Who isn’t weary of this Iraq War? Most Americans thought it would be over in a matter of months. How atrocious our vision! How meager our capacity to manage events beyond our grasp! We neither speak their language, nor choose to learn it. Alas, each misstep amplifies past ones. Little mistakes lead to great ones.
The Problem: Our problems begin by thinking we alone know what’s best, and often that’s “regime change.” Iraq is not our first mishap with “regime change.” The list is long and growing. (For a few examples, google CIA-Iran-1953, CIA-Guatemala-1954, Vietnam-Diem-1963, and CIA-Chile-1973, or read Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer, 2006.)
Rarely does “regime change” turn out well. Even the CIA’s self-exalted 1953 Operation Ajax – that overthrew Iran’s popularly elected Premier Mossadeq in favor of the Shah – eventually boomeranged to kick us in the teeth. That was twenty-six years later, in 1979, when the Shah was ousted from power and the U.S. embassy was seized by students in a 444-day ordeal. Since then, neither Iran nor America has been able to establish trust with the other. It all began with a little CIA “regime change” to control Iran’s oilfields.
As large as our past errors were, our current troubles are magnified many times over – by our claim of the right to “first-strike” attack anyone whom we fear may someday wish to threaten or harm us, our friends, or our interests. These assertions are embedded in our National Security Strategy – commonly known as the Bush Doctrine.
Shame on us. Our “first-strike” policy overflows with opportunity for misjudgment and mischief, and contains no safe-guards against rash Presidential use. (The Bush Doctrine was floated for review in the summer of 2002 and adopted as our National Security Strategy in September, just in time to sanitize Congressional resolutions authorizing America’s unprovoked, “first-strike” invasion of Iraq.)
In retrospect, today’s violence in Iraq may appear calm compared to what might follow. Do not be mistaken: America is in control of her destiny. It is we, the American people, who determine our future, not poor, desperate peoples in faraway lands.
Our Response: On the whole, Americans did not challenge the Bush Doctrine when it was announced, or later when we invaded and occupied Iraq. Even today, there are precious few Americans who dare to contest its startling assertions.
Consider what we are saying to our neighbors.
- You had better not challenge American policy. We have war-making superiority, and this generation of Americans doesn’t mind using it. We are unlike our parents in that respect.
- War and peace decisions are left to our President and his advisors. They know what’s best. Congress is too feeble to lead. Besides, Congress will ratify whatever the President decides to do.
From most appearances, America continues to project its power in “schoolyard” fashion (toward Iran today). Do as we say, or else!
The Enemy: Following the implosion of the Soviet Union and our experience at 9/11, America imagined we could fight anywhere with impunity. No one is strong enough to oppose us, we thought. Remember the Philistines and Goliath? For forty days Saul’s army trembled at their sight. But a small boy knew what to do. As Little David praised his God and collected stones by the brook, so too our opponents find weapons and tactics to answer our taunts: “Bring them on.” (Read what David did after slaying the giant – 1 Samuel 17.)
In the other’s Moccasins: Suppose someday Europe and China should say to our government, “You are a rogue nation. We can no longer trust you with nuclear weapons. Eliminate them at once.” Then, to the American public, they say, “Overthrow your rogue regime, and save yourselves from total destruction.”
How would we respond to such demands? No answer is required. We each know it instinctively. Why, then, cannot we understand how others react when we devastate their lives and their sovereignty?
Citizen Leadership: It is imperative that we renounce our claim to a “first-strike” right before we precipitate another unprovoked war. But, how can we accomplish this? There is one thing we each can do. We can ask members of Congress, and those challenging for their seats, to earnestly study our “first-strike” national security strategy and clearly explain their judgments about its wisdom or folly.
Of course, some will find no quarrel with the Bush Doctrine. To them we should ask:
- But, what about “first-strike” authority for future Presidents?
- And, what about “first-strike” authority for other Nations?
During the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, Congressional candidates from both parties, by and large, ran away from the “first-strike” issue. Until we citizens expect our candidates to address this issue forthrightly, most will continue to avoid it.
Often, in America as elsewhere, citizens must lead. It is our duty. It is high time we Americans stop mimicking those charming three little monkeys – See-no-Evil, Hear-no-Evil, Speak-no-Evil.