As we approach 9/11 plus a year, talk of war with Iraq fills the airwaves. Only last week, Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that Saddam Hussein is a "mortal threat" to the United States. About the same time, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reasserted the President's power to invade Iraq, with or without congressional approval.
"Regime change" has become official lingo. And while the United States government has, on more than one occasion, sought and brought about "regime change" (just ask people in Chile), this is the first time in our history that the plan has been associated with full-scale war.
In the meantime, a mounting number of important Republicans, including many who served under the elder Bush, are publicly expressing reservations. Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft was the first. Former Secretary of State James Baker has voiced misgivings. As has Henry Kissinger. Nor is the Republic leadership in the House and Senate on board with Bush's intent. Dick Armey has come out as opposed to any invasions. And any number of powerful Republican senators have said as much. On both sides of the aisle, lawmakers who had any experience in Vietnam are dubious.
Nor is world opinion buying the Bush rhetoric. Indeed, except for a beleaguered Tony Blair, there would seem to be approximately zero support for any preemptive invasion by the United States.
The anniversary of 9/11 will usher in a fall season of debate on the question of Iraq and what, if anything, to do about it. The journal Foreign Affairs, in its most recent issue, devotes four articles to the subject. Two, in particular, are must-reads.
Both Michael Hirsh and G. John Ikenberry in their respective articles, "Bush and the World" and "America's Imperial Ambition," observe that the Bush hard-liners proceed from the assumption that "containment, deterrence and the maintenance of the global balance of power" have been made invalid strategies by the ending of the Cold War. They also factor the rise of terrorism, the availability of weapons of mass destruction and the dramatic reduction of both time and space into that equation.
The Clinton administration sought to address the post Cold War reality through what's come to be called "globalization." If markets can remain open, if capital can flow across borders, then, over time, the liberating effects of commerce will bring about ameliorating effects everywhere. So while, yes, China doesn't have a good human rights record, we need to continue to develop our economic ties with China. Through those ties, China will become a more liberal country. So runs the argument.
Bush rejects most if not all of the Clinton strategy. Instead, the president and his harder-liners proceed from claims of autonomy to reach their preferred ideological position, traditional isolationism, which, leads, inevitably, to what Hirsh and Ikenberry term "unilateralism." In plain English, the U.S. will do what the U.S. believes needs to be done to protect U.S. interests. That's the world, post Cold War. Learn to live with it.
It follows from this argument that Bush revealed his worldview not after 9/11, but much earlier, when he summarily tossed the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
Most worrisome, however, is that the Administration has already resorted to some very troubling and even disingenuous arguments in making its case. They have, for example, made use of the 9/11 disaster and tragedy to fuel the need to move fast and furious -- and even alone -- if we are to protect ourselves against weapons of mass destruction such as we believe Saddam Hussein intends to use on us.
The truth is, fear-mongering aside, the WTC wasn't brought down by weapons of mass destruction. It was brought down by a few fanatics armed with box cutters. What we saw happen a year ago was more a failure of conventional intelligence and law enforcement than anything else.
Even as the hard liners rattle their swords, some of them admit that we, at best, are making informed guesses. Consider Rumsfeld's remarkable statement regarding threats: "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. Each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns."
And based on this level of understanding, the president is ready to commit the country to a unilateral and pre-emptive invasion?
Forty years ago, President John Kennedy had before him photos of missiles being positioned 90 miles offshore. Even then, he saw the need to take the U.S. case to both the Organization of American States and the U.N. JFK showed a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" -- words used by Thomas Jefferson to explain why the founders found it necessary to explain and justify the coming revolution through a Declaration of Independence.
As the debate begins, shouldn't we demand that President Bush show that same decent respect?