Academic journal article Parameters

War and the Iraq Dilemma: Facing Harsh Realities

Academic journal article Parameters

War and the Iraq Dilemma: Facing Harsh Realities

Article excerpt

"The children of darkness are evil because they know no law beyond the self. They are wise, though evil, because they understand the power of self-interest. The children of light are virtuous because they have some conception of a higher law than their own will. They are usually foolish because they do not know the power of self-will. They underestimate the peril of anarchy in both the national and international community."

"Clearly it has become necessary for the children of light to borrow some of the wisdom of the children of darkness; and yet be careful not to borrow too much."

-- Reinhold Niebuhr

The Children of Light and The Children of Darkness, 1944

The tragic events of 11 September 2001 have given Americans a painful reminder of the evil that men are capable of inflicting on others, as Reinhold Niebuhr warned long ago, witnessing the destruction wrought by Nazi Germany. The World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks dealt heavy blows to the American liberalism that sees humankind as perfectible and on a steady historical march toward democracy and international peace. That dark day jarred American innocence and alerted us to the hatred of the United States that seethes in the Middle East and the lengths to which adversaries will go to harm our citizens and interests. The day should serve as a loud wake-up call that adversaries want to inflict massive devastation on the United States and would be able to accomplish this task more readily if armed with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda was working feverishly along these lines, judging from documents and plans captured in the Afghanistan campaign. Other sub-state actors may foll ow al Qaeda's lead. The substantial infrastructure needed to support weapons of mass destruction programs--particularly for nuclear weapons--and their delivery systems such as aircraft and ballistic missiles, however, will likely remain more within the reach of nation-states than sub-state actors.

The Bush Administration casts the American military campaign as a "war against terrorism." That characterization might be useful as oratory but is amorphous and causes considerable confusion. After all, terrorism is a method or tactic of warfare, not an entity. A "war against terrorism" is akin to a "war on war," which comes perilously close to the crusading liberalism of Woodrow Wilson and his "war to end all wars." A "war against terrorism" is an open-ended pledge that causes potential international partners to step back from cooperation in areas where they share interests with the United States out of fear that the next American steps could be sharply at odds with their interests.

The Bush Administration would have been wiser to call the American military campaign what it is--a war to destroy the al Qaeda network, and the regimes and entities that support it, and to deter others from lending any support to the network responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocent American civilians in our homeland. Such directness would have lent a strategic clarity needed to link ends and means in statecraft, reinforced the war's objectives, and reduced a fair amount of second-guessing and downright back-stabbing at home and abroad.

When President Bush surveyed the global geopolitical landscape through his post-9/11 lenses in his State of the Union address, he rightly viewed major threats to American security as coming from Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--his "axis of evil." Bush's characterization was a rhetorical means to succinctly capture three nation-state threats, although it mistakenly suggested that there is an active concert of planning or conspiring between Baghdad, Tehran, and Pyongyang. What these countries do share is robust weapons of mass destruction capabilities and delivery systems coupled with political intentions to work against US interests. …

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