Vice President Dick Cheney has just made the most powerful case
yet for the Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive War.
There is "no doubt," said Cheney to the Veterans of Foreign
Wars, that Saddam "is amassing (weapons of mass destruction) to use against
our friends, against our allies and against us." And when Saddam gets a
nuclear weapon, he "can be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle
East . . . and subject the United States . . . to nuclear blackmail."
Dick Cheney is a serious man, and he may be right about Saddam's
intent. And if we fail to kill this snake we may pay a hellish price. But
Cheney's arguments do appear to contradict Cold War history and common
If Saddam is a "mortal threat" to the United States, 6,000 miles
away, is he not a mortal threat to Israel next door? Yet tiny Israel seems
less alarmed than Cheney and has not launched a pre-emptive war. What does
Ariel Sharon know that we do not?
And if Saddam intends to use nuclear weapons to "dominate the
entire Middle East," why has Iran not launched a pre-emptive war, before
being made a satellite by Saddam? Is Iran perhaps far ahead of Iraq in the
nuclear arms race, and delighted the Americans are about to emasculate their
Arab rival in the Gulf?
Turks, Kurds, Iranians, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Jordanians,
Israelis -- none of these people appear as frightened of Saddam Hussein as
the vice president of the most powerful nation on earth. Why?
Should Saddam get nuclear weapons, says Cheney, he "will subject
the United States . . . to nuclear blackmail."
Pardon me, but there is serious doubt Saddam is close to a
nuclear weapon and serious doubt he would ever dare try to blackmail us.
Stalin acquired nuclear weapons in 1949, but did not blackmail us out of
Berlin. Mao acquired nuclear weapons in 1964, but did not blackmail us out
of Taiwan. Khrushchev, with a thousand times as many weapons of mass
destruction as Saddam is ever likely to have, tried to intimidate us in the
Cuban missile crisis. How did that work out?
History suggests that nations build nuclear weapons not to go on
the warpath, but as deterrents to adversaries. North Korea has used its
nuclear arsenal not to attack us but to extort from us nuclear power plants,
foreign aid and diplomatic recognition.
Even should Saddam acquire a crude nuclear device, for him to
threaten us with it would invite annihilation. To use it would ensure
annihilation. Why would Saddam, who sleeps in a different bed every night to
stay alive, risk the utter destruction of himself, his family, his dynasty,
his monuments, his legacy?
Saddam could give a nuclear weapon to terrorists, Cheney warns.
But why would this ultimate survivor put his fate in the hands of an Osama
bin Laden, who might set the bomb off, then tell the Americans Saddam gave
it to him -- to ignite the U.S.-Islamic war Osama ardently desires?
Saddam's behavior over the years suggests that he wishes to
avoid an all-out war with the United States. Why did he not use chemical
weapons on invading Americans in 1991? Because Jim Baker told Tarik Aziz
what Saddam could expect in return. Instead, Saddam accepted the most
one-sided defeat in modern history.
Yet, let us concede that Cheney may be right, that there is a
risk that Saddam, should he acquire a nuclear weapon, may commit suicide and
use it. But what this administration does not seem to see is that the risks
of its own bellicose war rhetoric may be far greater.
With President Bush daily threatening war on any "axis of evil"
nation that seeks a weapon of mass destruction, every rogue regime from
Libya east must be in the market for one, if only to gain the measure of
security North Korea seems to have achieved.
The president and his War Cabinet are today giving our enemies
the most powerful of incentives, i.e, survival, for seeking the very weapons
whose proliferation we wish to prevent.
In making his case for pre-emptive war, Cheney quoted Kissinger:
"The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge
danger it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the
demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative
for pre-emptive action."
But this description applies not only to Saddam Hussein. It
applies to Khadafi, Assad, the ayatollahs and Kim Jong-il, all of whom might
well conclude that, after Saddam goes down, their turn comes next. By the
Kissinger formula, they should all be targeted "for pre-emptive action." For
America, the logic of the Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive War points to war