Deep Sleep and Preemption

Foreword to the Reader: What is stated below is based on commonly available knowledge. All that is involved is the skepticism that is a correlative of liberty. Conspiracy theories are bad, not because they are necessarily false, but because they are too easy and generate a righteous self-sufficiency. However, I have to try and go where the facts point and right now our administration is not giving us much help on the hard questions people are raising. Hence the skepticism. The format is that of a series of points, with some being highlighted, so that I can be corrected all the more easily. If you come across some soothing facts, don’t keep them to yourself ! This piece was originally written in February, but as it was not published before hostilities began in Iraq, I asked it to be withheld. Some minor changes have been made for readability.

1 There is a ‘sleeper’ in the current doctrine of pre-emptive strikes whose implications do not seem to have been spelt out in print. If the USA can intervene with a first strike against any government that it deems hostile, then it can also do the same for any friendly government that is about to elect an administration we deem hostile.  Hitherto, the doctrine has been spelt out only as far as China applying it to Taiwan or India to Kashmir. But these are myopic views of the power of preemption, which allows the USA to intervene in any potentially hostile area. So the French can, in the future, only elect those governments we consider ‘proper’—-otherwise we reserve the right to bomb them. In practice, of course, we shall just have to resort to subverting their elections so that we do not need to bomb. This is what is meant by adopting a doctrine which says that “If you do not like us, you have to stay weak; if you do become strong through some subterfuge, we have every right to weaken you, by stealth if we can, and by force if we must”

2.It is widely said that America now has a military preponderance last enjoyed only by the Roman Empire. The military budget of the USA exceeds that of the next fifteen countries put together. It is the only military superpower today. There can be no question who will prevail if the USA chooses to use all the weapons at its disposal. We are told that “The US intends to shatter Iraq “physically, emotionally and psychologically” by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.” .Since the potential antagonists are utterly unequal in strength, it is overworking the word to call it a “War”. How can such one-sided combat be sold to a generous and peaceful people? To be the new Rome, Americans must turn into Romans. Either the fundamental nature of the Americans must be altered or they must be pulverised with propaganda, and come to accept the ‘War’ as necessary and inevitable. In either case, An information war must precede the real “War”! 

3 There can be no bystanders in such information wars. The minds of our friends, neighbors, and fellow workers are being constantly altered by propaganda. In addition, Muslims must continually engage in public arguments because the US has a long spiritual heritage, and without persistent debate Muslims will not be able to appreciate or participate in the open intellectual mileu of the United States. The Puritans were not the first of their contemporaries to settle in America. Others had come and settled—-but in order to be left alone. For the Puritans it was their opportunity to make a ‘new’ world. The New World was not just physically new. It was a chance to leave behind the iniquity of the Old world and create justice in the New World. It was a ‘new’ world for the Puritans because they dreamt of making the world anew. What has happened to that vision? Perhaps this is why the Muslims began to grow in numbers in America during the twentieth century…the dream must continue.

4. Developing the sleeper thesis buried within the doctrine of preemption has a surreal air at this time, because it seems to support Saddam Hussein in practice. It is odd that such an obnoxious person, whose peaceful removal and prosecution would be such a benefit to the world, is serving to exemplify principles that have much wider bearing. Saddam has already long since agreed that he will disarm; who can dispute the rightness of seeing to it that he stick to agreements? If war is needed at the end of the day, let it come, but only at the end. The more we rush, the more we deny ordinary democratic processes. The protests that took place, and are taking place in over 600 cities worldwide have made it clear that it is the rush to War that is objectionable. No one has spoken up in favor of Saddam Hussein. What is extraordinary is that a clear argument for intervention does exist. Iraq signed a surrender document. If the terms of that document are not fulfilled, a state of hostility resumes. Why did the Administration not use such a clear case? Is this planned attack meant to be a prelude for some more potent principle of International Relations?

5. To begin with, one has to note that any argument on security issues with the Government is asymmetric because the Administration can always say that they have superior information that must be kept hidden. If such claims are persisted in, they negate the value of having a democracy at all. One recollects how the Soviets would justify their actions on many an occasion by such justifications. Careful scrutiny of any administration’s actions are required by the realities of the democratic process. Consider the following: Some 50% of the eligible electorate actually vote; if one gains a majority of these voters one has the support of about 25% of the people; and yet, the active support of this 25% entitles one to use 100% of the power of the State. Nonetheless, the occasional, or emergency, use of such claims to secrecy by an Administration are just. They cause us to worry only if we start to lose confidence in the strict truthfulness of our Government. Unfortunately, there are several different sources of skepticism about the motives of the USA. When multiple sources agree, it is perhaps time to formulate their doubts carefully.

6. Five very different sources will serve to exemplify this skepticism. 

i) Senator Robert Byrd: “This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption—the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future—is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter.” Senate Floor Speech, 2/12/03

ii) The CIA and MI6. “Tony Blair and George Bush are encountering an unexpected obstacle in their campaign for war against Iraq ?their own intelligence agencies. Britain and America’s spies believe that they are being politicised: that the intelligence they provide is being selectively applied to lead to the opposite conclusion from the one they have drawn, which is that Iraq is much less of a threat than their political masters claim. Worse, when the intelligence agencies fail to do the job, the politicians will not stop at plagiarism to make their case, even “tweaking” the plagiarised material to ensure a better fit.” Paul Lashmar and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent 2/9/03.

iii) Joseph Wilson, the last US diplomat to meet Saddam Hussein
The upcoming military operation also has one objective, though different from the several offered by the Bush Administration. This war is not about weapons of mass destruction. The intrusive inspections are disrupting Saddam’s programs, as even the Administration has acknowledged. Nor is it about terrorism. Virtually all agree war will spawn more terrorism, not less. It is not even about liberation of an oppressed people. Killing innocent Iraqi civilians in a full frontal assault is hardly the only or best way to liberate a people. The underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations.” The Nation, March 3,2003

iv) The resignation of the Political Counsellor to Athens, John Brady Kiesling
“…until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer…. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible
not only with American values but also with American interests. Our
fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international
legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and
defense since the days” (from

v) Nafis M Ahmed , a peace activist in the UK, provides a battery of evidence in The War on Freedom to suggest that the War in Afghanistan had been planned well before 9/11; that the attack of 9/11 itself was not unexpected, and that due vigilance was not employed because the attack could be turned to one’s political benefit; that one such beneficiary was Israel and that Mossad agents were probably aware of what would specifically take place. 

Taking refuge in general statements like, ’Truth is the first casualty of war’ is silly. It is to admit that Saddam Hussein may be evil, but not quite so bad that truth alone will suffice to condemn him. We need the help of a few convenient lies to make the point.

7.  We take comfort in the thought that “The Government of the USA will not distort the information they provide the people, especially not when lives are at stake.” One does not have to go as far back as President Polk to learn the sorry truth that this is sometimes only a pious hope.  Nor does one have only incidents such as The War Scare of 1948 by Harry Truman, which was probably just a budgetary tool. Here are recent examples:

i FDR and the provocation of German submarines as well as FDR’s probable prior knowledge of Pearl harbor

ii The Gulf of Tonkin incident and the War on Vietnam by LBJ

iii.The massing of Iraqi troops on the Saudi border just prior to the Gulf War
The general principle seems to be, “If you mobilize and deploy for War, it will come.”

8.  A second line of defence in a vibrant democracy consists of the Press. We rely on the Press to provide us with a critical understanding of issues and events so that a democratic polity can reach an informed judgement. And yet, what do we find? Much of the Press has allowed itself to become a captive of the Administration. The coverage during the Gulf War was so ‘tame’ that the Free Press can actually be considered as a free Press agent for the Administration.  This continues today, as the absence of in-depth reporting in the Press about the US interest in Iraqi Oil reveals. 

9. So the media can fail us. Is it possible that this is a coordinated failure? Perhaps not. Sometimes, when people have a common goal, the effects of coordination can appear without actual coordination. Thomas Schelling has noted how it is possible for two friends to meet in a completely new city without any agreement . Each guesses that the other will choose a prominent public place, like the Central train station, and goes there to wait for the friend to appear. For this procedure to work however requires that the participants have a common goal. Let us make a list of all the people involved in the Press and see if they do have a common interest. This will show the possibility of the weird unanimity of a Free Press in disseminating large doses of misinformation.

10.But we cannot rule out active coordination by the Administration, especially because it can be frighteningly effective. Such is the trust of the American people in their politicians that we have come to witness a ludicrous coup detat of disinformation, within the past month, about Saddam and 9/11—-polls show that 56% of the public believe that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and some 42% believe that Saddam Hussein was directly involved. All this even as the press is repeatedly providing authoritative sources which deny the truth of the claims made by the Administration. The readiness of a people to believe in its leaders is so great that a Government which relies solely on ‘telling’ that which is verifiably true is wasting its resources. It is the responsibility of the people to insist on being properly informed. When the A-bomb was used on Japan one set of reasons was given as justification—-only later did McGeorge Bundy reveal a quite different set of reasons. As for Iraqi’s murdering babies in incubators during the Gulf War——this is an event of very recent memory, so those who were fooled by this careful piece of commercially constructed disinformation may well remember having been deceived .The deception was practised by the Kuwaitis and their hired consultants but one can hardly believe that the intelligence organisations of the USA were not aware of the carefully crafted lie.

11 To the multiple voices engaging our scepticism regarding preemption, we must add the paucity of information about the interests of those supporting it. Is the docility of the media the fruits of an informal alliance between a closely linked Press elite and a coterie of experts like Cohen, Wolfowitz, Adelman and Perle, the CWAP (“See-wap”)? What is their long-run interest? Is there anything common to them? but even if they have some goal they wish to achieve by using the power of the USA, why did the CWAP get to become prominent?  For a considerable period of time one had to wonder if there was a further underlying, structural reason for the rise of such views. In recent weeks evidence has come to light suggesting that the attack on Iraq was shaped significantly by Israeli interests and initially framed as part of a long-range policy by a group which includes individuals now significant in the Administration.  As long as the CWAP is the principal public face supporting preemption, we have reason to be cynical of the doctrine and of the uses to which it may be put. On issues of such overwhelming importance, we must avoid every chance of being viewed as being driven by any interests other than those of the USA or of having a double standard. Richard Butler is no friend of Saddam, but even he admitted that a primary difficulty in attaining the goal of disarmament is the double standard with which the weapons of mass destruction of different countries are differently treated. 

12 So we come back to the sleeper in our doctrine of preemption. It goes far beyond anything that happens in Iraq. The United States will have to set up a system which enables it to watch over the domestic politics of all nations.  Any potential opponent is to be ‘made’ unpopular by covert political misinformation if this can be done, otherwise more active measures will have to be contemplated.  The United States will determine who is sufficiently in accord with our values and can be tolerated. It is our fate to be Good guy and Big Brother all in one. Democracy is so good that we cannot allow other nations the full range of opinions they may aspire to, even if those countries can find a majority of their peoples to agree to un-American values. The Administration has chosen to call the fight with Terrorism a ‘War’, despite the many obvious differences with the usual use of that word. It has often been recognized that Terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong (which does not mean that the weak are necessarily right). Unless we mean to purge the earth of the weak, this is not a long war—-it is an endless one. Eternal vigilance is the price of unilateral dominance.

University of Illinois