Thinking It Alone
By Alex Epstein (Houston Chronicle, October 9, 2002)
In his latest Iraq speech President Bush declared that Saddam Hussein poses an immediate threat to America, that waiting any longer to deal with him is "the riskiest of all options," that "regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation"--but that military action to oust Hussein is not "imminent or unavoidable."
What can explain this blatant contradiction? Bush seeks to win the support of the United Nations, which for the past several weeks has almost unanimously opposed an overthrow of the Iraqi regime. By declaring that he wishes, under the auspices of the United Nations, to "disarm"--not attack--Iraq, Bush hopes to make his Iraq campaign more palatable to the rest of the world.
Why do Bush and other leaders dread taking military action without the approval of other countries? Advocates of "multilateralism" claim that deferring to others is a military necessity--a means of maintaining our fragile coalition of "allies." Former presidential security advisor Brent Scowcroft, for example, argues that ignoring the "virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq . . . would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation."
Can't we? America is the strongest military power on earth, and has the unquestionable capacity to overwhelm Iraq, or any other nation that threatens us with terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. We do not need the military assistance of other countries. Further, any alleged military benefits from our present coalition--such as intelligence data or support troops--are illusory. Because most of our so-called allies oppose the military objectives necessary to defend America--ending state sponsorship of terrorism and ridding hostile powers of weapons of mass destruction--we obtain their "cooperation" only to the extent that we compromise our self-defense.
For example, we have moderated our attacks in Afghanistan to accommodate our coalition's demands to avoid civilian casualties, we ignore Saudi Arabia's ideological and monetary support for terrorism, and we take no action against the world's primary sponsor of terrorism: Iran. The results of such compromises are deadly. They give the killers more time to plot our destruction and allow hostile states to continue manufacturing terrorists. Above all, they place America's security in the hands, and at the whims, of other nations.
Given the dangers we face--dangers that will exist whether Kofi Annan acknowledges them or not--our government's foremost obligation is to identify and act on the demonstrable threats to our safety. In the case of Iraq, we must look at the facts about its dictator's open hatred for the United States, his terrorist ties, his possession of chemical and biological weapons, and his active pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is America that must judge what to do about the Iraqi threat to America. It is only on the basis of such an independent assessment that we can know how to act--and, secondarily, know on what basis to form alliances. The fundamental question is not whether we "go it alone," but whether we think it alone--or abdicate that responsibility.
It is precisely an independent assessment of the facts that "multilateralists" reject on principle when they demand the support of others--any others--as a precondition for action. The cries against U.S. "unilateralism" are heard whenever America decides on its own to take military measures to defend its interests. Those who heed such cries are afraid to stand on their own judgment and abjectly crave, not any practical military assistance, but a reassuring moral approval from the rest of the world.
Sadly, the Bush Administration is mollifying these "multilateralists." Instead of following its own judgment on the military objectives necessary to defend us against terrorism, the Administration has embraced nearly every country on earth--including several state sponsors of terrorism--as an ally, and has tailored its actions to placate a coalition of America-haters and terrorist-appeasers. And now, by formulating his Iraq strategy in deference to the U.N.'s sensibilities, Bush is surrendering the urgent responsibility of evaluating Iraq to a body that overwhelmingly opposes the military action he himself believes is necessary.
Military decisions are decisions about life and death--about what should be done to protect us from enemies who seek our destruction. If our leaders are to fulfill their obligation to defend our country, they must--starting with Iraq--reject the poison of "multilateralism" and replace it with the virtue of independent, rational judgment.
Alex Epstein was a writer and a fellow on staff
at ARI between 2004 and 2011.
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World Opinion Be Damned
War and Morality
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