Leadership: October 1, 2002

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The U.S. has declared a new policy of pre-emptive military strikes against nations that are thought to be preparing an attack on America. This sort of thing is nothing new. Nations that felt they could not handle an attack from a foe have long used the first strike strategy to increase their chances of winning a conflict. This was what Israel did in the "Six Day War" of 1967, Japan did it during World War II, and the 1905 war with Russia. The idea of official declarations of war is a relatively recent development and is often ignored. Indeed, most wars are started by someone making an undeclared attack in (real or imagined) self defense. Before the 19th century, preemptive attacks were a lot more common. And there was good reason for this approach back then, because wars were fought very differently. Before the 19th century it took a lot longer to get your army together, and information traveled a lot more slowly. So if you had some warning, the enemy attack would be a lot less destructive. Not just to your army, but mainly to your population. Before the 19th century, most people were living on farms, and if a hostile army came by and burned crops and stole livestock (a favorite military tactic), you would have a famine on your hands even if you won the war. Once the telegraph appeared in the 19th century, information moved a lot more rapidly. Moreover, the industrial revolution created more weapons and wealth to create larger peacetime armies. Getting the first shot in no longer gave you such a big advantage. Moreover, the devastating religious wars of the 17th century (the 30 Years War, especially) led the European nations to be more polite when it came to making war. It became fashionable to declare war and to treat the civilian populations with less brutality. Then came the two world wars, and the United Nations. Those wars scared people. Major wars were definitely something to be avoided, and the UN provided a unique forum where nations could talk to each other about disagreements before things got out of control. Then, in the late 20th century came a proliferation of radical (mainly Islamic) terrorists and weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological). But for terrorists to be really dangerous, they need a nation to provide them with support and a sanctuary. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided this. It was no secret, although the Soviets always denied it, and worked hard to cover their tracks. But at the same time, Soviets restrained those terrorists they supported. The Soviets would have never allowed something like the September 11, 2001 attacks. With the Soviet Union gone, terrorists had to seek new bases and sources of state support. Al Qaeda took advantage of generous refugee programs in Western Europe and North America for their agents to hide out and plan their attacks. Afghanistan, for a while, provided a place where training camps could train recruits in the use of weapons. And, it is now alleged, Iraq provided access to chemical and biological weapons. As the events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated, determined and suicidal terrorists don't need chemical or biological weapons to do enough damage to make the target country declare war. But war against who? This was the major new element in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The terrorists had gone from "sending a message" to making war. When you start a war by attacking a nation, all your allies are fair game. While the Soviets were discriminating in which terrorist groups they backed, they were playing with fire. While the Soviets could have cowered behind their ICBM's and made profuse apologies if they were found connected to a September 11, 2001 type event, what do you do with nations that hide behind denials, lies and obfuscation? You can cut North Korea some slack because they're starving, faced with an increasingly restless population and making an effort to stay away from supporting terrorism. No so with Iran, but, again, there are far more Iranians working against the pro-terrorist religious fanatics than for them. Iraq, however, is a poster child for pre-emptive attack. Iraq is a unique situation, a tyranny run by a bloody minded nutcase and his equally malevolent family. Remove the tyrant and the wannabes will think twice before following in Saddam's footsteps. This is where pre-emption begins to look like self defense.

 


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