the case for carrying the war into Syria and Iran, Americans will be asking how, why and at whose urging we have taken this road. We will begin to have a public conversation about the individual faces of unilateral pre-emption–a number of senior aides in the Executive Branch, particularly in the Pentagon, White House and State Department. These individuals share a radical view of America’s role in world affairs and very close intellectual, emotional and financial ties to the right-wing Likud Party in Israel.

Ironically, several of these individuals who have advanced the case for unilateral pre-emption in the name of U.S. national security, have themselves faced formal investigations for violation of U.S. national security laws, over the past three and a half decades. The foreign government involved in each instance was the State of Israel.

STEPHEN GREEN is the author of Taking Sides and
Living by the Sword“, and has spent over 15 years establishing, managing, evaluating and conducting policy research on international humanitarian operations for, primarily, the United Nations. He can be reached at: green@counterpunch.org


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