Preemption: Why some find it difficult
The November elections will decide offices, issues and ballot questions important to Americans. But, at the congressional level, and to borrow from President Lincoln at Gettysburg, we seem to be engaged in a great Civil War – only, in November, 2006 -- we are not testing to see if a nation conceived in liberty can long endure, but rather, we are testing to see which political party can secure our vital interests at home and around the world.
While our “civil” war here at home is part and parcel of the American democratic process, it is important to understand we now face an enemy unlike any we have ever faced before. Modern technology has given an enemy -- rooted in the teachings of a 7th Century approach to world affairs that didn’t work well back then and isn’t going to work in the 21st Century -- the means to destroy western civilization using any number of technological means, be they chemical, biological or nuclear.
While we didn’t choose this state of affairs, we now face the choice between acting retroactively or preemptively. We can choose to wait until we are dealt a hard -- maybe, even fatal -- blow here at home, or we can chose to forward-deploy our armed forces to engage the enemy in foreign lands.
We can choose to deal retroactively with “crimes” committed against the United States and hope to perfect evidence against the perpetrators that will secure convictions under our system of justice. Or, we can choose to strike the enemy preemptively to prevent their attacks on our homeland and not worry whether or not they can be convicted to serve prison time and, no doubt, pursue a seemingly endless series of appeals in the hope that non-elected judges will turn them loose so they can attack us again.
The Doctrine of Preemption, the current policy of the Bush Administration, is a difficult choice for many Americans. Because many of us were brought up on the Cowboy Code of the West, it just doesn’t seem fitting to strike the enemy before they strike us.
For example, Americans love Western movies, or Western novels or even the “Rocky” movies where the hero or heroine is beaten almost to a pulp before either getting out the Colts and Winchesters or rising up, at the last minute, to retaliate or smite the enemy a blow that sends him or her to that Great Roundup in the Sky or to be carried off to the locker room on a stretcher.
Right before World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ran into this American opposition to preemptive action. Following the Nazi U-boat attack on the destroyer, U.S.S. Greer, FDR gave one of his famous fireside chats. On 9/11, (note the date),1941, FDR said: “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck you before you crush him…Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say: We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned. This is the time for prevention of attack…” (Fifty-seven days later, the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.)
Unfortunately, the Islamic-fascist “torpedoes” started striking home a long time ago, beginning with taking of American hostages in Iran in 1979 -- plus the deaths of so many Americans even before the tragedy of 9/11, 2001.While the Doctrine of Preemption, may discomfit some Americans, it has long been taught in our War Colleges as the way to save American lives.
This War College graduate thinks the Bush Administration is overly enamored of the Wilsonian ideal that non-westerners yearn for U.S.-style democracy. Instead of Woodrow Wilson’s idealism, Nicollo Machiavelli might suggest that we: Redeploy our troops away from Iraq’s cities to better protect Iraqi oil production, give the Kurds their own country, and let the Sunnis and the Shiites duke it out.
But to “cut and run” entirely would abandon the Doctrine of Preemption, and invite more 9/11-type attacks here at home.
Retired Army officer and syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was named a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and is a former Research Fellow at the U.S. Army War College. Writing as William Penn, he is the co-author of two novels about terrorist attacks against the United States.
©2006. William Hamilton.