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Preempt the Preemptive Wars!
June 15, 2002
By Jack Smith

Posted via Jack Smith's Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter, June 15, 2002, Issue #66 (subscribe to

The United States government has adopted a doctrine of launching preemptive wars, including the first-use of nuclear weapons when deemed appropriate.

This policy, promoted by the right-wing Bush administration under the guise of waging a war against terrorism and protecting national security, is primarily intended to strengthen and expand Washington's economic, political and military empire. It constitutes an historic change from the 'containment and deterrence' policy inaugurated after World War 2 to engage in a Cold War against the Soviet Union and the socialist camp.

The main potential targets of preemptive military strikes are what the White House calls the 'Axis of Evil' countries, now expanded to include Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Libya. Not one of these nations has been implicated in the Sept. 11 raids on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. And not one, despite allegations from the White House, has been proven to possess viable weapons of mass destruction. Another 50 countries, which the Bush administration suggests may 'aid terrorism' in one way or another, are secondary targets.

President Bush will formally announce the new national security policy and seek congressional support in a few months, according to press reports. Details of the program have been revealed piecemeal for months -- so far eliciting no resistance from the 'opposition' Democratic Party, which has allied itself with the warmaking Republican government. Within the U.S., only the antiwar movement and the small political left are openly fighting the new militarist policy.

The chief executive delineated the outlines of the preemptive war strategy June 1 during a speech to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In subsequent days, his chief cohorts -- Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- delivered speeches intended to generate international support for the war policy. The Bush administration.s first-strike nuclear policy was made public March 9.

The essence of Bush.s West Point address was that 'the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action.... Our security will require transforming the military you [the cadets] will lead -- a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action....'

Elsewhere, in apparent reference to Iraq, North Korea and Cuba -- all accused by the U.S. of concealing nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction -- Bush declared: 'We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign nonproliferation treaties and then systematically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. Homeland defense and missile defense are part of a stronger security. essential priorities for America.... All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price. We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants. We will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.'

Addressing a meeting of the defense ministers from 19 NATO nations in Brussels June 6, Rumsfeld emphasized that 'absolute proof' of the aggressive intentions of terrorists or states with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile systems 'cannot be a precondition for [military] action.' News reports indicated that 'a senior U.S. defense official' specifically mentioned the six 'Axis' countries during the NATO gathering.

The defense secretary provided a labyrinthine contortion of the word 'defensive' in justifying preemptive war: 'If a terrorist can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique, and it's physically impossible to defend in every place, at every time, against every technique, then one needs to calibrate the definition of defensive. The only defense is to take the effort to find those global networks and to deal with them, as the United States did in Afghanistan. Now, is that defensive, or is it offensive? I personally think of it as defensive.'

Cheney entered the discussion June 10 with an address to the International Democrat Union meeting in Washington. (The IDU is an organization consisting of delegates from 80 rightist political parties in 60 countries. The then Vice President Bush, the elder, helped form the group in 1983.)

A policy of containment, Cheney said, .is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles, or secretly provide them to their terrorist allies. We have a responsibility to protect ourselves against future attack, to prepare our military for all future threats, to maintain the global coalition we have built to defeat global terror, and to take preemptive action when necessary.'

The administration.s first-strike nuclear policy became public in March when the Pentagon.s new Nuclear Posture Review was leaked to the press. Under its terms, the U.S. may now use nuclear weapons under these circumstances: (1) Against targets that can withstand non-nuclear attacks, such as underground installations. (2) In retaliation not only for a nuclear attack but also chemical and biological attacks of unspecified dimension. (3) 'In the event of surprising military developments,' whatever that may mean. The document specifically threatened nuclear retaliation under these conditions: (1) If there is a war between North and South Korea. (2) If there is an armed conflict between China and its province of Taiwan; (3) If Iraq attacks Israel. (4) Or for other reasons

Clearly, the U.S. could not respond passively to the September disaster. Washington had to take steps to apprehend the guilty, to institute protective measures to prevent future attacks, and to provide national leadership in a crisis. The invasion of Afghanistan and the resulting war on terrorism, however, far exceeded the actual danger confronting world history's most powerful national security state by a network of several hundred or thousand active members.

Meanwhile, the White House refuses to contemplate measures that would seriously ameliorate the causes of small-group terrorism. Logically, a crucial component of any response to the suicide hijackings should have been an honest analysis of Washington.s role in creating the conditions for the attacks by its domination of the Middle East for the last half-century. A fundamental reorientation away from the practices of hegemony, exploitation, and military actions would have done far more for 'homeland security' than the combined measures the Bush administration is proposing today. The U.S. as constituted will not follow such a course, however, because to do so would contradict the demands of a monopoly capitalist system dependent on enormous supplies of reliable cheap oil to fuel an aggressive, competitive economy requiring the continual expansion of global markets, advantageous trade deals, increasing capital investment, low-wage international labor, and ever-greater profits for its multinational corporations.

Instead, Washington espouses a militaristic preemptive war policy and first-strike nuclear planning based the most deadly military arsenal in the world, elephantine spending on the weapons of war, and an elaborate list of 'rogue' enemies to conquer. These elements are so disproportionate to the events of Sept. 11 as to affirm that President George Bush and the right-wing are really elaborating a strategic scenario intended to eliminate any impediments to the unlimited expansion of the U.S. economic empire and its conservative social/political concomitants.

The war on terrorism serves another purpose as well. For over four decades, the U.S. government exploited the Cold War as a unifying principle to create popular allegiance to the state and the economic system for which it stands, and to justify investing an inordinate amount of tax dollars to the 'defense' establishment. The unexpected implosion of the USSR and the end of the Cold War left Washington in search of an equivalent unifying agency. On Sept. 11, the transition was made from the old war against communism to a new war against terrorism. It is essentially the same war for similar purposes, waged against yet another frightening construct of moral wickedness preparing to devour our children. Now it is the Evil One and the Axis of Evil; then it was the Evil Empire.

The American people command the ability and still retain the democratic right to reverse these policies. But so far, public opinion has been manipulated by an overwhelming fear of terrorism constantly reinforced by the Bush administration, appeals to flag-waving hyperpatriotism, deliberate misinformation by the state disseminated without critical examination by the corporate mass media, support for government war policies by virtually all the major institutions of society, and the absence of perceived alternatives to the two ruling political parties. On matters of war and peace today, both Republicans and Democrats march in lock-step, and those who oppose the war have few allies in mainstream political circles.

At the same time, there are other factors that must be considered in any analysis of how far the Bush administration is able to pursue the war on terrorism. Although Washington has repeatedly vowed to act unilaterally in the absence of international support, it does in fact require backing from some key allies for its various adventures. This may act as a restraint on the wilder ambitions of the extreme right within the Bush administration.

Further -- never underestimate the power of the people. When they rise, in totality or even on a particular issue, ruling classes tremble. This power contributed significantly to the political crisis that forced a halt to the worst of Washington.s many modern wars a little more than a quarter-century ago. For the first few years of the 1960s, that power was confined to small movements of people in opposition. But in time, through dedicated organizing, activism and left leadership, it overwhelmed the warmakers politically, and in concert with the liberation forces of Indochina obliged the U.S. to bring the troops home. True, America.s Southeast Asia intervention took place under quite different circumstances, but that extraordinary people's victory nonetheless should provide encouragement in today's struggle against the right-wing war on terrorism. The power of the people is entirely capable of preempting the Bush administration's plans for preemptive wars. It needs, however, to be galvanized. This must be our movement's next task.


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