The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by J.C. Nossiter
The Morning Mendacity
Friday, September 10th,  2004
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?  editor@nossiter.net
The Wall Street Journal editorial page and its spiritual kin frame the 2004 election as a choice between partisans of “preemptive” war, Mr. Bush and company, and Democrat detractors of “preemption”.  Both the choice and the strategy are phony, but that doesn’t stop the Republicans from claiming they not only preach but also practice preemptive war.  Consistent of them if true, but of course it’s not.  Mr. Bush’s wars are entirely reactive, and the very notion of preemptive war is a dangerous folly.

Attacking an enemy before he attacks you is invariably a bad idea, but it’s hardly a new one.  Napoleon III of France objected to Prussian plans to put Prince Leopold on the throne of Spain, which would have placed the hated Germans to both the south and east.  He declared war on Prussia in 1870, a costly blunder for which he paid with his throne, his liberty, many lives, millions of francs, to say nothing of Alsace.  The Japanese launched a preemptive strike against the U.S. in 1941 and paid far more dearly than the French.  But neither the Prussians nor the Americans were about to attack their foes.  The Japanese were intent on establishing hegemony in the Pacific.  The French wished to curb Prussian territorial ambitions in Europe.  History is littered with similar examples.

Which brings us to Mr. Bush.  The invasion of Afghanistan was not preemptive.  The ruling Taliban and their in-country allies al Qaeda attacked us first.  Our overthrow of the Taliban was an entirely justified and appropriate response, but it was a response.  Iraq was ruled by a mad wannabe novelist and his porn-crazed sons, but the Iraqis had no notion of attacking the U.S.  They’d already demonstrated a perfect inability to beat the Iranians, even though they fought them for eight years (with our help);  the idea that they posed a serious threat to us is entirely ludicrous.  It's true that the Hussein government paid bounties to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers attacking Israelis, but that seems to have been the extent of the Iraqi peril.  Indeed, any genuine menace in the Iraqi arsenal was taken care of by the Israelis in 1981, when they destroyed the Osirak nuclear plant Mr. Hussein was building near Baghdad.  That was a genuinely (and effective) preemptive strike that bears no resemblance to anything Mr. Bush has contrived.

But while the Bush administration doesn’t practice preemption, it also doesn’t really preach it.  When Mr. Cheney, speaking of the November election, said in Des Moines that “if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again. That we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating” he wasn’t really saying that Mr. Kerry’s philosophical and practical objections to preemption will result in more terrorist attacks, although that was implied.  His remark was preceded by a long riff on Mr. Kerry’s record on defense, that he’d voted against costly and wasteful weapons systems like SDI, and against the Gulf War.  He has the wrong sort of “commitment and capability and philosophy and world view” Mr. Cheney went on to suggest, to be tough.  (The text of his remarks can be found at washingtonpost.com.)

The Vice President wasn’t making an intellectual defense of preemptive war.  He was proposing a variation on the old Nixon-McCarthy
ad hominem wheeze:  Senator Kerry is soft on commies – or rather, terrorists.  But it amounts to the same thing.  The message:  in the face of vague and ill-defined menaces, you can trust Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, in the GOP tradition, to shoot first and ask questions later, without regard for the target or the collateral damage.  The effete Senator Kerry might opt for negotiation instead, never mind that the effete one was earning medals in Vietnam while Mr. Cheney was getting kicked out of Yale (too dumb) and shying away from military service by racking up five deferments.  He had, he says, “other priorities.”

Mr. Bush is deeply ignorant of both history and current events, and he appears to have a soulmate in Mr. Cheney.  Because both Presidents Reagan and Nixon did far more negotiating with the Soviets and the Chinese than they did shooting, tough talkers though they were.  That’s why we’re all still here seeking truth, instead of forming part of a vaporized, post nuclear landscape.  We could have foreseen that the administration would cynically mask its character assassination of Mr. Kerry behind phony geopolitical strategic theories, but who knew that Mr. Bush and his team can’t even grasp their own party history?

©J.C. Nossiter 2004
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