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America the Hated

December 12, 2002

The Bush administration’s threat to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, though thinly veiled in circumlocutions, should tell us all we need to know about the American image in the world today. The United States, once so admired over most of the earth, is now seen as a nuclear bully. No wonder it’s called “the great Satan” by Muslims and “arrogant” even by its European friends. And President Bush thinks they hate us for “our freedom, our democracy”?

The warning is supposed to deter Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction against American forces and allies, even though (1) we don’t know that Iraq has such weapons, and (2) the administration has told us repeatedly that deterrence doesn’t work against Iraq.

Iraq hasn’t threatened the United States, in spite of Bush’s raving on the subject. The United States definitely threatens Iraq. And it has forfeited the right to describe Iraq’s or any other regime as “evil.”

Even possessing these terrible weapons amounts to a threat to use them. But until now, most nuclear-armed states have at least been discreet about brandishing them. Bush has crossed a fateful line. He claims the right to use nukes, as well as conventional warfare, preemptively.

For decades Americans have worried about nukes falling into “the wrong hands,” as if there were “right hands” for weapons of mass murder. Well, those weapons are in the wrong hands now: Bush’s hands.

Washington is in an uproar about Trent Lott’s offhand compliment at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, but it has taken Bush’s mad-dog threat in stride. What sort of “war on terrorism” is this, which terrorizes the whole world?

[Breaker quote: How to make enemies]Maybe we should distinguish microterrorism, the terrorism of scattered groups of stateless, relatively helpless people with few other options, from the macroterrorism used by powerful states to back up their huge conventional military forces. When there were two superpowers, each had the plausible excuse of deterrence for amassing nuclear arsenals. Now that excuse is gone: the United States is the only superpower left. And it’s still using its nukes.

Maybe it will be said that Bush doesn’t really intend to use them. But he is already using them. When a bank robber points a pistol at the teller, he’s using it, even if he doesn’t fire it. He’s also terrifying the bystanders, as Bush is doing.

In fact, I suspect that Bush is bluffing. His tough talk may be a prelude to backing off from war, as opposition to war mounts and the possible costs of war sink in.

Still, how did it come to this? Immediately after 9/11, everyone realized that a “war on terrorism” would be “a new kind of war.” Nuclear weapons and conventional forces alike would be useless against small, elusive cells of terrorists hitting “soft” targets.

Now, by converting the war on terrorism into war on a sovereign state, Bush is able to bring nukes and conventional forces back into play. An unwinnable new kind of war becomes an old-fashioned winnable one.

But by threatening to go nuclear — and preemptively at that — against a weak opponent, Bush has set a perilous precedent. Why shouldn’t China, seeing the United States as a growing global threat, launch a preemptive nuclear strike against this country when it has the means to do so? That’s only one of many dark possibilities Bush’s recklessness is making more probable.

Though history allegedly ended over a decade ago, we should notice that the U.S. Government is out of control, and it continues to make enemies frequently and unpredictably. Who imagined, when its army was bogged down in Vietnam, that it would go on to wage war (or “keep peace”), not long afterward, from Lebanon to Panama to Iraq to Serbia to Afghanistan and back to Iraq? Does anyone care to place a bet on where it will make future enemies?

China is as good a bet as any. Huge, prosperous, and militarily formidable — thanks in part to the assistance of our Israeli “allies” — it has rulers who, unlike our own, have an old habit of thinking ahead. While the United States, innocent of long-term strategy, wages its impulsive wars of indignation, they watch and wait, quietly gathering strength.

If the day ever comes when China decides it is finally ready to take on the most hated country on earth, it will have no trouble finding allies around the world.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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of Griffin Internet Syndicate

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