Monday, February 09, 2004

Preemptive War

Today, Joe Mowbray asks, "What if al Qaeda Had Been Hit Pre-emptively?":
Think about it: had the Taliban and al Qaeda been eliminated in, say, August 2001, 9/11 would not have happened. Not only would we have crippled the terrorist network operationally, but at least one of those leaders captured alive surely would have spilled the beans on the pending strike.

Before September 11, 2001, any attack on the Taliban would have been, by definition, pre-emptive—something that the left maintains, even after 9/11, is impermissible.
Well, no. None of that works.

First, Mowbray seems to believe that Al Qaeda is an organized entity with a central headquarters where all of its principals and operatives frequently and openly meet. "We can bomb the headquarters, take 'em all out, and it's over." Here we are, more than two years after 9/11, and more than two years into a concerted effort to eliminate both the Taliban and Al Qaeda - and both persist. Information on Al Qaeda's structure is anything but hard to find, and Mowbray would have done well to read it.

Second, we did strike at Al Qaeda preemptively, in 1998 under President Clinton. The most vociferous criticism came from the political right which accused Clinton of blowing up an aspirin factory in Sudan, and of "wagging the dog" to distract from the Lewinsky nonsense. I have yet to hear an apology, post-9/11, for those accusations. Let's not forget that, under Clinton:Third, this notion that any random Al Qaeda leader we managed to grab could have "spilled the beans" presupposes the top-down structure that simply did not and does not exist, and further presupposes that there was no failsafe - whereby if somebody "in the know" were captured the 9/11 plan would be put into immediate effect.

Mowbray then switches topics to Iraq:
With perfect hindsight, peaceniks would nitpick the analogy above. Saddam was contained, they argue. He had no weapons of mass destruction, they add. Though they made these arguments before the war, there is no way they could have known that. Peaceniks’ pre-war contentions, in fact, were nothing more than guesses wrapped in wishful thinking.

All available intelligence before the Iraq war pointed to Saddam having a WMD arsenal, and history showed that he had a disturbing willingness to use WMDs. And as his increasingly delusional novels made clear—including one he wrote literally as the world was readying for war—Saddam was drifting further and further from any connection to reality.
It is interesting how, although grudgingly conceding that the "peaceniks" were correct that Saddam Hussein was contained and toothless, their correct inferences were based only on "wishful thinking". (Implicitly, he suggests that there was no "wishful thinking" on the part of those like Dick Cheney who had lusted for years to invade Iraq - and whose assertions were ultimately proved wrong.) He attempts to support this with the fiction that pre-war intelligence uniformly declared Hussein to be armed and dangerous, and points to Hussein's history of (as a U.S. ally) using chemical weapons against his enemies. An ugly history, certainly - but not one that made him a danger to us.

In fact, there was ample evidence before the war that Hussein has effectively disarmed, and that between sanctions and the no-fly zones he had neither capacity nor desire to act against his neighbors or use chemical weapons against his own people. Given that reality, even among those of us who detested Hussein from the day we first learned of his atrocities (in my case, considerably before his infamous handshake with Donald Rumsfeld) took a more conservative approach to war, and were prepared to spend additional time advancing weapons inspections, building an international consensus to remove him, and building an international coalition to help with the post-war occupation and reconstruction.

The ultimate idiocy comes in Mobray's conclusion,
If the peacenik left finds restraint so commendable and Bush’s pre-emption doctrine so offensive, here’s a good question: Where are the cheerleaders praising Clinton for showing “restraint” after Khobar Towers, the East African Embassy bombings, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole when he refused to respond to the gathering threat posed by radical Islam?
As any informed person knows, the threat of Al Qaeda was taken very seriously by the Clinton Administration. As any informed person knows, Clinton's strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan were a direct response to the embassy bombings. Any honest critic would acknowledge that the USS Cole was attacked shortly before Bush II took office, and that his administration is at least as responsible as Clinton's for failing to respond in a manner Mobray would now deem adequate. In fact, if Mobray is serious that the response should have been a full-scale preemptive war against Al Qaeda, surely he isn't such an idiot that he thinks Clinton could have initiated such a war during the last two months of his lame duck Presidency. Well... perhaps he is.


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