My Understanding

April 02, 2003

I think I finally have an understanding of the real reason the United States is waging a war in Iraq. It isn't about oil or weapons of mass destruction. It isn't about terrorism or Saddam Hussein. It is a message to the rest of the world, friend and foe alike, that we, the United States, are the only superpower left and we can do anything we want with impunity.

Michele and I watched a PBS Frontline program about the "War Behind the War." In this excellent documentary a very clear and compelling case is made for the events that brought us to war.

Following the end of hostilities in the first gulf war an Undersecretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, authored a document stating that the tradition method of projecting US power wasn't working any more. Being reactionary to hot spots around the globe wasn't working. Instead he proposed that the US preemptively strike to keep nations, regions, or regimes in line with our wishes. Preemptively striking was a radical idea and one that the first Bush administration moderates, including Colin Powell, couldn't and wouldn't accept.

The language of the document was altered to talk of containment rather than preemption. For the remainder of the first Bush administration and through out the Clinton years containment was the order of the day. However with the election of the second Bush, and his selection of many of his father's staffers and advisors the stage was set for the same battle for new foreign policy tactics once again.

For the first 18 months of the new Bush administration his foreign policy was a shambles. With Powell leading the moderates from the State department and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz leading the hawks in the Defense department our foreign policy was more about turf wars in Washington DC than effective diplomacy around the world. Then the terrorist attacks of September 11 occurred and the opposing camps start fighting over "unfinished business' in Iraq. Eventually bush sides with the hawks and the original preemption document resurfaces and becomes doctrine. The US adopts a policy of military action to dictate foreign policy.

We are at war with Iraq not because of oil, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism or even really Saddam Hussein. We are at war with Iraq as a proof of concept of the preemptive military doctrine our government has adopted. We want to see how this plays out for real, and who better than a reviled dictator no one will side with willingly?

I, personally, feel this is a very dangerous precedent for the United States and the world. There is no other superpower to oppose US military might. Anytime the United States wants to change the direction of the world they can simply by saying that it is necessary. As Samuel P. Huntington says, "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westeners never do."

You can watch the Frontline program over the internet at this address: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/iraq/view/ or purchase it from the online PBS store.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.