The President of the United States has told the world that he is prepared to expand the war against terrorism. He says that there is an axis of evil and that it includes North Korea, Iran and Iraq. He warns those countries (and any others) that if they share weapons of mass destruction with terrorists they should be prepared for attacks from the United States. The world has not seen such US bravado since Teddy Roosevelt boomed, 100 years ago, “I took Panama!”
Allies quickly expressed grave concern. France, Germany, Russia and even the British expressed reservations. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was then questioned at length by Jim Lehrer on his News Hour: “What do the bad guys have to do, and what will we do if they do it?” Lehrer asked. Rumsfeld declined to say. War could happen when and where the US chooses, he said. Lehrer asked what do Iranians have to do, specifically, to be in danger of US attack? Rumsfeld said that the president had already made that very clear. Lehrer—to whom it did not seem clear—asked, well, if you were in Iraq how would you know when to expect US bombers? Again, Rumsfeld would not add anything beyond the President’s general statement. He said that Iran had been helping fugitives in and out of Afghanistan and down into Israel. He said that Saddam Hussein was apt to use weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He said that Hussein was a dictator and had invaded Kuwait ten years ago. The next day Secretary Colin Powell told Congress that Saddam is evil.
A narrowly-elected American administration is building a case for war against any country that it considers evil. Any country, any time. Mr. Bush did not mention that relations with Iran had been improving and that Iran had even been willing to assist the allies at the beginning of the Afghan war. He did not mention that Iraq has not, according to his own CIA and as reported in the NY Times, been engaged in terror for ten years. He did not mention that there is no evidence linking any of these three countries to bin Laden. He did not mention the need for Allied agreement, or that relations with Russia, a far more dangerous nuclear power, are apt to fall apart if we invade Iraq. He did not mention that international law makes preemptive strikes against foreign nations illegal. He did not mention the law at all. Instead, the American public is experiencing an orchestrated effort to build a case for war based upon suspicion of evil, suspicion of weapons, and, apparently most important, an old time feud between the Bush family and Saddam Hussein. No one will explain what the objective standard will be but it is clear that “let’s roll!” means we will attack when it feels right to some persons for whom bombing is more congenial than talking.
“Let’s roll” is the most subjective, unpredictable formula for war in US diplomatic history. A president who was elected by a margin slimmer than a duck’s whisker has found a way to step into the American cowboy myth and advance his ratings to the moon. No doubt he will keep ratings high if the war expands. No democrat will question him.
Nor will anyone be apt to pay attention to the sudden one-year slide of the American economy from a trillion-dollar surplus to a $100 million deficit and the unfortunate tax cut which paved that decline. Corporate America needs policing. Campaign finance is a national scandal. Rather than attend to these issues the President promises that we will roll, at will. All this leads to the distressing realization that war must be better politics than peace and that the next invasion could be for political reasons here at home more than because of anything Iraq or Iran or North Korea are actually doing abroad.