Leverage won by Iraq action

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

As American military units are redeploying from Iraq, each goes through a debriefing phase to compile a list called Lessons Learned, and the same is being done across unit lines by individual branches. I focus here on two closely related lessons. Whatever else could or must be said, this much must also be acknowledged. The American "preemptive" strike has created a healthy respect for American resolve, but some of the anti-war demonstrations had the potential of both military defeat and diplomatic failure.

That we attacked Iraq prior to ourselves specifically being attacked I find not only less than ideal but an extremely dangerous direction. That we acted largely unilaterally also much worries me. Such things must not become policy or habit, and the government needs to take measures now against this distinct possibility. This is a lesson that must be learned by anticipation rather than experience.

As I have said here previously, nonetheless, this was not preemptive in the usual sense. It was as much a resumption of reaction against and resolution of a decade-old, Iraq-initiated attack driven by a truce that was not made to work. This was not so much American's failing to obtain a broad coalition as it was the obdurate refusal of some self-serving nations to respond responsibility and the dismal failure of the UN to be the United Nations.

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Yet, a significant element of the preemptive remains, and we did proceed without the level of coalition the international crisis indicated. Not only can it not be denied logically, it would be dangerous to whitewash purely on the basis of pragmatic results. This much not only can be said, it should be. I do so with as much earnestness as I exercise for the other things I must say.

Another undeniable fact is that, as a direct result of these dangerous procedures, suddenly a profound fear is being sustained by more than a few nations that had not taken American resolve seriously. Why should they have believed we would do what we said we would? We hadn't for a long time.

Syria suddenly began to cooperate. I don't trust it any more than I believed Iraq, but we now have Syria against the wall. So, too, North Korea. When this nation thought we were distracted by Iraq, it test rattled its nuclear sword, but has now quickly put it back into the sheath. This is a direct result of our having done in Iraq what we said we would do if forced to it by Iraq's failure to do what it promised the world it would do.

Diplomacy first and foremost, of course. Diplomacy is impotent talk, however, if not backed up by both the ability and willingness to act. The goal of military might is not to apply it directly, but to provide persuasive teeth to diplomacy.

As to the troubling protests against the war, I cannot say with sufficient strength that protests are not only allowed but required. Not only do I have a right to protest a policy or action of my nation, I have a moral obligation to do so--when I am honestly convinced such to be wrong. Some of the protests contributed essential perspective, and they weren't always listened to with the respect they deserve.

When we stand up to protest, however, we incur a responsibility to do so in such a way that reasonable officials are actually able to follow the reasoning and be led to valid conclusions. Protests must inspire to response and not provoke defensiveness or disrupt legitimate operations.

Protests must also be capable of being understood by such as Saddam Hussein to contribute to our national purpose and not become aid and comfort to the enemy. Some of the protests emboldened this criminal to spit in our face, because he believed these protesters and not our president.

American military strength must provide persuasive teeth to American diplomatic negotiations, and citizens' protests must accomplish government correction rather than work at cross purposes with national purpose.