TCS Daily


Are We at War Yet?

By Kevin Generous - February 24, 2003 12:00 AM

It is often assumed that the absence of a shooting war is something called "peace." In the abstract, "peace" exists before the shooting starts. When you send in the troops, and engage in combat, you are at war. Yet in reality, the absence of actual combat does not equal "peace." This reality is no more obvious than America's current raging domestic debate over "going to war" against Iraq.

Here is a multiple-choice question: What event will future historians credit with initiating America's war against global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction?

  1. The sporadic, but linked, terrorist attacks on America and its citizens preceding Sept. 11th 2001;

  2. The September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks themselves;

  3. After America deployed combat forces to the Persian Gulf and called up 250,000 military reservists;

  4. When mobile air defense units began regular patrols of our nation's capital city;

  5. After the 18th UN Security Council resolution calling for complete Iraqi disarmament, or else.

Take your pick. But recent historical events clearly indicate that we are already at war, and likely have been since before September 11th, 2001, even though most us didn't realize it.

Some Americans are in a state of denial about this fact. Let me repeat: We are already at war. At least since September 11th America has been in an actual state of war against Islamic terrorists and its state sponsors. This includes the regime of Saddam Hussein. It is in our national interest to pursue this war as aggressively as possible. Our objective should be denying both terrorists and rogue regimes the means to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and use them against us.

A careful reading of George W. Bush's post-September 11th speeches indicated that any decision to engage in military action in Iraq must be viewed as part of a broad war against terrorism and irresponsible parties seeking to acquire WMD. He draws no distinction between Osama Bin Laden, Saddam or other rogue regimes - as ample evidence exists that all are variously engaged in the support, funding, or execution of terrorist activities as well as pursuit and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The purpose of these weapons may vary, but includes intimidation of, or use against, those who present obstacles to their ambitions (i.e. us); or, most chilling, possible transfer to non-state terrorist groups with few inhibitions about actually using them (against us).

Thus any future military operation against Iraq is merely another battle in an ongoing war against terrorism. Other rogue states and terrorist groups are watching these developments closely.

Director George Tenet of the Central Intelligence Agency recently warned that various states are now racing to develop nukes. "More has changed on proliferation over the past year than on any other issue," he said. Over the past 12 months North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya have all moved to obtain equipment to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials and the means to deliver them as nuclear bombs, Tenet testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee Feb. 11.

Why are they racing? Possession of nuclear weapons puts these nations into a different class of threats. Because of the West's kid glove treatment of North Korea over the last decade, these states know that the United States and the world will treat them with far greater deference once they possess the means to develop and deliver nuclear weapons. This helps explain the willingness of North Korea - already possessing at least two nuclear weapons and long-range missiles - to sell its weapons to anybody, flaunting international non-proliferation efforts. Do we really want to wait for Saddam to have this nuclear and missile capability as well? This represents a "clear and present danger" we cannot ignore.

American leadership through action is required before this dangerous capability has further matured. To date, recognizing that we are at war and are under attack, President Bush has taken prudent steps short of sending in the troops. But these steps are not "either-or." In wartime, good leaders never restrict themselves to a single weapon or method. Measures must also include offensive preparations, and if necessary, offensive operations.

This is a war we did not seek, but we cannot deny exists. Have peace activists noticed that American and British planes have been nearly continuously engaged in the skies over Iraq? The fact that a decade after the Gulf War, Saddam's gunners are still shooting at our planes and resisting United Nations' efforts to disarm, as they agreed to do, should tell us something. Saddam himself is firmly on the record about this state of war. In nearly all his speeches he denies that Gulf War hostilities ever ended; for example in a Jan. 17, 2002, speech, he stated, "Allah has decreed that the Mother of All Battles continue to this day."

He is not just "talking the talk." All indications are that he sincerely believes this. Since the tenuous ceasefire at the end of the 1992 Gulf War, he has "walked the walk." Provocative Iraqi actions include regularly firing on coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones, a failed assassination attempt on a U.S. ex-president, actively resisting 17 U.N. disarmament resolutions, and the intimidation and humiliation of U.N. inspectors trying to enforce those resolutions. His intentions cannot be clearer. He continues to build and develop WMD in secret; he will not give up his weapons of mass destruction without a fight.

Moreover, he has continued, within his existing means, to carry that fight to the United States. There is considerable, albeit circumstantial, evidence that Saddam has supported various groups engaged in terrorist operations against the United States and Western countries since the Gulf War. This includes providing instruction in document forgery and bomb making to al-Qaeda, as well as other shadowy contacts between international terrorists living both in Iraq and in Western countries. There are also indications that Saddam's agents provided support to those involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Efforts to apply Western standards of criminal evidence to provide concrete proof - "a smoking gun" - are wrong-headed; indeed Saddam's purpose of using cut outs and surrogates to do his dirty work is to disguise what are actually wartime covert operations against the United States. As we have amply seen, obfuscation is something at which Saddam is very good. Yet the piling up of circumstantial evidence and the provocative pattern of violence is hard to ignore - especially given that we have already been directly attacked.

As we have seen, the lack of a strong U.S. response to terrorist acts prior to 9/11 only encouraged bolder and more elaborate operations. To those who would argue that we should not "rush into war" we should ask: "Do we wait until the smoking gun becomes a smoking crater?" Or as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has stated, "A gun only smokes after it has been fired. When you see the gun smoking, it's already too late." But we already know that the "guns" exist, are being loaded and are pointed at us.

Our conduct of World War II didn't begin with an extended national debate over smoking guns, material breeches or, as the French recently put it, "reasons for war." The attack on Pearl Harbor was itself the reason for war, forcing us to wake up to the global dangers swirling around us. We sucked up our collective guts, rallied round the flag and president, and got to work winning the war. In the aftermath of December 7th, we didn't immediately launch any major military operations. But we did take measures to secure the homeland, fight defensive rearguard actions, and build coalitions and position forces for offensive actions around the globe. When ready, we sent in the troops. This was the serious pursuit of war.

Today, George W. Bush well understands - condescending lectures from the French and Germans notwithstanding - that war is a serious business. Warfare can take many forms: it can include aggressive intelligence operations, defensive actions to protect the homeland, limited operations to keep the enemy off balance (as in Afghanistan), coalition building, and diplomatic activities at the United Nations. All these activities have characterized U.S. actions since 9/11.

But don't be distracted by wrangling over U.N. resolutions, NATO squabbles, or suggested self-defense measures to "duck (tape) and cover." Anti-war activists and "allies" - heads burrowed firmly in the sand - chanting "give peace a chance" does not make our current situation anything like "peace." We are already at war.

Kevin Generous is the president of the non-profit S.A.F.E. (Safeguarding America For Everyone) Foundation and the author of Vietnam: The Secret War.
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