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While standing up to a grave threat to world peace in the Middle East, the Bush administration proposed a new foreign policy doctrine focusing on the right to preemptive and unilateral strikes. American intervention in Iraq was this doctrine’s first test, and one that despite heavy criticism, proved its necessity, not its failure, in protecting our national security interests from rogue states.
When Saddam Hussein flouted United Nations (U.N.) resolutions calling on him to disarm, the Security Council threatened “serious consequences” but did nothing. As Ralph A. Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted in his group’s policy journal, “French President Jacques Chirac seemed more concerned about containing George Bush (or U.S. global leadership in general) than Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.” Chirac’s political maneuvering, enabled by France’s veto power on the Security Council, made it impossible for the U.S. to rely solely on international organizations in dealing with the Iraqi threat. In his ultimatum speech in March 2003, Bush highlighted U.N. ineffectiveness: “The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.”
This bold change in American policy has been met with trepidation and concern about brash use of force. But the U.S. would not have needed to resort to force had Iraq disarmed or had the international community been willing to help combat this clear threat. U.N. refusal to acknowledge the threat did not diminish it; U.S. action did.
When confronted with U.N. resolutions that it dismantle its biological and chemical arsenals and abandon its nuclear programs, Iraq stonewalled and did not cooperate. In January 2003, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice wrote in The New York Times, “Countries that decide to disarm lead inspectors to weapons and production sites, answer questions before they are asked, state publicly and often the intention to disarm and urge their citizens to cooperate.” Saddam did none of these things. Had he been disarming, he would have had every incentive to stave off potential U.N. retaliation and demonstrate fully his cooperation with its resolutions. In fact, he had much to hide as evidenced by his prior willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. In March 1988, Saddam attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja with chemical weapons and cluster bombs, and in August, he dropped poison gas on the village of Birjinni. It does not take much to make the connection between the thousands of victims of his violence and his propensity and capability for future destruction.
Bush’s doctrine of preemption allows the U.S. to confront these kinds of national security threats, without being beholden to European allies with other agendas. It is an unapologetic affirmation of American hegemony, but it is essential in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons among rogue terrorist states like Iraq. The Bush Doctrine clarifies this: “In an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather.” Saddam Hussein was unquestionably seeking nuclear capabilities. Even as long ago as June 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed a (French-built) plutonium plant at Tuwaitah—an action that proved to be only a temporary setback to Saddam’s nuclear program.
De-emphasizing the threat of fully functioning nuclear weapons in Iraq, opponents of U.S. intervention called for idleness in the name of peace. But uninhibited nuclear proliferation is not part of a world peace that favors American security. Furthermore, nuclear proliferation among terrorists and fanatical ideologues who, as the Bush Doctrine states, “reject basic human values and hate the United States,” is conducive not to peace at all, but to continued violence and the endangerment of America and free societies everywhere.
In post-war Iraq, by contrast, the U.S. has effectively neutralized the threat of further weapons proliferation and arsenal development. Saddam Hussein is hiding, and many of his cohorts are dead or captured. Guided by the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, humanitarian organizations and Western governments are rebuilding infrastructure. The White House estimates that Iraqi oil wells will generate $20 billion in annual revenue within two years. Saddam won’t be around to expropriate the windfall.
In a world of “new deadly challenges… from rogue states and terrorists,” which the Bush Doctrine describes, the U.S. will encounter other threats to its security. A foreign policy specifically reserving the power to strike preemptively and unilaterally is essential in fighting future threats like Saddam. Whether or not the U.N. and European allies live up to their responsibilities, we must be allowed to rise to ours.
Luke Smith ’04, a Crimson editor, is an economics concentrator in Quincy House.
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