I wrote this column
for my school newspaper to record my opinion of the confrontation with Iraq. It holds up well except the point I tried to convey in that context with "We thought we could use the same strategy of deterrence to maintain post-Soviet world stability" is unclear as it's spooled out.
Weighing in on Iraq
November 27, 2002, 12:00am
The prospect of a war in Iraq is unsettling and scary. I worry for the persons in the military who will go to war if we should fail in our efforts to achieve Iraqi compliance. As bothered as I am by the possibility of war, however, I also recognize the need for the United States to reform its foreign policy. Before Sept. 11, our country failed to address the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and North Korea. We chose the wrong foreign policy path after the end of the Cold War, and we are only now beginning to evaluate the changes we need to make.
Ironically, the roots of our failure lie in our Cold War success. Americans are historically averse to war. Even the wars we fought during the Cold War were self-consciously limited--in both Vietnam and Korea, we sacrificed military exigency in favor of political expediency.
Luckily, the Soviet Union was also averse to war, which allowed the United States to defeat it with a strategy of deterrence and containment. By taking advantage of economic resiliency, savvy coalition building, strategic gamesmanship, and technological superiority, we were able to close the 20th century without a global conflagration.
Unfortunately, from the Cold War, we learned the wrong lessons. We wanted to believe that we had found a pristine alternative to military threat. We thought we could use the same strategy of deterrence to maintain post-Soviet world stability.
Common sense, however, tells us that each threat and opponent is different and, in hindsight, we can now recognize the foolishness of de-emphasizing our military. Even during the Cold War, American military strength was at the foundation of our foreign policy.
The collapse of the Soviet Union changed the dynamic of our coalitions, and without an equivalent world power on which to focus our attention, we floundered in our responsibility as the world's leader. Just when our allies needed the United States' leadership, we sought compromise and tried to blend into the world community. The result has been a decade-long void of leadership that is directly responsible for the dilemmas we face today.
The proper goal of any national leader is to enforce his nation's policies without subjecting his country to war. He does so by boosting international respect for his will and reinforcing the perception of his nation's military strength. Kennedy was able to find a diplomatic solution to the Cuban missile crisis only because Khrushchev believed in our capability to militarily enforce the president's decisions.
As early as the Gulf War, though, we undermined the perception of our military as enforcer by restricting our military involvement. During the war, the world watched as we defeated Saddam Hussein only to leave him in power in order to appease other nations. While our military earned respect, the United States lost ground as a world leader. The military solution--taking Baghdad and capturing Hussein--would have been decisive, yet we chose a more politically agreeable solution and surrendered the leverage earned by our military. Since then, economic sanctions, diplomacy, and limited military responses have failed to bring about the resolution that we could have implemented in Iraq over a decade ago.
Another failure of our foreign policy has recently come to light in North Korea. In the military intelligence community, we scoffed at the idea that military-dominated North Korea would cease developing nuclear weapons simply because we provided it with humanitarian aid and an alternative nuclear energy program. Appeasement does not work with despots like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il. They only respect strong leaders and military strength. By seeking to gratify the world community with pusillanimous solutions, we have encouraged the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Sadly, Sept.11 was the consequence of the failure of our Gulf War-era policies. Events like the battle in Mogadishu, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers bombing, the African embassy bombings, and the attack on the USS Cole demanded severe American military responses to restore the perception of our nation's strength. Unfortunately, our reactions were again weakened by political motivations. By allowing the terrorist threat to escalate without military response, we showed the world that we were vulnerable.
War is terrible and I hope we don't go to war with Iraq, but the situation we face today is of our own making. I hope that our nation's military is still respected enough that Hussein will finally comply with the U.N. resolutions for disarmament of his weapons. Unfortunately, because of the weakness we exhibited in the Gulf War era, we likely will have to pay in blood to restore respect for our nation. Maybe then we can finally become an effective world leader and achieve the peace we desire.
Eric is a junior in the School of General Studies.