PARIS George W. Bush is talking himself into a position where he will
have to go to war, even though there is no convincing argument that war would
be good for the United States, or even good for the president.
The military are certainly not convinced that war is a good idea. The U.S.
Joint Chiefs of Staff have made that clear through a series of leaks to the press.
They are wary of a war whose objectives beyond Saddam Hussein's overthrow
remain murky, and for whose aftermath no serious policy exists.
Generals, of course, are always reluctant to go to war. They know what Hitler
knew, who said that every war "is like opening a door into a darkened room. One
never knows what is hidden in the darkness." Soldiers pay for what may be behind
Generals are against war, but amateurs are for it. Who among the neo-conservative
polemicists and op-ed writers baying for war against Saddam has personally spilled
blood, or seen it spilled, or even heard shots fired in anger?
Few were anyplace but in an office, a graduate school (or grade school) or
a stateside National Guard billet during the Vietnam War.
The leading hawks in the administration made their records as Defense Department
bureaucrats. Donald Rumsfeld was a peacetime naval flyer, but the only administration
heavyweight who has actually fought in a war is Colin Powell, and he is the Bush
administration's leading dove.
The hawks' scenarios of rebuilding a defeated Iraq (or Iran, and now Saudi
Arabia) "just as we rebuilt a democratic Germany and Japan after the second
world war" reek of amateurism and ignorance of what actually went on then,
and during the war, in Germany and Japan.
That coven of hawks, the Defense Department's Policy Board, presided over
by Richard Perle, last week was briefed by the hitherto unknown Laurent Murawiec
of the Rand Corporation.
He told them that Saudi Arabia is America's enemy, fosters terrorism "at every
level in the terror chain," is "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most
dangerous opponent" of the U.S. in the Middle East. He recommended that the U.S.
issue an ultimatum to the Saudi government to "stop all anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli
statements in the country" a preposterous demand or see its oil
fields and overseas financial assets "targeted."
Henry Kissinger, the intelligent member of the Policy Board, was the only
one to demur, refusing to speak of the Saudi Arabians as strategic adversaries.
Law doesn't come much into amateur discussions since it is taken for granted
that the United States given (as the president said) "how good we are"
is justified in doing pretty much as it pleases.
This administration seems to regard the United States as exempt from the laws
of war and from the traditional norms gov-erning just and unjust war. These have
only philosophical or moral authority, but were taken serious in American government
as recently as the 1950s and 1960s in policy debates (at the Rand Corporation,
among other places) over nuclear war.
The norms of just war rest on the principle of proportionality in the use
of violence, and ask not only whether the war is politically justified, but whether
the harm it will do is proportionate to the good that can reasonably be achieved.
Is war the sole and necessary means to a just goal? What is the disposition
of those conducting the war: to do good with a minimum of harm? Or to aggrandize
their own and the nation's power and standing at the expense of the lives or legitimate
claims of others?
The Rand Corporation used to wonder about such things. It would be much better
for Rand's reputation as an intellectually responsible organization to send briefers
on just war to Washington, rather than promoters of aggressive war and international
However, a measure of consolation for what the Bush people are up to can be
sought in what Walter Lippmann once wrote: "A policy is bound to fail which deliberately
violates our pledges and our principles, our treaties and our laws. The American
conscience is a reality."
William Pfaff's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times.
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company