Thursday, July 13, 2006

Preemptive Overreacting in the Next World Order

"Democracy can yield the peace we all want."

-- George W. Bush

How much peace does Mister Bush really want? Not a whole hell of a lot, by the look of things.

My ePluribus Media Journal article "Wars and Empires" discusses how, since the early 20th century, America's wars have brought increasingly counter-productive results. World War I, the "war to end all wars," laid the groundwork for World War II. The "good war" led to the decades long Cold War and the "third world" proxy wars that accompanied it. We fought North Korea to a tie more than 50 years ago. Today, we're at a loss as to how to curb its nuclear weapons program. And the Swift Boat controversy in the 2004 presidential election clearly illustrated that the country still suffers trauma from the Vietnam experience.

Our invasion of Iraq has created an insurgency/civil war/Hobbesian nightmare in that country. Despite having troops in countries that surround it, we supposedly face "no greater challenge" than Iran.

The "spread of democracy" throughout the Middle East turned the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah into legitimate political parties, which has now led Israel to launch a full-blown war against Palestine and Lebanon.

Though America's military is unsurpassed in combat capability, it is proving unsuited to achieving our national aims. This unpleasant reality has damaged our ability to conduct foreign diplomacy, and the cost of the military and conduct of armed conflict has become a profound burden on our economy.

Wherefore War?

We can only draw so many lessons from spinning alternative histories. There's a pretty good argument that says we should have stayed out of World War I and let the Europeans slug it out among themselves until none of them could possibly have recovered enough to fight a second world war. Some think our participation in World War II was unavoidable, but that Roosevelt should have listened to Churchill and cut Stalin out of eastern Europe. Some say we had to defend South Korea, but MacArthur blew things when he pushed too far up the Peninsula. Many still make the case that we would have won in Vietnam if we'd only stayed another eight months to a year and blah, blah, blah.

Some critics of the present Iraq War think the decision to invade was a sound one, and everything would have been hunky dory if only the boobs in charge of the war hadn't dropped the ball after the fall of Baghdad. Peter W. Galbraith, author of the book The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, writes ``With regard to Iraq, President Bush and his top advisors have consistently substituted wishful thinking for analysis and hope for strategy."

While I agree in spirit with Galbraiths' sentiments, I vehemently oppose the overall conclusions that he and other war critics draw. The "wishful thinking" wasn't so much the delusion that we would be "greeted as liberators" and that centuries of animosity among Sunnis, Shias and Kurds would melt away like a snowman in the streets of Baghdad. The cognizant dissonance in the neoconservative philosophy was (and still is) that a hegemonic United States could impose secure, America-centric world order at the point of a gun.

Perhaps the most dissonant aspect of the neoconservative vision was its policy of "preemptive deterrence." The phrase itself is a model illustration of semantic internal fallacy. You can't stop something by starting it.

And you can't claim you know what a potential enemy intends through strategic intelligence because, as the Iraq debacle showed, you can't rely on strategic intelligence, and you can't rely on lack of strategic intelligence to act on worst case assumptions (although, as Sy Hersh points out in The New Yorker, that's precisely what contingency military plans for Iran are based on).

If you wait for adversaries to act on you assumptions of their intentions and capabilities, you're not preempting. You're reacting. What's more, if you react in a way that's out of proportion to your adversaries' actions, you're overreacting.

Which brings us to a proper description of the policy the Bush administration has followed since it shoe horned its way into office: preemptive overreacting.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

The Next World Order series.


  1. "You can't stop something by starting it."

    Amen. Excellent post.

  2. Hello, K. Ron. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Great blog! I've added a link to your blog on Blog of the Day under the category of Political. To view the post of your blog, please visit

  4. Very kind of you, Rob. Many thanks.

  5. Meribeth7:57 AM

    The Iraq invasion was not for democracy, WMD or any of the other bull PNAC uses to white wash. It was an act of aggression to destabilize the Mid East. An attempt to control the distribution of oil, who get it and how much.

    They can thump their chest all they want. They can sell the religious side of it, they can sell the War on Terror, they can sell democracy and that is all they are is a tremendously expensive advertisement to cover their need for power and natural resources. And this business with Israel...hasn't this been planned for some time? Why now? Are they really starting a war over missing soldiers a reason? Why are they not called before the UN (at least) for their deliberate act of war against Lebanon? It seems so tidy to me to keep and spread the Iraq war to the Mid East War.

    Isn't that the real reason the majority of wars we have started/joined in the last century? Oil, copper, etc.

    Proactive does not mean starting any war. Proactive is being prepared for one and the diplomacy (what a concept!) to avoid one.

    Jeff, with so much of our military covering oil and the oil shipping lanes (as I understand) what do you think our "reaction" will be to this development with Israel/Lebanon/Syria/and any others that can be listed?

  6. Well, Meribeth, I think it's pretty obvious that our failed experiment in Iraq has triggered the exact opposite of what it was "supposed" to have accomplished. Last night on CNN, Hagel said something like "this is the most dangerous situation we've ever seen in the Middle East.

    What will we do? So far, it doesn't look like we intend to do a whole lot, and I think that's probably the best course of action.

    Especially given the gang we have in charge of things.

  7. Anonymous11:12 AM

    you're missing the point:

    war is peace
    slavery is freedom
    poverty is wealth
    fact is opinion
    truth is false

  8. Oh, I get the point all right. I only wish more Americans did.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  9. Peter VE12:11 PM

    This brings up something I've been mulling over for the past months: how many wars were successful in that war aims as stated at the outset were achieved? The Spanish American War was a success for the US; the Franco Prussian War was a success for Prussia; the Six day War (in the short run) a success for Israel; the Algerian and Vietnamese anti colonial wars were relative successes in evicting the colonials.

    In the negative column: WW1, WW2, the Korean war; the War between the States; the Peninsular war; the wars of the breakup of Yugoslavia; and so on.

    How do we teach our politicians that war unleases forces that spin beyond their control?

    In a similar context: when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, Chou En-Lai is said to have replied "It's too soon to tell."

  10. Peter,

    I'll tentatively disagree with you about the Franco-Prussian war being "successful"

    Quite arguably, it led to to the two world wars and the Cold War, and in its way foreshadowed Vietnam and Iraq.

    But these thing are all arguable.

    Look forward to further discussion with you on these subjects.


  11. Anonymous7:54 PM

    Jeff- were you an NFO or an Aviator? sound too smart to be the latter.

  12. ROFL!

    You got me, I was an NFO. I'll have to pass your observation on to all my pilot pals.


  13. preemptive overreacting - neat phrase. It describes so much thats happening so concisely.
    Great blog, btw.
    Btw, currently the middle east is in the middle of exploding - how far do you think it will go?

  14. Hi Tanya, thanks for stopping by.

    How far will it go?

    I don't buy for a moment that any of the players involved are irrational (except maybe for the Bush factor).

    But even rational players can miscalculate, as witness our Iraq experiment.

    So who knows what might happen?

  15. Just dropped by on your blog, really nice! Am reading around, catching up on your stuff!
    And I must agree with Tahnia, preemptive overreacting- really caught my eye...and perfectly phrased to meet the situation.
    I'm actually quite concerned about the current middle east explosion. I find the major problem is the lack of trust between many of these countries involved right outside the direct conflict (such as the U.S., Syria, Iran, Russia, China...etc). I think if anything will escalate the problem, it will be one or even a few of these countries taking advantage of Israel's unrelenting warfare and attempt to resolve some of their own conflicts themselves. Thus, spreading international assistance thin.
    I doubt Hezbollah will concede to Israel's two demands. So this could be tricky. I guess time will tell!